Thursday, June 14, 2012

Rereading Favorite Books by Susan Oleksiw

Susan Oleksiw is the author of the Anita Ray series, featuring Indian American Anita Ray. The second in the series, The Wrath of Shiva, was published by Five Star in June 2012, and received a starred review in Library Journal. The first in the series, Under the Eye of Kali, appeared in 2010.

Oleksiw also writes the Mellingham series featuring Chief of Police Joe Silva, who appeared in five books. Welcome back, Susan.

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Rereading Favorite Books by Susan Oleksiw


Most of my fellow writers, at least the ones who gather on a weekend to talk about how things are going, often segue from rewriting their current mss to what they're reading and then to rereading their favorite books. I contribute what I can but I admit here that I rarely reread my favorite books.

Many, many years ago, when I was finally old enough to use the school library and borrow books on my own, to take home and keep for days and days, I took one home and fell in love with it. I loved that book so much I couldn't stand the idea of parting with it. So, what did I do? I read it again. That was a mistake.

I don't think even a full day passed between finishing the book and starting over. But I will never forget how I felt. I read it through to the end a second time, but when I was finished, a second time, I was sad and disappointed. I didn't have the same feeling as at the end of the first reading, which is what I was hoping for. I have never forgotten the feeling. To this day I won't even try to reread a beloved book unless enough time has passed for me to feel like a different person, so I can feel the book is new to me in some way.

Unlike novels, however, I often reread short stories. Reading short fiction is like examining a finely crafted piece of jewelry. I can hold it in one hand and see all facets at once, watch the light as it lands first here, then there, appreciate the craftsmanship on the clasp. Short fiction is like this; it is all of a piece. It doesn't meander or grow and then shrink, and grow again. Short fiction is more perfect in its form than long fiction. So for me, when it comes to rereading, I choose the masters of short fiction (and some of the future masters as well) and reread a short story sometimes minutes after I have finished it for the first time.

So what did I learn from that early experience with my beloved book (a copy of which I still have, by the way)? You might think I learned not to reread books, but that isn't it. In the many years since, I've reread lots of books for many reasons--to understand the nuances better, to enjoy the language again, to better analyze the themes for a paper, to find more of the writer's views, to better appreciate the plot and structure.

But I did learn a valuable lesson, one that guides me in writing fiction even now. The lesson for me is this: You can only have an experience once. Whatever happens the second time around is going to be different because you're different. You are a different person by virtue of having already read the book once. You can never recreate the original experience, or recover the initial feelings and reactions. You can remember them, but they won't happen again in the same way.

Each novel I write is for me a lived experience, a journey of discovery. At the end, I can edit and improve, but I can never start over and expect it to have the same feeling of discovery. For this reason I try to make my first draft, my first experience with a character and a scene, as full and rich as possible. I can edit, add, cut, improve, but I can only discover once.

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Susan, thanks again for being my guest today.

You can find out more about Susan and her books at her website.


18 comments:

Jacqueline Seewald said...

What inspires us to write a novel or short story initially is important. I do find that rereading certain writers at different times in my life is worth while. Shakespeare, for instance.

Margot Kinberg said...

Pat - Thanks for hosting Susan.

Susan - It's so true that people evolve and change. So it makes perfect sense that their reading experiences would change and evolve too. Sometimes those "second tastes" feel richer; I've had that happen. Sometimes not. Still, it's an interesting way to look at one's own growth.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Sometimes I actually crave certain books I've read before as though they were coated in chocolate. My most recent rereads were Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury and Madeline l'Engle's A Circle of Quiet. And as you say, Susan, each read offers me something different.

Lynn Proctor said...

i have always been a little envious of people that like to reread books--i don't think i ever have, except to be honest my own and children's books--very interesting

Susan Oleksiw said...

Books that I have loved tend to stay with me, and I treasure those experiences. When I reread something for an article (I once read Ngaio Marsh's The Dancing Footman four times in one month), I am usually rewarded with many new and exciting discoveries about how the book is written, author insights, but overall I don't go looking for a book to reread.

Lynn, I understand your position better than Pat's. Our relationship with books is truly unique.

Patricia Stoltey said...

I will admit I wait many years before reading a book a second or third time, and there only a few that call to me. Lately I've been thinking it's time to reread 1984 and Brave New World...

lizy-expat-writer said...

Some books may disappoint second time around, but I have to admit to a failing. I have a shelf of Terry Pratchett books that I read over again about once every two years. Not all at once - perhaps one a month - and each time I find some new touch of genius I have either missed before or (being old) forgotten!

Maggie Toussaint said...

I reread a lot of books. My memory isn't what it used to be, so this rereading works for me on several levels. First, it refreshes my memory of what happens, and I often see stuff I missed on the first time through as I was reading for story. On the second pass I can often notice craft elements. This works best for me if its an instant reread, otherwise I get caught up in the story all over again.

I'm never lonely. Not when I've got books everywhere.

Enjoyed your post! Best of luck with your new Five Star release.

Maggie

Jemi Fraser said...

What an interesting perspective! I don't re-read often any more. As a kid and young adult I did. I think I read Lord of the Rings 6 or 7 times as a teen! Now, there are always so many new books waiting for me, I rarely reread :)

The Golden Eagle said...

I don't tend to reread favorite books, either--but that's more due to having so many new books to read and not enough time. I've never thought about rereading as an experience, however. Very interesting post!

The Golden Eagle said...
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The Golden Eagle said...
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The Golden Eagle said...

(Sorry about that. Blogger's giving me a hard time, for some reason . . .)

Susan Oleksiw said...

After reading all of your comments, I may pick up a book to reread just to see how different I feel about it (if I do). It's always good for me to test my views against a new reality.

My one reservation is the time that will be lost to all the new books I'm adding to my list--I already have far too many books that i want to read. I don't live long enough to read everything I want to read.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Susan, I know exactly what you mean...and I went to a booksigning this evening to buy one book but came away with four.

Thanks so much for being here today and responding to comments. I wish you all kinds of luck with The Wrath of Shiva.

Medeia Sharif said...

Fantastic post. I've done rewrites that had a completely different flavor than the draft, because I was writing months or even a year later, with different feelings and experiences behind me. When I reread books, there's a gap of usually years, and I always have a different feeling of the book or notice different things, because of changes in myself. And you're right, there's only one first time.

loverofwords said...

First, I think that sometimes I am in love with my own writing. I will re-read something I wrote and think--Isn't that good. One book I have re-read is:"The Emperor of Ocean Park," by Stephen L. Carter. I read that he received a 4 million dollar advance for this book. It's an intriguing mystery about the Black upper class, which Mr. Carter calls, "The Darker Nation." Mr. Carter is a law professor at Yale and his story also weaves academia into the mystery.

Susan Oleksiw said...

I hadn't thought much about Maggie's point--that the mind/memory (mine especially) weakens with age and perhaps I wouldn't remember my favorite books if I reread them--they'd all be somewhat new to me. I like that idea, so now I'm ruminating on what I might reread to test out the theory.

Medeia, your experience, which I've also had, is the reason I try to get through a strong first draft as soon as I can--I'm afraid i'll lose the hold of the story and never see it the same way again.

Thank you all for your comments.