You have all confirmed my suspicion that the majority of readers/viewers are deeply worried by spoilerfication.1 We are as one, my comrades! I’ve always been deeply suspicious of those who read the last few pages first. The horror!
For me—and you my comrades—the pleasures of the first read are all about the surprises of the plot, of the characters, of figuring out what kind of a book we’re reading.
One of the pleasures of the second read is figuring out how the writer managed to do what they did.
Or it would be if I didn’t fall instantly back into the story. I am such a sucker for story. Usually, unless I’m very stern with myself, I only start being able to look at how a novel works after a fourth or fifth read.2
It’s a whole other pleasure from the first reading. One that often gives me ideas for my own writing, not to mention teaching me cool and useful techniques. Here’s an example, though, warning: If you haven’t read Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond chronicles avert your eyes!
On my second read (or possibly third) I noticed that the main character, Francis Crawford of Lymond, is (almost) never the view point character. It’s kind of embarrassing that I didn’t notice it on my first read—the Chronicles consists of six hefty novels, many gajillion pages. I told you I am a sucker for story! It blinds me to much else.3
Dunnett’s keeping us out of Lymond’s head is a large part of how she made him seem so very charismatic. I felt like I knew him because of seeing him from so many other points of views, yet I never knew what was going on in his head except by inference. She makes Lymond mysterious, but not too distant. It’s dead clever. So clever, in fact, I wrote a whole novel using the same technique.4
To grab a few more examples out of thin air: Jane Austen taught me a tonne about dialogue and omniscient pov, Steinbeck about epic sweep and melodrama (yum!), Diana Wynne-Jones about plotting and funny, and Angela Carter made me unafraid of adjectives and adverbs.
I also like to think I learned a tonne about page-turning-ness from my many many re-reads of Flowers in the Attic and the novels of Howard Fast. But I may just be writing tickets on myself.
Of course, learning more about writing is not the only reason I re-read favourite books—there’s also the lovely comfort of falling into a familiar world and story with people I’ve known for an age. Hmmm, now I really want to crack open Game of Kings . . .
Those of you who re-read what do you get out of it?
- What do you mean that’s not a significant sample size?! [↩]
- With TV shows and movies it also takes many viewings. When I was writing articles about Buffy the Vampire Slayer I watched almost every episode many, many, many times. [↩]
- Oh, okay, part of the reason I re-read so often is that I’m a sloppy reader. [↩]
- Which, um, hasn’t sold. I’m still proud of it, but. [↩]