Falling in love again …

The Joys of Re-reading

I don’t do much re-reading.  I have too many unread books to get through, both new shiny ones and more of those which have been languishing on the shelves for far too long. Once in a blue moon though, I will re-read a book – just a couple a year usually.

It so happens that Ali at Heavenali is hosting a month of re-reading for January. It’s a doubly ideal time for some re-reading given my participation in the TBR Double Dog Dare too.  Strictly, a re-read doesn’t qualify as being in one’s TBR, but … books you’ve already read but kept are still available ‘to be read’ – Pedant, moi? (tee hee!). Otherwise, I’m strictly abiding by it and my embargo pile of reading for after April 1st is already growing!

The book I’m re-reading is The Shipping News by Annie Proulx. It won the Pullitzer Prize in 1993. I discovered it when the paperback came out and I adored it. That was way before I started the blog, but I did write about it in one of my first posts where I said:

Whereas the English equivalents of novels based in small-town America often seem so claustrophobic they have an unreal quality about them, this is not true of their US counterparts for me. North America is so vast, the novels also have a quality of space about them. Sure, everyone still knows everyone else, but they’re not squashed together like sardines, they have to make an effort to interact.

This is so in The Shipping News, where one of life’s failures, Quoyle, betrayed by his wife, opts to start all over again in faraway windswept Newfoundland. The novel is all about how he starts to fit in with the local community which takes time, as they’re mostly failures of a kind too. The quirky characters are superb, both comic and sympathetic. If you liked the TV series Northern Exposure, you’ll find similarities here, but that’s where it ends, as Annie Proulx’s writing leaps off the page and makes everything seem totally real. The chapters are headed with figures from a 1944 book of knots and quotations from the Mariner’s Dictionary which add to the considerable charm of this book.

I’m still reading the book, and will write more fully about it soon, but I am overjoyed to report that it has won me over again instantly, and is totally worthy of being one of my real favourite books.

There’s nothing like a successful re-read. If you remember the essentials of the book from the first time, the second and subsequent readings let you delve a little deeper into the psyche of the book, or to analyse what it is you like about the author’s style or writing techniques.

Occasionally when you re-read a book, the experience isn’t as good as the first time. It can be hard to put your finger on why it doesn’t gel with you again. This happened to me with The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. Given how many times I’ve heard the original radio show, watched the telly series, (and less so the movie, although that had its moments), it wasn’t until I re-read the book that I started to find it not as funny – it still had some great jokes, but the inbetween bits rather bored me – maybe I wasn’t reading it with the voice of Peter Jones as the Book in my head.  Can’t quite put my finger on it.

I hope to include a few more re-reads this year, particularly books that I first read a couple of decades ago. Simon’s recent post about Graham Greene has made me hanker after revisiting him for instance.

What are your favourite re-reads?
Which books didn’t work as well second time around? 
Do share …

0 thoughts on “Falling in love again …

  1. heavenali says:

    I remember being a little disappointed by The Shipping News, someone had told me it would practically change my life, so I read it eagerly and of course it could only disppoint.
    My favourite re-read so far has been Jane Eyre – it was the fourth time i had read it and it still remains my favourite book.

      • Dark Puss says:

        Oh do read Calvino and do certainly read “If on a winters night a traveller”, it is such a clever, thoughtprovoking book. I also strongly recommend “Invisible Cities”.

  2. Sly Wit says:

    Well, now I feel better. I just re-read the first Harry Potter (since a friend is reading them for the first time) and I was feeling terribly guilty re: the TBR Challenge.

    Otherwise, I can’t think of much contemporary fiction that I’ve re-read (not counting the books that make you want to immediately re-read because of some sort of bizarre twist).

    And I agree, Simon’s post did make me want to revisit some of my Greenes.

    • gaskella says:

      I guess the books you tend to re-read are the classics, ancient and modern. The book I’ve re-read the most is Lord of the Rings – four times and counting.

      • Sly Wit says:

        I always have the full LotR on audio on my iPod because I’m always happy to go back to that world, even if it is just to dip in now and again.

  3. Alex says:

    ‘The Shipping News’ was the first book one of my reading groups read for our September book and film day and I’ve often wondered since whether my memories of how good the book is were enhanced by just how bad the film is. You reassure me that my bookish recollections are correct.

    • gaskella says:

      I did see the film, but only remember it through a sort of sub-Arctic haze! The characters in the book are so wonderful though, I am loving it again.

  4. Joanne says:

    For the past couple of years I’ve selected 6 books at the beginning of the year to reread. There are so many books on my shelves and I thought if I’m not going to reread why am I hanging on to them? It’s worked well, and I’ve enjoyed them, and got rid of those I know I’m not going to read a 3rd time.

    • Sly Wit says:

      I love this idea! I think once my TBR challenge for this year is out of the way, I might steal this. I don’t have tons of fiction that I keep on my shelves, but I keep meaning to reread my favorite authors (Austen, Christie, Greene, Irving, Zola) and I never seem to get around to it.

  5. Alex in Leeds says:

    I didn’t do much re-reading last year at all, I really fancy a week in the summer curled up in the local park with favourite authors and lots of ginger beer. 🙂

    • gaskella says:

      Alex – I get too distracted reading out in the open to concentrate on the text, but I love the idea of lashings of ginger beer (with a good squeeze of lime and lots of ice) 🙂

  6. Juxtabook says:

    I do a lot of re-reading. My favourite re-read is Middlemarch. I love re-reading my Georgette Heyer’s too.

    I liked your paras on The Shipping News. I read it really really quickly, finishing it sitting on the stairs waiting for a knock at the door, as it was in a box of books I’d sold at auction that were due for collection! I discovered it just in time to finish before it went on its way! (should say there were two days between end of auction and collection – I only just manage it though). Anyway, I think it is one my must acquire and do greater justice. I watch the film recently – awful!

    • gaskella says:

      I devoured Georgette Heyer in my teens – I’ve recently acquired a few again with the aim of re-reading her (eventually). I think you would enjoy the Shipping News given the chance to luxuriate in Proulx’s wonderful descriptions.

  7. Jenny says:

    I reread constantly. Sometimes I do more rereading than new reading. It’s one of the biggest things I love about reading — coming back to books I’ve loved in the past and loving them all over again. And eventually knowing them really, really, really well.

    • gaskella says:

      I do wish my mount TBR wasn’t so ginormous so I could re-read more without feeling guilty Jenny. A book that is worth keeping needs to be re-readable though – that is the sign of a true personal classic.

  8. Dark Puss says:

    I have, of course, no TBR collection to get through but I rarely re-read. One author where I have had both success and failure is David Lodge. Some of his earlier works are too “of their time” and in particular I re-read and will not read again “Changing Places”. On the otherhand I’ll cite “Small World” (my life in some respects) and “Nice Work” as two that do still work on all levels when I re-read them recently. My occasional re-reading of Colette always confirms to me that she was one of the greatest writers of C20.

    • gaskella says:

      I couldn’t live without my TBR – I don’t know how you do it! I agree re David Lodge – we read Changing Places for book group a couple of years ago, it was a re-read for me and I agree it had dated. I’ve not re-read any of his others though. I inherited a lot of Colette books from my mother (who was a huge fan), and must start reading them.

  9. Simon T says:

    My only experience of The Shipping News was the incredibly dull film, but that shouldn’t have put me off the book… I had a copy once, but I think it went during a cull.

    I re-read Miss Hargreaves and Diary of a Provincial Lady series every year or two, but apart from much-loved favourites, I don’t re-read a lot. Although perhaps I should, since re-reading One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downes last year revealed it to be a much, much better novel than I’d remembered.

    • gaskella says:

      I’m not suggesting that you need to make a habit out of it, but when you’re as old as I am, you’ll probably want to revisit books that you read in your teens and twenties (even thirties). 🙂

  10. Col says:

    I do very little re-reading because my TBR pile is a ongoing little niggle in the back of my brain – I feel guilty about it and even more guilty when I keep adding to it! However in recent months I re-read “Le Grand Meaulnes” by Alain-Fournier and “The Country Girls” by Edna O’Brien. Both are books that I first found and fell in love with in my teens! Thirty odd years later I loved them both all over again! I like Joanne’s idea of choosing six at the start of the year to re- read – I think I’ll try that! No idea what I’ll choose though!

    • gaskella says:

      I know how you feel Col. I agree it’s the books I read decades ago that do call to me to re-read, never anything I’ve read more recently.

  11. Falaise says:

    I’m a big re-reader. I find it comforting sometimes just to pick up an old favourite and let my mind drift into it. I’m the same with TV programmes too. Like you, the Lord of the Rings is probably my most frequently re-read. I went through a period where I read it once a year for about a decade!

  12. winstonsdad says:

    I m doing a couple of rereads this year books I want to put on the blog I loved shipping news and northern exposure (got a series on dvd of this ) ,all the best stu

    • gaskella says:

      I’ve got the first three series of Northern Exposure – should start watching them again. It was such a subtle and gentle series – loved it too.

  13. Juna says:

    Such an interesting topic! I remember needing to push myself to finish The Shipping News and then being glad that I did. Now I want to go back and see what that was about. Regarding other rereads, I used to be a devoted fan of the fiction of Louisa May Alcott. LIttle Women still entertains and moves me after multiple rereads (first as a child then a couple of times as an adult). But I now find the sequel, Little Men, almost unreadable, as it is filled with cloying homilies, idealized children, and the sad transformation of Jo March (my favorite character from Little Women) from independent free spirit to a worshipper of domesticity.

  14. gaskella says:

    I remember strongly identifying with Jo when I read Little Women as a child – I never read any of the sequels though, so that was probably lucky!

  15. cbjames says:

    I officially grant you permission to re-read during the TBR Double Dog Dare, especailly since this is a book you already own. 😉

    I’ve nothing specifici to contribute today, but I wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed catching up with your blog this morning, particularly the reviews of the Bridge books.

    • gaskella says:

      Aw, thanks CB! 😀

      The Bridge books were absolutely wonderful, so glad I discovered them (in December so I could read them during the TBR Double Dog Dare).

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