Re-reading - a double edged sword

Posted by Guy Pringle, 12th November 2010

Double-guessing the preferences and interests of newbooks readers for our March 2011 Readers Gathering has enlivened many coffee and tea breaks here at nb HQ. The nb crew are so widely read that the suggestions ranged from the exotic, to the esoteric, through to the extraordinary. But that’s what you need to consider when engaging with such a literate readership.


And if that weren’t enough, I had at the back of my mind Steve Jarvis’s comment on our October 2010 gathering, ‘Guy has given himself a challenge – he knows that he needs to find another blend of books that will appeal not only to his regular nb readers but also to partners who may have a different perspective on book reading.’

So forgive me for playing (slightly) safely in the final choice of novels – the chances of our readership having read most, if not all, of our 9 Book of the Year winners have to be exceedingly high. It may look slightly self-serving including the winner of the 2010 vote yet being coy about its identity thus far. However, the choices we’ve finally alighted upon

A Thousand Splendid Suns Khaled Hosseini (2008)

My Sister’s Keeper Jodi Picoult (2005)

Altered Land Jules Hardy (2003)

 are undoubtedly much-loved and merit a re-reading, something I suspect too many of us do too little of these days.


And therein lurks another worry – will these books be as powerful as they were the first time round? I’ve detected a reader-fatigue about Jodi’s work – the power her books exert means many readers rushed headlong through her work. In fact, her publisher pulled off a masterly promotional coup by releasing her extensive backlist at 6-monthly intervals, deliberately feeding our addiction. And coincidentally pushing her into the front ranks of best-sellerdom inordinately quickly. But there came a point for me – after about four – where enough was enough. I still admire Ms Picoult’s finesse with different viewpoints, each unrolled to makes my previously firmly held beliefs waver and change in sympathy with a character I had previously discounted or even despised. My Sister’s Keeper was my first and remains in my memory as gripping – will it be so second time around?


I must be one of the few people in the Western world who hasn’t read The Kite Runner which will, inevitably, feature when we discuss A Thousand Splendid Suns. However, and again this is anecdotal, there seems to be a growing consensus that his second novel is better than his debut – an achievement many authors would love to claim for their work. I know I enjoyed Suns immensely and, having read it long enough ago to want to read it again without remembering too much of the plot (a personal failing of mine that makes re-reading a whole new discovery!) is a bonus.


The same cannot be said of Altered Land. I am truly scared that this will not be the book I have put on a pedestal for so many other readers. It is only the echo of approval when I mention it at events that reassures me. We shall see – I’m fairly sure this will be last in the queue of my re-reads this time, if only to reduce the potential for disappointment.


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