True Grit: The Re-Read

True Grit by Charles Portis 
3 words: plain-spoken, dramatic, unsentimental
The month of re-reading continues…
It’s rare that I allow myself the luxury of re-reading a book, but sometimes I’m fortunate and my assigned reading causes me to re-read something I loved.
Enter: True Grit.
And, as always, the second reading was a different, more complex experience than the first.
(I love how this happens.)
The first time I read this book, I marveled at Mattie’s clear, strong narrative voice and her toughness.
The second time, I knew to expect those things, so instead, I really felt the feels.
And man, this book is filled with them. 
It was only on the second time through, that this book made me get teary-eyed.
(Did not expect that)
It reminded me of that time I re-read The Sisters Brothers and felt it the second time. 
This re-reading can be hard on a person. 

So guys… Ever been surprised by a book you re-read?

Getting Things Done: The Re-Read Edition

Getting Things Done by David Allen
This October, I’ve been in re-read mode.
It’s actually pretty darn fun, to feel the freedom to re-read– so often, I feel pressured to read something new.
So today, we’re looking at my first re-read of the fall season.
Earlier this year, when I finished reading Getting Things Done, I put a reminder in my calendar (Google Calender is one of my key GTD tools) to revisit the book in the fall.
This time, I decided to listen to it. And that was a brilliant idea, if I do say so myself. David Allen, the author, narrates the book, and it’s one of those delightful instances where the author reads the book better than anyone else could. Dude has a soothing voice, and he speaks with quiet confidence. It was like a private coaching session.
And, just like he says in the book, the next time I read it, I gained new insights. And I was inspired to fine-tune my system. These changes sound small, but They Are Not. Here’s what I did:

 

I wasn’t kidding about the bathtub crayons
First, I improved my Capture systems. In GTD lingo, “capture” refers to catching ideas when they arise, and saving them in a system you trust.
I did this:
  • Placed small notebooks in 2 additional places where I often have ideas, so I can capture them
  • Bought bathtub crayons so I can write my shower thoughts (anyone else do their best thinking in the shower?) right there on the wall

 

Next, I hacked my system to make myself more accountable to myself.
I did this:
  • Created hyperlinks to connect related Word documents. This one works especially well in the Projects List doc, where I’ve added links to my various project pages. When I do my weekly review, I now actually look at each project page, because I’ve made it easy. And it’s paying off — I’ve already thought of some new ways to approach some of my projects. [small squeal of delight as I realize he ain’t kidding about the subtitle to the book: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity]

 

And finally, I kept myself honest. Here’s where I was goofing up: Instead of making sure my Next Actions List contained only actual “next actions,” I allowed some of the items to be projects that needed to have “next actions” defined for them. So…
I did this:
  • Reviewed
    my Next Actions list with a discerning eye, then turned vague
    statements into concrete Next Actions. Again: immediate results. It was a
    sudden kick-start to some projects that I’d allowed myself to glide
    past, because they required thinking. Once the actual thinking is done and I decided what to actually do: super easy.
OK. Anyone else completely infatuated with a self-improvement book? If so, which one?  

My mom always told me castles were drafty…

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
3 words:
romantic, youthful, creative
This
book had me from the first line: “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.”
Seriously:
how can you resist that?
My first
reading of this lovely book was in 2000, at a time when I yearned for some
serious comfort reading and found it in these pages.
Reading
it this time—for book club—I no longer was seeking comfort, but it found me
anyway.
This
book is one of those gloriously comfortable old-fashioned novels that
transports you into a story and a place far away.
Narrated
by 17-year-old Cassandra, the younger sister of a quirky family that lives in
a decrepit castle in England, this is a story of family, creativity, coming of
age, and finding love.
There
are shades of Pride and Prejudice here:
a financially strapped family residing in a grand house, daughters of
marriageable age seeking husbands (or not), and a cast of exuberantly vivid characters
flailing their way through life.
So I
mentioned that this book feels old-fashioned, and I mean that in the best way.
Smith releases the story into various small tangents that reveal some of the
messiness of people’s actual lives, and that made me really happy.
But since
the book was published in 1949, the grittiness that would be included in a
novel written today is buffed away. Things are hinted at, not made explicit. 
And there’s
a more stately rhythm to the language.
So what
we have here is a novel that beautifully combines the neat and the messy. 
Relationships
are textured and complex, but none are beyond repair. Some
storylines are wrapped up neatly at the end, and others are open-ended. 
Smith
leaves room for the reader to express her or his creativity as the book ends. What’s
next for Cassandra?
I’m
pretty sure it’s something good.

Re-reading can be weird

This
one is odd, guys.

It’s
nothing new to re-read a book and experience it differently. That happens all the time. It’s part of the wonder of re-reading, for Pete’s sake. 
But
this time, I’m struck by something new. 
The
first time I read The Sisters Brothers (Patrick
deWitt’s marvelous historical Western noir mash-up), I was struck by the humor
that infused the book and leavened it amidst all
the violence. 
This
time around, I’m all about the pathos. This book is breaking my heart.
It’s
still charming me with its deceptively straightforward prose and wry humor and
storyline of a person who wants to quit the violence of his day job. But the pain
suffered by the characters (all of them!) is real and sometimes wrenching.
The
cover of my paperback quotes the Irish
Times
: “So good, so funny and so sad.”
Yes.
This time around, I’m getting all three of those things.
So
here’s the weird part. When I first read the book back in 2011, part of my life
was a cesspool of suck. (Yeah, we don’t talk about these things on the blog. But there it is.) And when I read the book then, I mined it for the humor. Heaven
knows I needed it.


This
time around, I am happy in every way a person can possibly be. (I hesitate to
say that out loud.* But there it is.) And so now I’m reading this book and feeling
the characters’ pain. 
It’s
not like I’m looking for trouble to balance the happiness, but I think it’s like
this: at this stage, I can handle their sadness and wish their lives were
otherwise.
So the whole thing makes me wonder: Do we mine books for the minerals we lack at the time? 

*I know! It’s not “out loud” if it’s in writing. But sometimes, actually, it is.  

(Science) Fiction

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
3
words: character-driven, brutal, thought-provoking
The
characters, people. This book is all about the completely engaging characters.

That’s
the first thing to know about The
Sparrow.
 

Because
the second thing? It might make you think you don’t want to read it.

Here
it is: This book’s science fiction, guys. The completely engaging characters
travel to another planet.

Have
you just tuned out? If so, come back here
right now and I mean it.

I’m
not a natural reader of science fiction, and this book has been on my top 10
list. That’s how character-driven it really is. Plus, it’s got a plot. (See: they travel to another planet.)

This
is a book of ideas and faith and questioning one’s faith and love and
friendship and courage.

It’s
also one heck of a great book discussion choice.

It’s
the story of a Jesuit mission to a newly discovered planet, and how the whole
thing goes terribly wrong. And only one person—Father Emilio Sandoz—survives,
though he’s a wrecked man when he returns to Earth with his faith and reputation
destroyed.

The
story unfolds gradually, told through flashbacks to the joyful days when the
crew was formed and began their journey.

This
novel is revelatory.

Don’t
read it alone. Make sure a friend reads it, too, so you can discuss it right
away.

Read-a-Thon: Sleep. Now.

Read-a-Thon day, you’ve been a delight.

And now I’m utterly wiped and am headed off to sleep. 
Feeling very good about finishing 5 books this time around. All = mysteries. Apparently that’s a magic Read-a-Thon formula for me. 
Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who visited and cheered. It’s wildly encouraging.
Here’s the final update: 
What else I’ve been doing: just reading since the last update
Where I’ve been reading: in the kitchen
How long I’ve been reading: 14 hours
How many books I’ve finished reading: 5 (woo-hoo!)
Chairs I’ve sat in: every darn chair/sofa in the entire downstairs over the course of the day. Usually I stick with only about 3 of them, so this gave some new perspectives to the day.
Now it’s 4 a.m. (the latest I’ve been awake since probably college), and I am so ready to sleep. 
Happy reading to those who are rounding out these final few hours of the Read-a-Thon. I salute your fortitude!
Good night, all.

On re-reading

Re-reading. It is a darn interesting topic.
At least for readers, it is.
While getting caught up on podcasts (which can be its own special kind of time warp when you’re as far behind as I am), I recently listened to the Nancy Pearl Book Review podcast from December 18, 2009.
She and the snarky host were talking about books we re-read: what are they, and why do we choose them? Why do we “waste time” by re-reading, when there are so many other books to read?
And, as Nancy said, do we ever really re-read a book, since each time we read a particular book, we are at a different stage of our life? The book may be the same, but the reader is different.
The most thought-provoking part was the conversation with Suzanne Morrison, who writes about books for The Huffington Post. She wrote an article titled “Forget the Facebook Quizzes: This’ll Tell You Who You Are,” which made me begin to think twice about revealing my own re-reading preferences. Yikes. Now it feels like I’m about to slink around the blog in a bikini, which, I can assure you, nobody wants.
The other interesting topic was: Why do some books stand up after re-reading, while others are diminished? I confess that this question occurs to me often, often!, when I am re-reading a book in preparation for a book discussion. Maybe it’s also the need to develop questions that will keep a conversation going, but often I think, “This was better the first time around…” and I get that sinking feeling…
But, with other books, I am so, so happy that they keep working their particular magic. And some of them become refuges.
So, here are my top re-reading choices:
Topping the list (meaning: I’ve read these puppies at least 4 times) The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin Young Men and Fire by Norman Maclean In the Lake of the Woods by Tim O’Brien All the President’s Men by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward
The runners-up (meaning: I’ve read these guys at least 3 times) Happy All the Time by Laurie Colwin The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara A Night to Remember by Walter Lord The Spy Wore Red by Aline, Countess of Romanones
And this list contains a few others, some of which are intentional/just-for-fun re-reads, and some of which were re-reads-for-a-book-discussion.
Other than, “I love that book!” I’m not too sure why I re-read, and I’ve decided that I’m not going to gaze at my navel in an attempt to figure it out. I’m sticking with plain old “I love that book!” It works.
So–I’m wondering:
What are your favorite books to re-read? Do you have tried and true favorites that you repeat time and time again?

Just one of the gazillion books about him

The Day Lincoln Was Shot by Jim Bishop
So here’s the thing about this book, and why it’s shocking that I like it: It’s a true crime book, people. And I am made hideously uncomfortable by books of true crime. I get a little bit twitchy even walking past such books. I’m not wild about society’s underbelly.
Why I can tolerate this book: Well, duh. There’s a president in it. So that pretty much says it all. And it’s got a big old nasty tragedy at its center, and I’m just wild about those tragic events.
But really, the thing I think makes this book work is that Bishop makes April 14, 1865, come to life. His writing is fairly simple, but there’s a grace to his style. It reminds me of the classic account of the sinking of the Titanic: A Night to Remember by Walter Lord (which actually was written in the same year, 1955). Both books provide a sense of immediacy, and that’s all too rare. (Cripe! The Titanic sank on April 14-15. Now I’m just freaking myself out.)
This book follows Lincoln and Booth (who shall, from here forth, be referred to as “That *&$>^%#^%#^%#

Sequel: Better than the Original

Anastasia Again by Lois Lowry

Anastasia returns in this second book in the series, following her introduction in Anastasia Krupnik. I adore the first book, but I absolutely love, love, love the second.

Anastasia is dismayed when her parents decide to move from the city (Boston) to the suburbs. She decides to make the situation impossible for them and requests a house with a tower—and her parents find a house that fits the bill. Her parents are terrific, and they are as amusing as Anastasia herself; and her brother, young Sam Krupnik, is charming as all get-out.

When I met the author, she mentioned that someone had tried to ban the book, because Anastasia threatens to throw herself out a window on page 1. Needless to say, I was appalled at the book banning attempt—and, I have to admit, somewhat mystified. Since the window in question is ground-floor, the situation is downright funny because Anastasia, her parents, and the reader know she’s exaggerating for effect. Good grief. This was one of the moments that most endeared the book to me as a child and now as an adult.

The Original

The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

While this book is known as the benchmark hard-boiled detective novel, which established p.i. Sam Spade as a cultural icon, I find Brigid O’Shaughnessy the most interesting character in this novel. I first read this book while in library school, as I was just returning to the joys of mystery reading. Now, reading it for the second time, over a decade later, knowing how it would turn out allowed me to look a little more closely at what Hammett was doing in this book. Spoiler alert: Knowing in advance that the damsel (dame?) in distress is actually a villain transformed the way I read this book. The fact that Hammett created such an intriguing female character at the same time he invented a new mystery subgenre almost pardons him for the way Spade and the other male characters treat women. Almost.

And, granted, Spade himself is quite fascinating. He’s vaguely despicable (what kind of person doesn’t even feel a bit of a qualm over his business partner’s death?), yet he lives by a code that results in some sort of justice in the end. At our recent book club meeting, one of my friends pinpointed the essence of the book: while the Maltese falcon causes people to lie, cheat, steal, and kill in their efforts to possess this priceless relic, the true mystery here lies in the characters themselves. In addition to Hammett’s skill at creating compelling characters (likeable though they’re not), I admire his writing style. His use of language still feels fresh to me, even though it’s been mimicked, updated, and parodied by others for years now.

A couple of other observations: I’d forgotten that The Maltese Falcon was told from a third person point of view. I found this absolutely fascinating, given that the p.i.-as-first-person-narrator is now a standard feature of hardboiled detective novels. In The Maltese Falcon, obviously, that would not do—because we need Spade to be inscrutable. And the other thing I realized anew is that the article I read back in library school, in which a writer described the current crop of private investigators in novels as “soft-boiled,” really hits the mark. Sam Spade was a whole different creature from today’s gruff, rule-breaking private investigators (who usually have at least one friend, often seem to be fitness fanatics, and rarely stray very far into the Dark Side). I’m almost tempted to feel sorry for the guy. Or… maybe not.