It’s not something I normally do. By the time 2013 crosses the finish line, I will have reread as many books this year alone than I have in the previous five (combined). Go ahead, see for yourself. And all of those rereads have been due to reading requirements for various classes (between the MA and the MFA).
The reason I don’t normally reread, is that I like the mystery of discovering the story, of seeing how the events will unfold. I have a tendency to remember key plot points fairly well, so before when I’ve gone back to reread something, after a few pages I’m already remembering, “Oh, yeah… and a, b, and c happens” and I’m out of the book.
Two cases in point.
Earlier this year, I had to read The Hobbit. The experience itself was such a slog that I had to force myself to finish it, which is sad considering (at I may have mentioned before) it was a story that started me towards my life-long SF&F path [Discloser: In case I haven’t mentioned it before, I saw snippets of the first animated movie around 1981-82, as commercials. Several years later, when I got my first public library card, The Hobbit was the first book I checked out.]
I am also having a similar experience with my current reading of Fahrenheit 451. By page twenty I was already remembering most of the character arc, and the general vibe for the ending, and it’s been close to a decade since my first reading. While it’s not as painful of an experience as rereading The Hobbit was, there’s been a noticed lack of enthusiasm. That’s not to say the story is bad, but there’s not the same sense of wonder and discovery as with a first reading.
A few considerations that come to mind as to why these particular examples have been problematic:
I am not of their time, by which I am implying that narrative styles are different now than when these books were first published. This is more of a craft issue for me, stemming back to high school lit classes, where most of the stories that we were studying were decades old (for the youngest ones). Much of the “new/young” writer trappings come from getting so much of that in school, and those works being held up on a pedestal, that we think that’s how things should be written.
I am “beyond” the target audience, which is more an issue with Hobbit. It was pretty obvious that it was written for children – what in today’s market parlance might be considered Teen/YA on the high-side of the market, probably younger. Which is also where the shift in narrative styles come in to play. Hobbit very much reads like a transcription of someone sitting down to tell a story.
However, I understand that there are very good reasons for a writer to reread works. Craft related reasons. To break apart the text like a mechanic dismantling an engine to see how it works. I have a few books that I have multiple copies of for just that reason – study novels. [Yes, I am that way about books. I find something inherently wrong with marking them up, especially if someone else might read them after me. Plus, if I were to loan out the book, there go my notes!]
Which leads me to part of what inspired this post. F451, with the awe of the story already deflated, is turning out to be a model novel, like a long straight stretch of highway, proving to be one that I can put the experience on cruise and see the details of the world passing by. Which, in case it came through a little muddled, is a euphemism for stopping and smelling the roses, as it were. For thinking about the mechanics of how a scene is structured, the dialogue, and any other odd ways that a writer might read something differently than a reader. Including being able to stop and savor the interesting turns of phrase. Like this one:
Do you know why books such as this are important? Because they have quality. And what does the word quality mean? To me it means texture. This book has pores. It has features… The more pores, the more truthfully recorded details of life per square inch you can get on a sheet of paper, the more ‘literary’ you are. That’s my definition, anyway. Telling detail. Fresh detail. The good writers touch life often. The mediocre ones run a quick hand over her. The bad ones rape her and leave her for the flies. – Fahrenheit 451
Which is to say, those are the moments that make a reread worthwhile. It’s rediscovering them, not as a reader but as a writer, that is proving key to my experience.