Monday, September 03, 2012

Revisiting the Read

I have never been one to reread books. I know I’m not alone on this, but as much as there have been books I have absolutely loved, I have only very rarely been tempted to revisit them. This is a bit odd, in  a way; after all, I have no trouble seeing movies over and over again, and I can watch episodes of TV shows I like until I can repeat lines from them verbatim. (Anything from early Aaron Sorkin falls into this category—Sports Night and the first four seasons of The West Wing. Studio 60...not so much. And I have not seen The Newsroom.) Anyway, I suppose it has to do with the fact that there is not much of a time or energy commitment to rewatch a movie or TV show. But a book...
That all said, last year I revisited some favorite books for the first time ever. Just prior to the release of Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84, I reread some of his early books—Hear the Wind SingPinball 1973A Wild Sheep Chase, Dance Dance Dance, and, my favorite, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. And I really enjoyed them again, as I had forgotten over the years a lot of the plot and other details (1997–1999 was my prime Murakami phase). 
Last May, before and after Towel Day, I revisited Douglas Adams five Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and two Dirk Gently books and, again, there was much that I had missed and thus rediscovered.
In my own perverse, OCD-esque way, I like going through an author’s works chronologically, much like I enjoy listening to a band’s albums chronologically, as it is interesting to see how they develop, how certain recurring themes and tropes are introduced, and so forth. So, in whatever meager spare time I have (and travel is good for this, actually—although you can tell by the telltale curl and downright mangling of the pages at what point in a book the plane I was on hit turbulence...) I have been revisiting two old favorite authors—and who could not be more dissimilar.
First off, when I was in Florida a couple of weeks ago, I was watching The Daily Show, and the guest was some guy from those vampire movies (no idea what his name is and I have not seen any of those movies) who happens to be starring in an adaptation of Don DeLillo’s 2003 novel Cosmopolis. At the instigation of Steven H. back in 1989, I became a very big admirer of DeLillo, starting with his classic White Noise, which I fell in love with (and subsequently loaned to someone I worked with at St. Martin’s Press in 1990 who then vanished with it...grrr...). Being the completist I am, I delved into his back bibliography and although few of his earlier books were anywhere as good as White Noise (there is a scene on an airplane where the captain comes over the intercom and screams “We’re a silver gleaming death machine!” I can’t imagine why that scene has always stayed with me...) I recall reading DeLillo’s bestseller Libra (a fictionalized account of the life of Lee Harvey Oswald) while I was living with my grandmother in Brooklyn in 1990, when I had first moved to New York City and had not yet found a job. I was less than impressed with it, compared to his past work. I kept up with him, and especially loved his 1997 magnum opus Underworld, which was utterly brilliant. 
I sort of lost track of DeLillo after that, and didn’t read a new book of his until Falling Man in 2008, which was his 9/11 book which I really did not like all that much.
So, before I read and then see Cosmopolis, I am working my way through his bibliography. I have already made it through Americana, End Zone, and Great Jones Street—the first two I recall having read way back when, but the latter I have no recollection of at all, probably for good reason, as upon reread I did not care for it all that much. (I also actively hated Americana, both the first time through  and again on rereading, but still liked End Zone a lot. More specific comments in a later post.) 
As for the second author...OK. This should be interesting. Also whilst I was in Florida, I began (and very quickly finished) Stephen King’s latest 11/22/63, which I thought at first was the tritest idea in the world (a guy goes back in time to try to stop the Kennedy assassination...gee, Steve, could you be less imaginative?) but it turned out the book was not really about that at all, and it ended up being perhaps one of King’s best and certainly most touching books. It had one of the best endings he’s ever written. That’s probably not saying much, but it was very good. 
So I happened to come across a blog at the Guardian, begun in May 2012, in which the blogger is reading all of King’s books in chronological order. I kind of started this a couple of years ago, buying Carrie as an ebook (which my iPad subsequently ate and Barnes & Noble won’t let me redownload, and, it turns out, ebooks are now the exact same price as paperbacks, which makes zero sense, so what’s the point? So as far as I am concerned, f— er, forget about ebooks. I’ll stick to print, thank you very much.
I remember first reading Stephen King back when he had only four books out. In 1979, there was a TV movie version of ’Salem’s Lot starring David Soul and James Mason (now they would have made a great Starsky & Hutch), which enthralled me, and I subsequently sought out the book in Bradlee’s book department (when I was a kid, the town I grew up in did not have a bookstore, which says so much about that town). In fact, I still have the $2.50 paperback! Man, people must have had better eyesight back then. I read King faithfully from that point and I think stopped around 1985 when bookstores started selling his titles by the pound. I’ve read a few over the years, and I thought it would be interesting to try to read along with the Guardian guy. I have finished Carrie, ’Salem’s Lot, and Night Shift (spoiler alert: a short story about a demonically possessed laundry machine is just as goofy now as I thought it was when I was 13) about to plunge into The Stand (again, my original $2.50 paperback set in agate type). Again, I’ll post specific comments at a later date. Assuming I have any eyesight left. 

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