Thursday, May 7, 2009

Cimmerian sighting: To read, or to re-read

I’ve never understood the claim that, once read, a book is bereft of value. I have seen this absurd belief posited on several occasions around the Web, and it continues to puzzle me. You mean to tell me that there’s no value in re-living the wondrous adventures of The Fellowship of the Ring? That it’s possible for someone to pick up every nuance and plot detail of the phonebook-sized A Song of Ice and Fire tomes the first time? That, once you’ve read Red Nails, you’ve sucked it dry of its magic, and you can safely close the cover on the tale of the wild, warring tribes of Xuchotl forever? For me, this one-book, one-read claim smacks of either arrogance (“I can assimilate any text with laser precision the first time, every time. Can’t you?”) or ignorance (“Yes, yes, I already know the One Ring was destroyed. Now I’ve moved on to bigger and better stories like The Sword of Shannara”).

But lately I find myself slightly (very, very slightly) sympathetic to this view, for the sole reason that I’m in the process of building a towering pile of books that I’ve never read, big enough to obscure the old favorites behind it. Here’s a sample from my bookshelf.

To read the rest of this post, visit The Cimmerian website.


Unknown said...

I'm there with you, Brian.

Well, not exactly. I guess I have my own pile of unread books. And my tendency to read six texts at a time tends to slow me down. But I'm always tempted to revisit my favorites. The re-read value is pretty high, too. I'm always finding new bits in there that I neglected the first five times around.

Terry L said...

I'm in the same boat as you: I have way more books on my 'to-be-read' list than I'm comfortable with and I have recently been itching to re-read all sorts of my old favourites...not mention the books I haven't bought yet, but want to read! I think that the value of re-reading is definitely misunderstood in this day and age. As you mentioned most people seem to see books as one-time disposable entities that aren't worth looking at once used. I think this may be the case for books you didn't like obviously, but for those ones you do like re-reading is, I would say, a necessity. C. S. Lewis said something along the lines of "You haven't really read any book until you've read it several times." I certainly don't think that there is more value in reading a new book simply because you've never read it before...the levels of nuance gained, and just sheer enjoyment, of re-reading an old favourite is more than worth the effort.

As to what you should tackle: well, since I recommended _The Life of Sir Aglovale de Galis_ I'd obviously place that one pretty high on the list. :)

I'm looking forward to _Sigurd & Gudrun_ myself, but first I'll tackle the Rebsamen translation of _Beowulf_ I picked up recently.

I used to love Guy Kay, but he has too many tics as a writer that bug me (most prominent being supposedly dark age characters that seem to act/think like moderns) so I haven't read anything by him since _Sailing to Sarantium_

Gene Wolfe is should definitely try him, but I found many of his works frustrating...they certainly demand re-reading, but not always in a good way.

I'm sure this wasn't much help to your dilemma...sorry! :)

andy said...

"Gene Wolfe is should definitely try him, but I found many of his works frustrating...they certainly demand re-reading, but not always in a good way."

IIRC, Wolfe has stated outright that he deliberately tries to make his books require at least one but preferably a few re-reads to be understood.

Terry L said...

That's true about Gene Wolfe andy. I'm just not a fan of the way that his stories seem to be deliberately set up as puzzles, and very elaborate ones at that, that often require you to intuit necessary bits of info as much from what *isn't* said or shown as from what is. It's just a heck of a lot of work reading his stories and I sometimes think the puzzle aspects of them are more important/effective than the actual story itself.

Brian Murphy said...

Thanks for the comments, all.

Terry: Yes, I do remember that you recommended Sir Aglovale de Galis. I tell you what: I am going on a business trip to Las Vegas this week (and won't be posting here for probably 4-5 days). It's a long plane ride so I'll plan on reading that book, and will post a review after I get back.

I have heard that Wolfe is a difficult read, but he's also been the subject of so much praise that I'd like to see what the hype is all about.

Anonymous said...

You think you've got it bad? My 'to-read' list consists of 66 unread books at the moment, and it's growing all the time. Fortunately, my bookshelf opens and closes, so the dust gathering on those books is minimal.

Brian Murphy said...

Whoa... 66 books? And what's this about an opening and closing bookshelf? I need one.

Anonymous said...

Well, I suppose it's more of a book cabinet than a traditional shelf. I need it not only to protect my books from aging, but to protect them from my cats, who just love using books as impromptu scratching posts.