To Re-Read, Or Not Re-Read, That Was The Question

When I sat down to write this post, I was thinking about books and re-reading. Having recently moved house (and oh, the joys of arguing that the internet did not work, to discover 3 weeks and an engineer visit later that they’d connected the wrong house up, sure there could be a short story there, somewhere) I’ve been faced with the mammoth task of going through all my books.

I should explain that we’ve already filled a bookcase with books to be read, and there are two more boxes of books that will get popped into this bookcases as we don’t have enough bookcase space for all the TBR pile…

I should further mention each box measures 2 feet long, by a foot deep and a foot broad. And that there are fifteen of them.

What can I say, I like books. (Don’t we all?)

Anyway, I was contemplating these boxes and their contents. My wife and I discussed where we could store them. I suggested the loft, on the grounds they would be readily available to re-read whenever I wanted to. With her usual acute insight, she pointed out that there were nearly forty years of books stored, and to re-read them all would mean missing out on all the new books that would be published. She suggested passing some over to charity shops, so someone else could take some pleasure from them.

I countered by pointing out we’d already done that with a fair few books we’d both read and agreed we’d probably never read again. And after all, these boxes contained my collection of Stephen King, Terry Pratchett, and Robert Rankin books, amongst others.

But it got me thinking. These boxes are almost like a map of my reading tastes through the years. When I was in school, I would devour all the pulp horror novels I could get my hands on (thankfully I had a great library, although I could only take 3 books out at any one time; usually meant at least two and more often three visits a week); when I started work my tastes broadened to include crime fiction. I discovered Terry Pratchett when I was around twenty, and Robert Rankin year later, and these led me to other genres.

Because the boxes are all dated, I could see how my taste in fiction broadened. There were even a few surprises – I spotted a book of poetry I forgot I had (unusual for me – I’ve written before how I struggle with poetry, often finding it too abstract for my engineer’s brain).

If I’m honest, there’s not much chance of me re-reading many of these books – there really isn’t the time, Pauline was spot-on about that. But what I realised was, these books were more than just stories to re-read – they were links to memories, some sad, most happy; but all of them very specific. I have the book I was reading when Pauline and I first met (From a Buick 8, by Stephen King, bought from Al Jaseer book store in Riyadh where we were both working at the time for the princely sum of fifteen Riyals, according to the price pencilled inside the front cover); there’s Brian Lumley’s third volume in the original Necroscope series that I was reading when I heard my Grandfather had passed.

It’s not every book that holds such strong memories, but an awful lot of them do. I did try to go though and reduce the numbers (honest) but there are still fifteen boxes, although they are stacked neatly in the loft now…

Meanwhile, the writer part of my brain has stirred and is now turning over ideas for a story exploring the hold that fiction can have over the reader. Oh well, next time I’m asked where ideas come from, there’s an answer a little different from the usual, I suppose.



Peter Leyland said…
The hold that fiction can have over the reader Neil. What a great idea for a story. It is something that I am wrestling with in a non-fiction sense. Looking briefly around my shelves, novels that have had an unforgettable impact are Catch 22, Never Let Me Go and The Blue Flower, all of which I have lived in to some extent. My latest essay An Adult Education Course on African Novels will I hope be a tour de force and may answer your question. I have just submitted it!!

Thanks for a stimulating post
Umberto Tosi said…
Reading a story can change one's life. Re-reading it too, I believe. Thanks for you thought-provoking post.
misha said…
We are downsizing soon and currently going through our books. The dilemma is always which ones might I re-read. Mostly I get it right but just last week I was asked by a friend what I thought about the ending of Kate Atkinson's "Life After Life" and going to the bookshelf to remind myself I realised it had gone with the previous day's contingent to the charity shop.

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