Friday, November 14, 2008


Neil Gaiman wrote an essay for the program book of the 2002 World Horror Convention, about how to read Gene Wolfe (this I just learned from the introduction of the Wolfe story in the Wastelands anthology). His third point in this essay was: "Reread. It's better the second time."

Sometimes I miss the kind of reading I used to practice as a child and teenager: I would devour tons of books, and find some favourites. The favourites I would then read again and again, always coming back to them. Sometimes thinking about them between readings too.

I don't really do that anymore. Have I lost something? I'm afraid I have. I never make close friends among books anymore, only acquaintances.

I have been thinking about this for a couple of days (especially today, drowsy and unfocussed on anything productive after staying awake half the night to take care of and clean up around my sick child), since the SF signal Mind Meld about books worth reading twice. Which books are there that I would like to read again?

This is not very thought through, just my first inspiration. Here's the list anyway. Some books that made a large impression when I first read them, and that would be fun to take a closer look at again.

  • Kim Stanley Robinson: The Mars trilogy. And the Three Californias.

  • Neal Stephenson: Snow Crash

  • Ted Chiang: Stories of Your Life and Other's

  • Dan Simmons: Hyperion (only the first book of the Cantos)

  • China Mieville: Perdido Street Station

  • John Crowley: Engine Summer

Do you have any books you still reread, or that you would like to read again? (I shouldn't ask questions at the end of a blog post, because I always get disappointed when I get no answers. Anyway. It seemed to belong here.)


Sten said...

I used to re-read a lot. After thinking about it for a little bit, I think re-reading falls into three different categories. For me.

(a) Books which I need to re-read, since I didn't get them the first time. Or where it's obvious that I will pick up a lot more the second time around. Here I probably should put books which I for some reason felt rushed to finish (like just before a book discussion or a con with the author as a GOH or something), and where I tell myself I will give the book the time it deserves next time. Or is that something completely different, really?

(b) Books which I wish to re-read because some neat new piece of information makes me want to read through them again, just to look for the clues I obviously missed. You know, like Use of Weapons or The Wasp Factory. Not many books fall into this category.

(c) Comfort reading. I know what kind of feeling I want at the moment, and the easiest way to get it is to read a book I can remember getting this feeling from. Usually this happens when I'm depressed and want to feel better. (That's when I re-read Pratchett. Or Wodehouse. Or Heinlein.) Hm. I just realized that this might be why normal people listen to music.

Sadly, the number of books from the first category has decreased during the last few years for me as well. (The number of books in the second and third category has been staying roughly the same. I think. Although the actual books are different than five or fifteen years ago.) I think the reason is just that I buy new books faster than I read them *anyway*, and then I have to ask myself questions like "well, I could re-read Quicksilver. That took a long time to read, since I basically read it in 30 minute periods during six months, with a number of other books in between, and I *know* I missed a lot. And it was a good book. Or I could start with Anathem. Which is more than 900 pages anyway, and if I want to read it before retirement, I need to start soon..." I don't really have a good solution. There are so many books I want to read, but on the other hand, some of my favorite books were much better the second time I read them. I should simply spend more time reading, perhaps.

Books I will read again one day:
Susanna Clarke: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.
Samuel Delany: Dahlgren.
Robertson Davies: The Cornish Trilogy.

Was this too long? Sorry.

Johan A said...

I don't reread a lot as an adult for the obvious reason that I already feel I'm not reading enough new books anyway. I want to keep up at least marginally with both classics I've missed and new, exciting stuff, and that simply doesn't leave time for rereading. One exception is The Lord of the Rings. I want to keep it fresh in my head, so I reread it at least every decade. Should reread The Silmarillion soon, too, I guess.

I've just finished rereading Le Guin's original Earthsea trilogy, because we all read The Other Wind earlier this year (or was it late last year?) and I realised I need to read Tehanu, and to do that I first have to reread Earthsea.

The books I know I will have to reread invariably belong to one category: Books that blew me away the first time I read them, and that I feel I need to read again to see if I still love them as much. They are, more or less:

Pride and Prejudice
Master and Margarita
If on a Winter's Night a Traveller
Little, Big
The Sound and the Fury
At Swim-Two-Birds
Titus Groan & Gormenghast
The Crystal Cave
Sinuhe egyptiern

Then perhaps I should reread the first three of Moorcock's Pyat books so I can read the last one. And, alone in the category of comfort reading: I know I will start over on Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin books. Probably this winter. Because they are so good!

Johan said...

I don't reread as much as I did as a child, of course, but well, I read Ellen Kushners The Privilege of the Sword four times last year. And sometimes I reread something because I want to write an article or essay about it, and find myself reading an entire trilogy when all I really had to do was to read fifty pages or so.


Elliot said...

Re-reading a much-loved, familiar book for comfort... re-reading something that blew me away the first time, just for the thrills and delight of the language or intellect contained in it... I think those are my two reasons for re-reading. Or sometimes when I first read something so long ago that I need to re-encounter it.

I agree with this:

"I know I will start over on Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin books. Probably this winter. Because they are so good!"

Though, I haven't read all of those O'Brian books yet, so when I need comfort food, I start a new one. But I can definitely see myself re-reading them.

I sometimes re-read books by Gene Wolfe because there's always so much to find in his writing. I re-read books by Garrison Keillor when I'm feeling blue and need some reassurance and humour and human decency. And books like "To Kill a Mockingbird" which are just so powerful emotionally but also hugely influential in our culture.

Elliot said...

PS: I've heard that many other people read Wodehouse to cheer them up.