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August 05, 2017


Salman Rushdie's Haroun and the Sea of Stories

When my daughter was in second grade her teacher asked the class "who is your favorite author?" Hers was Salman Rushdie due to this book which we read aloud numerous times.

At the parent-teacher conference the teacher expressed the concern to us that our daughter might be exaggerating -- the teacher was unaware of this book. You can imagine our response.

I have a long list of books I regularly reread, including LotR and the Vorkosigan series, and Dorothy Dunnett's Lymond series. But there are a few books that, more recently, have become sources of comfort to me.

Specifically: Katherine Addison's The Goblin Emperor, and Molly Gloss' The Hearts of Horses. On the surface, there's not much similarity between a novel about a half-goblin outcast who inherits the throne of Elvendom, and the story of a young woman horse-trainer in northeastern Oregon in the lead-up to WWI. But they both are deeply humane, warm, sympathetic novels, with a close focus on characters and their relationships, forgiveness and empathy.

In a year where I'm constantly in a state of anxiety about the world, novels that give me hope that humanity will pull through are sources of great comfort.

i've been re-reading LOTR, too.

it's been a good 15 or so years since i last did it, and so i can't help but compare it to the Peter Jackson movies.

I don't re-read much. Once, maybe. I have way too much to finish reading the first time. When I do it's mostly non-fiction. Fiction I re-read includes LoTR and the first Thomas Covenant trilogy. Nonfiction would include Fun Home by Alison Bechdel; Bayes or Bust; The Best of Ogden Nash (although not every poem); The Stars by H. A. Rey; Godel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid; The Hundredth Monkey; The Memory Book by Harry Lorayne; Stuart Kaufmann's The Origins of Order; and Eric Berne's Games People Play. Except Fun Home, they are things I read as a child or young man, which says something. I guess I re-read them mostly for nostalgia - Games People Play and The Memory Book are the only ones I re-read recently to learn or re-learn something. Bayes or Bust I re-read several times when I was digesting the whole concept of Bayesianism but not since.

Some things I read and loved as a child I tried re-reading as an adult but I found them blecherous. The Narnia series pops to mind. It wasn't really the painfully obvious Christian "propaganda" that got to me as the thinness of characterization and motivation, and the racism.

To be a little mean, I never re-read any of Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover series, but some of them were so similar in plot I felt like I was. I still liked them. Does that count?

Have not read LotR in many years after having read it every year from the age of 10 to 20-something.

William Gibson, Neil Gaiman's run of Sandman comics, and C.J. Cherryh are likely my most frequent rereads, along with much veteran writing (O'Brien, Vonnegut, Haldeman especially - product of my own Ph.D. reading: veterans, war, and speculative fiction).

There are many more books in the world than anyone will ever have time for – I reason – so, since I haven't got a prayer of keeping up, I might as well read what gives me the most enjoyment or enlightenment or escape on any given day.

Without that, why would anyone ever buy a book? Just grab it from the public library and move on. Madness! (Not that I don't make extensive use of the public library. But that doesn't keep me from having a library of my own books as well.)

What gets re-read most is James Schmitz. Pretty much all of his stuff. I've got a bunch of other things (e.g. Bujold) that I re-read now and again. But Schmitz is miles ahead of the rest.

Until I could not read much, it's all I can do to get through contracts etc. at work, I regularly revisited the earliest future history stories once every few years and every ten I reread all the Foundations. Not because I loved them as literature but I loved the worlds and the times that I read them the first time.

Rereading them reminded of hot summer days, lying in the woods, my head on a stone reading out loud to my best friend because we only had one copy of the book. So we took turns and when today was over we solemnly put the book away until the next time.

Some of my greatest joys were reading Andre Norton to the grandkids, and then the Hardy Boys.

I would love to have a few things to listen to, I think Thoreau would be wonderful. Even the computer is generally a blur these days, accounting for a few of my many mistakes.

But music....I have a playlist for every time of year, event, memory.

Never read Schmitz, but loved this from Wikipedia:
The series features one of the few imaginings (the "ComWeb") of the internet before its existence—although the system takes a half-hour to download a document of modest length...

I have a shelf of re-read books next to my bed, kind of like a music-lover would have a shelf full of favorite albums next to the stereo.

These include "Pride and Prejudice", "Lost Horizon", "I, Claudius" & "Claudius the God", a bunch of P.G. Wodehouse books including most prominently "Leave it to Psmith" and most of the "Jeeves and Wooster" stories, all of the "Rumpole of the Bailey" collections, all of Le Carre's George Smiley novels, the "Bounty" trilogy, some random Maigret novelettes in French, and a motley group of popular math&science books like "One, Two, Three, Infinity" by Gamow, "Godel's Proof", and "Innumeracy" by Paulos. Mark Twain and Bertrand Russell live on that shelf, too, but more as ornaments than as bed-time reading.

You'll notice two prominent facts: 1) my re-read shelf is not remotely high-brow literature; and 2) British authors figure prominently on it. I was born in the wrong country, and immigrated to another.

Depending on my mood, level of fatigue, health (colds skew me a certain way), and the season of the year, I tend to read myself to sleep in one or another of these books.

"I make it a rule never to read anything I haven't read before except the Times obituaries and briefs," Horace Rumpole once said. A creature of habit was Rumpole of the Bailey, being a cynical and crotchety old man. It's easy to see why he's one of my heroes.


The books I have come back to repeatedly:

Love In The Ruins, Walker Piercy
The Adventures Of Augie March, Saul Bellow
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, Susana Clarke
The Kin Of Ata Are Waiting For You, Dorothy Bryant

I keep wanting to get back to The Fifth Sacred Thing, by Starhawk (Miriam Simos), so maybe that belongs.

I also make large elliptical orbits around One Hundred Poems From The Chinese (Rexroth) and a couple of other poetry anthologies that I like a lot.

Don't know how all of that hangs together.

Music is a whole other kettle of fish...

One's ability to take pleasure from rereading literature could be a matter one's susceptibility to a variant of synaesthesia. I've suspected that could be why so few others share my strong reactions to some music and some literature.

My often reread books include Goodbye to All That, Heart of the Matter, and Brideshead. It might mean something that these are all close in time. But on my phone I keep Herodotus and Thucydides to browse for times when I might be unexpectedly stuck waiting for something.

For the LOTR enthusiasts, it is important to point out that the inspiration for the Shire was, of course, God's own county...

My rereads tend to come on a slower cycle. I've only read Middlemarch three times, the first time around 1980 and the third a year or two ago. But I reread Bujold's Vorkosigan and Five Gods books (I love The Curse of Chalion in particular); some of Pratchett's books draw me back regularly (most of them are very good, but I have a special love for The Fifth Elephant, Feet of Clay, and Small Gods); and Tim Powers' The Anubis Gates, On Stranger Tides, and The Stress of Her Regard get reread as well. O'Brian and Dunnett are on a slower cycle still. I reread Cherryh's Chanur books often, and some of the Union/Alliance books (Merchanter's Luck, Downbelow Station, Rimrunners, and Cyteen) less so.

Heck, I read around a hundred books a year, and usually about a third of those are rereads.

I am not a great re-reader myself, being something of a narrative obsessive when it comes to fiction (my need to know what happens next actually led me to finishing a Dan Brown book once... never again).
But favoured Dickens (Bleak House particularly); the complete Sherlock Homes a couple of times; Shakespeare...
And recently started Pepys diaries, which are so densely packed with interest I have little doubt I will reread them.

Kids' books I enjoyed rereading to them many times (not ad nauseam, unlike many others): Beatrix Potter and Dr Seuss - the latter a stone cold genius, whose Solla Sollew I still occasionally pick up.


Ursula K LeGuin (I'll bet I've read Left Hand of Darkness a dozen times at least, and most of the other books in the Hainish cycle five times or more; ditto the Earthsea books)

All of Dorothy Sayers's Peter Wimsey books, but especially Murder Must Advertise, Gaudy Night, and Busman's Honeymoon

The most-reread book I own is
Aldo Leopold's Sand County Almanac, followed closely by Paul Errington's too-little-known Of Men And Marshes - I read them both every fall, as I have for over fifty years, and think of my father.

Close on their heels:
Treasure Island
which should be read in hardback with the Wyeth illustrations
Huckleberry Finn
Mysterious Island
which is not up to the literary mark of the two preceding, but which I read at an impressionable age.
Little House etc. and Farmer Boy
which, while not strictly historical, give a wonderful somewhat rose-tinted view of the way some of my ancestors lived and thought.

Fifth Business, Davies
Grendel, Gardner
Lord Of Light, Zelazny (his best IMHO)
Earth Abides, Stewart
The Anything Box, Zenna Henderson

The Bounty Trilogy, Hall and Nordhoff

The War of the Worlds, First Men In The Moon, and The Time Machine by H G Wells

I am adding titles to my "this sounds worth a try" list like mad. :-)

It's lovely how unique and quirky we all are. Quite a few books that people are listing are also re-reading favorites of mine (Gaudy Night, Busman's Honeymoon, Fifth Sacred Thing among others), and yet adjacent to them on people's lists are authors and/or titles that I've tried and not been able to get into at all. Plus -- a lot that I've never heard of.

Lost Horizon -- wow. I read that and loved it beyond reason when I was young, and I was just thinking recently that I ought to find it again and see what I think of it now. Tony P. you have inspired me to go ahead and do it!

Marty, you mentioned listening -- I have read Barbara Kingsolver's Prodigal Summer at least half a dozen times, but I've also listened to it a couple of times, read by the author. She has a beautiful reading voice and this touch of a southern accent, it's very lovely, though probably not your cup of tea politically. (Understatement!) Sad to say, I loaned those tapes to the friend who used to tease me about rereading, and she never gave them back, and we're not friends anymore. Not that I have anything to play tapes on anyhow.

Just a couple of years ago I finally tried out listening to books on CD on my drives out to Ohio each fall. Works out pretty well and I like it a lot better than channel-surfing only to find Jesus on the radio everywhere along my route.

I don't read a lot of non-fiction and I reread even less of it, but Godel, Escher, and Bach and Chaos got a couple of run-throughs when they were published.

More tomorrow.

Janie, if you enjoyed Godel Escher Bach, I can highly recommend Gold Bug Variations by Richard Powers.

Powers's Gain is another book I'll be re-reading for the rest of my life, although I've only read it twice or three times so far.

Rarely re-read...too much new out there. Did read Catch-22 a couple times to keep the outrage pegged to max, and a few crime novels over again because I had forgotten I had already read them.

If somebody held a gun to my head...I'd revisit some great narrative history by Crane Brinton, Issac Duetcher, and A.J.P. Taylor.

I have never opened Lord of Rings, or Harry Potter, But then again, I'm an outlier....I've just finished Caro's The Passage of Power. Fascinating.

And how do you folks find the time to read so damnned much? Kudos to all of you.

But music....I have a playlist for every time of year, event, memory.

Sonny Terry. Monk. 'Nuff said. :)

I don't reread books much, but I've really enjoyed the Powers' books I've read (although I didn't get far in Gold Bug Variations - just not in the mood, I guess.) Galatea 2.2 I liked very much. I read The Echo Maker, and enjoyed the fact that Oliver Sachs was a featured real life person who was a character. I didn't love the book as much as Galatea 2.2.

People love to hate Jonathan Franzen. I'm a huge fan. Again, I don't reread books very often, but I intend to reread Corrections. I also liked Purity a lot, because I thought it explored the issue of "privacy" in a way that was interesting and important.

I've said before here that Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan novels are a must read. Lots of people I know read the first and stopped. I binge read the four books in a week or so, and couldn't stop. I'm not sure that I'll reread them, but I wish to hell that some of my friends would have read them and spent hours talking to me about them.

I have actually read, and reread, books by W. G. Sebald, The Rings of Saturn, and The Emigrants. In fact, reporting this, perhaps I should reread them again.

There are many poems I go back to again and again. It's easier to mention poets that one consistently enjoys, such as A. R. Ammons, Merwin, Alice Oswald, Laura Kasischke, Carl Dennis. But better to remember individual poems, such as Robert Hass's "August Notebook: A Death", "Late Night Tete-a-tete with a Moon in Transit" by Jacqueline Osherow, or "A God Who Loves You" by Carl Dennis. How can I even think of them all. Who can read them all. Who has time to read at all when we worry all day about what's happening next.

I buy about three books a week. I am an incessant reader.

Part of that is re-reading. I re-read when I cannot concentrate. My re-reading consists of picking up a book I am familair with, opening it anywhere or to a favored part, and reading a seiction.

Across the Wide Missouri and and Year of Decision Bernard De Voto Also Bent's Fort,David Lavender, and other western hist books

Georgette Heyer and Dorothy Sayers

Jane Austen, and yes Middlemarch over and over

Sometimes I go back and read a book I loved as a kid. I just recenlty re-read The Horse Without a Head.

My current reading is mostly urban fantasy.

The one thing I dont want to read about is the hear and now.

I have never read LOTR. Maybe I will give it a shot.

Interesting. I like Galatea about the least of the Powers I've read. Maybe it's because I'm deeply skeptical of the connectionist approach to AI that is depicted in the book, and which has been the research program of Doug Lenat at UIUC for lo these many years.

And thereby hangs a classic hacker joke:

I havent read any o fthe Harry Potter books, either and maybe I should

I'm deeply skeptical of the connectionist approach to AI that is depicted in the book, and which has been the research program of Doug Lenat at UIUC for lo these many years.

Maybe I liked it because I read the book knowing noting about any of that.

Poems: I mostly read and re-read predictable warhorses, such as Frost's "Death Of The Hired Man" or "Applepicking" or "An Inconsiderable Speck", or Houseman's "Terence This Is Stupid Stuff", Whitman, Yeats, Spoon River, a little Auden, a little Eliot -- stuff you'd find in a good anthology.

For pure fun with words and rhythm, there's no one like Wendy Cope (well, Dr. Suess).
I haven't been able to get this out of my head since I first read it on rec.arts.books some thirty years ago now:

Emily Dickinson
Liked to use dashes
Instead of full stops.

Nowadays, faced with such
Critics and editors
Send for the cops.

I have never read LOTR. Maybe I will give it a shot.

Start with The Hobbit

A fine thread! I'll return to it, both to list my re-reads, and to garner recommendations, later.

(joel hanes - I've always loved that poem! Also, did you read To My Lover, Who Shall Remain Nameless? Not only is it excellent, and funny, it also led me to the wonderful original which it parodies, Christopher Smart's For I will Consider My Cat Jeoffrey, which I cannot recommend highly enough, for cat lovers and everybody else.)

Nothing is Lord Of The Rings. When I finished it - at the age of about 18 - I went back to the beginning and read it all again.

However, I find that recently the fantasy I re-read more often is E. R. Eddison's The Worm Ouroboros.

bobbyp: Yes, Caro's series on LBJ is fascinating. I'm impatiently awaiting volume five.

joel hanes: Houseman is marvellous; I first encountered him when Chad Oliver quoted "Blood's a Rover" in his short story of the same title. Agreed on Lord of Light, and I too reread Earth Abides every so often.

Don't reread often, but these come up every few years:

Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Glory Road (I always wanted to grow up and be Rufus)
Zelazny's Lord of Light and the first Amber quintet
Poul Anderson's Three Hearts and Three Lions (Holger Carlsen deserves a proper sequel)

There is something about Housman and science fiction/fantasy. His wonderful poem "From far, from eve and morning" provided titles for Ursula Le Guin ("The Wind's Twelve Quarters") and Roger Zelazny "For A Breath I Tarry") which is where I met him.


I'm impatiently awaiting volume five.

On some obscure Caribbean island, I imagine Robert Caro and George R R Martin secretly partying away their final years together...

Wow, OK here goes.

I read the Hobbit and the LOTR when young, with much enjoyment. Never felt the need to re-read, but very much enjoyed the films.

Have read, and re-read very frequently, for enjoyment, escape and/or comfort:

The Narnia books, until my mid-twenties or so when the religious propaganda, and as Fair Economist said above “the thinness of characterization and motivation, and the racism” made them no longer enjoyable.

The Harry Potter books for sure, because despite the prosaicness of the writing, the contents are so emotionally satisfying. It is true that as the series goes on, she got too powerful to edit, so the books are too long and baggy, but the good qualities still shine through. She is good on loss, depression and oppression, albeit in a simplistic style, and the narrative drive makes up for many shortcomings. She benefits hugely from a reader’s ability to project onto the protagonists anything lacking (in depth, for example). The humour helps too. I agree that JK Rowling herself is very admirable; her continued huge philanthropy (which constantly depletes her original billion, despite regular huge top-ups), her foundation Lumos, and her frequent witty and ferocious twitter battles with sexists, Trumpistas and other deplorables are cheering and entertaining.

The Dorothy L Sayers Lord Peter Wimsey books, still on occasional rotation.

The Dorothy Dunnett Lymond series, read and re-read many, many times, although not recently. I think she was rather influenced by Dorothy Sayers (although not obviously), the books are dense with quotation and the plot and characters very complicated but deeply exciting and satisfying. One also picks up the most extraordinary general knowledge from her excellent historical research. The Niccolo sequence which followed was much less good, I thought. The constant plot twists and over-complication (and God knows the Lymond stuff was complicated enough) really detract, although I still read til the end, and was glad I did for the final twist.

Jane Austen – I continue to very frequently re-read Emma, Persuasion and Pride and Prejudice. I never re-read Northanger Abbey, almost never Sense and Sensibility, and almost never Mansfield Park, although I think it a masterpiece.

Like wonkie, all of Georgette Heyer – it’s like eating whipped cream. Lovely every time, but you generally don’t want to read more than one in one go.

P G Wodehouse: any and all Jeeves and Wooster books. Right-ho Jeeves is probably the funniest book in the English language. I also like the Lord Emsworth books, but not quite as much (although Galahad Threepwood is indeed a wonderful character).

I adored Jonathan Strange and Mister Norell, liked it better than anything I’ve read for years, and often re-read bits of it. The whole thing no doubt will come soon. For anyone else, like russell, who loved it, the short story collection “The Ladies of Grace Adieu” is also worth reading to be in the same world. I remain half in love with the story of the Raven King, and only wish he had truly ruled the North country.

Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea books. I only discovered recently that she had written past the 3rd book, and I have already read and re-read Tehanu and The Other Wind several times. I read, enjoyed and admired e.g. The Left Hand of Darkness many years ago, but it made very little long-term impression compared to Earthsea.

Iain M Banks. I knew about the Culture books, but didn’t read them while he was alive. I loved them, and have re-read some of them a few times already.

Then, I loved but have never been particularly tempted to re-read all of Robertson Davies, particularly the Deptford Trilogy, Zelazny’s Lord of Light, Patrick O’Brian, Bleak House, Our Mutual Friend, to name just a few the memories of which have been triggered by this post.

As I have mentioned before, for most of my early life (til about 15 years ago) I was an insanely voracious and quick reader. On one memorable occasion, when sick in bed, I read 6 normal sized (not big but not tiny) paperbacks in one day. And I used to retain them too. I read new, literary novels, classics, historical novels, genre fiction (although not vast amounts of fantasy and sci-fi) – you name it. Just not that much non-fiction. No matter how delayed, slow or inconvenient my situation, I never cared if I had a book with me. And I panicked if I did not have a book in my bag, just in case something came up.

But slowly, imperceptibly, I changed. I don’t know why or how. But one day I became aware that a visit to a bookshop or library, which used to be an occasion of complete pleasure and joy, like being surrounded by old and potentially new best friends, lost its appeal and then enjoyment. I stopped wanting to read novels (with the exception of genre fiction), and started reading only occasional non-fiction. Very, very occasionally (like when I am on holiday) I can sneak a new novel past my new internal customs officer, but this is rare. So I have not read the Elena Ferrante books, or the Knausgard books (although I know he is not fiction), nor any of the "hot, new" books that everybody has been talking about for the last couple of decades.

I can’t remember at what stage I read Middlemarch, but I think this process had already started. I admired it, but have forgotten most of it, and was never tempted to read it again. And the only Dostoyevsky I read was The Idiot, which I thought was a work of genius, but I found so depressing that I think it hastened the same process I am describing.

This development represents a real loss to me. Reading was my great joy and solace, and I no longer have it (apart from the re-reading). Sic transit gloria mundi.

It is true that as the series goes on, she got too powerful to edit

I've wondered about this myself, and heard it said often enough. But my more cynical side says: it wasn't necessarily JKR, but rather the bean-counters with $$$ (standing in for many currencies ;=) in their eyes who wanted to get those books out the door as quickly as possible.

There's a lot more to respond to, but I've got an appt. so . . . later.

Reading was my great joy and solace, and I no longer have it (apart from the re-reading).

I suggest a change of pace.

Try John McPhee's The Control Of Nature

We shall just have to disagree about the relative merits of Lymond and Niccolo -- the moment when Gelis betrays Nicholas was for me profoundly affecting, and shook me up emotionally for months.

There's a moment like that in The Sparrow, which is high on Janie's original list; made me cry out in pain.

I hope you will re-read Left Hand Of Darkness, which has layers and layers and repays careful attention.

Jonathan Strange and Mister Norell

BBC America did a mini-series of this that was pretty good.

[cleek...] Jonathan Strange and Mister Norell

BBC America did a mini-series of this that was pretty good.

Yes, I enjoyed that, now I suppose I should go read the book (waiting for me downstairs).

GftNC, I'm sorry to hear your tale of loss. I read and re-read books as a kid (LotR included), but over the years of my professional career I mostly read technical manuals and boxes of court documents.

Now with a library in my smart phone I have rediscovered the joy of reading for pleasure. I hope you can find it again.

I stopped wanting to read novels (with the exception of genre fiction), and started reading only occasional non-fiction.

i feel like i'm going down this path, too.

my problem is that i - more and more frequently - have a hard time getting into stories because the writing draws too much attention to the writer. sometimes the writing is just clunky and i get tired of rolling my eyes. and other times i stop seeing the characters and start seeing the author pulling the puppet strings and lighting the fireworks - the whole thing feels contrived.

i periodically switch to non-fiction to get away from that feeling, but that can be even worse. histories and biographies, are always written with a distinct point of view, so it becomes hard to stop wondering: why does the author want me to know these particular facts? is there anything being hidden? is there a political agenda here? am i being manipulated into thinking about this stuff in a certain way? if i read a different account of these events/person the facts might differ, so am i wasting my time with this perspective?

it takes a special author to tell an interesting story well and to stay out of the way of telling it. there's aren't many around. IMO.

that leaves science. but there's only so much of that.

there's aren't many around.

i'm inventing my own dialect. bear with me.

I discovered (rather to my surprise) that I'm OK with reading something short on my tablet. But I just can't picture reading for pleasure on a screen as small as mu smart phone. Just a Luddite, I guess.

it takes a special author to tell an interesting story well and to stay out of the way of telling it.

My sense is that there aren't that many authors who actually are storytellers. They, even the ones writing fiction, are trying to "say something". And the something isn't "what happened to some interesting people".

Now might be a good time to re-read Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. But there might not be enough time to finish the unabridged 6-volume set.

I'm hoping that the good folks that produced The Compleat Wrks of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged)) would be persuaded to get it down to a few dozen pages.

Yes, I enjoyed that, now I suppose I should go read the book (waiting for me downstairs).

ral, you have a treat in store. It is infinitely better than the TV series.

I suggest a change of pace.

Try John McPhee's The Control Of Nature

Sounds like an interesting book, but not at all a change of pace. It seems exactly the sort of non-fiction I don't have a problem with.

Ah, I see. Yes, I with you in that most general fiction novels now just bore me. I like to think I'm just becoming more selective.
Having read _everything_ for a quarter century, I'm a bit replete, and am now only interested in the cream. As a fifteen-year-old, I would have found Ken Follett's Pillars Of the Earth engrossing and educational and emotionally engaging. As a thirty-five-year-old, I would have read it fast, just to know what people were talking about. As a fifty-five-year-old, it seems two-dimensional, and none of the sentences delighted me, and I struggled to complete it.

You might try John Crowley's Aegypt.

Hmm, that does look interesting, and just possibly a category which might evade my inner customs officer. We shall see. I should have said: it's getting the books, or if I already have them, starting the books, which is the problem. Once I've started, on holiday with nothing else to read for example, I can continue. It's a strange thing....

I've re-read LOTR and the Hobbit many times, but not recently. I think the movies took away some of the magic.

I'm a lawyer and from the deep South, so To Kill A Mocking Bird makes a return every now and again ... that's an example of a movie that enhances the book.

I don't think I'll ever re-read Chron of Narnia. First because I have a strong feeling that it won't live up to a repeat reading. Second because it's the reason I'm a Unitarian and I'm pretty sure that as Christian propaganda, I probably miscomprehended something that Lewis was trying to say.

I'm much more likely to re-read short stories. Hemingway and Garcia Marquez being the top contenders. There's something about being able to walk away from an anthology of short stories whenever it's convenient that's attractive to this completionist.

There are some golden age SciFi books that I returned to (Foundation), but that was more for nostalgia.

I may go back and re-read some of the Culture series. I've been in a post-apocalyptic/cyberpunk rut and Banks is a good palate cleanser for that.

joel hanes, did you happen to know or read the two poems I mentioned earlier? I'd be interested to know what you or anybody else thought of them. Since he is centuries dead, I don't see why I shouldn't copy the Christopher Smart to his cat Jeoffrey, which I think is completely marvellous, but anybody wanting to read the Wendy Cope will have to go in search of it:

For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.

For he is the servant of the Living God, duly and daily serving him.
For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way.
For is this done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.
For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon his prayer.
For he rolls upon prank to work it in.
For having done duty and received blessing he begins to consider himself.
For this he performs in ten degrees.
For first he looks upon his forepaws to see if they are clean.
For secondly he kicks up behind to clear away there.
For thirdly he works it upon stretch with the forepaws extended.
For fourthly he sharpens his paws by wood.
For fifthly he washes himself.
For sixthly he rolls upon wash.
For seventhly he fleas himself, that he may not be interrupted upon the beat.
For eighthly he rubs himself against a post.
For ninthly he looks up for his instructions.
For tenthly he goes in quest of food.
For having considered God and himself he will consider his neighbor.
For if he meets another cat he will kiss her in kindness.
For when he takes his prey he plays with it to give it a chance.
For one mouse in seven escapes by his dallying.
For when his day’s work is done his business more properly begins.
For he keeps the Lord’s watch in the night against the adversary.
For he counteracts the powers of darkness by his electrical skin and glaring eyes.
For he counteracts the Devil, who is death, by brisking about the life.
For in his morning orisons he loves the sun and the sun loves him.
For he is of the tribe of Tiger.
For the Cherub Cat is a term of the Angel Tiger.
For he has the subtlety and hissing of a serpent, which in goodness he suppresses.
For he will not do destruction if he is well-fed, neither will he spit without provocation.
For he purrs in thankfulness when God tells him he’s a good Cat.
For he is an instrument for the children to learn benevolence upon.
For every house is incomplete without him, and a blessing is lacking in the spirit.
For the Lord commanded Moses concerning the cats at the departure of the Children of Israel from Egypt.
For every family had one cat at least in the bag.
For the English Cats are the best in Europe.
For he is the cleanest in the use of his forepaws of any quadruped.
For the dexterity of his defense is an instance of the love of God to him exceedingly.
For he is the quickest to his mark of any creature.
For he is tenacious of his point.
For he is a mixture of gravity and waggery.
For he knows that God is his Saviour.
For there is nothing sweeter than his peace when at rest.
For there is nothing brisker than his life when in motion.
For he is of the Lord’s poor, and so indeed is he called by benevolence perpetually–Poor Jeoffry! poor Jeoffry! the rat has bit thy throat.
For I bless the name of the Lord Jesus that Jeoffry is better.
For the divine spirit comes about his body to sustain it in complete cat.
For his tongue is exceeding pure so that it has in purity what it wants in music.
For he is docile and can learn certain things.
For he can sit up with gravity, which is patience upon approbation.
For he can fetch and carry, which is patience in employment.
For he can jump over a stick, which is patience upon proof positive.
For he can spraggle upon waggle at the word of command.
For he can jump from an eminence into his master’s bosom.
For he can catch the cork and toss it again.
For he is hated by the hypocrite and miser.
For the former is afraid of detection.
For the latter refuses the charge.
For he camels his back to bear the first notion of business.
For he is good to think on, if a man would express himself neatly.
For he made a great figure in Egypt for his signal services.
For he killed the Icneumon rat, very pernicious by land.
For his ears are so acute that they sting again.
For from this proceeds the passing quickness of his attention.
For by stroking of him I have found out electricity.
For I perceived God’s light about him both wax and fire.
For the electrical fire is the spiritual substance which God sends from heaven to sustain the bodies both of man and beast.
For God has blessed him in the variety of his movements.
For, though he cannot fly, he is an excellent clamberer.
For his motions upon the face of the earth are more than any other quadruped.
For he can tread to all the measures upon the music.
For he can swim for life.
For he can creep.

The thread has also reminded me (thanks !) of my intention to reread Durrell's Alexandria Quartet.
I remember being blown away when I read it maybe thirty years ago, and it's a set of novels I'm not sure will have improved with age, or will seriously disappoint...

I loved it too, Nigel, but I think it possible that it hasn't aged well. Mr GftNC tried it on my recommendation, and couldn't get on with it at all. And that whole idea of the same story from different points of view, with all the attendant changes and revelations, seems rather old hat now. Still, if you do try it, report back (if you can be bothered).

Should also have included the later Travis McGee books by John D. MacDonald and occasionally some of Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe novels.

What I always found fascinating about the Nero Wolf books is just how much better a writer Archie Goodwin was than Rex Stout. As witness the other books published by Stout.

Michael Cain,

I loved Travis McGee. When I moved to FL I looked for a houseboat to live on in FT Myer. It got nixed but I may get to live there, probably in the Keys now, someday.

Once I've started, on holiday with nothing else to read for example, I can continue.

The mystery of the right book at the right time

Sometimes I own a book for ten or fifteen years before I pick it up and truly begin

I like your poem, and will reread it a couple more times carefully

I have the same issue mentioned by cleek_with_a_fake_beard, joel hanes, and Girl from the North Country - nothing new appeals to me. For the last 15 years I’ve read nonfiction almost exclusively - and recently even in some of these I get that puppet string feeling...

The only thing that has consistently kept my interest has been race driver biographies.

Gerald Donaldson’s biography of Gilles Villeneuve gets a re-read every couple years.

For the last 15 years I’ve read nonfiction almost exclusively - and recently even in some of these I get that puppet string feeling...

One of the reasons Pepys' diaries are so compelling.
He wrote them essentially for himself, so there's no 'agenda'. His thoughts are, pretty well, his thoughts - and remarkably candid they are too.

Plus, there's 10 years' worth, so they last quite a while.

I only read genre fiction and I refer the stuff that has humor. especially irony, absurdity, clever wording or well-embedded non-preaching political satire. I re=read Ben Aaronovitch's urban fantasy and I reread a couple of Charles Stross's sci-fi/fantasies. And I love Kate Griffin's Midnight Mayor series. All are written in the first person, placed in London, and have that appreciation of the absurd that I like.

I know I've re-read books that I first read in 7th to 9th grade, but I re-read them so long ago that I'm not sure exactly which ones they were, except for Catcher in the Rye. I know I re-read that.

I'm pretty sure I re-read Dracula in my late 20s or early 30s, and I'm nearly certain that I re-read at least one Stephen King novel and one S.E. Hinton novel. I'm just not entirely sure which ones were the re-reads.

I want to re-read Upton Sinclair's The Jungle. I really enjoyed it in 9th grade, and I want to see if it holds up.

i think the entire list of books i've reread is: LoTR (several times), Gravity's Rainbow (2x) and Infinite Jest (2x).

LoTR because i first read it when i was young and wasn't a very disciplined reader (skimmed a lot). each time i've read it, i've slowed down and picked up more. this time around i don't think i'm missing any of it. so maybe this will be the last.

the other two are so dense that they're tough to absorb the first time through. i don't think i need a re-read on either of those.

I can highly recommend Gold Bug Variations by Richard Powers

i have a copy of that on my bookshelf - a hand-me-down from my father. inside is a photocopy of a letter Powers wrote to my father. in the letter, Powers talks about his then-recent MacArthur win. i'm not sure how they know each other.

oh, and Dune. that didn't work out well for me.

Not sure how often I have read LotR and Hobbit (in both German and English) but several times in any case (plus all the other stuff he wrote and his son later published).
Otherwise I read so much obscure stuff and by more books than I have time to read that rereading is limited.
Kipling's Stalky stories (complete, including the ones in other collections of his) are a favorite there.
The book I have read most often is a German one:
Die gefesselten Gespenster (the tied up ghosts) about a bunch of youngsters/young adults from Marseille that try to free an allegedly haunted castle near St.Tropez.

I re-read Samuel R. Delany like some people re-read the bible, especially Dhalgren. I probably won't re-read his Valley through the Nest of Spiders much, though. It is the book that convinced me porn can be art, but a lot of it is really extreme fetish-y stuff.

For casual reading on busses and trains I've been using Andy Warhol's Diary for years. It's so deeply shallow it's inspiring.

Dune. that didn't work out well for me.

The first Dune story (in Analog) was OK. Not great, but not bad. However they rapidly went down hill from there.

Sting was in the movie, so there's that, I guess.

wj, oh, yes, James Schmitz.

Has no one a kind word for Alfred Bester? I think the Dark Side of the Earth was the first SF book I read (and re-read), then later the Stars My Destination and the Demolished Man. Ah, memories.

As for small type on a smart phone, at last nearsightedness turns out to be a plus.

Re reading on a smart phone. One of the critical pieces is the software you use. I use the free version of FBReader (sometimes known as Favorite Book Reader) on Android for epubs (Calibre to convert other formats to epub). The best thing about FBReader is the degree of control it gives you over formatting. My choice of font size, line spacing, paragraph spacing and indentation get used with very, very few exceptions. In effect, layout for all the e-books I read is the same, and attractive. E-books aren't quite as bad as web pages, but there are still a lot where you want to ask the designer, "Did you study ugly and unreadable, or are you just naturally gifted?"

I'll admit that non-fiction doesn't work nearly so well on the phone as fiction does.

Duh, I forgot the Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Read and rearead several times in English and German (the translation is quite good, and I can still quote a lot of it from memory).

Yes, Hitchhiker's Guide, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Also, since I first posted, I am getting memories surfacing that I did re-read the LOTR, but it was all so long ago it feels like another life.

There is so much here I want to respond to, so many memories being triggered, and intentions, and echoes -- including that I too have this unexpected inner censor (or inner indifference) in relation to reading new (i.e. contemporary) fiction as I get older. But my work seems to be kind of bipolar these days, and right now it's in one of its unexpected frenetic phases, so I don't know when I'll get a good chunk of time to reread :-) the thread.

At the moment I just want to respond to mentions of non-fiction. I don't read a lot of non-it, and there's even less of it that I'm ever inclined to reread. But there were two titles lately (last couple of years) that I gave in to after some badgering by friends -- The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and The Boys in the Boat.

I resisted the former for years because I knew it would make me angry, and it did. But even so -- it's a wonderful book. I'm in awe of the way Skloot wove the stories together (biography, science, sociology, family, America's original sin....).

As for the latter -- another great read, also a skilled weaving, this time a personal biography intertwined with a lot of twentieth-century history. And a happier ending.

I doubt I'll reread them -- I don't think I could bear The Immortal Life again, and I doubt a reread would add anything to my delight in The Boys in the Boat; I'd rather just let it sit there as a little gem in my memory.

So there -- I've surprised myself by realizing that sometimes I can love a book madly and in some perverse way that's a reason *not* to reread it!

One more thing to squeeze into a quiet minute. joel hanes wrote:

There's a moment like that in The Sparrow, which is high on Janie's original list; made me cry out in pain.

A lot of my rereading has to do with moments, David Mitchell in particular. What I want to echo at the moment, though, is the crying out bit, or just the crying.

There are moments in LOTR that I can't read without tears, even now. But my champion book for that isn't a novel, or even a grown-ups' book at all. (Well, IMO it's for everyone, but it's framed and sold as a children's book.) -- Mordicai Gerstein's The Mountains of Tibet.

Just as a test, I went and pulled a copy off my shelf a minute ago and yup, it still makes me start to cry after about three pages. And the last couple of paragraphs just disassemble me. (Fair warning: quirky interactions between the book and my personal qualities probably make the ending more moving to me than it necessarily would be for other people.)

I tried to read this book to the kids once when I was going to the UU church and I had to hand it off to someone else to finish.

If you look for a copy, try to get a used early one -- I think more recently they added some kind of teaching guide to it. Yech. I keep a few second-hand copies on my shelves to give to friends when they have kids, even though I probably like it better than any kids I know...such is life.

I'm trying to remember if I've ever sat down to re-read a piece of non-fiction. I don't think so.

Go look something up? Sure. But actually re-read? The closest I come is sitting down to browse thru an atlas -- being something of a map nut.

I re-read Ghost Riders: Travels with American Nomads recently. Loved it just as much.

JanieM, I'm just trying to find something to read about The Mountains of Tibet, and on Amazon UK the cheapest paperback copy is £208!! But there is a hardback from 2013 (no doubt with teaching guide), so I may go that way. Will report back if I do.

GftNC -- yeah, prices bounce around a lot, probably set by bots depending on availability or something.

Go for cheap over authentic, it's not *that* important! You can always ignore the teaching guide or other extraneous distractions.

May just delay. To tell you the truth, I'm not so sure I'm up for something that might get my emotions like that at the moment. To quote Yeats (and the Waterboys!) "the world's more full of weeping than you [or indeed I] can understand".

I totally get that -- I'm more bemused by your willingness to chase something down on the spot!

I will say, though -- and I don't get a commission for plugging the book! :-) -- that the emotion that gets triggered for me isn't sadness or horror or really anything negative at all, except insofar as any moving questioning of the meaning of life (yup, that's it) carries some twinge of sadness. But really, it's more like wonder, and (for me) affirmation.

And the last couple of paragraphs just disassemble me.

"I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us." - Kafka

Non-genre fiction was lost to me when my wife was diagnosed with terminal cancer. I thought it was because I was no longer willing to be wounded and stabbed, but reading some of these comments I wonder whether it may be partly just age.

The Mountains of Tibet, and on Amazon UK the cheapest paperback copy is £208!! But there is a hardback from 2013 (no doubt with teaching guide), so I may go that way. Will report back if I do.

208?!!? I can get a used paperback copy in the US for USD6.50, shipping included.

Perhaps there's a market for Amazon arbitrage for those willing to wait on shipping....?

Very interesting quotation, cleek.

I am no longer willing (or able to bear) to be wounded or stabbed.

GftNC: We adopted three kids from Ethiopia. The girls were older,and never really became readers, although they can read well enough now. But the boy delighted us when he was about ten, by saying "I know how you can never be bored! You just have a book in your backpack and if you think you might be bored, you can read the book!"

As for the book being better than the movie, or the TV series, it's hard for it not to be, since the book has time enough and room enough for so much more. But the best way to approach it is to take the view that the book, and the other venue (whatever) are two different versions of the same story -- related, but not the same.

I realise of course that, like Pro Bono, this is probably connected to my inability to read regular fiction.

For clarity, my 4.40 follows straight on from my 4.00.

Older, no wonder you were delighted by that. Sounds like you did an excellent job altogether.

There are moments in LOTR that I can't read without tears

"I will take the Ring, though I do not know the way."

transparently-disguised cleek skrev :

I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us." - Kafka

from a bit further on in that same quote

"A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us."

Dan Brown ain't gonna do it.

Janie skrev :

I knew it would make me angry, and it did. But even so

Next time you can stand to be enraged:
Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee by Dee Brown

Oh God, I read Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee in boarding school, over 40 years ago, and remember the pain and rage to this day.

A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us.

Another extraordinary, crystalline quotation. I should read more Kafka. But nonetheless, I can no longer risk the axe.

And so to bed.

A book that came up on another thread recently, not yet mentioned here is Blue Highways, by William Least Heat-Moon. That is a non-fiction book that I thought was worth a re-read, depending on how long ago you first read it. Reading it at 26, 13 years after the events, and in my late 40s, 35 years after the events, were different experiences, in some ways.

Blue Highways

From that book, my Iowa family learned to rate small-town cafes by the number of free insurance/real estate/fuel oil calendars on the wall behind the counter.

A six-calendar restaurant is a real gem;
highest we've ever seen (the now-closed restaurant in Derby) was eleven calendars.

> And so to bed.

Samuel Pepys saw what you did there.

that the emotion that gets triggered for me isn't sadness or horror or really anything negative at all ... more like wonder, and (for me) affirmation

Poignance ?

Wikipedia tells me that the Cocteau Twins released an album in 1993 called Four-Calendar Cafe.

Also, I have re-read Carl Sagan's Contact a number of times. Its' setting in the very near future, relative to when it was written, dates it quite a bit, but it does have an always-makes-me-cry moment.


That might be an aspect of it.

There's an aspect of it that, from a jaundiced perspective, could be called soggy sentimentality. But really, it goes very deep. It's got something to do with home, as well.

Do you know the book?

While we're talking about moments, I'll squeeze in the David Mitchell bit. There's a moment in most of his books -- well, in a way I think his books are one long extension of this moment -- when there's a parting of some sort between a parent (or parent figure) and a child or children, a parting that will last beyond the end of the world. (Echoes of Elrond and Arwen.)

I don't cry at those spots, but they reach into my center and pull at me, and they are a big reason why I keep rereading some of the David Mitchells over time. That and his amazing facility with language....

Which brings up another thing.

But I'll put it in a separate comment.

GftNC's mention of the loss of joy in reading, and other people's echoing of it, has been on my mind all day.

I have something similar going on, and yes, I don't go into a bookstore anymore and feel like I'm a kid in a candy store. A lot of my reaction is just "eh, who cares."

But as I think it over, I also realize that when I was younger, the vast majority of my reading was of the classics, or the canon...even with genre fiction, I wasn't a big fan, I just read stuff that bubbled to the top of everyone's lists. (LOTR; Dune -- loved the first three books for some years, thought the later ones were stupid; Asimov -- liked but didn't reread; Sherlock Holmes, Dorothy Sayers, even that old page-turner Agatha Christie...)

I read and reread (all in English, sad to say) lots of Dostoevsky, Thomas Mann, other Russians and Germans. Plus lots of Faulker, lots of the Victorian novelists.....

I almost never read any contemporary fiction then, and I don't read a lot now. I do read some, because I have friends who do, and that gives us something to talk about. I *love* (and have reread) The Yiddish Policeman's Union (Michael Chabon) and lots of Louise Erdrich and Barbara Kingsolver.

But a lot of contemporary fiction just makes me tired when I try it, so I don't finish the books and don't try more.

I think part of it is: I'm living this contemporary life, and there's a lot about it that's depressing as hell, and I don't want to read depressing books about it on top of everything else.

It's kind of like: when my son graduated from law school, we (divorced but friendly) parents went down, and our daughter too, and we hung out with my son and his roomies and girlfriend for a couple of days. One of them, in a slow moment, tried very hard to convince us to watch And the Band Played On. All aside from the fact that it was a joyous occasion and the movie hardly fit the mood, what I felt was: I lived through that era. I didn't lose close friends, but it was a sad time, another one of those "why do I want to get angry about this all over again" things. I'm sure it's a great movie, and was a great book, but I just can't do it.

From Earnest Mann, far above:

One's ability to take pleasure from rereading literature could be a matter one's susceptibility to a variant of synaesthesia. I've suspected that could be why so few others share my strong reactions to some music and some literature.

Wanted to highlight this. It makes a lot of sense to me. No one I'm close to cries over The Mountains of Tibet...not even close. Although I know *of* one person who did, but I'm not going to explain the circumstances because that would be a spoiler. ;-)

Okay, I forgot something when I went on about contemporary fiction. I segued there from something about language, and someone else mentioned language far above but I won't go searching right now.

But really, why would you read Tom Perrotta (just to pull a name out of my dim memory of a book I couldn't see the point of) when you could read Dickens? I just don't get it.

I was once in a book group and one month we read David McCullough's biography of (I think it was) John Adams. The writing (and/or editing) was so awful that I kept being tempted to throw the book across the room. Horrible sentence structure, bad rhythm, awkward embedding of thought trains ... I will never pick up another McCullough.

No one else in my book group noticed a thing. It's tough being such a delicate flower. ;-)


I'm trying to remember if I've ever sat down to re-read a piece of non-fiction. I don't think so.

For me that list would include Chaos (Gleick) and Goedel, Escher, and Bach, both of which I'm sure I read a couple of times. But not again and again.

I'm tangling up the thought trains...trying to get work done too, and I'm far beyond much ability to multitask.

I don't remember Tom Perrotta's writing being bad like McCullough's was bad, it was just dull. The story was dull, the writing was dull.... Some people in the reading group I was in at the time liked it, so maybe I was missing something. But that's how a lot of the contemporary writing I try out strikes me.

On the other hand, a plug for A Man called Ove. My sister-in-law bugged me to read it for a long time, but I had tried another of Bachman's and didn't get into it. When I finally read Ove I laughed and laughed. And now and then, shed a tear. In its mix of the comic and the poignant it's a lot like The One in a Million Boy.

Continuing to ramble on -- cleek, I really enjoyed the LOTR summaries and commentary at your blog. :-)

Lovely thread, I'm sorry I haven't put my oar in but a few hurried observations.

re-reading will be the death of me. I can re-read lots and lots of stuff, fiction all, and I have to physically get the books away from me to stop. Fortunately or not, it is only stuff in English, I read stuff in Japanese, but it does not have me going back to it. I think it is because even if I read something in Japanese and love it, I can't drop into the point where I am remembering what I read, I am having to decipher it again. Bummer that.

And a quick shout out to racer X, who, from the name, I am assuming is linked to Speed Racer, who in Japan is known as Maha GoGo (actually Mach Gogo, but in Japanese, you pronounce Mach as Maha) which explains the M on his car. Brought a great smile to my face to see that name, thank you.

although there are a few old friends i reread from time to time ("all on fire" an exceptional biography of william lloyd garrison and "lotr" come to mind) there is one book i detest which i reread about once every ten years or so to remind me of the evil underpinning some of the "intellectual" republicans in high office. and it's getting about time for me to read "atlas shrugged" again. i first read it when i was 16. at that time i thought it was the distilled essence of evil and no rereading has persuaded me otherwise.

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