English: Illustration by Hugh Thomson to Jane ...
Illustration by Hugh Thomson to Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice, ca. 1894. Mr Collins protesting he never reads novels. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Revisiting a beloved book is like going home after a long journey.  My own life experiences in the interim color the familiar words on the pages, reanimating and enlivening the familiar descriptions and characterizations.

I know these characters and I miss them if I am gone too long.  Yes, the journey they take never varies, and yes, I know it all turns out well in the end, but that does not in any way diminish my enjoyment of the shared experience.

Lizzie Bennet always ends up with Darcy, but that knowledge, knowledge that Jane Austen had herself by the way, only makes her harsh treatment of him in the beginning of the book more amusing.

In Dave Duncan’s A Man of his Word series, the main characters end up happy and healthy and even married at the end of the fourth book.  The trials and tribulations they encounter prior to that resolution define the people they become.

It is like thinking back on your own life and remembering the decisions and choices that lead you to where you are now.  With hindsight, it is easy to see why you did what you did, even if at the time your lack of full knowledge hampered your decision-making process.  In re-reading a well-known story, I can see, with further clarity each time, how the writer crafted the hurdles to form the characters final incarnations, just as I can see how the person I am now is directly correlated to the person I was then.  By analyzing and revisiting the past, we learn and practice for the future.

However, the best reason for re-reading a book I love is to learn how to write like that too.  Many manuals on the writing process advise wannabe’s to copy passages of writing they admire, to learn how the authors did what they did.  Re-reading these books has taught me that the writing I admire most focuses on character development.  And I think you will find in my writing an emphasis on character, perhaps to the detriment of setting or scene.

When I re-read my work, after time apart from it, I want to feel the same sort of familiarity laced with new revelations that I admire so often in other’s works.  Maybe by reading Pride and Prejudice for the billionth time – something of Jane Austen’s incredible characterization skill will finally sink in.

12 thoughts on “Re-Re-Read

  1. Such good practice! Now I know what I’m doing wrong. I’ve been working strictly through the science of osmosis. Great books beneath my pillow seemed too effortless. Not much was happening apart from the whole stiff neck bit. I shall attempt your good advice. 😉

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  2. I know EXACTLY what you mean…re-read a book to hopefully pick up that writer’s style. Or at the very least their thought process. Never mind that the story is great in itself. Great post thanks!

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