Second Time Through

“If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all.”

~Oscar Wilde

As much as I adore Oscar Wilde, I’d modify his quote a little. I’d say there’s no use in owning a book you can’t enjoy reading over and over. There are plenty I’ve checked out from the library and been glad I read but not interested in going back to. But my personal library is full of the books I turn to when I’m in the mood to reunite with particular characters and their story.

This week I’ve been laid low with the kind of head cold that just keeps giving. First came the sinus headache for a few days. Then the cough charged in so hard and fast it made my chest ache. And after two days of that, the nasal congestion pounced.

But, being an eternal optimistic, I like to think that the positive side of a cold is having the excuse to sit around and read, and this weekend I’ve indulged in rereading my favorite series: The Thief, The Queen of Attolia, and The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner, set in fictional kingdoms based on the Mediterranean empires of the middle ages with Greek-sounding names and gods.

These are books I’ve been dying to reread ever since I finished them over a year ago, but I promised myself I would wait until the next one came out. Now the wait is almost over. A Conspiracy of Kings hits shelves this Tuesday! I reserved a copy with my favorite bookstore weeks ago (the soonest they’d let me), and you’d better believe that I’m going to jump in my car and go buy it the second they call to tell me it’s in.

But in the mean time, to keep myself from getting too antsy, I’m revisiting the first three.

Rereading a book is one of my favorite pleasures. Rather than racing through the pages, frantic to know how the plot works out, I get to sit back and enjoy the characters and descriptions, tuned in to every detail.

For example, I’d missed so much of the humor of Eugenides’s voice the first time I read The Thief. Listen to how Turner ends the very first paragraph:

“I reviewed over and over the plans that had seemed so straightforward before I arrived in jail, and I swore to myself and every god I knew that if I got out alive, I would never never never take any risks that were so abysmally stupid again.”

Except, of course, he does, and we love him for his calculated risks — or just for his calculations, period, which make for such fantastic plot twists. And this time around, I got to watch the workings of them, noticing the hints that I’d missed before.

But the real treat, of course, is just being with the characters again and reliving my favorite moments, like this non-spoilery one in The Queen of Attolia:

“Oh, I’ll watch my tongue,” said Eugenides. “I have learned how, and I don’t want the clouds to part and Moira [the messenger goddess] to arrive on a band of sunlight to tell me to shut up, but I wish I knew if we’re at war and people are dying because the gods choose to have it so. Is this the will of the Great Goddess, that Eddis [the kingdom] be destroyed?”

Eddis [the queen] shook her head. “We are Hephestia’s people still. I believe that. Beyond that I don’t know. Nothing I’ve ever learned from a priest makes me think I know just what the gods are or what they can accomplish, but, Gen, I know my decisions are my own responsibility. If I am a pawn of the gods, it is because they know me so well, not because they make up my mind for me.” She remembered the properties of the stone of Hamiathes and said, “We can’t ask the gods to explain themselves, and I, for one, don’t want to.”

And then, because I think each book in the series just gets exponentially better, I hope you’ll forgive me for indulging in one more quote, equally non-spoilery, from The King of Attolia:

“Oh, that,” said the king with a shrug. “That isn’t your honor, Costis. That’s the public perception of your honor. It has nothing to do with anything important, except perhaps for manipulating fools who mistake honor for its bright, shiny trappings. You can always change the perception of fools.”

What do you love about reading books a second time? Which are your favorites to reread? AND WHO’S FREAKING JUMPING OUT OF THEIR SEAT THEY’RE SO EXCITED ABOUT A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS?? *raises both hands, waving them wildly*

Leave a comment!

UPDATE: Somehow I didn’t notice this before, but A Conspiracy of Kings got FOUR starred reviews: School Library Journal, Booklist, Kirkus, and Horn Book. If you know anything about starred reviews, you know that’s a big deal! Hooray for Megan Whalen Turner!

Hooked on Series Worked for Me

harry potterOkay, who else here read possibly every installment of The Babysitters’ Club? I know I can’t be the only one.

What about Sweet Valley High or The Bobbsey Twins or Nancy Drew or The Hardy Boys? And of course there’s Harry Potter or Twilight.

Do you credit any of those as the series that got you reading?

On Saturday a neighborhood friend of mine was telling me how her 15-year-old son is reading The Hunger Games, and I asked how he liked it as a boy reading a book with a girl narrator. She laughed and said, “Trevor’ll read anything. He’s even read Twilight.”

What a cool thing! I told her how I hope my boys grow up to be avid readers like that. After all, girls read boy books, so I’d love it if my boys read everything as well. Then she said, “Well, he wasn’t always that way. For a while we couldn’t find anything he would read. Then he read that Series of Unfortunate Events, and that got him hooked on reading.”

Isn’t that true? I remember learning in one of my literacy courses in college that series really are the thing that boost children from “able to read” to “love to read.” Why? Because once they find a book at their reading level that they love, then they can read three or ten or a hundred of the same book at the same level, which gives them 100% confidence in their reading skills PLUS the thirst for reading.

At some point, whether after 13 books like the Lemony Snicket series or a hundred like Babysitters’ Club or Hardy Boys, the kid gets to the end of that series but still has the “What next?” mentality. And suddenly an avid reader is born.

boy series
104 Hardy Boys and 15 Redwall from my hubby's boyhood

Publisher’s Weekly put out a fascinating report this week called “What Do Teens Want?” about teen reading habits. Some of it is expected, like the fact that 83% of teen readers are influenced by what their friends are reading; some of it isn’t as expected, like how little they actually use Twitter and how 58% of them don’t read author blogs.

But tying back in with this idea of hooked on series, take a look at some of the graphs in the PW article and notice where series rank in the scale of things. Fiction rules overall as what 86% of teens surveyed say they read, but series come in second at 76%! Also, when asked what influences their decisions on what book to buy, 74% say they look for the next book in a series.

misc series
a few series I've read and collected as an adult

I can understand that! I squealed like a tween when my friend/neighbor/mentor Shannon Hale brought home ARCs of Fire by Kristin Cashore and Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins from BEA back in May. My squealing was the direct result of loving the first book in each saga so much that I could hardly wait to stay up all night reading these sequels (and yes, the fact that I got to read them early was dang cool, too).

eugenidesThere’s something about being able to continue with a story and characters you’ve fallen in love with, like reconnecting with lost friends. Maybe it’s a basic human desire. Of course we want to know what happens next!

What about you? Do you still love series? Which ones hooked you on reading as a kid? What sequels are you excitedly waiting for now?

For example, March can’t come fast enough for me. I’m dying to read the fourth book in Megan Whalen Turner’s The Queen’s Thief series because the first three blew me away. (By the way, a Greenwillow editor I met told me there will be six altogether!)

Leave a comment!

Picking the Wrong Guy

 Yesterday my sister and I were casually discussing books, as we often do, and Ashlee brought up The Hunger Games and how killing off Peeta would be too easy a way to deal with the love triangle.

The casualness of our conversation ended there.

I gasped and said, “What? Kill Peeta? Why would she kill off Peeta? No, it’s Gale that has to get out of the way.”

Ashlee gasped, too. “What? How can you be in love with Peeta? It’s got to be Gale! You and I always have the same taste in books! How can you be in love with Peeta?”

And both of us decided right then that we were going to blog about it and create polls and see what everyone else thinks.

Now, admittedly my track record is not perfect. Take my experience reading I Capture the Castle for example. Here’s a chunk of what I wrote in my goodreads review when I read that book a year ago:

I Capture the CastleHalfway through this I wanted to buy it for everyone on my Christmas list. Three-quarters through I wanted to hurl it at the wall. With twenty pages to go I felt very sure there was no possible ending I could be satisfied with. And then, on the very last page, I fell in love [with the book] again. . . . Really, it’s an amazing novel, so honest and fair–fair both to the reader and to the characters. My main trouble was that I fell in love with the wrong guy, which was my own fault.

For me, it brings up an interesting issue of how much we as readers bring to a book. My sister and I are similar in so many ways, especially as English teaching majors (she’s still in college), so it’s weird for us to be opposites on this Gale/Peeta thing. Do we have fundamentally different taste in guys?

Maybe I should have her read I Capture the Castle and see if she picks the guy I did.

But this becomes not only a reading issue but a writing issue. After all, Suzanne Collins is going to have to disappoint half her fan base. Should she have given more clues going along about who we’re “supposed” to love? Does a writer have a responsibility to make that clear? Do I even dare mention the Edward/Jacob controversy, where it seems to me that it is made clear and yet so many fans choose to hope for the out guy?

My current WIP has five teenage guys all the same age, and when Ashlee first read the first 40 pages of the first draft, her first question was, “Who’s Wendy going to end up with?” I’ve worked hard since then to make everything seem, while not cut and dry, sort of inevitable in my novel, so that readers would be satisfied with the ending. But maybe some will still wish that a different guy got with Wendy. 

It’s possible. After all, I do try to make all five of the guys likeable. What’s a writer to do? 

So now I’m curious not only about your vote for Peeta vs Gale but how confident you are in your prediction. Please weigh in below! Maybe even leave a comment about other books you’ve had this trouble with, like my review above.

I’m already feeling a little outnumbered since my writer friend Brodi Ashton blogged a few weeks ago about preferring Gale, too (her rationale is in her comments section).

Any other Peeta supporters out there? How can you not love the guy who paints himself like he’s frosting a cake as a form of self-preservation? And whose self-preservation is entirely for the sake of saving the girl he loves? Just thinking about him makes me want to set my huge to-read stack aside and reread Hunger Games and Catching Fire right now.

Come on, Peeta fans! Show your love!

p.s. if anybody wants to vote on my sister’s poll, too, it’s on her sidebar here