I Never Read a Book Twice!

Do you?

Life is too damn short! I need to move on to the next book, then the next, and on and on. To go back and reread something is almost against my religion, or  life force. Unfortunately, since creating my Best Mysteries of All Time list, I’ve had to re-read bits and pieces, and almost all of some titles, simply to regain what I loved about them to begin with. And it makes me impatient, testy, curmudgeonly.

I can think of perhaps two titles I re-read voluntarily. For some reason I thought The Birthday Murder by Lange Lewis was splendiferous when first encountered. So years later, in need of a comfort read, or some such thing, I picked it up and read it again. And sadly, it disappointed the second time around.  A couple hours out of my life-gone! The second book I remember was Mary Gordon’s Final Payments. I think at the time I identified with the protagonist. So, I suppose remembering a little of that feeling, I reread it. Not as nearly a good match as earlier, lol. I’ve been tempted to reread some outstanding books, such as: The Probable Future by Alice Hoffman; some short stories by Stephen Crane; Lady Oracle by Margaret Atwood; and any Cornell Woolrich.

I was blown away by The Probable Future. I loved the quirkiness of the setting. A house that looked like a wedding cake intrigued my imagination so when I found out there were real homes out there called wedding cake houses, naturally I needed to visit–and so I did–at least three of them. One in upper New York, one in Virginia, and the last in Massachusetts, the inspiration for Hoffman’s home. For that reason alone, rereading seems doable, plus the characters and magical atmosphere adhered itself to me, and I became part of the town in which the story takes place. However, because I’ve had less than positive second shots at books, I think I’d rather remember being awed by the book, then rereading and feeling flat.

The short stories of Crane were taught in high school, and one story has remained with me and I often mentally repeat a refrain–it may be paraphrased here–‘If I’m going to die, if  I’m going to die, why in the name of the seven mad seas, was I allowed to come thus far to contemplate sand and trees?’ The trees part may be off too–but the point was, if  you are at a place in life where you are about to go down- like the sailor who is struggling in the sea after a boat sinking–why are the means to survival placed in front of you, but out of reach? And the greater lesson from the story; if you literally ‘go with the flow’ you’ll survive, whereas the men who tried to swim, or fight the ocean, perished. The sailor who allowed the water to push him to the shore, lived. Worth re-reading just to get the quote correct.

I have vaguer reasons for Lady Oracle–one being I’ve kept the paperback I read in my teens with me all this time, so I must have liked something about it. Also, I think the protagonist is involved with gothic mysteries, which I read like candy back in the day. So I’m curious as to what compelled me to keep the book and what treasures may still lay within.

And Cornell Woolrich should be self explanatory. But just in case one hasn’t had the incredible experience of reading Woolrich’s dark, suspenseful, tumultuous novels, let me just say that the reader never knows if there will be a positive outcome for the characters until the last page, and that tenseness is reason enough to read again and again.

But I don’t. I don’t reread any Woolrich’s–there are still titles of his I haven’t cracked open yet. And the other books although intriguing, require time, and I simply don’t want to give it to them. I want to finish Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs, I’m more than half way through. Then there’s the classic mystery novel people go bonkers over I’ve been meaning to read for decades–The List of Adrian Messenger, by Philip MacDonald –I’m slightly a quarter of the way in. And let’s not ignore the Dell Mapback, The Charred Witness, by George Harmon Coxe starring that intrepid newspaper photographer, Kent Murdock–I’ve no idea how far I’ve gotten in this one, I’m enjoying the 40s ambiance too much to care.

And what about the To Be Read piles? Are they to stay at the same height while I return to an earlier read? I’ve been dying to delve into The Carnival Murder for ages. And I had immediately bought the newly released  A Red Herring without Mustard, a Flavia de Luce book by Alan Bradley, which is now not so new. And oh! Yes, I forgot I had begun a recommended book called The Red Leather Diary, by Lori Koppel and need to continue it.

So, you can see why picking up a long ago read, and perusing its pages again, is just out of the question.

I never read a book twice!

 

The Birthday Murder image at the top left is the first time I read it.  The second time is the one on the right.

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  • I confess. I reread favorites all the time. Since I read about 100 books a year, that works for me. True, I don’t get to read ALL of the new books, but some are just too good to let go after one reading…anything by Dorothy Dunnett or Georgette Heyer or Miller and Lee for example. Have read all of these authors’ books more than once.

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  • I have read Joyce’s ULYSSES at least four times, all of Jane Austen’s novels more times than I can count, even Agatha Christie’s MURDER AT THE VICARAGE three times. WIND IN THE WILLOWS; SHANTYBOAT; WALDEN; A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN; THE GENTLE ART OF VERBAL SELF-DEFENSE; THE LAST TIME I SAW PARIS; etc., etc., etc. This past year alone I read the new novel SOUTH OF SUPERIOR three times–so far!

    I will say that I never read the SAME book twice, because even a book previously read is new and different on each successive reading. Yes, life is short. Also, it must be said, there is a lot of crap out there, and I’d rather re-read a book I love than suffer through pages of mediocrity just because they’re new.

    Do you finish every book you start?

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    • Good question P.J. re: finishing books. Most of the time but there are some that I think are really bad writing or out of my interest zone.

      What I wonder about myself sometimes is why do I sometimes find a book that is out of my ‘zone’ AND bad writing and yet I still read it till I finish it. That, to me, is a real waste of reading time…

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  • I reread my favorites now and then: Charles Dickens Bleak House (4 times), Jane Eyre (countless), One Hundred Years of Solitude (3 times), Fall on Your Knees (3 times). I completed an English degree, and we were instructed to read every novel in the course list at least twice: once for pleasure, and a second close reading for theme, tone, style, etc. I found that I always enjoyed the book more on the second read. That being said, a bad novel is a bad novel, and won’t get better with rereading. A great novel however, is full of gifts that can only be uncovered with subsequent reads. Readers change as well, and because the reader is such an active participant in creating the fictional world, a book you read today will be interpreted differently (I hope!) if you read it again in twenty years because you have so much more life experience that you bring into the work.

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  • I often enjoy rereading books and say to people that I can do so because my memory is so short. Sometimes it is like a near new experience the second time through with me saying, “OH! I remember that.” as I’m digging into the middle of a chapter.

    The Chronicles of Narnia is one set I go through every couple of years at least. The Harry Potter books I’ve gone through 3 times I think. Many of Marks Twain’s big ones, O’Henry and Dickens I feel well worth the time to revisit.

    You mentioned a ‘comfort read’. I often find rereading a good story to be just that.

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  • Wow! Thanks for commenting everyone! Gee whiz Julie–I can’t say I read that many–at one time maybe, but I’m consumed with all sorts of other stuff, and find less time than before, which is one of the reasons I won’t reread a book. I read Heyer years ago, but if I read her now, it would be like reading a new title, it was so long ago.

    As for finishing a book I started and find uninteresting or bad, no, I find more and more I won’t finish it. That wasn’t the case until a few years ago–it was a compulsion, I suppose. I started it, I needed to finish what I started–sort of a work ethic thing. Again, time is too short for that.

    Of course a great book is always better than a bad one, but since I try not to read bad ones, lol, this isn’t a problem. I will read new books that are of interest to me, and that is what satisfies my craving for reading. Rereading is not helpful to me, even if I read it later in life and have different perspectives on life. As I said in the article, rereading hasn’t turned out so positive in the past.
    I just remembered another book I reread and it was just as good as the first time–Pride and Prejudice. But I mean, hey, how could this not be great every time?

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  • wow, i think you’re missing out! I have to admit hat I re-read a lot less now that I have a well paying full time job and can afford to purchase books more regularly, but I still try and re-read a fair bit, especially the classics. You can pick up so much more from a book the more you read it.

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  • I both agree and disagree with you.
    I try not to reread books as i find it both a waste of time and also it means the the to read pile either stays the same or gets bigger.
    But there are a few titles that i like to reread when i am ill or on holiday as i find them comforting.
    Also if you have gone though a couple of bad books it nice to pick up something that you know you will enjoy.

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  • I am with you, Diane.
    I have never reread a book, I am always on to the next one. I, too, keep a stack of to-be-reads by my bedside, and the stack keeps growing. If a book doesn’t speak with interest to me by the end of the first chapter, it is gone and I am on to the next book. I glory in either a well-constructed tale or exquisite language; when I can find both in the same book, it is a joy to read.
    I look forward to the end of the day when all my work is done, and I can wind down with a good book. It is my reward!

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