Jan 26 2009 3:24pm

Why do I pick up the books I do?

I’ve been doing these posts here on what I’m re-reading for about six months now, and it seemed like a good time to revisit “why I re-read” from a slightly different angle. Why do I re-read the particular things that I do? I’ve written posts on almost everything that I’ve re-read since July. I tend to alternate reading new things with re-readings, except that sometimes I’ll go on a new books binge, and sometimes I’ll re-read all of something. But what causes me to decide to re-read one book and not another? What makes me pick up a particular book at a specific time? Good question.

Firstly, it isn’t all a cunning Plan. I’m not trying to promote particular things or my friends or Tor books or anything. I also don’t have an agenda of any kind. It’s not exactly random, but it isn’t directed towards any goal. I’m not trying to educate people or push one kind of book over another. This is just my genre re-reading, with the occasional non-genre or edge of genre book thrown in.

There are some books that I have read, and enjoyed, that I think are good books, but which never seem to be quite what I feel like reading again. I talked about my large pile of unread books, and how something can sit on them like cold rice pudding until suddenly it inexplicably becomes catnip. It’s the same with some books I have read. I can walk by them every day and they’re just wallpaper, and then suddenly I can’t live without them another second. This is particularly true of long series. (I hope you don’t get bored when I start again with the Lymond books or the Patrick O’Brians!)

Usually, I’ll choose to re-read a book because something has reminded me of it. For instance, I’ve recently done some posts about Robin McKinley’s books. What started me on this McKinley binge was reading (just once) her new book Chalice. Chalice filled me with a desire for McKinley, and thus you got three consecutive McKinley posts. More often this works the other way around. I’ll hear that a new book is coming out and I’ll re-read the whole series in preparation. This is what happened with all the Cherryh in December, for Regenesis, and also with all the Vlad books, before Jhegaala. There are books I want to re-read and talk about here but I’m waiting until the new one comes out because I don’t want to fill myself with impatience. (The Melusine books, Song of Ice and Fire.)

Or one book will remind me of another. Reading The City and the Stars filled me with an urge to read Drinking Sapphire Wine. Or a book will come up in conversation—in comments here, or on Livejournal, or in my daily life. If science fiction is a dialogue, it’s occasionally possible to have an entire complex conversation purely in story titles. The best time ever was at Minicon. “Who can replace a man?” Emmet asked. “No woman born,” Mike Ford replied. “Can you feel anything when I do this?” I put in. That’s not just repartee, it’s a whole discussion about the emotional problems of artificial intelligences. We often do this kind of shorthand at home, though usually not so cleverly that it could pass on both levels, just throwing in a book to make a point. “Of course, split personality is always going to be a problem.” “Aristoi?”

But of course I am reminded of lots of books every day, and I don’t pick them all up to read them again. There has to be a tug towards it. When I’m reminded of it, I have to want to go and hang out again with those people, in that world. I have to be in the mood for it. Some books are always tempting. I mentioned in my post on Anathem that I missed it when I’d finished it. So it’s just what I feel like, really. This all seems so subjective and emotional. I wish it was more scientific! I suppose the best way of putting it is that there are books that have orbits that are always easy for me to fall into, and others where I have to find the right quantum energy state to be able to reach them. I have to be open to them. My valance has to be right.

But I am always open to suggestions. What should I read next?

Kate Nepveu
1. katenepveu
Have you read Terry Pratchett's _Nation_? It's much more like the Bromeliad than Discworld and it's very good.
2. rjbman
How about Brent Weeks's The Way of Shadows? I just finished it, it's amazing.
Jason Henninger
3. jasonhenninger
I've enjoyed Sarah Ash's Tears of Artamon books. Have you read those?
Carl Rigney
4. cdr
Is it cheating to mention that Lois McMaster Bujold's Sharing Knife 4: Horizon comes out tomorrow (the 27th)? As if that wasn't already on your radar.
5. KestrelHill
By all means, post about O'Brian. It's obviously science fiction--
Jack and Stephen must be Time Lords, to fit eight books worth of adventure into 1813.
Ben R
6. sphericaltime
I am very much looking forward to your Vlad books.

How about Robert Charles Wilson's ongoing cycle, Spin, Axis . . . etc?

I thought they were very interesting.
Ben R
7. sphericaltime
Er . . . your reviews of the Vlad books. Yarg.
Jo Walton
8. bluejo
Spherical Time,
did the Vlad books already.

And Spin is the best suggestion yet. It's a little while since I read it -- I last re-read it just before Axis. The third one isn't listed yet, so probably no point waiting for it, as I've read his new, brilliant, as yet unpublished novel Julian Comstock which I assume will come out first, and that isn't listed either.
Andy Leighton
9. andyl
How about JCG's Arabesk trilogy or will you hold off until he has the new book ready?
10. Dan Blum
If you haven't read Kage Baker's The Anvil of the World, you could read that. If you have, you could read the prequel, The House of the Stag, which came out a few months ago. Unless of course you have read that too.
Jo Walton
11. bluejo
CDR: Sharing Knife: The New One, is not in Indigo yet. Sometimes books take ages to percolate slowly into Canada. It's infuriating.
Justin Adair
12. Hobbyns
I'm also waiting for the Melusine conclusion quite impatiently, and Spin is one of my favorite SF novels out of this decade so far.

Proving that you can't judge a book by it's cover, I took a chance on Mike Carey's The Devil You Know this week, and enjoyed it quite a lot. The American cover makes it look like some cheap Exorcist knockoff, but it's anything but. I guess you could call it urban fantasy with a mix of P.D. James or something similar. I liked the protagonist's narrative voice.

Now I'm reading through Tim Powers Declare and am liking it as well. Next up is Matter by Iain M. Banks.
Patrick Garson
13. patrickg
Hmmm, in no particular order

Barry Hughart: Bridge of Birds

Mervyn Peake: Gormenghast

Evangeline Walton: The Mabinogion

Never got into em myself but perhaps Kerr's Deverry books?

Robin Hobb; I love the Assasin's Trilogy, don't care what anyone says, and I think there's lots to talk about there, too.

Jack Vance: Lyonesse.

Lainez: The Wandering Unicorn (great book!)

Edward Whittemore: The Jerusalem Quartet - Nothing else like it.

Angela Carter: The Bloody Chamber.

And finally John Crowley. Love to hear anyone's thoughts on Crowley's work.
14. OtterB
Most often I reread for the pleasure of hanging out with the characters, or to re-enjoy some favorite scenes. Sometimes to savor the layers I didn't really notice consciously in a first rush through a book to find out what happened.

We were shifting crates of books around in the process of decluttering the house over the weekend, and I turned up several things I hadn't seen in a while. I have therefore reread Bujold's Paladin of Souls and added Wen Spencer's Ukiah Oregon books to the "reread soon" pile, now that I know where they all are.

Elizabeth Moon is beginning a new series set in the Paksennarion world, and sometime before that comes out I'll want to reread the older books.

I also am looking forward to the next Melusine book. A busy reading stretch of sequels and new series additions is coming up in April, some of which will call for re-reads in anticipation: In addition to Corambis there will be a new Dresden Files book, Longeye by Lee & Miller, a new Holmes & Russell book by Laurie King, and the third in the Raine Benares series by Lisa Shearin, which managed to slip past my ho-hum reaction to much new fantasy-with-kick-ass-heroine.
15. Tammabanana
I really enjoy reading about your re-reads - half the time you've been reading my own comfort foods! Now every time you bring up one I haven't read yet, I have to bookmark it at my library.

I think that I haven't seen you mention these ones: Naomi Novik's Temeraire series (His Majesty's Dragon, Throne of Jade, etc.), and Patricia Briggs's Mercedes Thompson series (Moon Called, Blood Bound, Iron Kissed). Those hang out on my comfort food shelf with the McKinleys and Bujolds, so I think (if you haven't already, of course) that you'd enjoy them.
Chris Meadows
16. Robotech_Master
Have you read The Wheel of the Winds by M.J. Engh? I'd be interested to see what you think of it.

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