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Sunday, April 09, 2006


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Hm. You've got me thinking about why it is that I do re-read fiction. (Or, more accurately, I *would* re-read it if I didn't have time-consuming small people in my house.) Partly it's that my favorite fiction transports me into the story, so that as I read it it feels as if the story is happening around me. For me, knowing the ending doesn't spoil that type of book, because re-reading the book is like re-experiencing the whole thing all over again.

Also, I'm of the opinion that a well-written book is worth reading again and again because the reader will discover new things on each re-reading. One example of this is foreshadowing: On the second reading, you see things that hint at how the book is going to end that you didn't notice on the first reading. A well-written book can have layers and layers of foreshadowing, so that even on the third or fourth reading you're seeing foreshadowing to the foreshadowing. I really enjoy watching how that works itself out. Another example of books with new discoveries on re-reading is books that have a lot of complexity going on, where on each re-reading more of the puzzle pieces fit together and make me go, "Aha!" I really enjoy those "Aha!" moments, so to me that's a joy of re-reading.

The example that comes to mind for me right this moment is actually a movie, not a book, though I've ready plenty of books that had this type of complexity too. I saw the movie "Prizzi's Honor" with a group of friends when I was in college. The movie was shown in a campus auditorium. After the movie was over, my friends and I sat around outside the building, talking over and over through what had happened in the movie, figuring out more details of what had happened, connecting puzzle pieces together. We actually spent more hours sitting there talking about the movie than we had spent watching the movie itself. To me, that's one type of good movie. There's a lot to it, that takes some work to figure out.

So Valerie (or anyone), how do you come to re-read novels? Do you return to the same books again and again when you're in a certain mood or do you search your bookshelves when you're at a loose end? When I look on my bookshelves, there are more than enough books I haven't read for me to go on with and I feel no impulse at all to go back to the ones I have read, though once in a blue moon I might leaf through them.

I used to re-read books in the manner of eating comfort food: E.M. Forster's Maurice is probably the favorite.

But lately, it's more because I'm in a voracious reading phase and the pool of English books here, although amazingly good, isn't quite the same as it is in the States. Plus, I shouldn't be buying so many books anyway. The latest re-read was Colm Toibin's The Blackwater Lightship, with its vaguely dissatisfying ending.

Also, through deprivation when I was living in Barcelona, I read and re-read Portrait of a Lady a number of times, because it was such a weighty, chockful book that could bear that kind of heavy re-reading. It's about the only Henry James that I've ever been able to manage.

Hm. A new book is a gamble -- it might be wonderful, or, more likely, it might be a dud. So, sometimes I'll pick a book to re-read because I know for sure that I'll enjoy it. Reading a *new* book for the first time is fantastic, but there are definitely times when I'd rather re-read an old beloved book that I know I'll enjoy, rather than gamble on a new one. In my first year of college I used to re-read Anne McCaffrey's dragon books because I was having a bad year, and those are some of the most absorbing books I have ever read. They aren't great writing, but they are extremely absorbing. I loved being able to escape from my own life into the dragon world. Even today if I'm sick and hurting, I'll sometimes pick up an old Anne McCaffrey novel to transport myself away from my achy body.

Hm. I'm not sure that answers your question, exactly. I do indeed return to certain books at certain times, and other times I'll search my bookshelves.

Oops, that should have said that reading a *good* new book for the first time is fantastic.

i re-read books because i want to revisit the pleasure they gave me the first time or i want to read them in greater depth (this is necessary if you do any kind of higher degree in English, I reckon).

i read BM the story before i saw the film and found it very powerful -- powerfully jarring. i alo admired the terseness of AP's prose. i didn't find the film as powerful and still think that even if i'd seen the film first, i might find the story more powerful.

Some writers, particularly in science fiction, create such fascinating worlds I want to revisit them, so I re-read Sheri Tepper's Grass regularly, and Herbert's Dune, and any Peter Hamilton. This was also Jane Austen's gift, with her fabulous dialogue a salivacious cherry on top. McCullough's Rome novels build a lusting farting pissing city of intrigue.

Then there's the wordsmiths: Robert Fagles verse translation of the Iliad/Odyssey, Carl Sagan's powerful lucid writing in Cosmos and Demon-Haunted World, Henry Lawson and Mark Twain, Shakespeare's plays and sometimes the sonnets, and a handful more.

COmfort food to be sure, but sometimes the fare is too rich to appreciate all the layers and flavours and nuances the first time around.

Oops. You might need to go back and fix whichever [i] tag I buggered up, Susoz.

I have books I re-read because they are literary comfort food (currently Lois McMaster Bujold space operas, but it changes), but there are also books I re-read because they were so good the first time. I tend to read too fast when there is a great plot, so I sometimes have to re-read if the writing was any good to get the nuances I missed the first time. And if it's long enough since I read it the first time, a half remembered plot is sometimes just enough to sustain my interest.

I re-read fiction to get back into the worlds (perhaps 'state of mind' is better) that they create. I re-read the Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy and comic books more than anything else, because they're the most outright comedy in my shelves - sometimes I'm just not in the mood for tragedy, realism, philosophy, history, romance or thrills, and although plenty of books are funny, the comedy tends to be an underlying theme. Douglas Adams, it's almost the only theme.

I also return to authors like Patrick O'Brian and Mary Renault for a sense of adventure and tradition - POB never fails to make me feel like a young man with the whole world ahead of me, so if I want to feel like that, I re-read his books.

On the whole though I agree with you, about the orgasmic plot and all ;) The power of a novel seems to lie half in how you don't know what's going to happen - or how.

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