Re-reads

In my previous post, Deja Lu, I described the process of reading books with an eye toward learning writing craft. I suggested that reading for pleasure up front was the way to go. Re-reading the post, I realized that it’s never that simple. Experienced readers can multi-task. I’d like to think that’s why I read so much slower than my daughter and wife.

Of course I’m wrong about that. My wife proves her analytical chops when we talk about books we’ve both read.

But, just like re-reading my post, re-reading a book I’ve read before accentuates that analytical process. It has some similarities to re-reading/editing something I’ve written. I can focus more on craft, though that’s difficult to do when my re-read of the book either leaves me in awe as it did the first time, or makes you realize it’s not your thing anymore.

In fact, I’ve purposefully avoided reading some books I loved as a kid because, knowing what I know now, I fear I will be disappointed. Intellectually, I know that’s really misplaced and usually unjustified disappointment with my outlook on life at the time. Ironically, many of those books are what would now be considered young adult lit. I like to call it Catcher in the Rye syndrome.

And you can re-read a book too soon after reading it the first time. After just a couple of years, I’m still all aglow with When You Reach Me.

But I have purposefully gone back to read a book solely to study one craft element, for example:

to get ideas on how to weave setting into plot in The Giver (the original children’s dystopian novel)

use of second person in Dear Mr. Henshaw

ways to capture complex ideas clearly in A Wrinkle in Time and A Wizard of Earthsea

quiet characterization through showing in The View from Saturday

making your hero likable while still flawed in The Chronicles of Prydain

how to incorporate myth seamlessly into an independent narrative in Where the Mountains Meet the Moon

inserting little stories around a larger one (and making the little stories more interesting than the big one) in The Sword in the Stone

different ways of using magical realism in Because of Winn-Dixie, Savvy,

ways to fracture fairy tales in Red Ridin’ in the Hood

metafiction for kids in Inkheart

steampunk sensibility in The Golden Compass

ways to pull off straight-faced farce in The Phantom Tollbooth

Of course, you don’t have to stick to Newberry Award Winners, children’s books, genre you’re writing in, or even books to glean writing ideas or skills. Want to know how to create mystery from coincidence? Watch Krystof Kieslowski’s Trois Couleurs: Red.

And you don’t have to look for what to do. I won’t give examples of that because as your momma/daddy proly said to you, if you can’t say something nice. . .

What are some books you’ve gone back to for craft examples?

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2 thoughts on “Re-reads

  1. I just re-read “To Kill a Mockingbird” — not for craft pointers, but for pure pleasure. After all the hoopla about the “new” book, I wanted to go back to the “old” one to see if it still felt as magical as it did the first time I read it as a teenager. I did notice some interesting things about craft, however, reading with a more critical lens (and the authority of an AB in English). More than anything, I admired how Lee was able to show the perspective of the grown up Scout, reflecting on the story, and the younger Scout, living the story, together, in a single narrative voice. It’s all seamless and natural and I’d have to go back a third time to untangle how she does it. (And yes, the magic was still there.)

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    1. Great observation. I’ve thought about going back to read “To Kill a Mockingbird” to study how she creates such a Southern atmosphere, but if I do, I’ll have to also pay attention to how she swings narrative voice. Great, Mark, one more thing to do 😉

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