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Thursday Reading FUNdamentals: At Second Glance

May 20, 2010

There are quite a few books on my shelf I’ve only read once.  (There are also some I’ve read 6-7 times.)  Sometimes I’ll look at my shelf and think, “Maybe I should read that again.”  Because the true test for the longevity of a book is if you can read it years later and still enjoy it.

When rereading a book there are three outcomes you can expect:

  1. The book will be better than I remember
  2. The book will be worse than I remember
  3. The book will be about the same as I remember.

Since I pretty much write my book reviews from the hip, it’s happened a couple of times where I wrote my review on a day I was pissed off for one reason or another and the review suffered because of it.  The best example of this was with The Time Traveler’s Wife, where the day I wrote it I must have been in a really bad mood because I took no small amount of joy in skewering it unmercifully.  I consider that one of my All Star semi-coherent rants.

A couple years later I decided to reread the book.  I forget the exact reason, but I think it was part of a special project.  Anyway, I didn’t hate it nearly as much the second time around.  I still wouldn’t give it 5 stars, but maybe more like 3 or possibly 4 if I was in a good mood.  That’s why it’s sometimes good to give a book a second chance.

Of course sometimes the inverse is true.  The first time I read The Fourth Hand by John Irving it was the second of his books I’d read after The Cider House Rules.  At the time I thought it was so-so and gave it 3 stars.  Then a couple of years later I read it again, this time after I’d read the rest of his books.  In context then my opinion of the book changed dramatically as I realized the author was capable of much, much better work.  So in my “Upon Further Review…” review I downgraded it to one star.

Lately I’ve been rereading The Dive From Clausen’s Pier by Ann Packer.  The first time I read this was when I had jury duty and while I was waiting in their holding cell to see if I’d be called up, it was pretty much my only diversion.  I liked it enough to give it 4 stars and later bought a copy from a remainder book sale for probably $5 or so.  I figured at some point I’d get around to rereading it and recently when I was reshelving my books after moving, I thought, “Why haven’t I ever got around to that?”

Anyway, this is in that third category where my second review probably wouldn’t be much different than my first one.  I’d still give it 4 stars.  Really I think it’s because I can still get this book–see my previous entry “The Search for Meaning.”  If a book can withstand the test of nearly 5 years than I’d say it’s a good one–at least to me.  You are welcome to disagree.

The point is that as I said in “The Search for Meaning”  whether you like a book or not can change over the years.  Not only because you get older and have different experiences and see the world differently at 35 vs. 25 or 45 vs. 35 but for other reasons as well.  Maybe you’ve read more of an author’s work and decided it was one of his/her lesser efforts, as I mentioned above with The Fourth Hand.  Or maybe you’ve read some other authors in the same genre and realized this author isn’t so great.  Both of those could also go the other way.  Everything is fluid, so that if you declare a book to be the greatest or worst ever, just wait a few years and see what you think then.

Of course there’s also the nostalgia factor that can come into play as well.  For instance when I went back and reread Timothy Zahn’s Star Wars novels I’d read back in the early 90s when they first came out, I still liked them.  I knew they weren’t exactly Tolstoy or Cormac McCarthy, but I didn’t care.  The same goes for other sci-fi/action series that I read when I was younger; I know as art they stink but they reminded me of better days.  Though my all-time favorite nostalgia reads are the Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander.  Maybe they aren’t Harry Potter or Twilight, but I don’t care.  They’re my Harry Potter, damn it!

I will be out of the country most of next week–just to Canada but “out of the country” sounds more impressive–so enjoy a couple bonus chapters of “Virgin Territory.”  See you in June!


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