Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Rereads


I know some people never read the same book more than once. I'm not one of those people. I have books I reread every few years. They're like getting together with old friends.

Mabel Seeley wrote some of the first mysteries I ever read; the ones that got me hooked on the genre. The books were my mother’s, bought  way back when, when Pyramid paperbacks cost 50 or 60 cents. They were reprints from an older time--marginally historical--even then. They were, however, contemporaries when published in the 1930s and 40s. 

The pages of these old paperbacks are yellow and crisp with age, and I take care turning the pages. And they are still page-turners, after all these years. The Listening House, The Chuckling Fingers, The Whispering Cup. I  have six in all. They’re very evocative and I get a big kick out the dialogue, the action, and the lives these people led. Ms. Seeley speaks of ice-boxes and streetcars, and pay phones in the house. Water is often heated on top of a stove, sometimes gas, sometimes wood. They light lamps, they ring a central operator to place a phone call, just as described in my China Bohannon series set in 1896. In The Listening House, the heroine pays $4.50 a week rent for two rooms and a half bath. Movies and playing cards are usual pastimes. The stories seem more dated and less real to me than the Victorian era mystery/adventures (see Three Seconds to Thunder and Two Feet Below) that I write.

But here’s the thing—get readers and writers together and they’ll be talking about all the errors and typos in books nowadays. We’ll complain of poorly edited works and say, “The editors are all fifteen years old. They don’t know proper grammar and can't spell anymore.” But people, you should try rereading some of these old books. 

The last time I read my inherited Mabel Seeleys--lo these several years ago--they seemed perfect to me. I didn’t notice typos and such. Now I do. Don’t take me wrong. I still enjoy these stories very much, but editing errors jump out at me like never before. On almost every page the same words are used only a sentence or two apart. Motivation often seems weak and a little repetitious. Dialogue is strange at times. Adverbs are strewn freely about; commas abound. 

Oh, what the heck. I still love them. They send me right back into an era totally apart from my own. And I can never forget they’re part of what whetted my own desire to write. I just hope a few readers will find my own stories worthy of a reread a few years down the line.

8 comments:

Holli said...

I re-read books all the time, just like I re-watch movies, because I never remember anything a day or so after I read or watch them, no matter how great they are. I remember characters I like, but not plotlines.

I find with books that if the story is really engaging, I don't notice errors.

Shalanna said...

I know why I can re-read books so easily. It's because Mama got tired of having to take me to the library or buy a new book when we went to the grocery store, and she said, "Just re-read your old ones. Make yourself forget!" So I did, apparently. Now I can re-read a book just about every year. I *will* remember fondly many of the events and plot twists as I read, but I enjoy studying them to see how the author built the structure. I also enjoy the language in the books I love and re-read. I remember the characters far better than I do the plot or storyline, as well.

I wonder whether in these older books you actually saw a lot of typos and howlers _per se_, because you mention adverbs and commas. Well . . . adverbs are a perfectly good part of the language. They developed for a reason. In the past, adverbial dialogue tags were a sort of shorthand for readers; if someone typed "he said thoughtfully," the reader would visualize whatever facial expression or bodily position that reader imagined as "thoughtfulness." That's out of style now and has been excoriated (except when JKRowling does it, heh), but it's merely a style choice. In the postmodern zeitgeist, optional commas are often omitted, but as recently as thirty years ago they were not (especially the Oxford or serial comma, which is STILL an aid to clarity). Maybe it's just that you can now see the changes in preferred style that have taken place over time. The older books are still correct (maybe), but you're so accustomed to the "RULES" that every writers' workshop tries to indoctrinate writers with that you find the older styles weird. I see far fewer typos in books from even fifteen years ago.

I have a "keepers" shelf. Not everyone keeps or loves the same books. I have the "Donna Parker" series (re-purchased through used bookstores because Mother got rid of mine as soon as I went off to school) because I have such fond memories of it from childhood, but I know it's not particularly well written. Other books I keep because I know the author, or I love the language, or I love the characters . . . there's always something.

We can only hope that someday people remember OUR books so fondly!

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

I keep a lot of books, especially those that I've had autographed. Sometimes I reread a book by accident, seldom on purpose, because I have way to many in my TBR pile!

William Doonan said...

I've read Sirens of Titan at least five times. Often you get a little more out of a book with a reread.

C.K.Crigger said...

I have several that I still read--hence the Mabel Seeleys--but Lois McMaster Bujold is on my list of rereads, ditto Craig Johnson, some of C.J. Cherryh's, Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse (but I can't stand Tru Blood on tv), and a western called The Cowboy and the Cossack. I am nothing if not eclectic in my choices.

C.K.Crigger said...

I have several that I still read--hence the Mabel Seeleys--but Lois McMaster Bujold is on my list of rereads, ditto Craig Johnson, some of C.J. Cherryh's, Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse (but I can't stand Tru Blood on tv), and a western called The Cowboy and the Cossack. I am nothing if not eclectic in my choices.

Sally Carpenter said...

I have favorite "comfort" books and movies that I enjoy over and over. At used book sales I notice the "best sellers" are the ones on the table--maybe people read them once but don't care to keep the books. To me, a "good" book is one that touches a chord for the reader and makes her want to revisit that setting/those characters.

Beryl Reichenberg said...

My house is full of books of every variety: fiction, nonfiction, kids books, adult books, etc. I keep telling myself I'll have to get rid of them someday, but then when I take them down from the shelves, I just can't seem to part with them. Some I haven't read, and some I'll want to read again. Some books are like old sweaters, nice to curl up with and enjoy again and again, sort of like comfort food.

And "the rules" are always changing because language is a living entity. Who knows what the rules will be in a hundred years. Beryl