Monday, 18 October 2010

Do You Re-Read Books?

I never really read books as a child. I was too busy playing football in the winter and cricket in the summer. If I read at all, it was Tintin and Asterix, cos they like, you know, had pictures in them...

The book that turned me on to literature was Albert Camus' "L'Etranger". An older cousin of mine, who I always tried to cling on to the coat-tails of his cool, had recommended that I listen to The Cure song "Killing An Arab" and read the Camus' book.

I faithfully did both and have never looked back in either category. (Thanks Cuz!) I have been a voracious reader ever since.

Every year I made sure I found space on my list to re-read "L'Etranger". I think I probably kept this up for about eight to ten years. The number of other novels I've read for even a second time I can probably count on the fingers of one hand. I almost never go back to a book I've read, I think because somewhere psychologically, I feel it would hold me up from discovering the next great novel on my list.

As with L'Etranger", I'm sure reading most books would yield things I missed first time round. And though I am indubitably a different person from the one twenty years ago, (having become a parent for example), would I inevitably have a different reaction to a book I had read twenty years ago? I don't know the answer to this and my empirical sample is too slight to base any conclusion on.

Also, the thing is, I kind of like imbibing what I can from reading a book for the first time. The way it can both wash over and yet percolate me. If one returns to a previously read book, both mechanisms are dampened by a base recall of the plot and character from the first time round. I've recently finished Tom McCarthy's superlative "C" (reviewed here). The book is rich in intertextuality and reference, but I feel I got the ones I got and that to read it again may yield me me more of the references I missed first time round, but would that in itself enhance my pleasure over and above what I obtained a couple of weeks ago?

I'm curious when I read online reviews of books when the reviewer mentions they would like to re-read it, whether they in fact do return to it at a later date? Like "L'Etranger", many readers have their one or two seminal texts that they return to over and over again, but do readers do it routinely with more titles than just these?

I'm about to launch into a re-read of Murakami's "Hard Boiled Wonderland And The End Of The World". The reason for this is mainly because I want to study its ingenious dual plot structure that work themselves towards a convergence that just doesn't seem possible at the outset. I want to study it because it impinges on my own work in progress. Yet I can't help feeling it's going to take the gloss off my memory of one of my all time favourite reads.

Wish me luck.


David G Shrock said...

Re-reading fiction in particular is an interesting decision and a wonderful question since there are some enjoyable fiction worth reading again.

I've re-read many non-fiction books including About Time by Paul Davies and Hawking's A Brief History of Time, but I've only re-read one fiction book: Stephen King's Gunslinger - It's short and I re-read it over 20 years later. Unlike non-fiction, the enjoyment is in interpreting the story and we remember stories so well. Of course, interpretations can change since childhood, so it might be interesting to read one again. I've been tempted to read Un Lun Dun by China Mieville because it's so wonderfully imaginative, but I might hold off until I have someone to read to, such as a child, which is another good reason to re-read and another perspective.

Thanks for the topic to think about, and good luck.

Sulci Collective said...

David - very good points, both about non-fiction which I agree seem far more accessible to re-reading and the point about reading it to your children. This latter point is quite hard to judge - my son loves the "Just William" series, but as yet has not managed to get into "The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy". But he's of an age where he wouldn't stand to have me read to him.

Thanks for the response.

Carrie Clevenger said...

I like to reread books just to see if I missed anything. I have the capability to kill a novel in one night's reading but it comes with a cost because I might miss details, so yes. I do reread books sometimes, and as for non-fiction? Lots of times because they also serve as reference.

Sulci Collective said...

yes, definitely that last point about non-fiction, because it tends to be for research/self-education purposes

Anonymous said...

Hi Marc,

I hardly ever re-read books for many of the reasons that you put forward but I did an awful lot of reading of the 'classics' (particularly Dickens and Tolstoy) as a child/teenager and obviously there is so much that I wouldn't have comprehended at that point. Some of my favourite books including some Steinbeck novels I read in my twenties and I have been contemplating reading some of those and also couple of recent favourites whose style I really identify with eg (Ali Smith). I guess I might also reread some books as a writer just to see how they worked. My husband in contrast to me rereads his favourites almost continuously and it will be interesting to get him to comment here and say why. Great topic for a post.

Andy said...

First up, excellent song, the cure has always be on my music to listen list but somehow I keep missing them. that will stop now.

Secondly, the balance of reading new books and re-reading favourite ones is hard to juggle - it is a lot easier with films and tv series, except perhaps the wire, which is more book than tv.

I wish you well with it and I hope it doesn't take the shine off your original memories. The last Murakami I read was Kafka on the shore, which at first I didn't like, I felt disappointed by it, but now snapshots of scenes pop into my head and it has left a lasting impression on me. His books are impressive and have also influenced my writing.

However I am wary of reading work that links with my own work in progress, Deception, esp Orwell's nineteen eight-four and possibly C as my ideas have been linked to it by Dan (eightcuts).

Good luck!