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On My Present Re-Reading And Discoveries Therein

A photograph of Hever Castle's lake with boats

Over the last month I’ve been being doing a fair amount of re-reading. I’ve re-read various books before but never in quick succession as I am now. It’s been a pleasure.

I’ve found re-reading to be quicker than the first read even when reading the book in full, not skipping anything just because you’ve read it before. I think it’s a ‘thing’ anyway, but it’s perhaps been intensified due to my relative generally slower reading speed; I’m re-reading these books faster than I normally would read, which is both obvious and a big motivation, and it doesn’t seem to be necessarily reflective of how I read them – I’m faster whether I’m reading a chapter at a time or spending the whole evening with the book.

It’s definitely true that you notice more when re-reading; it’s a well-known concept applicable to all kinds of things but is nevertheless still surprising when it happens. Without needing to concentrate so much on what’s happening (or on character development in cases where plot is less important) – and even if you often notice ‘small things’ anyway – it’s surprising how much you miss the first time. I’ve found this to be the case no matter whether notes from the previous reading of the book were detailed or not. And if the lifelong interests of academics of an author and/or their work is anything to go by, the more times you re-read the more you pick up. I can’t help but wonder whether there’s a line of sorts for each book (because it couldn’t be applied equally across the board) where to go over it, to re-read more than that number, would finally present nothing new. It’s an interesting thing to consider, partly because I suspect that the answer is that no, there isn’t a line, or that if there is, it would indeed take a great many re-reads. More likely, I think, is the chance that there will always be something new to find, just that the somethings will become less and less interesting, less relevant, and at some point understandably too minor to bother with.

I think it’s also true that you notice more during a re-read regardless of when you first read the book. No matter when it was you, will remember more as you go along, the only difference being the amount you remember, the time it takes you to remember whilst re-reading, and the clarity of your memories.

Reading with hindsight allows you to see more of the writing process. You know where such and such a thread is heading so you can enjoy the journey the author takes to get there, not unlike the way the author must have found it when writing. Likewise, you’re more aware of author context and/or background context in the book.

I found I enjoyed the books even more. And it does help to know in advance that you’ll most definitely enjoy reading it/them, it lessens any tendencies to browse before choosing. Whilst any twists will not be new – you’re not going to get quite the same experience – coming back to a book you loved ensures an easy, happy, read.

What benefits do you find in re-reading?

 
On Wanting Another Book As Awesome As The One You’ve Just Finished

A photograph of the Arabian room at Cardiff Castle

That slight feeling of sadness after you’ve finished a great book, it’s over. When that happens it’s tempting to want to find another book just like it; even when you’ve reading plans to continue you can still have that wish.

Sometimes it’s easy – pick up the sequel. There’s a chance – sometimes fairly big – that the sequel won’t live up to the book you’ve read, but it’s the best chance of reading more of the same that there is. Other times the author may have written another book with the same atmosphere. Lesser times but still significant enough, another author in the same genre or with books set at the same time (for example if it’s a historic novel) may provide a similar reading experience. Recommendations are great here, particularly as people tend to specify what is and isn’t the same.

The thing that interests me in a literary way, though, is those times it isn’t easy to find another book that’s similar, which includes times when you can find one similar but it takes time and during that time you’ve ‘recovered’ from the ‘need’ (though that is a fair alternative in itself). I find it interesting that the process of reading a great book and being unable to replicate the experience for whatever reason can lead to a slump. Perhaps it’s because I’m not as avid a film watcher as I am a reader, but I don’t find the same process in the context of films as powerful. Nor music, although I love music and the right song can be a stunning experience.

Sometimes TV series can produce a similar feeling, which makes me wonder how much is down to length and time invested. In books, a book can be shorter than, well, a tome, and still produce the same result because of how much relative time and attention it uses. It’s generally easier to watch a TV series than to read a book no matter the genre of the book as it requires less attention; all the imagination has been done for you. A short book might not cause the same feeling as a longer one due to time invested, but I’d say it’s more likely to cause it than a film.

I think it’s fascinating that a good book and the resulting wish to read more – which a re-read won’t do – can cause a slump. We talk about good books being the pinnacle. We talk about average books causing a slump, burnout causing a slump, and the daunting nature of the anticipation of a good book causing a slump. But the aftermath of a great book can be a slump. (Of cause a great book can also put off a slump, but that’s not the topic here.)

Looking at the times I’ve had this problem in the past, it relates most often to times when I’ve been able to give the great book not only the literal attention but the physical space, that is to say when I’ve set myself up for an evening of reading, for example, rather than just happening to have reading time. This often leads to associations which, I suppose, play their own role – ‘when I’m at the beach I’m going to get my book out and read’, ‘I’m making a cup of tea on this particularly bright February afternoon and am going to read this book because it’s getting great and I want to enjoy it’. That second one is something I’m still musing on, 9 months later.

How do you handle this situation?

 
10 Years Tracking My Reading (22nd September 2009 – 22nd September 2019)

A photo of Curtis Sittenfeld's Prep laying on an open envelope

The 22nd September marked 10 years of me keeping exact records of my reading – dates, and formats and so on. Before September 2009 I had been reading avidly (I begun at the start of that year) but I hadn’t begun taking any notes of what I’d read. The list for the first several months of 2009 was made retrospectively.

I decided to have a look at all the data to see what they showed about my journey as a reader. This journey is 90% combined with my journey as a book blogger, too, as I started blogging early 2010. I already look at each year, and in 2017 I amalgamated various data from 8 years, so I won’t be repeating any of that, instead it’ll be simpler. I read 12 books that were re-reads but only 3 had been first read during my blogging years. I’m counting re-reads as separate books.

Total number of books: 553
Opening book: A Gathering Light by Jennifer Donnelly
Closing book: You Then, Me Now by Nick Alexander

Centuries & Decades

My reading era, so to speak, spans just over 500 years. The oldest book I’ve read is Thomas More’s Utopia (1516). And, because classics and famous books are most often older, I’ll say here that I’ve read 67 of them. I’ve read a big 0 books from the 1600s. My plan to read Aphra Behn should (start to) rectify this. I feel I should add some books from 1900-1907, too. (If anyone has recommendations do let me know.)

I read more books in 2013 than any other – 76. My ‘least books’ year was year 1, 2009, which is to be expected – 27. Likely due to everything being new and exciting, my second year, 2010, ended with 60. The numbers are consistent with being given review copies.

Publication year most read: 2013 (58 books)

1500s: 1 (1516)

1700s: 3 (1752; 1764; 1788)

1800s: 29

  • 1800s: 1
  • 1810s: 8
  • 1830s: 1
  • 1840s: 4
  • 1850s: 4
  • 1860s: 4
  • 1870s: 3
  • 1890s: 4

1900s: 80

  • 1900s: 2
  • 1910s: 5
  • 1920s: 7
  • 1930s: 7
  • 1940s: 2
  • 1950s: 10
  • 1960s: 4
  • 1970s: 1
  • 1980s: 15
  • 1990s: 27

2000s: 439

  • 2000s: 82
  • 2010s: 357
Translations From…
  • Danish: 2
  • Dutch: 1
  • Finnish: 3
  • French: 13
  • German: 6
  • Hebrew: 1
  • Japanese: 1
  • Latin: 1
  • Mandarin: 1
  • Norwegian: 3
  • Portuguese: 2
  • Russian: 2
  • Spanish: 3
  • Swedish: 2
  • Turkish: 1
Ratings

In my first year I labelled some books not applicable to be rated – I gave N/A to books I didn’t review. I discussed this in a separate post. In 2018 I assigned N/A to Twelve Years A Slave – if considered numerically it would be a 5 and I have considered this for the below.

I’m pretty happy with the ratings. It surprised me that there were a good fewer less 4.5 ratings than 4s and 5s but its a tricky one to assign sometimes; it always feels better when something’s a definite 4 or 5.

540 ratings

  • 0/5: 1
  • 0.5/5: 4
  • 1/5: 7
  • 1.5/5: 3
  • 2/5: 13
  • 2.5/5: 30
  • 3/5: 68
  • 3.5/5: 82
  • 4/5: 127
  • 4.5/5: 89
  • 5/5: 116
Reviewing

The first book I read for review was Curtis Sittenfeld’s Prep. It was a ‘sign up for a challenge’ read. My first review request was for Molly Roe’s Call Me Kate, in September 2010. This book was also my first ebook.

Books for review, various reasons: 222

Concluding Statements

The biggest change in my reading happened in 2010-2011, when blogging opened my reading world to many different types of books and pushed me to try classics. In 2009 the idea of reading a book for adults was a scary thing; this is a big reason why I never reviewed the first I read that year (when I started blogging in 2010 I slowly started reviewing previously read books). I remember trying to review non-fiction but I was aware that – whilst it was on a subject I knew a lot about – I probably needed a bit more experience to do so.

My book stats are obviously a reflection of where I was at that moment (well, year) in time, and although I can’t remember every circumstance I can remember enough to see why the patterns are what they are. I struggled to finish Station Eleven and thus it was my last book of that year; I found reading easy in 2013 because I’d changed the way I blogged, and I’d also chosen a few more shorter books; 2017 saw a slow down due to a new job; 2018 further still as I added rabbit care to my schedule. I’m on track to reach approximately 40 books this year.

How long have you been tracking your reading and what does the information you note down show about your journey?

 
Incoming Podcast!

A photo of a microphone

This photograph was taken by Chris Engelsma.

The last couple of weeks I’ve been contacting authors, re-reading books, and creating questions. I had been wanting to start a podcast for a long time but put it off because of silly worries. I finally got myself in gear, said enough was enough and it was time to get it done.

I’m excited to announce that episode one of The Worm Hole podcast will be uploaded next Monday, 28th October. The guest is Nicola Cornick. We recorded the episode on the 16th and it was a lot of fun.

It will initially go out via SoundCloud (there’s a mobile app for it as well as the web browser version) and be shared on iTunes as soon as possible following that. I’m also looking at TuneIn as a future possibility. The link will be available as part of that day’s blog post, so those of you who are on my mailing list will get it, too, and I’ll be posting it on Twitter. New episodes will go out on the second and fourth Monday of each month.

Hope you all enjoy it as much as I (we!) enjoyed making it.

Updated – first author finalised.

 
(Very Subjective) Thoughts On Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway

Book Cover

I’ve chosen to eschew my regular review/discussion format – I don’t feel I can do Mrs Dalloway justice, and I’m not sure I ‘got’ it.

I appreciated a lot about the book. So much of it was poetic – poetry in prose. The language was sometimes difficult to read – I don’t mind long sentences but my word! – but the choices made, and the rhythms, were lovely.

The portrayal of PTSD – then ‘shell shock’ – at the time when it wasn’t fully understood was very careful and caring. If Woolf’s book, albeit published several years after the war (1925), played a role in helping people to help veterans further and later, I wouldn’t be surprised. Woolf shows the symptoms well, creating a balance of flashbacks and other mental health issues that came as a result. She shows the effect of misdiagnosis and the beginnings of understanding.

I appreciated the look at love, unrequited, and same-sex.

The inclusion of suicidal thoughts and an actual suicide is interesting in its context. I wasn’t sure whether it’s ‘right’ to see anything here in items of hindsight, Woolf’s mental health and her later choices – I wonder if, perhaps, the book reflects a few of her thoughts pertaining to herself. Certainly if nothing else, she explores it all in its social context.

All these things I ‘got’ but I was left feeling that I was still missing something, hence my choice to bypass a review. All opinions are valid, but I felt too strongly about missing something – can I really evaluate something with which I struggled so much?

I struggled with the stream of consciousness. When I was able to keep my attention on the words – try as I might this was a continual problem – the moment the perspective changed I was right back at the beginning.

I didn’t ‘get’ the sudden changes in perspective. Had the book been solely from Clarissa’s point of view it would’ve been easier. I realised these extra characters might turn up at the party but still their inclusion seemed irrelevant.

I suppose I’m not sure what it was, exactly, that Woolf was trying to say overall – I’ve not a clue. Society at the time? Relationships – problems in love? Attitudes to each other, two-facedness? I did like how everything revolved around Clarissa whether the characters intended it to or not, whether they liked her or not.

Can you enlighten me? Was I somewhat right about the book or completely wrong? And how have you found Virginia Woolf yourself?

 

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