The Books We Come Back To

There are apparently two types of people in the world — and by “people” I mean avid readers, because really, what other kind of people do I know anything about? — those who read a book once and never pick it up again, and those who read books over and over.

I fall into the latter category. But I rather envy the “hey, I’ve already read that” people. After all, there are so many wonderful books in the world. You can’t possibly hope to read them all, even if you read voraciously and read each book only once. It’s a terrible waste of your valuable reading time, I suppose, to pass the new books by in favor of a book you’ve read so many times you almost have it memorized.

I have entire shelves full of Georgette Heyer novels. I “discovered” her books right around the time she died, and there were a couple of nasty decades following her demise wherein her books were difficult to find. I therefore acquired multiple copies of the ones I did find, and became a Heyer hoarder. I liked to have a reading copy and a keeping copy, you see. Ebay had not yet been invented, used book stores were scarce, and laying my hands on a tattered copy of, say, FRIDAY’S CHILD made me feel like Indiana Jones uncovering the Ark. Now she has, thank goodness, become a “classic” and her books are as ubiquitous as Jane Austen’s or P.D. Wodehouse’s (to name the two authors to whom she is most often compared). But my anxious desire to have two copies of each of her titles was firmly rooted in the fact that I was reading my single copies to tatters.

My husband is hinting about getting me a Kindle for my upcoming birthday. I couldn’t resist peeking at the Kindle store. I’d heard that many titles issued prior to 1923 were available for free in Kindle editions — imagine having Sherlock Holmes and Mr. Darcy at my fingertips! — and I simply had to check. I almost fell off my chair when I found all the E. Nesbit titles I had loved in my childhood, there in the Kindle store …. FOR FREE. The thought of re-reading them brought tears of pure excitement to my eyes. What a treat! What a treasure! Hours of delight stretched before me, days of bliss, weeks of wallowing in her gorgeously put-together language!

Oh, dear. The fabulous new books I am also dying to read will simply have to wait. I cannot deny myself the pleasure of revisiting E. Nesbit.

Now, if my taste for re-reading lies at one end of the spectrum, my mother’s tastes lay at the opposite end. She was mystified when I, at the age of eight or ten, wanted to go with Tracy-next-door to see the movie Pollyanna. “You’ve already seen it,” she said — in her “I’m talking to an idiot” voice.  TV’s summer re-runs were torture to her. I actually witnessed her once watch ten minutes of a movie on TV, really enjoying it, before she realized she’d seen the movie years before. Disappointed, she immediately changed the channel.

“It’s a good movie!” I exclaimed.

“Yes, but I’ve seen it,” she replied. And in case you’re wondering: Yes, she would rather invest two hours in a mediocre movie that was new to her than a really good movie she’d already seen.

What is this strange quirk that leads us to be revisitors or … or …  non-revisitors? Because the preferences seem to be strong, either way. And they are obviously not genetic. I am closely related to many people, not just my mother, who read a book once and then shelve it forever. And to me, that would be like … I dunno … promiscuity. (“This is a great book! How can you want a different book? Why do you need something NEW all the time?! What’s WRONG with you??”)

I wonder if it has anything to do with being a writer?

Actually, I suspect it doesn’t.

It may have something to do with being a certain KIND of writer, however. I am the slow kind of writer. And it might very well be that I’m so darn slow because I spend way too much time going over what I’ve already written. I go over it, and over it, and over it. I guess I like to go over it. And over it and over it. Because that’s what I do, and why else would I do that?

Some writers write quickly. They create a mysterious product called a “first draft.” I have never written a first draft. When I reach the end of a book, it is done. But that’s probably because I have already gone over it, and over it, and over it …

I certainly waste a lot of time. Oh, the hours I have squandered, reading books I have already read and watching movies I have already seen! I hate to think of all the wonderful books I now will never get around to, and the great movies I will never see, because I have carelessly frittered away my chances, revisiting stuff I already knew by heart! Sad.

On the other hand, E. Nesbit … oh, I can hardly wait.

21 thoughts on “The Books We Come Back To

  1. I certainly hope you get a Kindle. I have more classics on mine than I can read at this point and I just peck away them. I’ve also got The Bible on there and will have another one of your books on there shortly.

    When I was a child I read favorite books over and over, but as an adult I rarely do. It’s like with movies … the ones worth watching again and again are usually classics, at least for me.

    • Either you outgrew your re-reader tendency, or you haven’t encountered enough adult books that really rang your chimes. I suppose it’s possible that your need for “comfort reads” lessened as you matured … it’s equally possible that I never quite grew up, and therefore need a lot of comfort reads.
      (Another theory ripe for debunking. Hey, I got a million of ’em.)

  2. I am definitely a re-reader. There are some books I love that I’ve read a dozen times or more over the years. Books that I first came to love as a child (Johanna Spyri’s Heidi, Elizabeth Enright’s Melendy family books) I’ve probably read close to fifty times. I’ve read most of your books at least a half-dozen times, for the same reason I re-read any book. I love the language, the characters, the ideas, and because exposing myself to those things makes me happy. to me, re-reading books (or re-watching movies or shows I love) is like listening to my favorite music. Of course I would want to do it over and over! Why doesn’t everyone?

    You’re seriously making me want a Kindle. I might have to start saving up.

  3. I may be that elusive reader that falls in both camps. By and large, I am not a huge re-reader. I am fairly regimented in my reading habits (I read three review books every month, then my book club book, and then have the rest of the month to read whatever I want). But there are some books I love that I have read over and over. As a child I read Anne of the Island so much I could recite Gilbert’s proposal. In recent years, I have frequently re-read Mary Balogh’s Slightly Dangerous and J.D. Robb’s Innocent in Death. Talk about wildly divergent comfort reads. But I probably only re-read a handful of books every year.

    • Ah … Blythe, you may have unlocked the secret to achieving a balance. Be a re-reader who is forced, by your position as a book reviewer, to have one foot in the other camp! I think I envy you.

  4. I’m afraid I’m going to need to shoot down your slow writer theory, Diane. My approach to writing is exactly like yours, and I can count on one hand the books I’ve read more than once. Let’s see: “East of Eden,” “Angle of Repose,” “All the Little Live Things,” “The Things They Carried,” and “To Kill a Mockingbird.” On the other hand, I’m on chapter three of this damn novel and still can’t advance it one sentence until I read (and perfect) everything I’ve already written. My vow that it was going to be different this time lasted two days, and then I deleted everything and started over (the “right” way). Sigh.

    • You’re on Chapter Three? Congratulations. I’m still on Chapter Two of the same two books I’ve been working on for the past year or so.

      Seriously, Chapter Three is major. You are now officially past the “start” of the book. It actually gets harder as it goes along, so stock up on coffee. And keep telling yourself: “Come on. If Diane can do this, how hard can it be?”

  5. Diane, I would have described myself as mostly a “new” reader (I am getting to old for do-overs). I do re-read the Bible, but I am not sure that counts. However, I did just watch the original Pollyanna last week with a good friend, and forgot how adorable it was to revisit, and yes, we both cried at the end. So….. I may have to check out some of my old favorite reads after all

  6. I, too, revisit books, movies and TV shows I love(d). I also live with someone who totally fails to understand why I want to see NCIS episodes again and again, or reread a book I’ve had for years. The simple answer for me is, I frequently hear a line in a show or come across something in a book that I missed the first time. It’s amazing how a seemingly throwaway line drops a puzzle piece into place. It happened when I picked up “Fair Game” and “Falling for Chloe” after a bit of an absence. I’ll re-visit ANY time!

  7. Someone long ago gave me some Words To Write By: “Reward the careful reader.” I think that applies to re-readers, don’t you? The first time you read a book that you like, you rush through it in a big, delighted swoop. It’s only on the re-reads that you catch the little things … the things that made you like the book in the first place. That’s my experience, anyhow. Thank you for including some of my titles in your re-reads!! I am truly honored.

  8. Is Georgette Heyer really like Wodehouse? That’s a very high standard! I have never read Georgette Heyer but I have read a great deal of Wodehouse. You pose a dilemma: would my reading time be better spent re-reading Wodehouse or reading Heyer for the first time?

    • LOL, Huw, what a conundrum! If you ever feel like reading something “Wodehouse-esque” I would recommend FRIDAY’S CHILD to you. There’s a character in there (Ferdinand “Ferdy” Fakenham) who is a dead ringer for Bertie Wooster. And some of the dialogue, particularly when Heyer gets her foursome of young man-about-town friends together, is just killingly funny.

      Heyer and Wodehouse were both writing at about the same time and about the same place, so it’s hard to know who influenced whom. But there are definite similarities in the humour.

  9. E. Nesbit is so wonderful! I remember starting to write a “book” when I was about seven years old, with the lead character being Robert the Pingo who was based on the Psammead.
    I think that we will soon be a two Kindle family!

    • Some children’s books don’t hold up well through the years, but hers are fabulous reads at any age. THE TREASURE SEEKERS is just plain great, and full of stuff that I simply didn’t “get” when I first read it as a child.

  10. Hello! I’m on holiday and, while idly surfing sites, came across a blog article about how great Diane Farr’s novels were. Continuing to idly surf I came across your post about rereading, which is an absolute passion of mine – and not only that, you mention two of my most reread authors in Georgette Heyer and E. Nesbit! Are you by any chance a Diana Wynne Jones or Neil Gaiman fan as well? Anyway my next stop on the net is amazon.com so I can buy some of your books. I am looking forward to them already. Thanks for such a wonderful summation of what, in my view, is one of the great pleasures in life.

    • I’m thrilled to tell you that I have never read either of those authors — thrilled because we obviously have the same taste in reading, so now I have two new authors to check out! I’m so glad you enjoyed the blog post. Thank you for dropping by, and thanks for the interest in my books! I hope you enjoy them.

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