Stazjia’s Commentary

Re-reading novels

Posted on: September 2, 2008

Since I wrote about the Dickens novel, Bleak House, I’ve had an urge to re-read it. It doesn’t stop there, though. I’ve been compiling a list of books in my head that I’d like to read again. These are all books that I haven’t read for years. Most of them are classics that I read in my 20s and 30s. I had a period of reading all the classic novels that appealed to me – the ones I didn’t read then, I’ve never fancied reading at all.

The ones I’ve got on my mental list so far are: Little Dorritt and Barnaby Rudge by Charles Dickens and War and Peace by Tolstoy. I know that’s always given as an unreadable or immensely long book that takes ages to read but it really isn’t. I’m not sure if it’s longer than the Lord of the Rings or not but I found neither difficult or too long. The only thing about War and Peace is the detailed and wordy 19th century style of writing. Compare it to Les Miserables, though, and Tolstoy is a master of brevity. I’ve read Les Mis twice, once when I was about 20 and about 20 years later after I saw the musical. Both times I came away from the book with the impression that Victor Hugo never used one word when 50 or preferably 100 would do. Even so, I still enjoyed it. You just have to be in a relaxed and patient state of mind – kinda ‘get with the program’ – they’re 19th century writers and they like lots and lots of detail.

Speaking of The Lord of the Rings, I first read this in 1969. I got the first volume from the library and I read it compulsively. I finished it the following morning in bed before I got up. I then spent the morning going to all the local libraries to get the other two volumes which I also read virtually non-stop. I then bought the omnibus edition which I’ve re-read every few years. By the time the movies came out, I knew the book backwards. I was so impressed with how well the movies kept to the main story even though a lot had to be cut.

Two other books I’d like to read again are both by J.B. Priestley, once a well known English novelist but now sadly out of fashion and who died in 1984 at the age of 90. The two I’d like to re-read most are Angel Pavement and Good Companions. Priestley knew how to bring characters to life and also how to tell a good story. I think the Priestley books are out of print now so I can only buy them second hand – even libraries don’t have them now.

I also wrote a lens about Rudyard Kipling and talked in it about his novel Kim which I’ve read lots of times. When we moved in March, the book got lost so of course I want to read it again. I’ll just have to buy another copy. For some reason, it really appealed to me and touched a chord – maybe because I first read it when I was at school.

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