Jack Merry here. The personal library that we have in our flat is fairly large -- a thousand or so works of fiction are in it. Now neither Brigid, me lovely wife, nor I keep something unless we're planning on re-reading it, or it has some sort of sentimental value. If we kept everything we read, the cats would risk getting buried under piles of books! But as large as it is, oft times I find nothing new has been added to the library that tickles me fancy. What I do is go back and read again something I like such as the Naigo Marsh Lord Alleyn -- ever-so-properly English mysteries (Our Editor is reviewing the BBC series which was recently released on DVD). Or perhaps a second pass at a Neil Gaiman will suffice as did Stardust a fortnight ago. Re-reading is comforting -- especially on a cold winters night when being disappointed by a less than sterling read is not something to look forward to.
So I decided to ask some of me fellow staffers what they re-read and why. Here are some of their answers over coffee -- Irish of course -- in the Pub late last week.
Kim Bates says 'I often re-read novels before bedtime because I know that will put me to sleep, where a new novel will keep me up all night because I want to know what's going to happen next. (For the same reason, I don't have a TV in the bedroom!) I tend to like stuff that absorbed me the first time, something where I can savour the writing or the character or the theme. Lord of the Rings and Gate to Women's Country by Sheri S. Tepper both end up on the bedside table. Recently I have been reviewing audiotapes of Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain, so I re-read all of them to evaluate the voice of the reader -- and because there is so much sweet and funny dialogue, and because the main characters of a melancholy sort like myself...and of course Harry Potter gets left in the room by the one of the girls on fairly regular basis. But it can't be anything new or I'm up till it's done!'
Joel Boyce actually admitted he reads things again: 'For fantasy, it's Mask of the Sorcerer, by Darrell Schweitzer. For sci-fi, it's Helm by Steven Gould. I've read them both at least thrice. I'd like to read them both again soon. Maybe over the break. Though I have a lot of other stuff to get through.' Whereas Tim Hoke answered 'I enjoy Wellman's Silver John stories, so I often reread my battered copy of John the Balladeer. Also, I recently reread War For The Oaks.'
Huw Collingbourne -- who declared a pox upon on both sides of the fox hunting controversy in Britain when we were discussing it in the Pub recently -- noted that he 'rarely re-read novels. Well, not unless I read them more than one or two decades ago.... I do sometimes re-read short stories (everything from Philip K Dick to P G Wodehouse) and poetry (Shakespeare sonnets, Andrew Marvell, John Donne, Milton). Having said that, I re-read The Lord Of The Rings recently and was not as impressed as when I read it first, many, many years ago. The epic quality and scholarship are undoubted but some of the writing is a bit clunky and Gandalf really irritates me when he peppers his speech with 'Lo!' and 'For Behold!' etc. I do re-read M. R. James ghost stories fairly often, especially at this time of year. And I occasionally re-read Sherlock Holmes stories. But there is just so much that I haven't yet read that I rarely have time to go back and read things I read before...'
Matej Novak has a single book he revisits: Perfume by Patrick Suskind. He says that 'it's one of the only books I've ever read more than once, and thinking about it now makes me want to read it again. It's just so rich and vibrant, yet amazingly easy to read, that I find something new each time and feel incredibly rewarded when I'm done.'
Gary Whitehouse too does little re-reading: 'I read so many new books that I rarely re-read anything any more, which is a pity. Well, I do sometimes go back and zip through previous installments in the Larry Niven-inspired Man-Kzin Wars series, and I've been known to re-read Niven's entire universe of 'Known Space' works, because its such an interesting universe he has developed, and peopled with such engaging characters, such as Beowulf Shaeffer, Louis Wu and Gil Hamilton. But my favorite work to re-read is Conrad's Lord Jim; don't ask me why. Its theme of the possibility of redemption through self-sacrifice must resonate. I first read it as a school assignment at a particularly formative age, 15 or so, and I still pull it off the shelf every few years and re-read it. It's a mature work by a mature writer, and it never fails to make me think deep thoughts about things like human nature, the nature of heroism and cowardice, and the enduring power of literature.'
Now I'm off to see what Mia has discovered for interesting books in the afternoon post, as one never knows what might come in for review.