Dissection and Digression: Reasons To Re-read

Harry Potter

Harry Potter and the Minifig Transformation was an ill-advised sequel. (Photo credit: Profound Whatever)

I finished a book the other day. Actually, I finished it again. I’ve read this particular book—Duma Key by Stephen King, if anyone’s interested—about half a dozen times over the last couple of years.

And it’s not the only one. The Lord of the Rings trilogy, It, the Harry Potter series, every goddamned Terry Pratchett novel under the sun…there are some pieces that I keep returning to.

Now, I could tell you that I do it because those books are ones I like, and I’m trying to figure out why. That is a part of it. When something makes me sit up and take notice, especially on a first reading, I tend to re-read it, just to figure out why. Why does this one make me feel…well, anything? After all, it’s all make-believe. It’s words on a page. So why did it make me laugh? Cry? Why did it make me angry? I’m always looking for the wires behind the smoke and mirrors. Looking for the structure and effort beneath the seamless glide of the prose. Like one of those smug assholes that exposes magic tricks, except hopefully less people want me dead.

Another reason is that re-reading good books makes them new again. You pick up on nuances you might not have on that first read, when you were too busy trying to figure it all out. You notice things, characters, plot threads, all of it. Maybe not on the second reading, but on the third, the fourth, the fifth. Get to half a dozen and you might really have an idea what it’s all about.

Those are two good reasons. They’re reasons that I can write about on this blog, where I offer my dubious advice. But, if you’ve ever re-read a book, then you know they’re not the only reasons. Or even the biggest ones.

Re-reading a book you love is like having a conversation with an old friend: comfortable, relaxing, and full of meaning. And inside jokes. Those are fucking everywhere. You can lose yourself in it, wander along those familiar paths, and still find something new.

It’s like putting on your most comfortable sweater and sinking in for an afternoon of relaxation.

In the end…it just feels good.


Sidebar: starting Friday and continuing for two weeks, the posts here may go up later than usual as I’ll be on vacation. But I’ll still be posting, so drop on by. Brave NaNoWriMo test monkeys, I’ll have some special posts just for you. And for those of us who prefer to watch the madness of the word-herders from the sidelines this year, I’ll have some for you, too. Stay tuned! November’s going to be awesome.)

Monday Challenge: Watershed

Convetible Ventilated Trousers shown with one ...

Some Trousers of Time may be more tasteful than others. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is why I never trust book reviews.

I’m currently reading Stephen King’s 11/22/63. Though I’m mostly a King fan*, I put off reading this one for quite a while because I had heard, through various reviews, that it was about the Kennedy assassination. Interesting in a way, but the obsession with JFK and all his might-have-beens is one I’ve never really gotten.

But it’s not about Kennedy at all. Or, it is, but only as a historical example in a convenient period. It’s really a story about watershed moments: those tiny places in history, personal or global, that mark a turning point. The place where two paths diverge. Readers of Terry Pratchett will be more familiar with the idea as the Trousers of Time. A moment, and then two diverging histories. The narrator of the book, Jake Epping, is confronted with watershed moments over and over, most of them of the smaller, more personal variety. Which is far more interesting than the fate of the 35th President of our neighbour to the south.

Because changing the course of history is one thing, but what plagues us are the decisions we have made, and all our own might-have-beens.

Monday Challenge time, children: write me a might-have-been. What watershed moment could have gone differently for you or your characters? What leg of the Trousers of Time might you or they have hurtled down, if things had changed only a little?

Now, I haven’t finished the book yet**, so I don’t know if the ending will be good. But I got through 400 pages yesterday, so it’s fair to say it’s made an impression. And isn’t that what counts?

*With a couple of exceptions. Seriously, what the hell is up with Wizard and Glass?
**And anyone who offers spoilers will be eaten by carnivorous iguanas by night and by day.

Cutting to the Bone

Kill For Me

You won't feel a thing. (Photo credit: Charlie Barker*)

Dear line I just cut,

Damn, you were good. Like, really good. You made me feel brilliant. I could read you and feel that little warm cozy glow of accomplishment. Good structure, good words, good thought. You were witty and concise. That’s hard to do. Trust me, I should know.  I try to do that all the time and my record is…well, let’s say I’m still trying. But you…you shone out of that paragraph like a little beacon of cleverness.

But that’s the problem. You didn’t fit. You just sat there, making your point, even when the reasons behind the scene changed. And then…well, you weren’t so clever any more. But you were still good. Really good. Just…not for this.

I could soften the blow here, and say that it’s me and not you, but let’s not lie to each other: it’s you. The first time I wrote that scene, I had something else in mind. Now that the story’s changed, you don’t work any more.

Worse, you draw attention to yourself. You make that paragraph about me, and not the story. “Oh, look,” you seem to say, “Here is definable proof that this writer is a clever person. Isn’t she great?” And, you know, thanks for that. Really. But the reader should be concentrating on the characters, not me. I should be fucking invisible. So can you stop pulling back the damn curtain and shining a big spotlight on me?

I will say, though, that it’s not entirely your fault. I never should have let it get this far. All the way to the final draft…when really you should have been cut after the first. I knew it then. But I ignored it, hoping the problem would go away. I can work it in, I told myself. I just need to fix the scene. Or move it to another scene! Yes, that will work. I was getting desperate by then. I just liked reading you so much. You made me feel good, even if you did nothing for the story.

But this has gone on long enough. “Kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart,” says Stephen King, and that’s good advice. I’ve written and rewritten and, honestly, I’m sick of trying to find a place for you. It’s not working out. It’s time to go.

Now close your eyes. I’ll try to make it quick.