I don’t often reread things. There are so many good books out there waiting for me, I never feel like I have time to go back to something read once already. There are exceptions of course, like Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. Peter Hessler, with his newest book of essays, has become another.
The other day I spotted an ARC in the office of Peter Hessler’s Strange Stones: Dispatches from East and West. When I realized it was a compilation of essays previously published in The New Yorker, I was briefly disappointed. Still, I flipped through and started reading an essay I hadn’t caught the first time around. Then I kept on reading, even the ones I had read in the magazine. I found that it made me appreciate what a fine writer Hessler is. His profile of Yao Ming brought him off the court and turned him into a flesh and blood person for me. ‘Wild Flavor’ reviews two restaurants that specialize in rats. He doesn’t go the route many travel writers go, with the ‘look how different our cultures are, I’m eating something weird” route. He tries to understand why rat is considered a delicacy and makes an effort to eat and enjoy it.
I ended up reading the entire collection, enjoying it the entire time. Hessler’s book has reminded me that there are reasons people go back to books they love; for me, it was to enjoy the essays in a completely new way.