Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Old Friends Sheena Wilkinson




At a dinner party last week, a family friend said she was getting rid of an old bookcase. ‘And I’m just getting rid of the books too; after all, I’ve already read them.’  When I had recovered from spitting out my wine, I admitted that I have seventeen bookcases in my house (which is perhaps half the size of hers), full of books I have mostly read.

‘But why do you keep them?’ she asked.

‘I just – have to.’

There are two kinds of people: re-readers and non-re-readers. I became a re-reader out of necessity: as a child the local library couldn’t keep up with me, and besides, re-reading was fun. Reading a new book is like going to a party with strangers – it might be wonderful; you might meet exciting new friends; but it might equally be a disaster as you turn the pages sadly, finding nothing to tempt you and wishing you had stayed at home. Re-reading is like curling up by the fire for a gossip with old friends.



I have certain books which I reread every few years. I don’t know when the need will descend or what will spark it off. Sometimes a new book by a favourite author will inspire me with the desire to catch up on her backlist. Sometimes real life will throw something at me that can only be dealt with with the help of fictional old retainers – Antonia Forest’s Marlows got me through being laid up after an accident ten years ago; the months surrounding my father’s death were partly assuaged by daily escapes to the Chalet School.

But you know what happens! But there are so many new books! non-re-readers proclaim.

Yes, I know. I read lots of new books too. Maybe a hundred a year. And have a ‘to-read’ pile in double figures piling up in one of the seventeen bookcases.

But last week, I don’t know why, possibly because things weren’t going well in my WIP, I found that the only thing I wanted out of the thousands of possibilities in my bookshelves, was the Gemma series by Noel Streatfeild. Nothing else would do. Not her best books, and certainly not a model of good editing (Christmas happens twice in Gemma And Sisters within a couple of months.) I know every line of every gorgeous Betty Maxie illustration; I know not only what event is coming next but often every syllable of dialogue, but it doesn’t matter. I enjoyed every word. Again.


                                 
Lazy? Maybe. But sometimes you just want what you want. One day in 2012 I was walking down the Cromwell Road in London when I thought, This is where the Fossils live. And suddenly I needed to read Ballet Shoes. That moment. (Or at least when I got on the tube.) Because I had my kindle with me, I was able to gratify that. Maybe such instant gratification isn’t good for the character, and I probably stopped reading some worthy tome in order to wonder (again) which of the Fossils I would rather be (Pauline, though I know I’m meant to want to be Petrova); but I didn’t care. I was enjoying Ballet Shoes too much.  



Of course it’s comfort reading, and thank God for it. Christmas is coming, and I expect Santa will bring some new books. Possible new friends. But it’s OK if he doesn’t, because I’m going to be curled up by the fire with the Cazalets (again).




10 comments:

Mystica said...

I like to keep the books Ive read no doubt about that but re- reads I still seem to gravitate to Agatha christie and Pride and Prejudice.

Bridget Blair said...

I loved this post and can identify with it so well. How could not you re read a great or favourite book? I have nt got enough bookcases, and piles of books can be found in most rooms in my cottage....and I love it that way.

I went through a phase of rereading Mary Stewart's novels this summer, and over Christmas I want to re read the the Miss Read novels set in a Cotswolds village. Yes , they may have been in the bookcase for years since I last read them, but they're there waiting.
Oh and I have all my children's old Shirley Hughes Christmas books and other Christmas books lying around Just waiting to be read by any little people visit at this time of year , or my grown up children.....

Susan Price said...

You have struck a chord, Sheena. I nodded and said, "Yes," at every line.
When I need comfort, I re-read Terry Pratchett - who, oddly, is not as cosy and cuddly a writer as he'd often portrayed. Never mind, when times are tough, I want to wander the mean streets of Ankh-Morpork or take my troubles to Granny Weatherwax in Lancre (who will give me bracingly caustic advice.)

Hilary said...

We keep all our books too. Even though having an Ereader has reduced the number of physical books quite a bit for me, we're still thinking about where to put more shelves at the moment!

Sue Purkiss said...

I don't re-read many books, but those I do re-read I read over and over again - like Heidi, or The Dark Is Rising, or yes, Terry Pratchett...

Becca McCallum said...

Re-reader here. I've just bought a new bookcase (early christmas present to myself!)

Emma Barnes said...

I'm with you, Sheena! Sometimes nothing else will do but a favourite reread - and with books like Antonia Forest's, you can get something new out of them every time you read them. They really are superb. But as you say, it's not always about literary quality - the Gemma books were actually my favourites growing up, even though they aren't considered Streatfeild's best. Although now I'm an adult the book by her that I'm most likely to reread is A Vicarage Family, which is based on her own childhood.

Another of my absolute favourite rereads is Jennings - the hilarious school boy series by Antony Buckeridge: I've actually just written a post about them: https://girlsheartbooks.com/2016/12/13/how-jennings-inspired-chloe-by-emma-barnes/

Sheena Wilkinson said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone! Yes, Jane Austen is always good value for a reread! And Antonia Forest, natch!

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Anne Booth said...

I love ALL the books you cite and totally agree!