Second Helpings

***Breaking news alert. We interrupt this blog post to announce (with glee) that our monthly blogger and Wicked Accomplice Sheila Connolly’s newest book, An Early Wake, will debut on the New York Times Mass Market Paperback Bestseller List at #10 on Sunday!!! We now return you to our regularly scheduled posting. (After an appropriate amount of squealing and dancing around.) CONGRATULATIONS, SHEILA!***

Jessie: In NH huddled under a mohair and wool blanket with nothing but her typing fingers sticking out 

Every writer I know, not surprisingly, has a lot of books. Books heave and bulge and topple from our shelves and tables. They form perilous stacks behind doors and in corners. They lurk under beds and amongst the dry goods in the pantry. For me, all of this seems perfectly natural and as things should be. Over time, however, I’ve become better at culling the herd, at ruthlessly donating to my local library and to charitable organizations that seem happy to receive them. I’ve come to pride myself in how well I feel I manage my personal library.

photoSo it was a surprise to me when recently a visiting friend looked round my office and asked if I really needed all the books I kept in there. I actually gasped out loud before assuring her that I did. Later, when she’d gone, I stood in front of my bookshelves and considered if I had told the truth. Certainly, I did not need them if need could be defined as food, clothing and shelter. Fewer than half of them were reference books so I couldn’t even claim they were directly used in my work.

What I came to realize as I stood there considering them was that they are mostly re-reads. I have read the majority of them more than once and plan to do so again. I do have a stack of to-be-read books and also books on loan from the library and from friends but mostly the books on my shelves are like favorite foods. I devour them with immense pleasure and then wait awhile before feasting on them again to better enjoy the taste. I would never consider not eating something  ever again because I had already enjoyed it. For me both books and meals are about nuance at least as much as novelty. I delight in second helpings of each.

So readers, are you re-readers too or do you find there are so many wonderful books out there that you never look back?

52 Thoughts

  1. Interesting, Jessie. I basically never reread books all the way through. But I keep well-written favorites (including all the Wickeds’ books, of course!) around to see how other authors phrase things, to look at great openings, and so on. There are just too many new books that I want to read. And they never stop coming!

  2. I think it was Cicero who said “A room without books is like a body without a soul.” Every room in my house has books – the dining room table does not look right to me unless there’s a few opened to the page I left. For those on the shelf, as a writer you never know when they’ll come in handy!

  3. Yes, I reread. That is probably why I have such a large t-b-r list. I find rereads to be comforting in my old age. Gladys Mitchell and Dell Shannon are the most re read. But I did reread “Good Morning Miss Dove” not too long ago.

  4. I often binge reread an entire series after it has been around for awhile and I’ve had time to forget details of the plots in the earlier books. And, confession time: I’m currently rereading the books in my own Liss MacCrimmon series because now that I’m writing book ten I’m finding I can’t remember a lot of what I’ve already written about some characters and settings. I thought I was keeping good notes but apparently not!

    1. I love binge reading too! And I know what you mean about checking the details in your own books. I’m doing it after only four. I can’t imagine how you keep all yours straight! How many is it that you’ve published?

      1. 51 . . . but the first one came out in 1984 so it isn’t nearly as impressive as what Sheila and Edith and others I could name are doing these days.


  5. If I didn’t re-read my books I wouldn’t have almost 1900 of them in my home library. Of course many of them are very old first editions or first printings of authors I love. These days I’m collecting those same authors but in autographed versions. If I have nothing else to leave my kids it will be a hopefully valuable library.

  6. I rarely reread anything. I wish I could, but with my editing business and writing my own stuff, plus family and other obligations, there just aren’t enough hours in the day to revisit anything other than the classics–and even those I haven’t seen in a while. Every other year or so I reread Jane Eyre (my favorite story of all time-so deliciously gothic and best ending ever!) as well as Jane Austen (so many Janes, LOL)–Emma is my favorite of those. And I am slowly going through Barbara Michaels/Elizabeth Peters’ work again, just to remind myself how it’s all done.

  7. When I was young and had no money, I reread books often. I read Tolkien’s Ring Trilogy every summer for at least ten years. Dorothy Sayers’ Gaudy Night probably as many times. Which probably explains why I can quote snippets from both. I still have all the mysteries I collected, and have read some of them multiple times. But whether or not I plan to reread them, ever, it’s painful to me to part with them now. It’s like choosing your best friends–giving away a book is like saying, I don’t like you any more.

  8. While I was at Crime Bake last fall, Bob went into our guest room for the first time in awhile. The closet, bed, and floor were overflowing with books. We culled the herd and took a bunch to the library and reorganized the rest on shelves in the basement. I do some re-reading but not much anymore.

  9. Certainly as a child I reread a LOT because we didn’t have unlimited book access. School library yes, but no public library (which I’ve only just now realised. How very odd….)

    And now I still reread, though not quite so much (though in the past 5 years I’ve been tracking my reading and realise that 1/3 of all the books I read are rereads.

    Anyway, I’m slowly getting to my point. I have some several thousand books in my house, and many of them will not get a reread, but when they are there on the shelves, I can see them and revisit them in my mind…the characters, the events, the settings. As long as I have the physical copy, I still carry the book inside me.

  10. I re-read all the time. I’ve read Harry Potter so many times I can’t count (and I read them about once a year). Chronicles of Narnia. Tolkien. Agatha Christie. Frederick Forsyth. And so many more. I learn something new, or gain a new appreciation, every time.

  11. Last summer we had water damage in our basement and had to empty the area of everything including our book collection and store it all temporarily in our garage. Carrying box after box from one place to another makes you wonder how much of the stuff you really need or want. Especially since we would have to take it back again once repairs were made. As a result, we donated a lot of stuff, including books we had been collecting for too many years to count. There were certain books I couldn’t bear to part with, the ones I read over and over. Our scaled-back collection is now back in place, but it has created another problem: I find myself going to the shelves looking for a particular book only to discover that it isn’t there. I’ve forgotten which books I’ve kept and which ones I’ve donated.

  12. There are needs other than food and walls. I would sooner go hungry (and yes, I do know what that is like) than live without my favorite books, some of which I have read upwards of 40 times or more. I have read some books to pieces and then read the newer editions into poor shape afterwards. They are essential to me, by all kinds of definitions. If you can’t stand the sight of stacks of books in most rooms, don’t visit. My books are my soulmates, keys to my identity, the preservers of my sanity, my companions in all moods and seasons, my only treasure.

    New books often get added to the stacks, but when someone says there are so many new things to discover that they never reread, I can’t understand why. Do you never eat the same delicious dishes twice? Do you wear new clothes every day? Do you cast aside a good friend after a single satisfying conversation? My old books have known me for decades; the latest hot novel is barely an acquaintance.

    As for culling, I will pass on books that are well written but didn’t move me, and I will recycle books that I consider a waste of words. That’s part of how I give back, for what my books continue to give to me.

    1. Books do become part of the identity, don’t they? At least they do for passionate readers. I understand your sentiment about books being companions in all moods and seasons. I could’t agree more!

  13. I would love to be a rereader, but I just don’t have the time. I have a pile of books I haven’t read yet that goes on and on, and I really want to read those books. And yet, some of my favorites are calling to me.

    Having said that, I am working my way through rereading and reviewing the Trixie Belden series (got to get to #29 soon). I have a few other books from my own childhood that I would love to reread for the purposes of review. And I started rereading of on my all time favorite authors last year when I discovered she had released her books as ebooks. Yep, again it’s for review purposes. In other words, if I haven’t reviewed it yet, I use that as justification for a reread. If only there were more hours in the day, right?

    Seriously, anyone want to sponsor me to stay home and read 24 hours a day 7 days a week? I promise, it would be worth someone’s time and money. Probably mine. 🙂

    And Sheila, huge congrats!!!

      1. And the problem is you then produce books that I need to stay home to read.

        It’s a vicious cycle that took years to prefect. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

      1. There are 39 books in all, so I just have 11 more to go. I’m hoping to be up to #32 for Halloween this year since it’s the spookiest in the series. It’s also by far my least favorite, but that’s beside the point.

  14. Huge congratulations to Sheila! You raise all boats for us cozy writers with your success. You pushed the boundaries, insisting on a foreign setting when you got push back, and offering up a non-classic, working-class heroine. Thank you for all of it.

    1. Aww, thank you. Plus you’ve figured out my strategy. I started out with a very traditional cozy (the Orchard mysteries), nudged it to urban (the Museum mysteries), and then left the country altogether. What’s next? Mars? Hmm..a cozy set on Mars. That could be a great parody.

  15. When I was young, I finished every book I started and the only times I reread was when I studied the same text multiple times through high school and college. (Which was a good thing, because I didn’t get Moby Dick until the third time through. And then I absolutely fell in love with it.)

    But now that I’m older, I don’t finish books I hate unless I’m reading them for some reason other than enjoyment. And I do reread, but like Edith, with more of a writerly eye, like, “How did she do that?”

  16. Oh yes, that’s my criteria for whether to keep a book or not. In a younger day (before I discovered I was destined to move on the average of every two years) I kept everything. Paper, trade, and hard bound. When the movers would groan when the arrived at my house, I realized it was time to cull the herd. Now I only keep the most meaningful books, those that I know I will read again. I admit though, my guilty pleasure if finding a book I read long ago on Amazon and buying the Kindle version. I may never read it again, but I have to have it.

    1. We moved frequently when I was a child and I know just what you mean about groaning movers! Books were a huge contributor to that in our case too! As much as I love physical books, I do love how many e-books fit into so little space!

  17. When I was a teenager I would read Gone With The Wind every summer. I have reread The Thin Woman by Dorothy Cannell at least seven times and I can’t count the times I’ve read To Kill A Mockingbird. They are the only books I have ever read cover to cover more than once.

  18. I don’t reread as much as I would like. I do however keep just about every book I bought and read. Including the ones from my childhood. For me each book holds a special memory. When I was little my mom and I would sit in her rocking chair or on the couch and read together. The books i do reread are the ones where the characters in my books have become family to me. Parting with my books would be like giving up a member of the family.

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