Sunday, 26 October 2008

To Re-Read Or Not - As The Case May Be.

Following on from Forgotten Books - my wife, Sandy, will read a book then donate it to a charity shop. In her way she says that once she has read a book it is unlikely that she will read it again.
On the other hand there is me - if I have enjoyed a book I keep it.
Every so often I will have a cull - cut out the dead wood as it were - though it's very rare that a western hits the dust.
So the result is that I have bookcases full of books that stand the test of time. Books from the forties through to around the mid-seventies.
With books by British writers these books were written before political correctness created a stranglehold on the written word. The characters in these books use the same words that the man on the street uses today - but a language that modern writers cannot re-create in their books. I wonder what would happen if someone, today, tried to write a book on the lines of Colin McInnes 'Absolute Beginners' or David Storey's 'This Sporting Life' today. The author would have to make changes - that is what would happen. It happened to one of the above books. I picked up a copy of a modern imprint of 'This Sporting Life' - just curious - and found that 'offensive' words had been deleted.
But I have the original and that works fine for me.
There is another reason for holding on to these old books - because it is by re-reading them over the years I have, somehow, gained something new. Something that may have been missed by a fifteen year old but picked up by an older me.
Very often I find myself thinking 'I don't remember that bit' and there are times when I think that a book is important. Take life in the Raleigh Cycle factory in 1950s Nottingham, or the plight of a single pregnant girl in 1960s London or back street abortions during the same period.
Alan Sillitoe, Lynn Reid Banks and Nell Dunn wrote about things that we 'knew' about but in re-reading those books I feel that there is a history there that most fifteen year olds have never heard of.
Detective fiction has changed. Erle Stanley Gardner, Ed McBain, Mickey Spillane and others had central characters who solved crime. Nowadays, it seems that every detective book is about the 'hero' having drink problem, marital breakdown or simply sleeping around (very often all three at once) and takes up more reading space than the actual detection of a crime.
And, I'm aware that Steve Carella had a wife and others had girlfriends etc but the books were shorter and family life did not intrude too deeply into a book to the point that it took over from the crime being solved.
Sci-fi and fantasy hasn't really changed. David Gemmell was able to put more action and keep the interest going in 325 pages than a modern detective novel of the same length.
Another modern author who can do that is Martina Cole - but apart from a couple - they're not exactly detective novels. Certainly, a writer who's two books I have kept will be worth a re-visit in a couple of years time.
I'm always in favour of re-reading books. Maybe, it's a comfort zone that I can relate to - or maybe, it's just that books don't get written the way they used to be written.


Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

Ray - have had some PC problems and can't find your email address. Email me at

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

Whoops - my son pressed several buttons and my address book popped back up. LOL - email now sent to you. So ignore previous.

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

And now your post. I agree with what you're saying Ray but I do like some of the family/private life subplots in the Spenser series for instance. Also Ken Bruen's Taylor would lose a lot if all his personal problems were taken from the books. Some writers do it at the expense of story and some don't.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I give them away too so I can buy them again, thinking I have not read them.
Lynne Reid Banks, how much I loved her books.