Once More, With a Twist: Why We Love Retellings

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It is a truth universally acknowledged that once a story strikes your heart just so, you’ll never get enough of it. Remember asking your parents to read you the same book again and again when you were little? Maybe that’s what makes retellings so satisfying — you get the story you loved but with a new setting, an updated timeline, or a different character’s perspective. More of the same, but a little different.

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Get a signed copy of Eligible at Parnassus while supplies last. Available in-store or online (write “signed” in notes at checkout).

This week sees the publication of Eligible, novelist Curtis Sittenfeld’s contemporary take on Pride and Prejudice. She wrote the book as part of The Austen Project, which is pairing authors with each of Jane Austen’s six complete books to create modern versions. If you own more than one dog-eared copy of P&P and have memorized the lines in every possible screen adaptation (including Bridget Jones Diary, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and anything with Colin Firth in it, just in case he’s Darcy-ing again), you’ll want to grab a copy of this new spin. It takes place in present-day Cincinnati, its Jane Bennet now 39 years old and each element of the classic updated to reflect the world we live in today. As The Washington Post points out: “As a long game of literary Mad Libs, Eligible is undeniably delightful. Airplanes for horses! Texts for letters! Tedious Cousin William is now a tedious Web programmer.” (For more about how Sittenfeld brought the story up to date, check out What If Pride and Prejudice Was Set in Cincinnati? on NPR.)

It’s a slippery slope between retelling and simply homage or allusion, but certain books unquestionably echo others that came before them. Eligible got our booksellers thinking about some other favorites, including the books so far in The Austen Project, of course — Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trollope, Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid, Emma by Alexander McCall Smith — any of which would probably be a hit with the fictional members of Karen Joy Fowler’s Jane Austen Book Club. Plus:

Updated versions of Shakespeare (check out BookRiot’s list from yesterday, too — we’re not the only ones with retellings on the brain!) —

Other contemporary tales that re-do classics —

Then of course there are books that recycle stories from the Bible —

 

We got into a discussion in the back office of whether Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder was a retelling of something. One person suggested Heart of Darkness; another thought it was The Ambassadors by Henry James. Then the peanut gallery chimed in, with one silly bookseller saying no, it’s a retelling of A Little Princess, another arguing that it’s a mashup of the entire 1980s Sweet Valley High series, and a third proposing that the 1990s series The Babysitters Club was actually a pre-telling of Bel Canto, in which the children represent the guerillas. (Ann walked in at that moment and cleared things up. If anything, State of Wonder alludes to The Ambassadors; Run retells The Brothers Karamazov.)

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If you thought the original Cinderella needed more cyborgs, Cinder and the rest of Marissa Meyer’s books are for you.

There are more retellings in young adult literature than we could possibly list (although EpicReads took a really good shot at it). Fairy tales make great fodder. For example:

There are even retellings for the youngest readers:

This is nowhere near an exhaustive list, obviously. What are your favorite retellings? Chime in on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram and let us know!