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Monday, February 06, 2012


So, with all those new books around, coming out every day, week, month, why would you want to read one again?

Let’s face it, if you only wanted to read all your books once, you might as well just go to the library. And the library is absolutely fine – hey, I run one myself. But it’s not enough to keep the industry going, is it?

So, what do I re-read –and why?

When something is wonderful, why would you only read it once, rather than find that joy again?

I’ve had my iPad for a month now. Not all of my e-book collection is made up of books I’ve read before; with all those lovely freebies in Project Gutenberg and others, I’ve picked up classics I’ve always been curious about. Arthur Conan Doyle’s The White Company, which I’ve heard was one of the books that inspired Gordon R. Dickson’s Childe Cycle. Both of Kipling’s Jungle Books, which I confess I’ve never got around to reading, but will now.

But quite a few are books I loved when I first read them and wanted to enjoy again. Among these is Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court, which I recently re-read, after many years. There’s the delightful Arthur Conan Doyle book The Lost World, which I thought great fun the first time around and didn’t see why I couldn’t enjoy it again (and I am, oh, I am!). While about it, I discovered another Professor Challenger story, The Disintegration Machine, just a short story, but set in the same universe as Lost World and featuring something that Dr “Bones” McCoy would recognise as what he hated about the transporter.

I’ve also picked up the first two “Katy” books by Susan Coolidge, which were among my childhood pleasures. I’m ioving them all over again. I’ve got the two Alice novels by Lewis Carroll. I remember the last time I re-read Alice, thinking how very Victorian all the jokes were and wondering how I ever understood it as a child, but I must have got it because my very first doll was called Alice, after the heroine of the book I was reading at the time. I’ve got A Princess of Mars, which I haven’t read in years and look forward to re-reading, likewise Robert E. Howard’s Hour Of The Dragon, which I have somewhere on my shelves as Conan The Conqueror. That’s the one where the middle-aged Conan, now king of Aquilonia, has an adventure and finally chooses himself a woman to settle down with and make his Queen.

But these are only the e-books I’ve picked up for my iPad. By my bed are those books which I read again and again, books which are shabby from re-reading. Just a few: Harry Turtledove’s Ruled Britannia, his alternative universe book in which the Spanish Armada conquered England. It’s seen from the viewpoints of William Shakespeare and his Spanish counterpart, Lope Da Vega, who, in this world, has come to England with te conquerors and, in between doing his officer duties, is writing plays. I have lost track of the number of times I’ve read this. Each time I read it I pick up something I missed last time. In this world, Christopher Marlowe has not been murdered in that pub, and has written many more plays. However, the characters who murdered him in our world are around in this one, playing their own parts. Queen Elizabeth is in the Tower and Shakespeare has been commissioned both by the Spanish and the British underground to write a propaganda play. As I love Shakespeare anyway, it’s wonderful to be able to read and re-read a book seen from his viewpoint.

I re-read Lord Of The Rings as comfort reading. The beauty and power of it makes it terrific bedtime re-reading for me. I’ll read a chapter and say to myself, “Oh, good, it’s the scene where they first meet Aragorn!/Tom Bombadil/arrive in Rivendell…”

There are all those books by Terry Pratchett (the current one at my bedside is Hogfather) which make me laugh as much the tenth time as they did the first.

I re-read the Phryne Fisher books by Kerry Greenwood, even though I know whodunit, because I love to soak myself in the ambience of 1928 Melbourne. It makes me look at the city around me with different eyes. Walking the Esplanade in St Kilda, I wonder what view Phryne Fisher would have had from her “bijou” home at 221B.

The Corinna Chapman stories by the same author are set in the present, but they’re part of a more familiar Melbourne, as I know it now, and I do love the building in which Corinna lives – I’d move in tomorrow if it existed! I relish the re-read of these books.

I re-read Harry Potter. The first lot of re-reads I did were because I wanted to refresh my memory before reading the next, but now I just want to go back to the days when Harry was young and innocent and just discovering the wizarding world and then, of course, I have to finish the saga. And then I start again, for the same reason - back to Harry's childhood...

Howard Fast’s books I re-read for the beauty of the stories and language. And I find things that I hadn’t noticed before. Re-reading Spartacus one time, I suddenly realised that a story told solemnly by the politician Gracchus to young Marcus Tullius Cicero is actually a well-known joke about Jewish mothers. Cheeky! Cicero doesn’t like it and he certainly doesn’t get the punchline. Neither did I till I read the actual joke somewhere. And if I’d read the book only once, that’s only one thing I would never have picked up at all.

So, o lurkers out there, what’s your favourite re-read and why?


Anthony Panegyres said...

Hi Sue

It is very rare for me to re-read. In fact it is only LOTR, which I have read at least a handful of times as well as 'The Great Gatsby', which I've read thrice.

Like your folktale input regarding Lanagan in the last post too.

Morva Shepley said...

LotR definitely. Some books, like the Sherlock Holmes books, I re-read because I haven't read them for ages, some because I want to go back to that world, and some, like Alan Garner's Stone quartet or Kerri Hulme's Bone People, because I'm still intrigued despite having read them before. Of course, some are just re-read because they're handy when I wanted to read something.

I really went off Seinfeld when he did a skit explaining that buying books was dumb because once you've read a book you don't need it anymore. It's hard to find the words to respond to that one.

Often, just seeing their spines on the shelves brings the stories back to me, like snapshots reminding me of holidays I'd forgotten.

Enjoy your re-reading. It's all part of that dialogue we have with books.