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In Dan Simmons’ novel Flashback. he posits a ‘bookstore’ where flashback users go to experience reading their favorite novels for the first time again. That sounded like an interesting question to ask this week’s panelists.
Here’s what they said…
There are books that I re-read just because I love them so much and to refresh my memory, such as the Chronicles of Narnia. But books I would like to read again for the first time would be ones with such suspense and thrills that re-reading them just wouldn’t be the same. The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins would be on top of that list. The dystopian world was a dark and depressing backdrop, but the intensity of the Hunger Games and Collins’ characters are so rich and vivid that I was completely swallowed up in the story.
I would also love to read for the first time Bob Mayer’s Area 51 series written under the pseudonym Robert Doherty. The Area 51 series was an original science fiction, cleverly linking to Earth’s past and were written like watching an action film.
I also wish I could go back and read all of the (earlier numbered) Star Trek: The Next Generation novels again for the first time. Reading those as a teenager was really what got me hooked on science fiction, and it would be great to relive that wonder and excitement.
And I have to mention one of my earliest childhood memories of reading science fiction: The Girl with the Silver Eyes, by Willo Davis Roberts. The girl could move things with her mind, and as a kid this fascinated me. I don’t remember a lot of what I’ve read over the years, so it says something that the visuals from this book stuck with me. I guess most of what I’d choose to read again for the first time would be books that have sentimental attachments. I’d love to read those stories again with the same wide-eyed wonder I had back then, as opposed to a more jaded and critical view I’d have today.
My favorite books–the constant rereads–I don’t think I would like to read again for the first time. Because that would mean giving up the layers and nuances I’ve discovered over the years. And it would also mean sacrificing the comfort those stories have been to me over the years, which I find an absolutely dreadful prospect.
I guess I see reading a book for the first time as sort of like virginity: overrated and over-mythologized, when long-term acquaintance is so much more rewarding.
I love rereading books. I used to read books as fast as I could to find out the ending, and if I liked the book, I’d often immediately turn around and reread it to enjoy how the characters got to that ending. While I don’t have time to do that anymore, I still have a shelf of books I love to skim/reread when time permits. I love books that reveal new things each time I read them, or that have jokes that stay fresh over the years, knowing the punchlines and all. These are books I raced through the first time and which have never gotten old. Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold, Transformation by Carol Berg, Homeland by R. A. Salvatore, the Riftwar Saga by Raymond E. Feist, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, Poison Study by Maria Snyder, Burndive by Karen Lowachee and Resenting the Hero by Moira Moore. (There are more, of course, and I’ve read a lot of great books in the past few years that I haven’t had time to reread at all, which would probably make this list if there were more hours in a day.)
But, there are a few books that affected me deeply the first time I read them and when I reread them didn’t have the same impact, whether because the jokes didn’t hold up or because knowing the ending made the mystery less interesting. So here are the books I’d love to read – and experience – for the first time again.
Terry Brooks’ Sword of Shannara. This is the book that got me reading fantasy and science fiction. I read it so often in my teens that I literally can’t read it any more. I’d love the chance to meet the characters again, cheer their triumphs and mourn their losses without being able to quote ALL the text.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I loved the book’s sarcastic humour. Alas, I felt Adams repeated his jokes within the series too much and by the time I reread the first one didn’t find them as funny anymore.
After being told for years that men don’t feel emotions the way women do, it was a delight to read F. Paul Wilson’s The Tomb and meet Repairman Jack. Here was a tough guy who lamented the loss of the woman he loved due to his career choice. No, he didn’t cry, but the book had great emotional impact the first time through.
I haven’t been able to bring myself to reread Carol Berg’s The Song of the Beast for fear that it won’t have the same emotional impact. She puts all of her characters through the ringer, but Aidan MacAllister’s back story is quite horrific.
On the plus side, my memory isn’t what it used to be and I’ve already found some books I read as a youth that I no longer remember. Guess this is an unconsidered benefit of getting older, that the time will come when all books become new again.
I read a lot (or, frankly, used to be before landing my last gig) and, while I’ve certainly read many good books, it’s not often I’ve come across a truly great one. But on those rare occasions it does happen, I set these books back on my special shelf, a space reserved for those titles that so surprised, so touched, so thrilled, that I would actually consider revisiting them some time in the future. I don’t think anything can equal the experience of reading a great book for the first time, but I’ve found that recommending the book to a friend and seeing their enthusiastic reaction comes a very close second.
The following are my “most recommended”, all of them great books I would love to read again for the first time…
- Old Man’s War, by John Scalzi: Revitalized my long dormant love of reading – books in general and SF in particular. Smart, humorous, and impossible to put down.
- A Game of Thrones, by George R. R. Martin: The greatest ongoing fantasy epic boasts a dizzying roster of colorful characters, twists, turns, and the type of surprises you don’t see on t.v. Until recently.
- The Blade Itself, by Joe Abercrombie: Deft, dark, and disturbingly visceral, it turns High Fantasy on its ear – then slices it off and stomps on it.
- Fast Forward 1, edited by Lou Anders: While Old Man’s War reignited my passion for reading, it was this anthology that renewed my love for the short form.
- The Dark Beyond the Stars, by Frank M. Robinson: An underappreciated gem that I discovered, interestingly enough, on a list of underappreciated gems. If you’re a fan of science fiction, I defy you not to love it.
- Camp Concentration, by Thomas M. Disch: A masterpiece by one of SF’s greatest minds. Sharp and subversive, it packs an emotional wallop that lingers long after it’s been read.
- The Bad Beginning (A Series of Unfortunate Events Book #1), by Lemony Snicket: I picked up this book on a lark because I found the cover art amusing. Little did I realize I’d become hooked on the work of the most devilishly dark and wickedly clever children’s (?) authors since Edward Gorey.
- The SFWA European Hall of Fame, edited by James Morrow and Kathryn Morrow: Another overlooked gem, this collection brings together an outstanding selection of European SF and Fantasy. It actually pains me that they didn’t do a second volume.
- The Speed of Dark, by Elizabeth Moon: One of the most touching books I’ve had the pleasure to discover. I loved it so much I made it a book of the month club pick on my blog even though I’d already read it.
- The Empire of Ice Cream, by Jeffrey Ford: My introduction to the works of the wildly inventive Jeffrey Ford. Ever since, I’ve picked up everything he’s written – and continue to be blown away.
One of, if not the main, reason I read is for escape. I definitely am after that “sense of wonder” so many other science fiction and fantasy readers also crave. This means I’m not tied to reading a single genre even if my tastes more often than not veer toward science fiction. I read fantasy and romance for the sheer immersive pleasure of it. So, if I found myself in some sort of time loop wherein I could read my favorite books anew I’d pick the following:
- Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone: I’d like to experience the Harry Potter series again for the first time because I felt like a kid when I read it. This book reminded me of reading books like Alice in Wonderland and The Black Cauldron series when I was a child.
- The Lord of the Rings: I didn’t get around to reading Tolkein until my twenties because I spent my teenage years reading Clarke and Asimov. It wasn’t until I started reading Celtic myths like the Irish Tain Bo Cuailnge and Welsh The Mabinogion that a friend suggested I read Lord of the Rings — and more specifically The Silmarillion — for fun. I was hooked on the epic story and the Fellowship of the Ring. And elves, never forget the elves.
- The Snow Queen Trilogy: Joan Vinge’s Snow Queen/Summer Queen series brought my science fiction and fantasy interests together as well as a bit of romance with the characters of Summer and BZ Gundhalinu. These books were the perfect storm for all of my favorite genres. It’s about that time again for a re-read.
- Neuromancer: This book came out in 1984, at the same time as that iconic Apple commercial that opened with “[T]oday we celebrate the first glorious anniversary of the Information Purification Directives.” The times seemed ripe for a story about a computer hacker cowboy blurring the lines between human and machine. This was the first novel to show me that science fiction didn’t necessarily mean space opera. Gibson’s cyberpunk Sprawl trilogy opened up whole new possibilities for me both as a reader and a writer.
- Good Omens: I laughed so hard I cried reading Good Omens. I wish more novels could illicit that response. I mean, really, cassette tapes that when left in the car too long all eventually turn into Queen tapes, the Four Horsemen whittled down to three thanks to penicillin, and the antichrist misplaced by daft nuns. Who wouldn’t want to revisit that?
- Primary Inversion: From Leia and Han to the Troi-Riker-Worf-Thomas Riker Imzadi polygon, I’ve always been a shipper when it comes to my science fiction. I read Catherine Asaro’s Primary Inversion around the same time that I discovered Joan Vinge’s series and while both lit up all of my nerd-girl interests, Asaro offered a kick-ass heroine as well in the form of Soz Valdoria, one of the first characters I profiled on my Danger Gal Blog.
I would love to be 15 again and go back to rediscover Healy and McComas’s Adventures in Time and Space which I got as a Christmas present that year. Here were the wonders of Heinlein, Kuttner, van Vogt, and all the Golden Age laid out before me. I had only recently begun reading a great deal of science fiction and this was an amazing find. Of course, the year before I had found Philip K. Dick, Pellucidar, Robert E. Howard, and Michael Moorcock. It was a great time to be doing omnivorous reading. The Treasury of Great Science Fiction (with The Stars, My Destination), Foundation, and Burroughs’ Mars were on the horizon during the next year. I spent many a lunch hour in the library with my friend Guy reading, using our lunch money to buy even more stuff. Soon we found Delany, Leiber, Zelazny and Dune. Then we found the New Wave and psychedelic music and the whole world changed. There’s never been a period quite like it for me.