Books of the Week:
- Plague Town, Plague Nation, Plague World, Dana Fredsti
- Lord Peter Wimsey books, Dorothy L. Sayers
- The Harry Potter Books, J.K. Rowling
I met Dana Fredsti at the Bram Stoker weekend in Atlanta. Sometimes, only a good zombie novel will do (at least for me). I tore through the three books in her zombie apocalypse series with glee. Ashley Parker, Barbie lookalike and back-at-college student, catches the flu that’s going around campus. She hasn’t had her flu shot. But after a terrible siege with the illness, she comes back to class to find that (a) she has a new, handsome, TA who dislikes her intensely and (b) the people who got their immunizations from Walker virus are not just dying, they’re coming back as flesh-eating zombies. After being bitten, Ashley discovers that she’s immune – and she’s much stronger than she ever was. The arc of these books follows the spread of the plague and of Ashley’s evolution as a snarky, sword-wielding heroine. I enjoyed all three books immensely, and I am hoping “Plague Universe” and “Plague Galaxy” are forthcoming.
Dorothy L. Sayers is one of the golden age queens of mystery, and I thought it would be fun to reread some of her stuff. Her protagonist, Lord Peter Wimsey, is a classic sleuth: titled, apparently silly, he is not only acknowledged by the police but is granted special privileges by some of them. Lord Peter has a very sensitive side, too. Not only does he suffer from what we would call now PTSD, he also feels tremendous anguish when someone he’s apprehended goes to the gallows. Lord Peter is aided in his sleuthing by his able servant Bunter and his policeman friend, Parker, who later in the books becomes Lord Peter’s brother in law. Of course these books show their age in some ways, but at the center of each book is a classic detective story. They are definitely worth reading.
Could J.K. Rowling work her magic on me a second time? I decided to reread all the Harry Potter books to find out. The answer was “yes.” I’ll tell you why: all her characters have dimensions. No one is simply good or bad. Even Snape has his reasons for being the unpleasant man he is. Harry is no walk in the park, very often, in fact. I was struck all over again by how hard it must have been for Ron and Hermione to stick with Harry during his multitude of trials and tribulations. Rowling works her own kind of magic in helping us to understand this in her wonderful books about the nature of friendship and loyalty.
I have met people who say they never reread books. There are enough new ones, they maintain, to prevent their ever having a desire to return to one they’ve already experienced.
I can see that point of view when I look at my TBR bookcase – which is a double bookcase with books stacked sideways, by the way. I feel ridiculously secure when I look at it, because that many books stand between me and the horror of having nothing to read.
But actually, in rereading lies much pleasure and instruction. When you’ve read a book you particularly love and/or admire, rereading it can inform you exactly why you loved or admired it. As a writer, I learn so much by studying another writer’s bag of tricks! (Excuse me . . . craft.) What details about the world made it striking and indelible? What device to move the action forward felt totally appropriate? What characteristic of the protagonist rang true? On the flip side, what went wrong during the course of the book? What character outstayed his/her welcome? And what emotional note rang false? These are all things I look for when I go through a book the second time.
Here are some more-or-less modern books I’ve read multiple times: Mary Renault’s The King Must Die and The Bull from the Sea, Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle and The Haunting of Hill House, Robert Crais’s The Monkey’s Raincoat, Mary Stewart’s Nine Coaches Waiting, Lee Child’s The Killing Floor, Adam Hall’s Quiller books, C.S. Forester’s Hornblower novels, Robert B. Parker’s Spenser novels . . . I could go on and on, and maybe someday I will.
I think that just like having comfort food, most of us have comfort books, novels we turn to when the world is too much, or we’re in need of going over a familiar lesson again. It’s NOT silly to reread. Sometimes, it’s just what we need.