Friday, May 22, 2009

A Second First Time

I think this week's "Booking Through Thursday" meme is one of the best yet. The question is what book would you like to experience all over again just like you experienced it the first time around.

There's no way that I can limit it to one, so let's see what happens once I get started. The funny thing about these books is that I've generally been afraid to read them a second time because I don't want to spoil my great memories of the impact they had on me.

One that comes to mind is Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire. I don't remember exactly where I found the book but, once I started reading it, I could hardly put it down and raced through the whole thing in just a couple of days. I had never heard of Anne Rice and had seen no advance publicity on the book that predates all of today's vampire craze. Remember this was 1976 and there was no internet for publishers to spread the word about their new books, so this one caught me completely by surprise. Rice did something in Vampire I would have believed impossible - she made some vampires into sympathetic characters and even had readers thinking about the pros, not just the cons, of that kind of life.

Then there's Pat Conroy's The Prince of Tides. I knew Pat Conroy's writing well by the time The Prince of Tides came along, but there was just something special about this one that had me so deeply identifying with the main character that I fell completely in love with the story and its setting. I may have already been a Pat Conroy fan, but it was The Prince of Tides that elevated Mr. Conroy into that handful of authors I consider to be the very best in the business. I was so taken with Prince, in fact, that I bought copies of the book for everyone in the office the Christmas after I read it. People thought I was crazy, I think, but I know that several of them still read Pat Conroy.

I can't skip Larry McMurtry and Lonesome Dove here because I've often mentioned how Lonesome Dove is my favorite book. Similar to my relationship with the work of Pat Conroy, I was very familiar with Larry McMurtry (a Rice University graduate and a man who spent a lot of good years in Houston) so when Lonesome Dove hit the shelves I grabbed the first copy I saw in my local bookstore - and it blew me away. It was nothing like any of McMurtry's earlier work and I was completely taken with the book's two main characters, Gus and Call, and the touching relationship they had. Even the secondary characters jumped off the page and made me, as a reader, care about what happened to them. The book won a well deserved Pulitzer and turned into a famous television movie that is still one of my favorite movies. Come on, Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones - does it get any better than that?

Finally, I want to mention James M. McPherson's Battle Cry of Freedom, another Pulitzer winner (1988). I have been a Civil War history buff since I was a kid, so we're talking several decades here, but for the first time I found a book that put the entire war into an understandable perspective - and did it in less than 700 pages. McPherson's style makes the book very readable and, in my opinion, is still the standard by which Civil War history books should be judged. I gave a few of these as gifts, too, but they didn't go over as well as I had hoped because some readers are mistakenly intimidated by a book like Battle Cry. I suspect that the ones I gave away are sitting on a few shelves in the same mint condition they were in when I gave them away almost twenty years ago. Maybe I should tell those folks that mint, first editions of Battle Cry of Freedom sell for well over $100 a copy today.

These are four of the books that really got me excited when I discovered them. I could list others, but you get the idea - books can excite a person like nothing else in the world, including songs, movies, and art. I really believe that.

8 comments:

  1. I think some of the books that must swept me off my feet were books that I read when I was a kid. A Wrinkle in Time, From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankenwiler, The Westing Game, Harriet the Spy and The Outsiders all jump to mind. I don't think I could ever read them in quite the way I did all those years ago being an old and jaded adult, but what's interesting is that I can still remember portions of those books so vividly, better than I can remember books I read just a few months ago.

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  2. Alissa, that special feeling about these books, and a few others, is why I'm so reluctant to read them again. Times have changed, I have changed - and the books haven't. I have to wonder if I will see them the same way after so many years.

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  3. I had no idea IWAV was written back in 76. I have read it, and while the idea of vampires has always intrigued me, I've never found a book (including that one) that lived up to them.

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  4. I think that's why the book made such an impact on me when I read it, John - in 1976 no one else was writing books about vampires other than maybe some of the horror guys. Rice's book seemed to be a more serious one and, IMO, gave birth to all the vampire hysteria that is still happening in books and movies today.

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  5. I completely agree with you about not wanting to re-read these books, in order to preserve the memories. That said, though, I've read Lonesome Dove a few times and it still "gets" me every time. It is truly a modern classic!

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  6. I agree, Kathy, about "Lonesome Dove." That's one of the very few I've made an exception by re-reading...and it has never failed me. I love it every time.

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  7. I loved "A Wrinkle in Time!" It is one of the very few books I actually own. I re-read it every few years.

    Sam, "Lonesome Dove" was a 2 a.m. book for me, one of very few, and I was so sad when I got to the end because there was no more of it to read.

    I got the DVD last spring against Chris' wishes. "It's just another boring western," he said. "I don't want to watch!"

    "Just one episode," I urged. "I'll watch the rest by myself if you don't want to watch any more."

    We watched the first episode Friday night and spent the rest of the weekend watching the entire show. He was hooked.

    No, I can't get him to read. The only time he has read a book since I have known him was last summer when we were at the cottage on Lake Superior and there was no TV, radio or internet connection and he couldn't work.

    I will re-read Dickens. He is always good.

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  8. That's a great story, Factotum. Heck, I absolutely challenge anyone to watch the first episode of "Lonesome Dove" and be able to stop there. It's such a great story that it is destined to survive a long, long time into the future.

    I do reread Dickens every so often but there are still three or four of his novels I haven't read. I always, more or less, know what to expect from the classics, though, and they never seem to impact me the way that something completely out of the blue does - something about that element of surprise, I think.

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