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Why do I pick up the books I do?


Why do I pick up the books I do?

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Why do I pick up the books I do?


Published on January 26, 2009


I’ve been doing these posts here on what I’m re-reading for about six months now, and it seemed like a good time to revisit “why I re-read” from a slightly different angle. Why do I re-read the particular things that I do? I’ve written posts on almost everything that I’ve re-read since July. I tend to alternate reading new things with re-readings, except that sometimes I’ll go on a new books binge, and sometimes I’ll re-read all of something. But what causes me to decide to re-read one book and not another? What makes me pick up a particular book at a specific time? Good question.

Firstly, it isn’t all a cunning Plan. I’m not trying to promote particular things or my friends or Tor books or anything. I also don’t have an agenda of any kind. It’s not exactly random, but it isn’t directed towards any goal. I’m not trying to educate people or push one kind of book over another. This is just my genre re-reading, with the occasional non-genre or edge of genre book thrown in.

There are some books that I have read, and enjoyed, that I think are good books, but which never seem to be quite what I feel like reading again. I talked about my large pile of unread books, and how something can sit on them like cold rice pudding until suddenly it inexplicably becomes catnip. It’s the same with some books I have read. I can walk by them every day and they’re just wallpaper, and then suddenly I can’t live without them another second. This is particularly true of long series. (I hope you don’t get bored when I start again with the Lymond books or the Patrick O’Brians!)

Usually, I’ll choose to re-read a book because something has reminded me of it. For instance, I’ve recently done some posts about Robin McKinley’s books. What started me on this McKinley binge was reading (just once) her new book Chalice. Chalice filled me with a desire for McKinley, and thus you got three consecutive McKinley posts. More often this works the other way around. I’ll hear that a new book is coming out and I’ll re-read the whole series in preparation. This is what happened with all the Cherryh in December, for Regenesis, and also with all the Vlad books, before Jhegaala. There are books I want to re-read and talk about here but I’m waiting until the new one comes out because I don’t want to fill myself with impatience. (The Melusine books, Song of Ice and Fire.)

Or one book will remind me of another. Reading The City and the Stars filled me with an urge to read Drinking Sapphire Wine. Or a book will come up in conversation—in comments here, or on Livejournal, or in my daily life. If science fiction is a dialogue, it’s occasionally possible to have an entire complex conversation purely in story titles. The best time ever was at Minicon. “Who can replace a man?” Emmet asked. “No woman born,” Mike Ford replied. “Can you feel anything when I do this?” I put in. That’s not just repartee, it’s a whole discussion about the emotional problems of artificial intelligences. We often do this kind of shorthand at home, though usually not so cleverly that it could pass on both levels, just throwing in a book to make a point. “Of course, split personality is always going to be a problem.” “Aristoi?”

But of course I am reminded of lots of books every day, and I don’t pick them all up to read them again. There has to be a tug towards it. When I’m reminded of it, I have to want to go and hang out again with those people, in that world. I have to be in the mood for it. Some books are always tempting. I mentioned in my post on Anathem that I missed it when I’d finished it. So it’s just what I feel like, really. This all seems so subjective and emotional. I wish it was more scientific! I suppose the best way of putting it is that there are books that have orbits that are always easy for me to fall into, and others where I have to find the right quantum energy state to be able to reach them. I have to be open to them. My valance has to be right.

But I am always open to suggestions. What should I read next?

About the Author

Jo Walton


Jo Walton is the author of fifteen novels, including the Hugo and Nebula award winning Among Others two essay collections, a collection of short stories, and several poetry collections. She has a new essay collection Trace Elements, with Ada Palmer, coming soon. She has a Patreon ( for her poetry, and the fact that people support it constantly restores her faith in human nature. She lives in Montreal, Canada, and Florence, Italy, reads a lot, and blogs about it here. It sometimes worries her that this is so exactly what she wanted to do when she grew up.
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