When I started to think about the books I choose to read over and over again, I thought I'd try to analyze what made me want to experience them multiple times. The word "experience" is the key: what sort of experiences do books offer that can be enjoyed even when you already know what happens? Here are a few of my thoughts, with examples from the books that I love to re-read (I've linked to descriptions of the books, in case my vague references don't make them immediately obvious!)
|Coniston Water, Lake District |
(could be Narnia, couldn't it!)
|Please tell me you know this|
is Anne of Green Gables
The experience of drama: once you know how it ends you don't get to feel the suspense again (unless you have as bad a memory as I do, in which case sometimes you can!), but those dramatic moments are worth reliving. Sometimes I skip through books just to get to the good parts.
Elizabeth rejecting Darcy's proposal;
Jane choosing to leave Rochester;
Eugenides noticing Attolia's earrings;
Edward kissing Bella for the first time (not the 247th time; it does get old!);
Lyra finding Roger clutching the dead fish because his daemon is gone;
Katsa throwing that knife at the end;
|If you don't mind reliving the best|
use of a swear word in literature,
this is quite funny
Molly Weasley facing Bellatrix.
Scenes that twist your heart, scenes that make you jump up and yell "Yes!" Little guys facing down big guys; difficult truths being spoken; noble sacrifices being made. Like the taste of homemade bread or the smell of roses, the emotional intensity of these moments is necessary to my well-being. I love drama more than I love sleep, which is saying a lot!
The experience of voice: I will read anything written by my favourite authors, because I love listening to them talk. They could be talking about walking their dog and picking up the dry-cleaning; it's not the content, it's the way the words are strung together. Part of it is facility with language: I opened up I Shall Wear Midnight at random and here's a sentence:
It was a nervous statement with a wiry little question clinging to the end of it, waiting to burst into tears.Here's a random Laini Taylor sentence:
They laughed alike and moved alike, and they thought the same thoughts as completely as if a butterfly traveled back and forth between their minds, bearing ideas on its legs like pollen.Sentences like these make me happy. With some authors it's not so much individual sentences as the way sentences and paragraphs all build on each other, layer upon layer of meaning: Connie Willis is brilliant at this; so is Patricia McKillip. Nothing extraneous, everything necessary. Craft, is what it is, using words as tools.
But voice is more than just excellent writing; it's also the mind behind the writing. I can enjoy a book with an exciting plot and interesting characters and competent prose, but if there isn't some fundamental idea behind it all that resonates with me, I won't read it again. Authors I re-read have a strong world view, a sense of right and wrong, an appreciation of what is beautiful and just. They may be lyrical, they may be funny, but they all have a certain fierceness: they have written the truth and they know it. (I don't mean that the author is opinionated or, heaven forbid, preachy; in fact often the authors don't know that they've written truth, or what truth they've written. But their voice knows.) I don't have to agree with their world view, but they have to believe in it, and then it comes through in their voice and then I have confidence in their story and want to be carried along in it.
I also only re-read books with happy endings, so I guarantee that in all the books linked to in this post the girl will get the guy, the evil whatsits will be defeated, the loner/outcast with no talent will have found his/her place in the world and humanity will have proved itself redeemable, if only just. (Is that why most of my re-reading happens to be fantasy? No! I firmly believe happy endings happen in real life too! I do.)