As far as I can tell, I think one Let’s Talk Bookish every month is a free space, for whatever book-topic you’ve been chewing on or for a previous LBT topic you weren’t around for or missed. THESE ARE STRESSFUL FOR ME, because if I was good at choosing things to talk about, I wouldn’t need a meme-club to bully me into doing a specific topic every week.
Today’s Grab-Bag Topic:
How many times is enough?
OH I’LL TELL YOU WHEN I’VE HAD ENOUGH, by not reading it again after that, like I won’t again with Ender’s Game ’cause that fuckin’ guy had too many chances and blew every one of ’em. MORE LIKE ORSON SCOTT CAD, AMIRITE.
What kind of books do you re-read?
I dunno, I don’t have like a Policy, although if I think about it I tend to either re-read on a cycle or not re-read at all; right now I’m doing run-ups of both The Locked Tomb Series (ugh, that name) and The Stormlight Archive because they have new(ish) volumes out, and I used to do the same thing for The Dresden Files before there were goddamn forty of them, and also before I began to experience diminishing returns on investment re: cool worldbuilding vs. poorly-aged misogyny. I read my wife Tortilla Flat and Cannery Row at least once a year because they’re short and wonderful and meaningful to us, and we try to do the same with thicker fare every couple of years when appropriate, like Hogfather round about Decemberween-tide or our run-up of John Dies At The End, both due to the aforementioned Spooki Szn and because If This Book Exists You’re In The Wrong Universe just came out, although we goozled ourselves on that one by starting The Stand about a month ago. TURNS OUT THOUSAND-PAGE BOOKS TAKE A WHILE TO READ OUT LOUD, especially when your audience keeps adorably falling asleep.
Why re-read at all? Is re-reading just a comforting pastime? Or is there something to be gained?
As the Mountain Goats said, you can’t cross the same river twice; what they don’t mention is that this is because you aren’t the same you twice. Re-reading books that are important to us can serve almost any purpose: comfort, nostaliga, just plain fun, forgetting you’ve already read it until like 80% of the way through, and I do it for all of those reasons except the last one, which my wife does. But re-reading also presents an extremely valuable opportunity to test yourself against the things you thought or believed or felt the last time you read them, and decide whether you’ve changed, or strayed from your path, or whether that book and its ideas have just served their purpose and belong to another time in your life.
The Way Of Kings is my favorite genre-novel, filled with ideas and ideals that helped me decide what kind of man I wanted to be when I was younger, and I reread it every couple of years to test both those same ideals and myself, and it’s interesting to see how those results change: the youngest me who read it was all about the hotblooded young spearman protagonist out to prove there’s no honor or decency left in the world and hoping desperately to be wrong; as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to identify so, so much more with the grizzled older, sadder, wiser uncle of the incompetent child-king, trying to heal from the death of his brother, forgive himself for his own failings, and find a way to hold his country and people together with his blood and bones if he has to. That doesn’t mean that Kaladin Stormblessed and his furious quest for justice and vengeance were the wrong thing to focus on in the misty Before-Time of 2014, it just means that he’s a young man’s hero, and I’m simply no longer that young a man, and ready for a role model with less speed and flash but just as much strength and faith (albeit in different things), and there I find Dalinar Kholin awaiting me.
Do you ever re-read books you don’t like in hopes that it will be better the second time?
Well, here’s the thing about books I don’t like: I don’t finish them. I’m gonna die one day and my time, such as it is, is simply worth more than that.
But there IS a book that I genuinely liked…or wanted to, but was still unable to finish, no matter how many times I tried it, saying “This will be the one, I can tell it, this time it’s gonna Take and I’m gonna be a Real Book Boy.” This book is my white whale, ever eluding me, mocking me like the fat Ahab I am. This is the book that defeated me, and haunts me still.
I have two words for you, my friends:
It’s got everything I love in a book! Prophecy! A Journey! Constructed language, culture, and religion! A WASCALLY TRICKSTER CULTURE HERO WHO BAMBOOZLED GOD INTO GIVING HIM SICK SPEEDY STEPPERS!
On paper–the very paper it’s printed on–I should be friggin’ married to this book, but for whatever reason I have never gotten past their first encounter with a hrududu. That’s right, I memorized the lapine glossary included in the book (and also briefly converted to Frith-worship) rather than read the damn thing. What’s that hraka about?
Were there any books you didn’t like as a child but liked as an adult, or vice versa?
Not really, because as mentioned above I am a bibliophilic Anton Ego: I don’t like books, I love them, and if I don’t love them, I huck them off a highway overpass and go read Tortilla Flat to cleanse my palate. Now that’s a book with everything; crimes, a vacuum that runs without electricity, a pirate whose crew is dogs and whose treasure belongs to God, a box of big candy, and a pair of pants shared by–and I mean this–EVERYONE.
That said, I am a big believer that a book can come to you whenever it likes, but you come to the book when you’re ready for it. For example, I got Tortilla Flat for Christmas when I was maybe eight years old, a good fifteen years before I was either inclined or intellectually ready to read anything that didn’t have a mouse wielding a sword on the cover, and if I’d tried to bang my noggin against a tragicomic reframing of Arthurian mythos starring a bunch of admittedly uncomfortable stereotypes before I was ready for it, I would’ve bounced off one of my favorite books ever, maybe forever. So I guess the moral is definitely challenge yourself and try new things, but don’t force yourself to read things you aren’t enjoying just because you think you should; both you and the book deserve better than that.
And y’know what here, have a freebie that I don’t think I could flesh out into a whole post.
EATING & READING: YAY OR NAY?
I believe THIS orgy of delicious evidence should satisfy the court:
So yes, I’m pro. Reading and eating: it’s a winning combination. Before the Pandemic, just about once a week or so I’d head to Undisclosed Local Burger Joint, order up my usual, and settle in with some magic bullshit or something, a comforting ritual in an uncertain world. Am I a creature of habit? Yes. And DID my wife have to help me make sure those were all actually different pictures because I’d looked at them too long and gotten dizzy and also hungry? Listen: also yes.
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