On Rereading and Abandoning
Rereading and abandoning are opposite ends of the spectrum. A book you reread — especially multiple times — is one that is much like comfort food. Perhaps it reminds you of a state of mind you were in when you first read it, or helps escape from a mood you’re currently in because it did in the past. For whatever reason, there are books we come back to again and again.
I have probably reread The Chronicles of Narnia more than any other books. I first read them at age 13, pretty much all in one weekend. I would — to this day — like to go to Narnia. I would leave right now. Anyone got a magic wardrobe? They are my comfort books. Simple characters in a simple world with simple morality. There is nothing too high concept or ambiguous; the fact that most of the books take place during World War II is glossed over. There is right (Aslan, Narnia) and there is wrong (The White Witch, Tashban, pretty much everywhere else). It’s a nice vacation from the real world. (And that’s all I read it for. I purposefully don’t examine it any closer than that.)
The other book I’ve reread the most after Narnia is an omnibus version of F. M. Busby’s The Demu Trilogy. These are just wonderful reads. I find something different each time I read them. Some new insight into a character, some different angle from which to observe human behavior. It distresses me that the books are out of print. I hope they are reprinted someday. My copy is getting a bit worn. I love how, in the books, humanity is portrayed not as a blight on the galaxy or as some Star Trekian ‘noble savages’ who are, alone among all the races in the galaxy, possessed of that oh-so-indomitable human spirit which . . . I have to stop typing now or I’m going to vomit. Anyway, Busby threads a path between the two, and in the end reveals the true standing of man — and other races — in the nature of things, galactically speaking. If you can find a copy and you like hard science fiction, get it.
But what about the other end of the spectrum? When, exactly, does one abandon a book? Why? What are the criteria for giving up?
There was a time when giving up on a book was simply not an option. Once I had a book, once I started to read it, I had to finish it. I still think that way to a large extent, although I’m getting better.
Here are some I’ve abandoned, and why. Most of them with every intent to pick it back up and finish or reread it. Someday.
The Watchmen by Alan Moore (et al). Some of you are thinking right now, “Oh my ever-loving God, what is wrong with this idiot?” Because this is, like, one of the most beloved graphic novels in ever. It supposedly changed the way graphic novels are written. It revolutionized . . . whatever. I have read this up to the same, exact point four times, and then put the book down . . . and it somehow remains closed. That point is where the comic format is abandoned and I come to the first page of prose in tiny letters that fill the entire page like some manifesto. I get about two sentences into that, my eyes glaze, my mind wanders, and I have thoughts like, “You know, the cat needs waxing. I should do that.” I have every intention of finishing it. Everyone I know who has read it looks at me like I’ve grown a second head (I checked; I have not) when I admit that I can’t get through it.
Infected by Scott Sigler. I’ve enjoyed every other book by Scott that I’ve read or heard (he podcasts them). He’s a good writer, and I thoroughly enjoy his work. And, in fact, I thoroughly enjoy this one. But it’s so unbelievably gross and horrific from a physical standpoint (what the character does to himself to escape infection) that I can only read a few pages at a time before disgust makes me have to stop. I stopped reading altogether when I saw what was coming down the line involving the main character’s testicles, and I just can’t bear to even think about what he’s going to do. Gah! Just typing that hurt. Anyway . . . not sure if I’ll ever finish it. Much less the sequel, which I also own.
A Secret Atlas by Michael A. Stackpole. With all due respect to Mike, whose other books that I’ve read I have loved, this one just bored me to tears. I think I got about 50 pages in. None of the characters resonated with me. Their mission (to map the world) didn’t resonate. I still fully intend to read it, because Mike uses it as an example for his writing podcast, but it’ll be forced. Unless I’m in a different state of mind when I re-read it, of course.
Moonseed by Stephen Baxter. I just discovered that this is, in fact, book 3 of a trilogy. No wonder I couldn’t get into it. At any rate, I stopped because the situation looked so bleak for the characters and for Earth that I couldn’t see any way out for them, and . . . just never picked it back up after the depressing spiral into awful that it was taking at the time I stopped. Perhaps if I read books 1 and 2 . . .
The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi. I know, I know. I know this book won All The Awards™. I know it’s awesome and other adjectives of a superlative nature. But . . . I just couldn’t get into it. I found no character I liked. I didn’t buy into the culture. I just didn’t like it. Maybe it was because I was reading it for a book club and not for myself, but for whatever reason, it just didn’t resonate. I hope to reread it some day and see what everyone else found so engaging.
There are several more books on my list. And by ‘my list,’ I really do mean that there is a list. I have a shelf on Goodreads called ‘currently reading but paused’ to store those books. And there are others that are not on that list because I haven’t put them on Goodreads, yet. Dozens. And I intend to finish each and every one of them, if it takes me twenty years.1
What books do you like to reread? Why? What books have you given up on? Why?
- It did actually take me twenty years — or more! — to finish Fire Time by Poul Anderson. I just kept losing interest because it was, for the most part, political, and that bores me to tears. But it was a book, I bought it, and therefore I had to read it.