The Many Lives of a Good Book

I went to the library earlier, and I just couldn’t help myself.  I checked out a book.  Not just any old book, either, but a collection of short stories written by Patricia C. Wrede!

As I headed for the checkout line, however, I just had to ask myself, Why am I checking this book out?

Don’t get me wrong.  I love reading, and I especially love reading books by Patricia C. Wrede.  But I’ve already read this book (several times, in fact), and I’m chronically short on time.  This book looks like a two- or three-hour read – hours that I’ll have to pull from some other probably-more-urgent-or-important-but-nowhere-near-as-fun task.  So why did I knowingly check out such a lethal time-waster?

Because, in my book, reading isn’t a waste of time.  It helps me de-stress, and after reading a good  book I feel relatively human again after a busy, stressful day.  And I figured out at least three reasons for reading a good book.  I’m not saying these are the only reasons to read, and I’m not even saying that these are the only reasons for why I read (I only need one answer for that: it’s fun!).  But I tend to analyze things (such as why I like certain movies, why I enjoy particular hobbies, why I like books by particular authors, and why I’ll read a book I’ve read before instead of getting my work done…), and so this is the list I came up with.

1. Unread book. You don’t know how it ends, and the suspense of it pulls you through.  You care about the characters and want to know what happens to them and how the plot resolves itself.

2. Previously read, but really enjoyed. You go back and reread your favorite scenes and snippets of dialogue because the author was so amazing that you can’t help yourself.  You simply can’t get enough of this scene or that character (or, perhaps, a particular conversation) no matter how many times you read it.

3. Previously read, but can’t remember much. You’ve read it before, you know you’ve read it before, but you just can’t remember what happens.  Or you remember the ending, and most of the beginning, but entire chunks are missing from the middle.  Or you remember Main Character A and Supporting Character B, but who on earth is that character? (Diana Wynne Jones’s books have a habit of doing this to me.  She’s made a habit of being practically the only author whose entire plotlines ooze through the cracks of my otherwise reasonably plot-proof memory.)

As it turns out, the book I picked up falls into the third category.  I’ve read it, and I know I’ve read it, and I flipped through and recognized bits and pieces – but I couldn’t remember everything, and therefore couldn’t resist checking it out.  It’s almost as though she wrote an entirely new book that I’ve never read – and who can resist that?

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