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Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Re-reads: the few and the powerful

It is a very rare occurrence that I will re-read a book.

Primarily, this is because life is short and books are many.  My to-read list (AKA, the wait list) is seriously long and overpopulated with many wonderful, exciting and worthy works that I very much want to read.  And I'll never be able to read them all, but at the same time don't want to miss out on a new experience by re-reading an old favorite.

Yet they are favorites for a reason.  And favorites are the only reason I re-read in the first place.*

*sidenote: actually not 100% true.  One time I accidentally re-read Crabwalk by Gunter Grass thinking I had never read it before.  The book was so boring and unmemorable that I actually got 3/4 of the way through before I realized that I remembered how it ended.  :|

Blech. 

For me, favorite books are actually quite rare.  I have read many books that I like and have enjoyed immensely, but there is a certain quality to those that are re-readable that makes them almost demand a second look.

I think that quality can best be defined as a sort of complexity which requires a second reading in order to develop the fullest possible appreciation for the work.  This complexity in itself is a very delicate balance.  The book has to be complex enough to require a second reading, but not so complex as to be initially off-putting in the first place, or so complex that I don't feel I would really "get" the book even if I read it a second time.

So here I would like to discuss two of my all-time favorite re-read books, and give a bit of an explanation for how they managed to pull me in a second (or third) time.

Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake

Just so good.

 I am actually re-reading Oryx and Crake right now.  It is the seed for this blogpost.  Prior to reading this book, I was very much NOT a reader of Margaret Atwood.  I remember being force-fed some poetry in high school, but generally speaking I was quite ambivalent about reading any of her novels.  But Oryx and Crake pulled me in; I could not resist the surreal, dystopian future and hopeless reminiscences of Snowman.  It is just such a good book, and it's an even better book the second time around.  The first time it is profoundly interesting, but I feel like all of the details and subtleties were lost on me.  I needed to read it a second time to really pick everything up in full detail.  Another reason why I am re-reading Oryx and Crake is because for a couple of years now I've had the sequel/prequel The Year of the Flood on my bookshelf, beckoning me to read it.  And I couldn't very well do that without first revisiting the book that started it all.  If you haven't read it, and especially if you generally dislike Atwood, I urge you to give Oryx and Crake a try.  It is such a marvelous book in so many ways.


Haruki Murakami's Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World

I love this book more than chocolate.

In addition to possibly being my ABSOLUTE FAVORITE BOOK, EVER, Haruki Murakami's End of the World also has the distinction of being the only work of adult fiction that I have read three times.*

*sidenote: Now is not the time to discuss how many DOZENS of times I read (or had read to me) Art Cummings' There's a Monster Eating my House, an absolutely riotous children's book which is sadly out of print, but which I am grateful to have a copy of.  Another blog post, another day.

End of the World captures the exact essence of what makes a book re-readable for me.  It is an amazingly detailed magical realist novel (my favorite genre) which is at once thoroughly engrossing but also highly complex.  The first time I read this book I loved it.  The second time I read it I understood it.  And the third time I was able to relax into the book like the most comfortable of old sweaters.  It is a brilliant story about the nature of the mind and reality, and is my favorite out of many great works by Murakami.  To say I recommend this book would obviously be an understatement... I practically go around giving out copies of this one (actually have done this on people's birthdays).  It is simultaneously challenging and fascinating.  And the alternating dual-perspective chapters come together in such a brilliant way to culminate in a frustratingly wonderful cliffhanger ending.  READ THIS BOOK.

I'm somewhat hard-pressed to think of many more books I've re-read.  The re-read is a rare title in my reading universe, reserved only for those works that I hold in the absolute highest regard.  May there be more of them in the future... but not too many...

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