Are You Reading That Book Again?!

I have several friends/family members who are baffled by my habit of re-reading my favorite books. But I’m baffled by their bafflement. Doesn’t everyone revisit their book-character friends? Don’t they miss them?

I imagine that I first re-read books because I had a limited supply. My house always had books in it, but there weren’t hundreds. We made frequent trips to the library (thank goodness) but the end of one book did not always coincide with an influx of new reading material. And a time during which there is no book-in-progress is a predicament not to be borne.  As a result, I read every book that was in my house — sappy autobiographies of accident and cancer victims (Mom), mindless teen-girl fiction, Laura Ingalls Wilder , and Nancy Drew mysteries (older sister).

And when nothing else appealed to me, I went back to the books I had loved enough to acquire or been lucky enough to receive as gifts. The Chronicles of Narnia box set was (and still is) a cherished gift when I was 11 or 12. Anne McCaffrey’s dragon/fire lizard books were chosen as free ‘Reading is Fundamental’ books, and Madeline L’Engle’s A Swiftly Tilting Planet was permanently borrowed from the junior high library (sorry, Mrs. Hartner!). Lucy will once again discover that the scary wizard is really a kind old man, and Eustace will learn from being turned into a dragon. Menolly will escape from the thread, and find a place where she can be herself and thrive (and even fall in love). Meg & Charles Wallace will again blow my mind with a vision of the world as malleable and open to the will of every one of us.

Swiftly Tilting Planet Madeleine L'Engle
I’m sure that winged unicorn on the cover was one of the reasons I picked this book up

But this doesn’t really explain why a woman with disposable cash and full access to one of the best libraries in the country still reads books she’s already read. Stories in which she has already discovered the surprises, admired the prose and pondered the lesson.

Why do I re-read them?

  • Because I’ve forgotten some minor detail of the plot and cannot rest.
  • Because my particular sad/angry/happy/wistful/etc. mood requires a book to match, and [insert book title here] matches that mood exactly
  • Because the book in question blew my mind wide open in a new and unexpected way, and I want to experience that again — and likely go deeper in, where there are more new things to ponder.
  • Because, once again, the end of one book did not coincide with an influx of new material. Or the available new material does not fit the current reading mood.
  • Because the series is 15 freakin’ books long and I don’t exactly remember everything from Book One (first read in 1992), which will impair my ability to fully enjoy Book 15 the way I want/need/deserve to.
A Memory of Light Robert Jordan Brandon Sanderson Wheel of Time
Seriously
  • Because the series is (currently) five books long, the new one is expected next month, and I can’t wait so I re-read Book Four. Or maybe books One through Four.
  • Because the series is 15 books long, and reading Book 16 reminds you how much you love those books/characters/plotlines, so you start over at Book One.
  • Because my current book brought a previous book to mind, along with the urge to read that book.
  • Because the book I just finished blew my mind wide open in a new and unexpected way, and I need time to sit with those new ideas — but since a time during which there is no book-in-progress is a predicament not to be borne, it is safer to re-read a book which I know won’t interfere with this pondering.
  • Because that book broke my heart/gave me a new attitude/made me want to run away to Hawaii and I want to feel that again.

 

I’m sure there are dozens of other reasons why I reread the books I love, but this is the hit list (or possibly the top ten – hey, there really are ten of them!).

Where do you stand on the read once/ read over-and-over spectrum? Why? Hit me.

best read lately – Zero History by William Gibson

The fiction that William Gibson writes now cannot strictly be called Science Fiction (or, if you prefer, speculative fiction). The world in Zero History (and the rest of the Blue Ant trilogy, Pattern Recognition and Spook Country) contains nothing that is not currently available in the world today. Sometimes, you have to make an effort to remember that he’s made none of these facts up. Of course the plot and people and details of their story are fictional – but all have been created by things that really exist. The world in the Blue Ant trilogy is our world, we live in it. And seen through Gibson’s eyes – it’s a crazy, freaky, fabulous place.

The difference – the thing that makes him incredible and amazing and worthy of homage and envy – is his ability to translate a unique viewpoint into prose that puts the reader firmly behind his eyeballs (real or metaphorical) so that they see the world new and different. He seems to have ‘created a new world’ out of the real world that surrounds us. I imagine that he developed this skill by building ‘fake’ worlds inspired by what he saw in the real world, until the world morphed and the reverse was now more interesting or inspirational or what-have-you.

The plot is slightly less labyrinthine than many previous Gibson novels, but no less satisfying. And (spoiler alert) the meeting between Hollis and the never-named Cayce had me jumping for happy-joy.  These characters echo much of my own personal world-view, and I’m sure that Hollis and Cayce and I would be friends.

I feel I should mention (for those who’ve not read Gibson) that he writes fantastic female characters, without it ever feeling like he’s trying to write a strong female lead character. All of his characters are nuanced and real and convincing, and many of them happen to be female – females recognizable as fully human and in no way singled out as unusual in being so. This is certainly true for the Blue Ant trilogy, and if memory serves, is true for previous works. Chevette from the Bridge Trilogy (Virtual Light, Idoru, All Tomorrow’s Parties) is a favorite, and I’ve loved Cayce since the first page of Pattern Recognition.

I went to see William Gibson at Powell’s in September (day two of his book tour – yay living in Portland!) to hear him read from Zero History. And truly, to be in the same room with him and get a feel for who he is. Again, as with Chabon, it was everything I’d hoped it would be.  I’d recently listened to Spook Country on audio (not read by him) and so it was easy to slip back into that world.  The descriptions sound even more odd when you are listening to them rather than being on the page, where you can go back and read them again to figure out what familiar object he’s describing in such unfamiliar terms. I’d read Spook Country several times before hearing it, so I was simply being reminding, not told for the first time.

I am super-focused on getting my debts paid off right now, and don’t usually buy hardback books anymore, so I didn’t buy a copy that day. I’d had Zero History on hold at the library for more than a month the day the book was released (I think I was something like #26 on the list) and was ever-so-patiently waiting for my turn. It finally came the day before I left for Alaska for six days of child- and friend-bonding. Perfect! There’s nothing better than a highly-anticipated read on a trip with many plane rides and days spent waiting for people to get off work. I almost started it again as soon as I’d finished it (which I don’t believe I’ve ever done). And I was sad to give it back to the library – but of course did so quickly after returning home, since my book-receiving karma must be kept in tip-top shape at my only current, dependable source for new reading material. I’m tempted to put it on hold again right now so I can read it again soon. Though not too soon – currently 135 holds on 44 copies. It makes me happy to see how many other people appreciate fabulous writing and a unique world-view. Go. Read it. Start with Pattern Recognition. You won’t be sorry.

What I read in April

The River Where Blood is Born by Sandra Jackson-Opoku – this is a multi-generational book, complete with gods and tricksters looking on. Much like some of my favorite Alice Walker (yes, this one starts in Africa as well). This will get a full review soon.

Best European Ficition 2010, which I reviewed for BookBrowse.com (I did like it, despite my avoidance maneuvers).

The Final Solution by Michael Chabon– this book was recently returned to me from a friend who had borrowed it. A novella of Sherlock Holmes’s final investigation. Chabon never disappoints, and I don’t even like Sherlock Holmes.

Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean – the story of a woman who survived some of WWII by living (with the rest of the employees & their families) in a museum in the USSR. The story bounces back and forth between her current life in the U.S. Pacific NW – while she is suffering from Alzheimer’s – and her memories of that war-torn winter in… Leningrad, naturally. Lots of interesting questions about memory and what is real, and the power of the human spirit to survive just about anything, and the way myth and art assist in that survival.

My Life in France by Julia Child with Alex Prud’homme– I read this because I loved the Julia Child portions of the Julie & Julia film, and this book did not disappoint. The film clearly captured her exuberance and passion for food, France and her husband that shines through this book. Takes us from their arrival in France through the second edition of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and the creation of her television show. Co-written by Child and her grand-nephew.

Paradise of the Blind by Duong Thu Huong– which I reviewed here.

A Disobedient Girl by Ru Freeman. This is the story of an Indian girl…. that I didn’t finish. I got through maybe two chapters, and it just wasn’t working for me. I don’t entirely blame the book – the character was mildly interesting up to the point where I stopped reading. But it was not capturing my interests enough to hang onto it (this was about the time I started reading Neil Gaiman’s blog, so I blame him at least partially for my distraction).  It was a library book, so I returned it without finishing it.

Good Omens by Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman.  This is the book I read instead of A Disobedient Girl. Neil was blogging about the audio book or something, so I had to go re-read my copy. Pratchett is a witty, fantastically funny author, and I’ve already told you how much I adore Gaiman. I remember finding this book and being thrilled – I’d only read Neverwhere by Gaiman at that point, but I’d read at least half dozen Pratchett Discworld books (Small Gods was my favorite at that point, and still in the top three) and was excited to see the two of them together. My only complaint in this otherwise hilarious comic romp through the apocalypse is the rather anticlimactic ending. Funny, funny, funny book. I can remember feeling compelled to read parts of it to friends because I needed them to know that I wasn’t imagining things, it really was that crazy.

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Looks like I only finished seven books in April.  Seems like a slow month (especially since I’ve already read eight in May, and it’s only the 19th). What was I doing? Oh right, I was avoiding Best European Fiction 2010. Also, I read a year’s worth of Neil Gaiman’s blog. I’m not proud of it, but it does indicate how much free time I had on my hands.

I’m blaming the book club

I used to be a member of the SciFi Book club – starting in 1991. Every month – whether I bought a book or not – I got a cool flyer telling me all about the new sci-fi and fantasy books coming out. I found tons of books (e.g. The Wheel of Time) I might never have known about. I only stopped buying through them when I discovered used book stores, because used book stores don’t take book club editions (as a rule).  I’m sure it was in a SciFi Book Club flyer that I first saw Sandman comics/graphic novels and thought they looked cool. But, being a broke child, I never did buy one (because the graphic novels were more expensive than the regular books). But I did buy Neverwhere – partly because I’d wanted Sandman, and partly because it was a recommended book that month. Or maybe it was on sale. Neverwhere was my very first Neil Gaiman experience, and there was no turning back.

Fast-forward… 14 years? Now I’m obsessed with his blog. I can’t stop reading it. So far, I’ve read back to July of 2009, then decided to start at the beginning (of the current blog) in September of 2001 and read forward and I’ve gotten as far as January February March 2002 (and this while having intermittent connectivity issues which are DRIVING ME CRAZY). I joined twitter so I could ‘follow’ him. I’m watching interviews with him on the web, and reading his blog at work when I should be working. I’m practically a stalker (but still staying on the right side of the law-dog). I was bored with the book I was reading (A Disobedient Girl) and decided to re-read Good Omens because he was talking about the audiobook (and I’d already re-read American Gods lately). He likes the same people I do (Pratchett, Chabon, Gibson) and seems strangely connected to other creative people I like as well (de Lint, Miyazaki). It’s like proof that the things I like are cool, and that I’m not crazy for seeing meaning where others see coincidence. Example:

I was reading a journal entry of Neil’s (I call him by his first name because I feel like he’s my personal friend. I know it’s presumptuous. But it makes me feel special) about an artist he likes/finds inspiring/collaborates with, Lisa Snellings Clark. I click the links (which – keep in mind – are 8 years old) so I can see some of her artwork. Not much luck with the links, so I do a Google search for her name and find her blog. Above the ‘about me’ widget there is a link that says ‘Lisa explains it all at Stainless Steel Droppings.’

My eyes must have looked like an anime character at that point.

Stainless Steel Droppings is a blog I’ve read just recently that, among other things, reviews books.  A friend sent me a link a few weeks ago to a review Mr. Droppings had written because he was announcing a new Charles de Lint book and she wanted to make sure I knew about it. To recap, that is Neil Gaiman-Lisa Snellings Clark(2002)-Stainless Steel Droppings (2008)-Me(April 2010), and also Friend of Mine-Charles de Lint-Stainless Steel Droppings-Me(April 2010). I’m not imagining things – the world is conspiring to shower me with blessings.

In case all of that seems like it’s just me wasting time:

Reading about all the different projects (my super-close pal) Neil has going on, and the way he works on half-dozen things at a time (apparently) and enjoys other artists’ work in various mediums… somehow it is encouraging me to put more effort into writing, and deciding what to do about the whole writing thing. I’m not a fiction writer, so what kind of (non-academic) thing do I want to be writing? I know that the first rule of writing is to put pen to paper (metaphorically speaking – my handwriting sucks and I can type a lot closer to fast enough when the muse is on).

Write, even if it’s bad, even if it’s garbage. Write. Because if you do it enough, you will get to the good stuff – assuming you have any.  And the bad stuff will get better. Your writing will not get any better by not writing, that is for sure.

I’ve posted a blog entry 6 days in a row now, and have one in the can, and another one started. So thanks, Neil. For being my electronic friend and inspiration; for filling the empty hours and giving me hope for future hours filled with interesting projects.

so very NSFW

You may have heard of Mary Roach. She’s the woman who wrote Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers (of which I have heard great things but have not read). It became a best seller – so clearly this woman knows how to make the strange accessible to the masses. I found Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex on the sale table at Borders and grabbed it.

I don’t remember the last time I laughed so much reading a book.  Bonk is not a book about sex, it’s a book about the ridiculous situations that arise when you are trying to study sex scientifically.  Hamsters are wearing polyester pants.  People are having intercourse inside MRI machines.  Roach has a fine sense of the ridiculous, and the skills to let all of us in on the joke.  Roach travels the world to witness first-hand (whenever possible) the studies that tells us what we know about bumping uglies.

One of the most interesting things in the book was finding out how little is really understood about the physical realities of human sexual intercourse.  And the most interesting stuff seems… well, rather explicit for an open forum such as this. Instead, I’ve decided to share the topics of a few of the footnotes, to give you an idea of the randomness of the world and the breadth of her topic.

In no particular order (I can see my spam folder filling up now):

the sale of soiled panties in Japan
premature and retarded ejaculation
copulation rates of primates
the maternal fastidiousness of earwigs
the passage of flatus at coitus
artificial insemination of dogs in the 18th century
boar odor spray
the odor of the flowers of the Spanish chestnut tree
the great-grandniece of Napoleon and her gay husband
the Masturbate-athon
the Personal Pelvic Viewer (PPV for short).

Seriously, how can you not read this book?