Recently, someone on Twitter asked if people ever read a book more than once. The answer for me is, of course! But not all books. There are books I read only once and books I reread, often more than once. Thinking about that twitter question, I tried to look at books I reread and see if they have anything in common. I wanted to know what made me, at least, reread a book.
So I pulled three books off my shelf, almost at random. These days, if I have a book in physical form, it’s because I want to reread it. Otherwise I buy a less expensive and more easily stored e-book. The three books now on my desk are Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Lois McMaster Bujold’s Warrior’s Apprentice, and Megan Whalen Turner’s The Thief. So what common threads can I find in these very different books?
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
I’ve loved Jane Austen since I was in the seventh grade, and it’s a love that’s aged well. I still love Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. They feel real to me, and I see the shaping of their personal lives as something worth caring about. Critics are wrong to dismiss a finely wrought portrayal of domestic life as somehow trivial. Family and romantic relationships affect how happy any of us is.
Additionally, Austen valued character development in the moral sense. That is, her books make a claim that we are obligated to figure out what it means to be a good person and try to live up to that standard. Would we care for a sister, as Elizabeth cares for Jane? Can we exercise self control as Lydia does not? Can we overcome our pride and our prejudices to avoid harming other people and our own happiness?
Those things matter in Austen’s book, and they matter to me.
Warrior’s Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold
I’m making a big leap from a realistic novel published in 1813 to a piece of contemporary science fiction in The Warrior’s Apprentice. So let’s see if the qualities that make a book rereadable transcend era and genre.
For me, the major attraction of Warrior’s Apprentice isn’t the space battles; it’s the central character, Miles Vorkorsigan. Miles was born with a deformed body in a world where less than perfect infants were exposed and left die in the recent past. He compensates for his physical limitations with his considerable (and slightly twisted) cleverness.
Because Miles has to go about his military career in unexpected ways, he often surprises me, which I like. He also makes me laugh, and not always with him. He’s one of those people who gets things rolling and then finds himself chasing events that have spiraled out of control. Hence the title of the book, deliberately patterned after Goethe’s “Sorcerer’s Apprentice.”
The reason I can reread this book, and the others in this series, is that Miles continues to be interesting. I care about his struggles against a world where he doesn’t fit in.
The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner
Again, I’m jumping genres but only slightly. The Thief is a fantasy set in a quasi-Greek world that was originally published as a middle-grade novel, i.e. a book intended for readers 10 and up. Currently, it’s sold on young adult shelves, i.e. as a book intended for teen readers. Really, it’s unclassifiable. Every Megan Whalen Turner fan I know is an adult.
The Thief rewards rereading more than any other book I know. The first time I read it, I thought its central character, Gen, violated the principle that the protagonist must protag. That is, the central character must drive events. Gen seemed to be being dragged along by other people, and yet I was engaged anyway.
The second time I read the book, I read almost every incident differently than I had the first time. The book includes a big twist near the end, and often twisty books don’t work well on rereading because the twist doesn’t surprise the reader the second time. But I’ve never felt that way about this book, because that twist completely changed everything else about the story. It continues to surprise and delight me. Megan Whalen Turner is a magician of a writer.
First, I assume different readers respond to different books, so my rereadable qualities may not be the same as someone else’s.
So am I able to draw any generalizations from this? Well, I repeatedly mention loving the characters. I’d guess that for most people, a plot draws them through the book the first time, but a book’s characters are what make them love the book and reread it.
I also seem to value clever characters and those who struggle to do something hard, whether that’s win a battle or sacrifice their own desires for the sake of someone else. I believe in the value of stories and what they have to tell us about the human condition and the human heart, and these books answer that belief.
Austen has a young woman as the central character, and the other two books have young men. I’ve heard other people say they only read books with either male or female protagonists, but that doesn’t seem to matter to me. I notice, though, that all the books I chose are by women. I have books by men on my reread shelf, but there are more by women. Is that a coincidence? I’m honestly not sure.
So what books do you reread? Why? What are the qualities that matter to you? Are they the same as mine? What books do you come back to again and again?
Publishing June 27th, 2020 from Inspired Quill Publising
“The Grabber is just a fright tale.”
Former street kid Jarka was born with a crooked foot and uses a crutch, but that no longer matters now that he’s an apprentice Wysman, training to advise the king. When poor kids start to go missing from the city’s streets, though, Jarka suspects that whatever’s causing the disappearances comes from the castle.
Now he needs to watch his step or risk losing the position he fought so hard to win… but when someone close to him becomes the latest victim, Jarka knows he’s running out of time.
His search takes him from diving into ancient history, to standing up to those who want to beat or bleed the magic out of him.
Will Jarka succeed in uncovering an evil long-hidden, or will he see friends and family vanish into the darkness?
About the Author:Dorothy A. Winsor writes young adult and middle grade fantasy. Her novels include Finders Keepers (Zharmae, 2015), Deep as a Tomb (Loose Leave Publishing, 2016), The Wind Reader (Inspired Quill, 2018), and The Wysman (June, 2020). At one time, Winsor taught technical writing at Iowa State University and GMI Engineering & Management Institute (now Kettering). She then discovered that writing fiction is much more fun and has never looked back. She lives in Chicagoland.
Thank you, Dorothy, at this look at rereading and its powers!
What books do you all love to reread?