Contributor Fleetwood Robbins is an editor, writer, and speculative fiction enthusiast.
I am a creature of habit. I like and need a routine. When it comes to meals, I have been known to eat the same dish with only slight variation for weeks, sometimes months in a row before tiring of it. In 2007, I ate a dinner of sausage with sauerkraut and a green salad almost every night of July and August. I remember it was 2007 because it was the last summer I lived in New York. My apartment was above a Mexican restaurant, and prior to my sausage spree I had been eating the same vegetarian burrito on a more or less nightly basis for the past year.
Since moving, I haven’t been quite so gung-ho on any one meal, but a vegetarian burrito still gives me a lot of satisfaction. Similarly, sausage with sauerkraut and a salad endures as go-to dinner when I need something easy. It might seem odd, but I approach books similarly, especially when it comes to a series. If I find myself taken by a particular author, I will devour the supply of available titles before moving on. When I first read Kurt Vonnegut, for example, I went on a binge that lasted seven or eight books. I had a similar experience with Charles Bukowski. But the deepest dive I’ve taken in the past 10 years has to be with A Song of Ice and Fire.
I started reading George R. R. Martin’s books as A Feast for Crows was preparing for release. After it did come out, I was quickly in the neighborhood of 3,200 pages into the story with no end in sight. Alas, I had to wait quite a few years for my next fix. Later, when the release date for A Dance with Dragons was announced, I knew that I would have to reread the series. To my great pleasure, the experience was just as enjoyable on the second read. There were many details I had missed or simply forgotten, and I was able to better appreciate how Martin sets the reader up for some of the more surprising plot developments.
Will I do the same when The Winds of Winter is finally set to release? Maybe. It’s not that I wouldn’t enjoy it—I’m sure I would—it’s just that I would be in for another 4,000 pages, give or take, before I even cracked a novel that is sure to be in the neighborhood of 800 pages. That’s a big commitment.
But it’s not a commitment that would be terribly onerous. I’ve made near lifetime pledges to cereal brands. If you think rereading a book is boring, try reading the same breakfast cereal box day in and day out for 20 years. I’d much rather revisit Martin’s penchant for italics than even one more paragraph on the health benefits of whole grain oats.
Still, I’ve always been prone to nostalgia. With buzz building ever so lightly around Gene Wolfe’s new novel (the headline of a recent review on tor.com reads, “The Land Across is Lonely Planet meets the Necronomicon”), I am reminded how much I enjoyed the Book of the New Sun tetralogy. I actually reread the first two books of the series in the conveniently packaged volume Shadow & Claw over the summer, and would have gladly dived into the second volume, Sword & Citadel, if I hadn’t been obliged to go back to work.
Wolfe’s use of language is masterful and has inspired numerous essays on the allegories contained in this classic, “dying earth” fantasy. There is so much depth to the story and the characters that it almost requires multiple reads. If you haven’t read it, I strongly recommend you do. If you have read it, just know that the well is deeper than you imagined. The Book of the New Sun in its entirety is considered to one of the greatest SF works of all time.
Another series I find myself going back to is one I’ve written about before: the Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss. You may want to keep the two books that have been released in this series in your back pocket until the next one is closer to publication, but there was a report over the summer that New Regency Productions and 20th Century Fox Television optioned the rights to the series. Obviously, this could mean nothing. Books get optioned all the time and nothing happens. But if it’s done well, it could mean a whole new life for Kvothe Kingkiller.
If it happens, you can tell people how you’ve read and reread the books looking for answers to the persistent questions posed by the narration. Rothfuss is a master of the setup. There is little that is wasted in his books. Almost everything is in service to something else down the line. When you read him the first time, it is with a great appreciation of the narrator’s voice. As much as anyone, I fell easily into step with the main character’s grandiloquence.
After I was done, however, I started to question what I read. Because the first-person narrative is cut with brief third-person interludes, there are developments that make one wonder how much to trust what the narrator tells about his life. Rereading doesn’t necessarily get you any closer to the truth of this fiction, but it does reveal some of the incredible work that Rothfuss put into making the story so engaging.
Rothfuss has much to teach an aspiring writer about characterization, plotting, and world building. A closer read really allows a reader to see the building blocks of the story. It’s all right there for the reader to see, even if it does take a couple of reads to truly appreciate it.
I know that everyone has their own favorites—the books they can always go back to. Obviously, these were a few of mine. Now that I’ve reminded myself, it might be high time I went back to that second volume of the Book of the New Sun, but I might have to get some of those nice turkey sausages I’ve been eyeing at the butcher first.
Do you have some other ideas for a rereadable series? Maybe some rereadable cereal boxes? Let me know in the comments.