Saturday, August 22, 2009

Visiting Old Friends - Rereading Favourite Books

This weekend Annie West indulges herself with some old favourites.

A weekend spot on the Pink Heart Society! How luxurious! Time to sit back and savour something special. And what better than the joy of revisiting old friends – old books that is.

Do you have books that date from decades ago somewhere on your shelves or even in boxes stashed away? Are there books you open after years of absence, only to find yourself transported to another time and place? Maybe to the location in the story, or somewhere else: the balmy summer when you first dipped into that particular story, or a holiday where you discovered another title.

For instance, when I think of DH Lawrence’s ‘Sons and Lovers’ I remember travelling through Turkey with a battered paperback, swimming in the warm sea and discovering the delights of rose petal jam on fresh baked bread. Tolkein’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ reminds me of a road trip to South Australia as a kid while ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ and CS Lewis’ ‘Narnia’ series conjure memories of reading aloud to my own children.

I have a treasured book of fairy tales that I’ll never part with, come flood, fire or whatever. Opening a page at random and seeing the familiar pictures I spent hours poring over brings back a flood of memories. They say scents are great for conjuring up the past. I’m sure special books do too. One of my earliest memories is of my dad reading ‘The Wind in the Willows’ to me, a chapter a night at bedtime. That’s another paperback I’ve never misplaced through umpteen moves.

OK, so treasured editions or even the mention of particular books may bring back memories – hopefully good ones. What else do we get from old favourites?

A little while ago I was laid up for a few days due to a nasty virus. At first I had no energy to think about reading. Then, after a while, I managed to pick up something to read - a book of course, magazines and newspapers were too unwieldy! Like a lot of other romance readers and writers I have a to-be-read pile that’s too big to stack in one place. It’s growing faster than the national debt and that’s saying something. Yet, it wasn’t a new title I reached for. Instead I found what I wanted most was a well thumbed title. Something I hadn’t read in years but that I’d enjoyed multiple times before. In short I wanted a comfort read.

In the end I reached for a paperback I bought when I was fourteen (I know because the date was in the front). A reprint of a book that had already been around for years – ‘The Moon Spinners’ by Mary Stewart. Adventure and romance in the wilds of Crete and as familiar in some ways as my own writing. Mary Stewart was one of the authors who introduced me to romance all those years ago. I found the book unlike my current reading. The descriptions of place were long, incredibly detailed and not at all like the pared down place settings in more recent titles. The attitudes of the characters and some of their language highlighted social changes in the years since the book was written. And yet it was a darned good read. I lapped up every page and thoroughly enjoyed picking it up whenever I had the energy.

Over the years other old faves had played a major part in my life. There are books I revisit every few years, when suddenly it seems like I haven’t read that author in ages. Georgette Heyer’s editions fit that category. There’s nothing like entering her witty, regency world to buck you up, especially when you barely remember what happens in a story you haven’t read in half a lifetime. Alternatively, revisiting a well-remembered old friend like ‘The Unknown Ajax’ is a different sort of indulgence. I get to appreciate Hugo’s dry wit, despair of his relations and savour the burgeoning romance all over again, even though in places I know almost exactly how the dialogue goes.

‘Pride and Prejudice’ is on the list of books that I don’t tire of. Every couple of years I seem to go through a Dickens phase too, where I need another dose of intricately plotted Victorian fiction. And Dorothy L Sayers – dipping into a Lord Peter Wimsey novel is such a treat.

It’s interesting that though of course I’d read any edition of an old fave, there’s something satisfying about delving into an old copy that’s grown familiar over the years. When I reread ‘The Lord of the Rings’ it’s not a neat hard copy but the battered old massive paperback that surely is in danger of a broken spine.

Right now I have an urge to pick up something by Jane Aiken Hodge. Maybe ‘The Last Act’ because I’ve discovered a soft spot for a Ruritanian style kingdom with a dash of danger. Or perhaps something by Victoria Holt. I haven’t read any of her books for years but I still have some of them, tucked away on a double-stacked bookshelf.

Revisiting beloved old stories is a tonic. It’s rejuvenating and comforting. I don’t think I do it often enough and certainly in these last few years since I became a published author, the gaps between rereads are growing longer and longer. But I suspect revisiting these old friends is part of that process of ‘refilling the well’ that so many writers talk about. There’s something affirming about a well-told, well-loved story. I’m thinking about picking up one of my pre-loved books this weekend and whiling away a few hours when I should be doing something else.

And the good news? With so many terrific new books out there I’m discovering new books that I know I’ll dip into again and again.

Do you have favourite books that you revisit? What are they and what do you get out of reading them? What would be on your to-be-reread list?

Despite talking about books from her past, Annie is thrilled to say she has two releases out this very month. THE SAVAKIS MISTRESS is on sale now in the UK and in September in Australia and New Zealand. PURCHASED FOR PASSION is also an August UK release. Continuing the theme of old faves, this is a ‘By Request’ edition reprinting Annie’s first Harlequin book: A MISTRESS FOR THE TAKING, with stories by Emma Darcy and Julia James. Feel free to visit Annie's website to read excerpts or enter her current book contest. Better yet, pick up one of her current releases. Maybe one day it’ll be on your to-be-reread list!


  1. Oh Moonspinners. I loved Mary Stewart when I was in high school.

  2. Michelle,

    Wasn't that one fun? I still remember the thrill of that one on a rainy afternoon in the school library. Mary Stewart did such vivid stories


  3. Annie, Mary Stewart was my staple reading at one stage in my early teenage years. Still remember how magical all those amazing settings were for a girl who had never been anywhere. Austria for Airs Above the Ground and the South of France for Madam, Will You Talk? and Greece for My Brother Michael, which was the first book of hers I ever read. About the same stage, I got hooked on Victoria Holt. Actually it was the settings there that really got me in too - all those brooding mansions on Cornish cliffs. They certainly still inform my writing as one turned up in Captive of Sin (although it's probably more Manderley than VH). I re-read Pride and Prejudice every year or so and Jane Eyre. I used to re-read Wuthering Heights. Should drag it out again. A book that's a perfect comfort read for me is A Countess Below Stairs by Eva Ibbotson. That book's magic never fails me!

    Lovely post!

  4. I can't believe your here today with this lovely post. Aren't you exhausted from both conferences?

  5. A bit late to the party but I have just finished re-reading some Dorothy L Sayers books. The Vane-Wimsey ones, they are my comfort reading along with Georgette Heyer.


  6. This post means I shall be upstairs later excavating amongst the paperbacks I have moved from house to house for years. Sadly the Victoria Holts have not survived but Georgette Heyer and Mary Stuart are there. Jane Aiken Hodge too. Nevil Shute too. All quite tatty now!

  7. Ooh, lovely to see you all here. I'm sorry I wasn't able to comment sooner. I was away in NZ when the post came up. Managed to snaffle a computer for a moment for one post then no more. Ran out of time and money for the connection and then was on the conference merry go round.

    Biddy, I love Dorothy L Sayers. Great books! Isobel, hope you enjoy excavating. I've dug up some beauties lately from my own collection. Anna, snap! I think we grew up on some of the same books. Maybe that explains part of the connection between us?