Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created and hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, in which we all talk about a bookish topic and have fun making lists. This week we’re looking at books that we felt differently about when we reread them.
The thing about reading books is that it’s a bit like visiting Lothlórien: you find what you bring with you. Context is king, so being in the wrong mood can kill a read. On another day, it can all work out fine. Consider our changing attitudes over our lifetimes, and revisiting a book can be a perilous or magical experience. Some become covered in suck fairy dust, tarnished by new understandings of the world. Others mellow with age and become relatable.
Recent encounters with the suck fairy
Over the last couple of years, I’ve revisited a number of teen favourites and my top recommendation to all of you who consider it is: DON’T. Revisiting childhood favourites has proven fairly unproblematic, but my teen self was so excited to have something to read she appears to have had literally no filters. 20 years later, distaste beats nostalgia.
Split Infinity (DNF) – the entertaining premise of a planet on which SF and Fantasy universes collide is drowned by the stilted language, casual sexism and voluntary slavery. Objectification is dialled to the max, so expect unlikely images such as a female robot whose breasts are ‘perfect’ (visually and to touch, of course), but can be removed – and resemble bed pans when held upside down. You what now? One to read only if you can switch off logic and offence circuits. Check out the totally tacky cover. I don’t think the unicorn is impressed by his blade.
Dragonlance (**) – another teen mainstay, because DRAGONS and by virtue of being relatively easy to get hold of and having many spin-offs that could be read out of order. I revisited Dragons of Autumn Twilight on a nostalgia kick, but couldn’t get past the appalling prose, one-dimensional characters and – once again – rampant sexism. It’s sort of entertaining if you read it as an amateur write-up of a roleplaying campaign (you can hear the dice rolls).
The Saga of the Exiles (***) – hasn’t suffered as badly, although it has a number of awkward tropes (the only LGB character is insane; insta-love is as common as cold). My main problem was the overbearing presence of Basil Exposition. I was unable to push past the first book, but I may revisit the prequels set in the Galactic Milieu – they are narrated by the engaging Uncle Rogi, whose voice livens up the proceedings.
The Elfstones of Shannara (***) – my favourite Shannara book was another casualty of an adult re-visit. It’s all a bit simplistic (even allowing for its age), but my real disappointment was its heroines. They’re undermined by insecurities that rob them of their agency (up to and including Amberle telling Wil he has to MAKE her do the right thing because she’s not strong enough and he’s so
manly determined); I’m not convinced it passes the Bechdel test even though 2 out of 3 people at the end are women; and they end up fighting 2 wicked witch-sister villains who hate one another because of a man. I. Can’t. Even. Let the Demons have them all. Apparently MTV improved on this (and not just by casting Manu Bennett and taking his clothes off). Can you tell I’m raw about this one because it was once one of my favourite books? Yeah.
The Witching Hour (***) – I knew Anne Rice was likely to be a hard sell to my adult self (trigger warnings: rape, incest, abusive relationships), but I always preferred the Mayfair Witches to the Vampire Chronicles. The Witching Hour is still self-indulgent and atmospheric, but once again Basil Exposition has a far larger starring role than I remembered. And, you know, it’s WILDLY PROBLEMATIC.
While it’s probably always fair to say ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ when it comes down to books – personal taste and filters, people! – this becomes more apparent when you revisit something and it gets better.
Blindsight (***) – I reread this when the sequel was published because I couldn’t really recall anything other than confusion and mild disappointment or distaste (what’s that? So why was I picking up the sequel? Because it sounded awesome as a book in its own right). I found it was interesting and thought-provoking, in that ‘can’t write a review because it will need ESSAYS’ sort of way. I didn’t like any of its conclusions, but it was a fascinating, challenging read.
The Wishsong of Shannara (***) – was always my least favourite Shannara, but I (rather unexpectedly by this point) found I liked it better as an adult. YES it’s problematic – the yellow peril Gnomes (nrgh) and the insidious sexism (Brin is always a ‘girl’ and can’t really be trusted with her powers; her younger brother gets to be ‘Valeman’ and has to rescue his sister, obvs) – but the characters and plots are more complicated and more satisfying.
Blood and Iron (****) – it took me three goes to finish Blood and Iron, and when I did I really enjoyed it.
Excession (***) – I was the weird one of my friends, who not only didn’t consider Excession the best Culture novel, but who didn’t like it at all. Re-reading it, I found the humour and saw what I’d been missing. Ironically, on a third read, I then rediscovered all the things that alienated me the first time. So this is both an improvement and a disappointment. The storyline with the Minds is brilliant; the humans are tedious and vapid.
Matter (***) – there’s another theme emerging here – my difficult relationship with the later Culture novels. I hated Matter when it first came out, but forced myself to reread it after Banks died. And you know what? It’s hilarious. There’s epic Shakespearean putdowns and farce. In places. It’s ALSO very slow and the ending still failed to satisfy, but I can now admit it has some merits.
I shall continue to revisit books, because when you find extra magic delight sprinkled through them it’s a marvellous thing. I loved spotting nuances in The Lies of Locke Lamora that had eluded me the first four times I read it *cough* and I am certain I’ll love Ellen Kushner’s Riverside novels more for reading them a second time.
Do you like to revisit books you’ve read before? Have you ever had a visit from the suck fairy?