MIND MELD: What Book Would You Like to Experience Again for the First Time?
[Do you have an idea for a future Mind Meld? Let us know!]
There’s always been one question I’ve asked in my author interviews that gives some of the most interesting and enlightening answers, so this week’s MInd Meld question is:
Here’s what our panelists had to say…
It was a story that was so full of the beauty of the other, and spread over such a huge expanse of time and the globe itself. It opened my eyes to so many things, and it struck me very deeply. I was able to think beyond my little space as a teenager in New Zealand, and experience something much, much wider. I would love to feel that wonder again.
Well, for starters, my own books! I suppose that sounds trite, but I promise I’m not using this as some lame attempt to push my own stuff. It’s just that one of the hardest things for a writer to do is to read their own creation without all the baggage of having created it. Everyone always says to put away a first draft until you can come back to it with “fresh eyes”, but at least for me that’s quite impossible. So, yes, I’d love the ability to read my first drafts as if I’d never seen them before. That’d be a pretty kick-ass superpower for an author to have.
My second answer is a bit vague, too: any mystery. I love reading mysteries of any sort, but by their nature the core component is lost on repeated readings. I know, I know, it can be fun to go back and see where all the clues were dropped that you didn’t quite catch. I often tell myself this would be interesting, but I’ve never gone through with it. I guess it sort of feels like playing a round of hide-n-seek again after someone found a really good hiding spot. “That was great! Hide there again and I’ll go recount!” It might be interesting to do, but it’s never quite the same as that first experience.
Better, I think, to let the characters in the story rethink all the events that led up to the big reveal, so you can see how they react. In fact most mysteries do this, to some extent, and I think that’s sufficient.
But as such, finishing a really good mystery is sort of bittersweet, isn’t it? You’ll never be able to go back and experience it the same way again. If I had to pick a few I’d take Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express (well, anything by Agatha really), Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep, and Dashiell Hammett’s Maltese Falcon.
For more recent genre works, I’d be lying if I didn’t pick Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. I had so much fun reading it the first time and I honestly yearn to recapture that. The same goes for Scalzi’s Old Man’s War and Richard K. Morgan’s Takeshi Kovacs novels.
It’s a list of books that smacked me upside the head because I hadn’t known stories could be told in these ways.
HARD-BOILED WONDERLAND AND THE END OF THE WORLD by Haruki Murakami – I’m using this title as a placeholder for all of his fiction, though it is my favorite. I read all of Murakami’s translated backlist within a few months of THE WIND UP BIRD CHRONICLE coming out. I’d read magic realism before, from Calvino to Borges, but while I was often impressed by the craftsmanship of those stories, they hadn’t ever taken hold of me like Murakami did. He writes fantastical occurrences in the same tone as the most mundane things that life has to offer which, a few chapters in, starts to insidiously warp the reader’s understanding of reality.
The character being simultaneously led and chased through an underground passage who is overwhelmed with concern over his shoes, the way the stitching is starting to stretch due to the murky water, will soon have you more concerned with the integrity of the shoes than his meager changes of survival. For all Murakami’s wondrous symbolism and strangeness, it’s the accessibility and strength of his characters, how they struggle to navigate their own stories, that’s so powerful and lasting.
WORKING FOR THE DEVIL by Lilith Saintcrow – This is the story that I’d been reading toward for years without knowing it. Featuring a strong, talented, complicated female protagonist in a dangerous, mysterious world where happy endings aren’t on the radar, this was the first real Urban Fantasy I read, and all I wanted was more. I’m still thrilled at the memory of all the things I’d subliminally registered as “rules” of writing being torn apart and reassembled sideways, or discarded altogether, in this book.
Dave Barry’s Big Trouble because it was the first time I laughed out loud in public when reading a book. Barry weaves a hilarious web within the plot and many scenes catch you completely off guard. I’ve re-read it countless times, but I’d love to bottle the excitement of that first reading once again.
My initial reading of most of these books fall between Jr. High and College, a formative time for one’s tastes and opinions. The very first Spec-fic book I read was The Two Towers, which is still my favorite of Tolkien’s books. (I happened across the book in the summer between 7th and 8th grade.) Because I’d never read anything like it before, it was absolutely eye-opening. And Eowyn was wonderful. I got to see a strong female character who was, in my eyes, the main character of the trilogy. When I go back and reread Tolkien, I often read only the parts with Eowyn. And horses! There were lots of horses.
A Wind in the Door by Madeleine L’Engle remains on my constant re-read pile. It’s the middle of the series (again!), but I like it the best of those three. I think what I loved about this book was her strange and grudging partnership with Proginoskes, the cherbim–I adored him. I also related to Meg Murray, and the romance between her and Calvin didn’t hurt, either.
Pursuit of the Screamer by Ansen Dibell (and its sequels) introduced me to the concept of the mind being separable from the body. I suspect that much of how I look at the body/mind/soul relationship was formed during the reading of those novels. It was also the book that first provoked my fascination with empaths and how their societies would be different. This trilogy made me think more than any other I’ve ever read.
Finally, I had a college roommate who introduced me to Regency Romance, most importantly the work of Georgette Heyer. These Old Shades was the first I read. (I hadn’t read any Austen, and to this day actually prefer Heyer.) It opened the fascinatingly complex world of Regency manners to me, and will always hold a place in my heart.
This is a really difficult question to answer. There are so many wonderful books out there I wish I could experience again for the first time. But if I had to choose, I’d say Clive Barker’s Books of Blood.
I first encountered Books of Blood back in the late 1980s, a time when I was still reading a lot of science fiction and fantasy but finding myself bored. (I don’t think that was the genre’s fault so much as mine. I was choosing some pretty awful books for some reason.) My edition of Books of Blood was actually the three-volume set Berkley put out with the Halloween masks on the covers. I remember wandering into Forbidden Planet’s short-lived second New York City location on East 59th Street and being immediately struck by those covers. I picked up all three volumes (books were so cheap back then!) and absolutely devoured them.
It would be no exaggeration to say Barker’s short stories changed my life. They were like nothing I’d read before. At a time when the horror genre was more synonymous with cheap slasher flicks than quality literature, Barker showed me there were no limits to what the genre could achieve. His stories were visceral and physical and could be extraordinarily erotic or gory or both, but they also transcended beyond that to something sublime. I would love to experience that moment of epiphany again, that revelation of what fiction is capable of. When I started writing horror, and later horror-tinged urban fantasy, I tried to keep Barker’s lessons in mind. Don’t censor yourself. Throw the rules out the window. Never reach for the low-hanging fruit; always aim high.
For a long time, Barker was my favorite writer. I drifted away from his work as I discovered many other amazing authors, but I’ve been planning to get back to Barker soon. If I’m lucky, maybe I’ll feel again that tremendous excitement I felt the first time I encountered Books of Blood.
If I were to pick one book to experience again, it wouldn’t be my favorite book…something that’s apt to change as often as a weathervane in a tornado. It wouldn’t be the book I’ve re-read the most amount of times…that would be Dune, which I’ve tried to go through at least once a year since middle school. No, it would be the book that started my whole tumble down the literary rabbit hole…
The Neverending Story.
It was the summer of 1984. I’d just come from the local movie theater, and gotten a look at a film I’d been dying to see for what felt like my whole life (probably about four months, but I was eleven and you know how that goes). The film was a wonder visually, but it left me with a giant hole in my mind. It made very little sense and for the first––sadly not the last––time I felt cheated by a film. I was totally deflated. I wanted answers. I wanted a complete story, not the sad mess I’d just witnessed.
I think I must have noticed in the credits that the film was based on a book. I was more hopeful then than I have become since, and rather than write off the source material as the cause of this disaster, I sought it out. I’d hoped that it would give me the story that the movie had promised and failed to deliver. (Side note: I found out, years later, that the novel’s author, Michael Ende, was so broken up by what they’d done to his work that he sued to have production halted, or at least have the film’s title changed. Neither happened and he lost that suit, by the way. Ahh…Hollywood.)
Anyway, it was weeks before I could finally obtain a copy via inter-library loan (again…felt like eons to an eleven-year-old) and the very next day I went on a week-long camping trip with my mother and young brother. In between swimming in Winhall Brook, hunting for salamanders, and listening to my mother’s off-key rendition of Billy Joel’s for “For the Longest Time,” I was in our tiny tent pouring over The Neverending Story. By the last two days of the trip I didn’t leave that tent. I just kept reading…sometimes going back over passages I really liked again and again.
However, despite the claims of the title, The Neverending Story does in fact come to an end (on page 337 in the English paperback edition, to be exact). Maybe I didn’t cry at that point…but I was profoundly saddened by that fact.
I only read The Neverending Story once, though. I’ve picked it up a few times over the years, leafed through a chapter or two, but I always put it back down. And although I’ve kept a copy of it on my nightstand for almost twenty years, I don’t think I’ll ever read it again. I guess I’m scared that some of the magic has leaked out of my life and I don’t want to be reminded of that. Who does?
Of course, this wasn’t the first book I’d read (not even the first good book I’d read), but it was the first I fell in love with. It was the first that I kind of tumbled into the world of and never wanted to leave…which, oddly enough, is the predicament of the book’s protagonist. But, heartbroken as I was, just like all loves, eventually there came another. And another. And so on. But I know (as most book lovers probably do) that none will ever give me that same feeling, that same first love.
There is an oft-repeated phrase in the novel, one that end ups being its final line, and it goes like this…”but that’s another story and shall be told another time.” I believed that line when I read it, and there have been other stories, told to all who are willing to listen…I just didn’t realize back then that some of them would end up being told by me.
Maybe I’m overthinking it a bit, but to me that’s a much more complicated question than it originally seems. My first thought was the Belgariad series by David Eddings! I’d love to read that all over again for the first time! It’s a five book classic high fantasy series I read way back in middle school. I think I read the whole series about ten times, perhaps more. Its warmth, its humor, and its generosity transcended all of my pre-teen and teenage troubles in a way that no other book has, then or since. Discovering those books was a revelation for me and I cannot emphasize enough how impactful they were on me, both as a reader and a writer.
But I have not read them since becoming an adult. I’ve considered it. I still have those old, well-loved, dogeared paperbacks on my bookshelf. But I’m afraid that under the cold clear eye of a professional writer, the magical warm glow those books keep in my heart would dissipate. Perhaps they are not as good as I remember. If that is true, I’d rather not know. I would rather keep the warmth and inspiration they provide for me still.
And the more I think about it, the more I feel that way about every book I’ve ever loved. I have enjoyed time and again that experience of reading the right book at the right time. I can mark the points of my life by certain books. The time I was reading Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The time I was reading The Vampire Lestat, or American Gods, or The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. These books–and so many others I have loved–are inextricably tied to the time in which I read them. To go back and read them now for the first time…I’m not sure what I would make of them. Whatever experience it would be, it would not be the experience I had. And those experiences I would not give up for the world.
So I suppose my answer to the question is “none”. There are no books I would like to read and experience again for the first time. Let me read and experience and love a new book. And perhaps years from now this new book will be tied forever to this time, and I will love it all the more for that.
This is such a tough question for me! My gut instinct is to pick one of the first books in one of my favorite series. So many of the books I love the most aren’t really single books at all, but the overarching story of a long running series. My all-time favorites are Harry Potter (of course!), The Amelia Peabody Mysteries by Elizabeth Peters, and the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher. And it’s so easy to think, “Oh, wouldn’t it be great to reread one of those early books for the first time!”
The problem is, for me, I never know a series is going to be great when I read the first book. I really liked Harry Potter, but I didn’t feel like the series was going to be great until the third book. It was the moment when Hagrid revealed that he’d gotten his motorbike from Sirius Black … that was moment I knew J.K. Rowling was plotting long term. That was the moment I knew the series was going to be great. With the Amelia Peabody books, it was The Lion in Valley. With Harry Dresden it was in Blood Rites, when we realize how deep Harry’s familial ties go.
None of those moments happen in the first book. Picking a later book to “read again for the first time” just feels like cheating. By book three or four or five I’m already emotionally invested. I’d certainly been enjoying the series up until that point. It’s just those are the moments that blew me away.
Do I wish I could go back and read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone or The Crocodile on the Sandbank or Storm Front for the first time? No, I don’t. But I totally wish that I’d known then how amazing the series was going to end up. I wish I could send a little note to myself that says, “It’s okay to fall head-over-heels in love with the series. The author is going to take good care of you. He/She will continue to surprise and amazing and entertain you for many books to come. You’re in good hands.”
Filed under: Mind Meld
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