Old Friends Are Best

“If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all.” — Oscar Wilde

I started writing seriously in 2008.  Up to that time, I read a book or two every week.  Now I find myself editing the books I read, and I maintain a running commentary (criticism) of the author’s skills, or lack thereof, in my head.  As a consequence, reading is not quite the joy it once was, and the books are fewer.  However, for some reason the critic in me is not activated when I take an old favorite down from the shelf.

I believe that Wilde thought that a good book could be re-read because the reader, as he or she gained experience in the world, would discover new reasons to like it.  Certainly, someone forced to read, say, War and Peace in college, would gain a new appreciation for Tolstoy’s novel if he picked it up again thirty years later.  I did.  For me, though, it’s more than that.  Certain books have become my friends.

I read all the Sherlock Holmes stories when I was in junior high school and have read them, and listened to them on tape and CD’s, many times since.  Yes, I may pick up an unnoticed detail occasionally, but I re-read them because they are comfortable and provide warmth from my past like an old but still serviceable sweater or pair of boots.  Other books that I re-read several times years ago–Catch-22 and Gatsby come to mind–no longer interest me, but I still re-read Dracula every few years.  Similarly, the Ring trilogy, The Complete Calvin and Hobbes, and the works of Hunter S. Thompson–especially the early books like The Great Shark Hunt, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas as well as on the Campaign Trail–can be found on my bedside table at varying intervals.

My closest friends, though, are Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey stories.  Every five years I line them up in what I believe is the order of their publication–Whose Body, Unnatural Death, The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, Clouds of Witness, Strong Poison, Have His Carcase, Murder Must Advertise, Hangman’s Holiday, The Nine Tailors and Gaudy Night–and plow straight through.  The writing is wonderful and I usually do find new things to like, but Lord Peter and his man Bunter are like family.

I’ve recently added a new series to my “read again and again” list–Patrick O’Brian’s The Complete Aubrey/Maturin Novels.  They are 21 books totaling 6510 pages (W.W. Norton & Company) so it’s a formidable task, but you can never spend too much time in the company of old friends.

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