On rereading, or “I can’t believe it sucked the second time around”

27 May

Oh man, I’m so disappointed. Don’t you have a secret stash of books in your head, an imaginary stack of books that rocked you, that you loved and remember with warm, fuzzy feelings? I like to dip back into my secret stash from time to time; I’m a huge proponent of rereading. My husband is always bemused by my tendency to rewatch my favorite movies and reread books – his own philosophy is to constantly seek out new experiences, and that’s what allows him to grow. But for me, so much comes from insight, from rolling over ideas in my head and looking for something new to mine. There’s a reason why a book appeals to me, and I like to come back to that reason and let it keep giving me something. But…oh, there’s a heartbreak in coming back to a book sometimes and it’s just…ugh. Less than. Not as good. Flat.

Obviously, the book stayed the same. It’s me that changed, and it just breaks my heart when I don’t find the same enjoyment and experience I did the first time around. This just happened to me when I tried to reread James Clavell’s Shogun. Oh my God, I LOVED this book when I first read it around age nineteen. It was so exotic, and the first time I had ventured into Japan in my imagination. I loved all the ritual, the tradition, the beauty in small things. I was really in the mood to fall headlong into another culture like that again, so I picked it up and…yick. This Blackthorne guy is a total turd. How did I miss that? And the violence! I got as far as one of Blackthorne’s crew being boiled alive and just said no. But it wasn’t just the plot and characters – Clavell’s writing itself fell flat for me. There was a ton of telling, not showing; all of a sudden, I’d be transported to one of the character’s point of view, and this character would end up having a VERY lengthy, not-so-realistic conversation with him/herself about the long history between characters, motivations, etc. I get it, it’s hard to write an epic and introduce so much history, but jeez. I felt like I was sitting through a clumsy exercise in How to Write a Historical Epic 101.

[Sidenote: my husband just reminded me about the time we rewatched Goonies, which we both loved as kids, and were just so turned off. Those kids were annoying.]

I guess at nineteen, this hit the right spot for me, but my tastes and pet peeves have clearly altered. Such a disappointment – I feel like I have to retire Shogun from that “favorites” list in my head. Still, I’ll never forget the exhilaration of reading it for the first time, and how it kickstarted my interest in Japan (only to be further cemented by Sophia Coppola’s move Lost in Translation, which is fantastic and quiet and beautiful). Maybe I’ll reread Pride and Prejudice to re-cement my belief in the pleasures of rereading.

7 Responses to “On rereading, or “I can’t believe it sucked the second time around””

  1. Rebecca May 28, 2012 at 11:05 am #

    This is the very reason I fear rereading some of the books I loved as a kid. Like the Lloyd Alexander Chronicles of Prydain series or all those in the Bunnicula type series. Granted, I was a lot younger than 19 when I read those, but I think half of the memory was the shared reading experience with my mom. I would read them aloud to her in the evenings, and occasionally she would read to me. The books were bizarre and funny, but I think a lot of the magic in the books are wrapped up in those memories, not in the words on the page.

    I think the closest I come to your experience is with Jude Deveraux. I discovered romances very late compared to all my friends. I think I was 17 the first time I read one, and it was like all my hormones sat up and cheered. Here was the kind of book they’d been wanting. But I look at those romances now, and I cringe. They’re so flat, the characters so simple, and the plot beyond predictable. But as an introduction to romance, I was blown away.

    • Amanda May 28, 2012 at 3:02 pm #

      Wow, there’s a blast from the past. Jude Deveraux! Is it mandatory that every teen girl who discovers romance reads her? I also was a big fan in my teens, though I may have started a little earlier than you. Nowadays, I tend to favor Eloisa James/Julia Quinn/Jennifer Crusie more, but those early ones (along with Julie Garwood) will always hold a special place for me.

      I have to admit, it’s rare that I reread a beloved book and am this dissatisfied. It may have something to do with the amount of time between rereadings? Over a decade and you’re probably guaranteed to be a much different reader than you were then. I saw keep those Lloyd Alexander books locked in your memory – sounds like those experiences were too precious to you to jeopardize at all.

      • Rebecca May 28, 2012 at 5:02 pm #

        Oh, Julie Garwood was another must-read for me when I was a teen. I cleared out all her books from my shelves about three or so years ago because I hadn’t purchased anything she’s written in years.

        I don’t think I read any straight romance anymore. I fell in love with fantasy as a kid, flirted with romance, and then found paranormal romance and it was like the blending of two wonderful worlds into one. I look at the straight romance (and a lot of the paranormal romance) and just can’t get excited about it lately. Oh, yes, the perfect man who is a tad bit too alpha but in all the right ways can’t resist falling in love with the troubled but drop-dead gorgeous woman. That’s just not appealing to me lately.

        Amusingly, it didn’t even occur to me when I first read your post that I’m currently rereading a series I love, and it’s holding up again: The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. I’ve been reading this series since it was first released when I was like 13, and the final book is finally being released in 2013, so I’m rereading to refresh everything in celebration of the end of the series. Hum, do you ever get into a funk when you finish a really good book, or a really good series. I have no idea what finishing this series that’s run through over half my life is going to do to me. I might need serious vats of chocolate cake!

        • Amanda May 28, 2012 at 8:55 pm #

          Well, there is no problem on this earth that is not helped by chocolate cake. And that’s a FACT.

          Don’t you remember our long debate over whether or not The Wheel of Time series was misogynistic? I was annoyed by how the women were portrayed, and you had some good rebuttal points. I think we definitely agreed on the good stuff, and you kindly respected my annoyance on what I didn’t like.

          I just read a string of really good romances and fantasies (which are in a stack waiting to be reviewed) and I have a couple good possibilities in my TBR pile. I was actually thinking of rereading the Harry Potter series…it’s been years and years and I remember I did love it.

          • Rebecca May 29, 2012 at 8:21 am #

            You know, I have vague memories of that debate. I’ll keep that in mind as I reread. The first time I read the books, I wasn’t really an analytical reader. I read so much differently now! I think a lot of me is simply impressed that he kept the characteristics of so many characters in line, and everyone seems to react as themselves, not a caricature or so similarly to each other that they’re interchangeable. I admit that Egwene and Elayne often were confusing/interchangeable to me on the first read, but I’m noticing a lot more differences this read. I think knowing a bit about where they’re going helps.

            I can’t remember: Are you still reading the series?

  2. Rebecca May 28, 2012 at 5:04 pm #

    If you like epic fantasy, you might give his tomes a try: http://www.amazon.com/The-Wheel-Time-Boxed-Books/dp/0812538366/ref=la_B000AQ19X6_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1338253450&sr=1-2

  3. Lee June 1, 2012 at 1:52 pm #

    I’m sorry to hear that Shogun doesn’t stand the test of time! I loved that book back in the day, too! I had the same experience with Trinity (Leon Uris), a book I loved when I was a teen. I recently bought QBVII (also Uris; it was only a buck) but I’m a little afraid. I guess I didn’t recognize mediocre writing at 17, or my standards weren’t particularly high. I’ll let you know how it goes!

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