On ReReading

When I heard that Tanith Lee had passed away, I waited about all of fifteen minutes before I put down everything I was doing, went to the shelf, and grabbed The Silver Metal Lover. I’d only ever read it once, though already it was one of those rare, remarkable books that feels like it had been with me for years.

My mother is moving house and recently brought me most of the books I’ve been storing with her the past ten years.

These two things are related. Just bear with me for a second.

First, the books:

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Despite the crummy cell phone pic, what I want to convey is that that is a lot of books, some of which I’d forgotten I owned. There are about fifty altogether, totally demolishing the little bit of shelf space I had left (hence, the floor). There are some children’s and YA books, my Anne of Green Gables books, and all of my old Discworld books.

And unpacking the boxes, I immediately wanted to dive right in and read them all again.

Which got me thinking about re-reading.

I love the process of revisiting books that I know. To me, rereading a book is like going back to visit a place you used to love. It gives me a chance to really explore the language, and the way authors choose to convey things. When you know what is coming in the plot, that frees you up to pay attention to different things. There are certain books that, like songs, evoke sense-memory in me: I can feel where I physically was when I first read the book, be it on a park bench in Boston or hiding under a table in a church schoolroom. And yet, for all that I love rereading, I don’t do it nearly enough anymore.

Sometimes it can be easy to get caught up in the pressures of blogging schedules and reading challenges. It’s hard not to feel that as a reader I should be caught up on all the best new things. Obviously no one can read everything, or not at once, but it’s easy to feel guilty when the TBR pile starts to overflow, and hard to justify going back to a book I’ve read before. Because really, there are so many things to read and so little time.

Which brings me back, in a really roundabout way, to The Silver Metal Lover. 

I have read bits and pieces of Tanith Lee’s short fiction over the years, but as far as I can remember, The Silver Metal Lover is the only one of her novels I have yet tried. When I heard of her passing, I knew that I had to go back to it, to see if it held up to what I remembered.

It did, and more.

At first, I was a bit confused. Why did I like this? Geez, Jane is annoying. But then, something clicked. And as I was reading it the book sort of unfurled, and I started to remember why I’d loved it, what was coming next, how I would react to it. It was cool, and a little weird, and made me remember why I love rereading.

I’ve read a lot of great books this year. But I’m pretty sure none of my reading experiences has quite matched up to the fun I got sitting on my couch for two nights, wondering how much sleep I could forego and still function at work in the morning, getting lost in the enthralling future of Lee’s fictional world. I can’t really explain why it was so great, except to say that after a mountain of depressing or difficult books, or books I read because I felt like I had to, choosing to set all that aside and pick up something purely because I wanted to was a breath of fresh air.

I need to do more rereading. But I need to do it without pressure, I think. I should reread To Kill a Mockingbird, but I know if I force myself to get to it before Go Set a Watchman, it’s not going to be any fun. I want to reread the Glamourist Histories, but likewise I should approach it organically, rather than forcing it. I want to reread David Mitchell, and all those Anne of Green Gables books, and half a dozen Discworlds. But there’s not enough time in the world. So some of them will just have to be content to sit on the shelves a little longer.

What are your thoughts on rereading? Yay? Nay?

Also, if you’ve read Tanith Lee: what the heck else of hers should I read? She has so many books that I’m not quite sure where to go next.

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1 Comment

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One response to “On ReReading

  1. Yay, I say. I enjoy rereading and I do it often. I think that’s why I haven’t read as many books as I like. I agree with what you said above that rereading “is like going back to visit a place you used to love.” That’s what I love about it. When I reread, I sometimes recall the experiences I had when I first read, or even reread, the book, and also thoughts and daydreams that interrupted me on the first go. I like to reminisce and rereading helps to provoke past thoughts. It’s also a great way to gauge how much I’ve grown and matured, which is why I even reread books I once hated — The Great Gatsby, for example.

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