One of the things we hear a lot from the YA and Middle Grade authors of our acquaintance is that one of the best things about writing for young people is that they don’t just read a book once. They’ll revisit it again and again, and their reactions to it change as they grow.
It’s been a while since we were part of the young reader demograp
hic, but we still have favourite books or series that we reread — and also works that we used to reread, but have now moved on from. Let’s talk about some of those books…
I tend to revisit whole series, especially ahead of a new book coming out. The one on my mind right now is the Benjamin January series by Barbara Hambly, about a free man of colour FIGHTING CRIME in 1830s New Orleans.
One of the reasons I often come back to it is because I seem to have a weird mental block regarding the French language, so I have trouble keeping all the Francophone characters apart.
But I also revisit the series as I learn more about the history of people of colour in the US — even before I realised there’s a new book out in a month’s time, I had earmarked the series for a reread in the wake of Beyonce’s “Formation” and the ensuing discussions around black southern identity. I’ve looked before for histories that covered pre-Civil War New Orleans, but they only started to become accessible to me post-“Formation”. Literally accessible, I mean — they’re generally prohibitively expensive and hard to get ahold of in Australia.
Also, I just love the characters. The upcoming book features Ben’s involvement with the Underground Railroad, which is exactly what I’ve been wanting more of.
I wonder if it’s telling things about us what books we started with. I couldn’t think of a good way to segue into my first book, which is The Changeover, by Margaret Mahy. It’s marketed as a supernatural romance and sure, there’s a romance in there, and sure, I’ve written fanfic about that romance, but it’s a coming-of-age story more than that, and found family and what you do when your birth family is a little bit shit, too.
The Changeover is set in Christchurch, about a 14 year old mixed-race (Māori + Pakeha) girl whose brother is wasting away due to a magical disease that she has to try and cure. It involves an old family of witches, and a boy witch who was sent away because he wasn’t a girl witch, and is something I reread often because I love stories about women and girls who rescue themselves, and Mahy’s clever turns of phrase, and everyday magic.
Well, my first choice came to mind because I’m meaning to reread it — do you have a Changeover read coming up?
When I was younger, I used to reread To Kill A Mockingbird every year. Mostly because I read it for the first time when I was ten, and although I loved it, a lot went over my head. So for about six years, I understood it better with every reread.
I never consciously decided to stop revisiting it, but I guess there came a point where I went, “Okay, now I get what Lee was doing here” and felt able to move on. I meant to pick it up a while back, but then Go Set A Watchman came out, and I didn’t really want to taint it with my awareness of that story. And now there are all the kerfuffles around Harper Lee’s estate, and I just … don’t want to spoil it, I guess.
Plus, my copy of TKAM is a cheap paperback, and I guess I have to treat it gently now it’s no longer available in that format. Maybe I should buy the ebook…
Spoilers: I’ve never read TKAM.
I *used* to reread David and Leah Eddings’ Belgariad and Mallorean series every year, all the way through uni. It was a big deal for me when I ghosted the series, and then when I got rid of all of the books. It was one of my original cotton candy reads. There was never anything new in it, but they’d written it to prove successful fantasy followed a formula, and it worked, and I loved it. But as I got older, the things that annoyed me became more prominent, and I had so many better things to read. Rereads don’t have to be perfect, and here at No Award we know that all our faves are problematic, but there comes a time when you gorge yourself on a trashy good thing, and you know your good times are over.
Reading the summary on wiki just now, I barely remember any of it, so maybe I’m due for a reread? After 15 years. Mostly because I’m trying to remember who I shipped…
I spent a whole summer obsessed with the Eddings’ Elenium and Tamuli trilogies, so I get you. I must have read them three times in as many months. If I’d had the internet back then, I’d have been inhaling fic like you wouldn’t believe.
Then read Tolkien, and when I returned to Eddings, I found I could no longer tolerate the poor writing. It wasn’t that I loved Tolkien, but my taste had changed.
I think I moved on to Robin Hobb’s Assassin and Liveship Traders books, and also Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series. I ended up quitting Hobb after (a) she took an anti-fan fiction/anti-medication for mental illness stance, and (b) I just straight up hated her third trilogy in that universe.
I’ve been avoiding a Bujold reread for a couple of years, mostly because I don’t think her work will stand the test of time, and I don’t want to know for sure that it’s been visited by the suck fairy.
Although, having said that, I did like Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen, and noted that it avoids perpetuating early choices which have become problematic, like the “it” pronouns for hermaphrodites, and retcons nonsense like the “he was bisexual, now he’s monogamous” line from one of the earlier books. But it still wasn’t as good as the mid-point of the series, the run of novels from Mirror Dance to A Civil Campaign.
On the other hand, I believe there’s a new biography/guide to the series out, which was highly praised on Galactic Suburbia, and it would be interesting to read that along with a re-read of the whole series. I don’t want to abandon Bujold entirely — Miles was an excellent companion when I recovered from bone surgery in my teens.
Terry Pratchett, specifically the Witches books and the Guards books. I always find something new in them.I never reread the Rincewind books. Too much risk of having to deal with that goddamn racist stuff about Twoflower.
But the Witches books are about excellent women, and also living your best life really loudly, and I’m into that.
There’s a post going around Tumblr about how the Discworld books are so proper literature, and I’m like, “THAT IS THE LAST THING PTERRY WOULD WANT!”
Speaking of Proper Literature, though, I have this problem where I can’t read just one Austen novel. I always end up reading several, or the whole lot. Which I don’t say to be pretentious, Look At My Refined Taste, I just … really like Austen’s writing.
And the annotated editions are quite cheap in ebook form, which is a wonderful way to revisit and reinterpret the books.
My love for Austen has even survived the employer who thought that “sense and sensibility” was a fancy way of saying “common sense”.
I’m going to end on The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon, which was basically an early form of Hobonichi. (Sorry, I jest, Liz has a Hobonichi and she’s obsessed.)
It’s one of the earliest diaries by women, a collection of observations and musings by a Japanese court lady about 1000 years ago. It’s a great book to dip in and out of, so I mostly read it in bits and pieces, but every now and then I reread it cover to cover and feel like, as an Asian woman, my words can matter a thousand years after my death.
- The Narnia series
- Mechanique by Genevieve Valentine (disclaimer: Genevieve is a good friend of Steph’s, but it’s our website and we’ll talk about our friends without waving around words like ‘conflict of interest’ if we want to)
- Un Lun Dun by China Mieville
- The Mary Russell series by Laurie R. King
- The Steerswoman series by Rosemary Kirstein
- Mist Over Pendle by Robert Neill
- The Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries by Dorothy L. Sayers