Romance Writers of America’s national conference has come and gone, and store shelves are filled with back to school paraphernalia, so it was only a matter of time before this feature grabbed onto.a back to school theme. First thing that came to my head was “back to old school,” as revisiting the books that helped me fall in love with romance fiction is a personal focus of mine, but, talking with other romance readers, there are a lot of other outcomes besides “wow, that was a great book.” What other possibilities are there? Glad you asked. Let’s get to it.
In a perfect world, of course, the twelfth, or twelve hundredth read of a beloved novel would be as rewarding as the first – even more so- and, for a lot of us readers, that turns out to be true. There are an endless supply of new books to read, more, seemingly, coming out every day, so why go back to something written seemingly in another lifetime? Maybe even in another century? Lots of reasons, but the only one that counts is “because I want to.” That’s it. That’s all. Not a complicated matter in the least, but some readers even refuse to re-read favorites, for the fear that the more recent experience will sully the first one. Is that illogical? From where I sit, it’s not.
There are a lot of things that can change the way we view the same work of fiction, at different times in our lives. Say we’ve been through a life experience, let’s say, had a bad romance (Cue Lady Gaga) with a janitor, and now that once-cherished category romance with a janitor hero is less appealing. Maybe the janitor thing isn’t a turnoff anymore, because, really, if the janitor didn’t show, nobody would want to work/shop/eat/run a top secret spy ring/etc there. Maybe janitors are still prime hero material, but the janitor we dated was, let’s say, Gus, so now, all it takes is seeing the name, “Gus” in a blurb on a book, new or old, and it goes straight in the nope pile. Or maybe it’s only janitors named Gus, who are also from Cleveland, have purple hair, or whathaveyou. The book hasn’t changed (how could it, unless the author revised it for indie publication, in which case we are not even going near it if Gus The Janitor whips out a handy dandy cell phone and we lose that scorching hot/exquisitely tender/maybe both, scene with the pay phone) but we have. Sometimes, no matter how much we want to, we can’t go home again, or don’t want to chance it, and the Gus From Cleveland in our memories is still maintaining the halls, and our hearts, from that single read.
Maybe it’s not Gus’s fault at all, Cleveland is still a city with endless potential, and the storyline still causes a sigh at the mere mention of Gus’s grand gesture to his true love, outside the supply closet. That author, though that thing they said at that conference, that time they cheated on their taxes, cheated on their spouse, cheated on their research, wore navy blue shoes with a black dress (dudes included) – that changed our view of them, and now they’re not the person who created Gus The Janitor, but the person who will forever be captured in navy shoes with a black dress (and a brown purse, even, where does the horror end?) or quit romance, to write a genre that is Not Romance, which leaves us feeling like they’ve left us, personally, and all of a sudden, it’s hard to separate the two. We try, and we want to revisit Gus and his beloved, but, unfortunately, it’s not happening.
Maybe it’s only that our tastes have changed, no thanks to a huge life event, no messy breakup with a real life Gus, but, well, what is there new to do with janitor romances? Substitute teachers, that’s where it’s at now. Or paranormals, or historical, or. well, anything other than janitor characters. Maybe janitors are still fine, but, as writing styles change, not every voice is suited to the same kind of book, and some readers don’t always change with the times. Maybe that book that first enthralled us would be too sparse, too wordy, too sexy, too preachy, the characters too young, too old, talk too much, not talk enough. Maybe we want more showing, less telling. Or is it more telling, less showing? Pick up the pace Slow it down. The cover art is dated. Okay, that last one doesn’t work on reprints or e-books, but you get the drift. We can still love the story for what it was, and honor the feeling it gave us then, even if other things give us more pleasure now.
Then there are those books that are the other side of the coin, the ones we can read time and time again, the books we stole from our mothers (or grandmothers,) and our daughters (or granddaughters) now steal from us. The great “new” book a friend picked up at the library or bookstore, and can’t stop raving about, and we laugh, not to make fun of them, but because we read that book when it first came out, coughty-cough years ago, and now they’re making us want to read it all over again. Maybe the whole series, if there is one.
There’s no telling how well a beloved book is going to hold up on a reread, until we actually do. That’s part of the adventure, and it changes every time. How will the next reread go? Only one way to find out.
So, dear readers, I turn it now over to you. Do you go back and reread old favorites? Prefer to let the initial experience go untarnished? Read a book that didn’t hold up to how you remembered it to be? Read one that was even better the second, third, or more time around? Pull up a chair in the comment section and tell us all about it. There’s room for everybody at this table.