I seem to be re-reading books lately. I'm currently re-reading Titmuss Regained by John Mortimer, and before that, I re-read Lancelot by Walker Percy.
Nabokov claims you can't really enjoy a book until you re-read it. The first time, you're caught up in the momentum of what-happens-next? It's only after returning to a book, you begin to appreciate the writer's artistry. This seems true for me. Titmuss Regained, a very witty political novel, I found hilarious for the first half. The second half is dragging for me. The reason is because all the delight I took in re-reading came from watching how cleverly Mortimer set up all the reversals and recognitions to take place later in the book. I already knew what would happen, so I could sit back and appreciate watching how Mortimer would make it happen. Now that he's laid all his groundwork, though, I'm less interested in watching him spring his various traps. Of course, on my first reading, when the outcome was still unexpected, the ending was what I primarily enjoyed.
Lancelot is a different experience. That book took me by the throat and shook me the whole way through. Again, though, the parts that stunned me the first time, I read through, not with disappointment, but disinterest. It was the connecting tissue, the way it was written, that so enthralled me this time. I swear, Lancelot is not merely good, it's William Faulkner good.
The books we choose to read say a lot about us as writers. Man and boy, I have read Huck Finn more times than I can tell you. If I've read Code of the Woosters once, I've read it five times. Decline and Fall, Handful of Dust, and The Loved One, I've read at least twice apiece, although Loved One seemed very watery the second go-through. The first two remained outstanding to me.
Of course, it's all a matter of taste. I happen to have a sweet tooth for humor. I've read Candide multiple times. Once in a French class, I had to translate a passage from French into English. Even through the haze of my weak comprehension, it was still hilarious.
So, my fellow-writers, two questions. What books have you re-read? More importantly, what will you write worth re-reading?