Re-Reading Books

(as opposed to ‘Re-Reading Toenail Trimmings’?)

Having already discussed the idea of reading for fun, as opposed to reading to generate life lessons, here, I have taken my own advice to heart, and promptly read Amanda Downum’s The Drowning City and Ray Hammond’s Extinction in six days. For the record, I recommend them both very highly; the former is a broken and hauntingly familiar world, whose mysterious portrayal of magic and death more than make up for slightly unclear writing and underdeveloped characters; and the latter’s powerfully obvious warnings of impending environmental Armageddon are excellently balanced against social commentary, political criticism and communal desperation and cooperation, even if the ending does feel a little rushed.

But, singularly-sentenced book reviews aside, I have now moved on to Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series, starting with the first volume, The Gunslinger. As this post’s title suggests, I’ve read this book before, and I’ve even started the second in the series; but this was long ago, before my blog and chest hair existed, so while broad plotlines are vaguely familiar, themes and lessons to be learned from the text are basically new to me.

I never used to like re-reading books, or re-doing anything, for fun; repetition was, and still is, my main tool of revision and work, either for rote-learning facts or re-writing essays in increasingly short time frames to perfect the art of expressing complex ideas with simple language, without working your wrist to breaking point in the process. This has extended to video games; apart from the inherently repetitive sports games, I found little enjoyment from replaying Mass Effect 2, inFamous, or even Crash Bandicoot 2.

However, this re-reading malarkey has been different. A part of that is due to me, that I can read much more intelligently and much more quickly than I used to be able to; I remember the events in Tull at the start of The Gunslinger taking me months to read, and becoming like a novel in their own right, but I read them all in a day. Also, while I skimmed over references to religion and the finer details of the town’s decrepit inhabitants, dismissing them all as ‘signs of decay’, I have now taken specific note of links to Biblical passages and particularly sexual deprivation and social isolation – Allie is no longer a minor character, but a woman I feel wholly sorry for.

And my superior reading ability has made reading the text more fun; the story of Tull is no longer a half-year slog through a crappy little village, but has been a fast-paced read though a society of initial, and increasing, chaos; the town’s violent end now feels like the end-of-season spectacular it was probably intended to, rather than just one in a series of boringly sad events.

Re-reading The Gunslinger has also helped me get a monkey off my back, in that I’ve had five volumes of the series lying around my house for almost four years now, and I’ve only dismissively flicked though about 300 pages of them in total. I’m now no longer guilty that these critically-acclaimed books are serving as dust-magnets, as I’m actually getting into them.

I do fear, however, that I will get lost in a rabbit hole of nostalgic book-guilt cleansing, as I try to catch up on my apparent missed teenage years of Young Adult novels – everything from Harry Potter to John Green – as I went straight from Horrible Histories books as an 11-year-old to Romeo and Juliet when I was 15. It is my target to read all of my The Dark Tower books before exams start – and five books in three months isn’t unrealistic given my recent pace – but I am concerned that I won’t have read anything relevant to my University course in a while by the time I get to Summer itself.

I started this school year reading MiddlemarchNicholas Nickleby and the first two volumes of Dante’s Divine Comedy, and trying to approach them in as an intelligent and thoughtful way as possible, an approach that was admittedly, very stressful and difficult at tomes. I fear that I will become lost in this world of reading ‘for fun’, and enjoying the complex characters and worlds created by authors such as King, rather than honing my skills of close language analysis and thematic links across multiple texts, that will be more helpful for an English degree. Perhaps I’ll just have to read Paradise and Paradise Lost over Summer, after months of more relaxed dreaming through The Gunslinger’s world, which isn’t bad as far as literary holiday plans go.

Or maybe it’s a good thing that the English student is finally reading again, and he should shut up and get back to Roland’s adventures.

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