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Books: readers vs readers/writers

I’ve had some interesting chats to a couple of people lately about books – the books we love, the books we can reread without getting halfway through and putting them down again, books that we outgrew – and I started wondering if there was a difference between people who write, and people who don’t.

When I first read a book I’m happy to let myself enjoy it, throw myself in and make a few allowances along the way should I need to for the story. But lately I’ve been finding that books I thought I loved, thought were amazing, aren’t really all that flash on second reading. Now, I don’t normally re-read books (perhaps this is why? I like to keep the idea of wonderful writing alive in my head?), but I have been making a point of flicking through some of my old favourites to see who has stood the test of time.

As a writer, I think I read in a different way now (slightly, anyway), even from a few years ago. If a book is badly written or is ridiculous (in a bad way) then chances are very high I’m not going to spend time on it – unless of course I’m trying to get to the bottom of why it’s so damn popular. But if it’s a reasonably well written and the story is engaging I’ll finish it. I don’t have the highest standards, but I’ve been putting down a lot more books lately than I used to.

There are a few novels that have fallen out of grace simply because as an older reader, a more experienced person, I crave slightly more intricate story lines. As a writer who is working on her craft, I’m more likely to notice clumsy word choices, head hopping and other things which detract from a story.

Do you find this? Do you have non writer friends who can re-read novels constantly and never get sick of them or pick up on the faults? I do, and I scratch my head sometimes wondering how they can do it over and over again. It might not be a difference between readers and reader/writers at all, it might just be the kind of person I am, but so much is lost from a novel when I read it a second or third time – or at least, the ones I have tried anyway, I’m obviously consuming a lot of ‘read once’ novels!

I did however start reading a series again recently and am so pleased that it’s just as good this time around. The writing is still solid, the story line captivating and I’m pretty sure I’ll be working my way through the three trilogies I have.

Unless of course you want to tell me what I could read instead?

What has stood the test of time for you? Are there novels you’d recommend that writers read as wonderful examples of writing? Are there things you thought you loved but have since found lacking?

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17 thoughts on “Books: readers vs readers/writers”

  1. It depends what you look for in a re-read. Some works you go back to because they are comfortable. Some you go back to so you can gain more from the story.

    I find that SF stands up to re-reading more than fantasy. Books with strong concepts and meaning still offer things to the reader on the second round, whereas fluffy tales just become repetitive.

    1. That could well be true, about SF standing up better than fantasy, though the series I’m reading now is fantasy and there are some wonderful ones around.
      When I re-read I want to be swept away again, and it’s definitely a bit sad when that doesn’t happen anymore from something you had considered was an old favourite.

  2. As I am more of a re-re-re-reader than a re-reader I notice the tiny things when I go back to books, having gone through them several times before. Some authors can absolutely blow me away with their skills when I first sit down with their work, but upon further readings the deficiencies become clear. The really obvious categories would be the clever crime mysteries (Christie, as much as I like Poirot as a character, loses a lot of her writing charm after three or four reads), the blunter end of the horror spectrum, and – surprisingly – historicals (with a few exceptions).

    There are authors whose work never diminishes with subsequent readings, although I would say that the pool of names (for me) hasn’t really increased very much. The older books in my collection are the most read for a reason – Jim Thompson, for example, cannot be improved on with any amount of edits or ‘corrections’ to the text. Shakespeare is perfect in every regard (although not strictly novels, they should be mandatory reading for novelists), and I would even cite the Flashman novels as being completely re-readable after fifteen years.

    I actually thought about your very question a while back, re-reading early Moorcock and some Philip Jose Farmer (his Timestop! especially). There were clunky bits that I had previously ignored, moments when descriptions ground the books to a halt, and even some poor plotting in a few of those books. My admiration of the authors is such that I would never consider the minor issues an impediment to the enjoyment of their work though. When I go back to books, it is generaly because I like the voice, and an author with a good voice can do anything…

    1. Voice is really important to me too, so I get where you’re coming from there and I too make allowances for the things that crop up from time to time.
      I can’t imagine reading things four or five times! lol you certainly make the most of your books then 😉

  3. Intereting post. I don’t re-read books that often, mainly because I always seem to have a stack of new books that I feel like I should read first before I indulge in re-reading. However, I do get the odd craving to go back and re-read a book. It’s usually either a fast, fun read (like a Terry Prachett book which stand up up to re-reading well and it can be interesting to go back to earlier ones and see how much the characters have changed and veloped over the years) or a book I really love and know that I will enjoy again.

    I find my opinions of the books and the quality of the writing doesn’t usually change with re-reading (but then I haven’t gone back to re-read a lot of the stuff I liked as a teeenager – it may all be trash). I do tend to notice subtle touches of foreshadowing or ways the author have cleverly left clues or set things up for later developments.

    Usually though, the books I enjoy reading are the ones where the writing feels unintrusive and I forget that I’m actually reading while I’m reading and just get lost in the story. Even as someone who is trying to focus on developing my own writing skills, I tend to get sucked into the story and I suspect I don’t consciously notice a lot of the skilled crafting that has gone into good writing at the time of reading. I do reflect back about how the book is written over the days that I’m reading it but usually not during the time when I’m physically holding the book and reading. Sometimes certain passages or sentences will strike me at the time when I first read them and then stay in my thoughts for a long time because I found them particularly effective.

    1. I am finding the stuff I loved as a teenager is mostly trash lol I’m a little afraid to continue delving into some of the other authors I used to read. I took like to consume a Terry Pratchett book and it doesn’t seem to matter if I have read it before or not, they are always fun easy reads.

  4. I agree; since becoming a writer (which I think I will be doing for the rest of my life!) I have such a different take on what I read.

    For enjoyment yes, also as a tool. Over the summer I reread To Kill A Mockingbird and was BLOWN AWAY! So perfectly crafted and now I appreciate it so much more deeply.

    I don’t know if I can return to how I read previously, now using eyes that ‘see’ from another angle.

    I recommend In Watermelon Sugar by Richard Brautigan. A slip of a book, but so beautiful…

    1. I’ll have to check it out 🙂 thanks for the recommendation.
      It’s been years since I read to Kill a Mockingbird, which we went over and over and over in high school. I thought it was a good book at the time, but that said, anything that they force you to read at school seems to be forever tainted slightly 😉 I should probably read it of my own free will and shatter my high school student opinion.

  5. I don’t know about re-reading so much, but I’m definitely more aware of mediocre writing when I start a new book. I notice character development more than I did before, and when it’s lacking. I do think that my reading has been affected by being a writer now, and maybe I miss the old days just a bit.

    1. I think I miss the old days a bit too, being able to pick up any book and read it with less thought to the actual writing. There are some books I think I would have liked more if it wasn’t for the fact I was a writer, but then I guess it just makes the stacks of books easier to get through when you’re a little more discerning huh?

  6. I actually enjoy re-reading something just as much as reading it the first time. Maybe it’s a comfort thing, being able to go back to characters I know and love – they’re like old friends. I can’t really remember the last time I liked a book less after re-reading it (well, maybe Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, but that’s because my little brother is obsessed with that book for some reason, and is constantly watching the movie. I don’t think I’ll ever forget a single detail of THAT book.)

    1. lol funny how other people can change our enjoyment of things we’d otherwise love.
      There is definitely that comfort of the familiar in some books. I guess thats why I like trilogies and stuff so much!

  7. Tananarive Due’s A Good House is still a textbook example of how to do cliff hanger endings every chapter. I couldn’t put that book down because of it, and I learned that lesson from that book.

    The Monster Blood Tattoo series taught me that kids books can evoke settings more beautiful and atmospheric than adults books. I seriously recommend Lamplighter.

    But I’m terrified of reading the early Dragonlance books. I did as a teenager, and I’ve read later books by the same authors as recently as 2 years ago. They totally sucked. So I guess that theres a chance that those old Dragonlance books were just as bad. But I’m scared of rereading them and discovering the truth … they gave me my love for fantasy genre, along with LotRs.

    Having said that, I read Lord of the Rings at 13, and a recent reread showed it was incredibly good. That books not made for a young person to fully enjoy.

    1. It was a very good book, and I think the first recommendation you made to me that I actually followed through on! lol

      I too am avoiding the Dragonlance books. I loved them as a teenager and I’d hate to think they weren’t as good now. David Eddings was another I read as a teenager and I felt lacked something when I re-read one of his books a few years ago.

    2. You should definitely avoid Dragonlance – I re-read them, and it kinda ruined them for me completely (although nothing can make me stop liking Raistlin XD). Better to keep the memory of their former awesomeness fresh in your mind.

  8. This is an interesting concept. I haven’t branched out and read many new books over the last few years (maybe I should rejoin a book club just to get back into it), so I’m largely left with rereads. My favorites, though, have always withstood the test of time.

    The Princess Bride by William Goldman will never die for me. It was just as good last month as it was 10 years ago. The same can be said for Wicked by Gregory Maquire. I did get tired of Lost and What the Dickens, though. One reading was more than enough.

    I guess it depends on what you are looking for when you are reading. I still submerse myself and enjoy being able to do so. If I start nitpicking, I’ll lose it and I know it.

  9. I think some novels are definitely designed for one read only, and some that lend themselves to deeper consideration for sure.
    Very interesting that you mostly re-read, sounds like you must have a pretty good collection of books to work from 🙂

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