Ask a Wench

Christina here with this month’s ASK A WENCH and today the question we are answering is:-

“Do you reread books you enjoyed 20 years ago or do you prefer to just let them be a happy memory in case they’ve dated badly?”

Pat:  I don’t re-read anything much. My TBR stack is toppling as is. But sometimes, I need a comfort read before bed, preferably in paper. Unfortunately, I had to leave all my romance Keepers behind when I moved. At the time, I tried to dive into the shelves and look for favorites to bring with me, but many of them were dated and didn’t suck me in as they once had. I think that’s more a problem of having read way too many similar books for years afterward, as publishers tend to produce books similar to the original bestsellers until the imitations quit selling. Kind of wears out the originality and the reason for re-reading.

But because my husband and I both read Terry Pratchett, and he won’t give up anything, we have the entire collection of Pratchett books. When we first bought them, I read in order of purchase, well after the Disc World series had started. This past year, I started with the first in the series, and I’ve been working my way through the entire collection in order. They definitely stand up to the test of time, because of their originality. No one can write humor or create worlds like Pratchett. I’m not sure what I’ll do when those run out!

Anne:  I do reread books I first read 20 years ago. Some have indeed dated badly, and I’m always interested in how that works. Some dated elements don’t bother me at all — things like people using only land-line phones or having to find a working phone box. I just see that as history.

What does make me cringe are the books that are quite sexist, where the hero is an alpha-jerk, and delivers “punishing kisses” and decides what’s best for the heroine — in other words he’s a bully. And I have always loathed the “forced seduction” kind of story. I cringed at that kind of thing twenty years ago, too. Luckily I don’t have many of those on my “Keeper shelf”. There are lots of older books by authors who never went down that road and they are as enjoyable now as they were then.

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I recently reread several of my old books — the Devil Riders series — because I’m working on another book in the series and needed to refresh my memory of all kinds of small details. I have to admit I approached them with caution and a good spoonful of dread. I never reread my books once they’ve been published because I know I’ll always find things I want to change. But reading that series this time around didn’t make me cringe (phew).

So for me it’s attitudes that date a book badly, not historical details. And it’s surprising when I come across some of the more blatant examples and reflect that this was regarded as okay behavior — even sexy and desirable behavior — only twenty years ago. And that’s a change I’m happy to see. And when I did a search for “Vintage romance covers” I realized that even the books of twenty years ago were an improvement on those that came before them. (You can see some of those vintage covers here!)

Mary Jo:  I’m still rereading my favorite books from 20 or so years ago because a good voice and good storytelling skills can make rereading enjoyable even though I know what will happen. (That’s why I think of them as comfort reads!). Invariably I’ll find and enjoy some word choices or character nuances that I didn’t properly appreciate in earlier rereads.

But there have been plenty of books I’ve left behind, usually because I didn’t love them that much the first time around. One category of books that eventually fall by the wayside is long running series, particularly mystery series. They are usually built around continuing characters with collections of tics and mannerisms that eventually get old. Part of the problem is that there’s usually some backstory to the main character that gets sketched in at the beginning of the book. Over and over and OVER! Some writers do this better than others, but even when it’s done well, it gets old.

As to mystery authors who kill off a protagonist’s significant other just to increase the torment level and eventually introduce a new significant other: NO! Just No! It helps fill the pages but no matter; such authors and series are as dead to me as the unfortunate significant other: I will not read that series or author again. EVER!

An advantage of reading romance is that even when a story is part of a series, there’s almost always a new pair of lovers even if earlier characters make occasional appearances. I find this much more interesting: new characters, new neuroses, new way to find happy endings!

Nicola:  This is such an interesting question and for me the answer is that I do both! There are some books that I loved when I was a child (which is more than 20 years ago!) but when I tried to re-read them, they felt very dated and disappointed me. The Hill of the Red Fox was one of those, perhaps because it was written in 1955 and so was already twenty years old when I read it. It’s an adventure thriller that has some language and attitudes that make me cringe now.

Generally, though, the old books on my keeper shelves are historical novels so perhaps they don’t date in the same way. I still love and re-read Mist Over Pendle, by Robert Neill, about the Lancashire witch trials, which was originally published in 1951 and feels as fresh as when I first read it. And I love my Alice Chetwynd Ley Regencies, which don’t feel particularly dated either. It’s wonderful to have a selection of books I can dip into that provide that continuity through a life of reading.

I hesitate to say it as she is such an icon, but some of the Mary Stewart romantic thrillers definitely have attitudes and behaviour that pull me up short today, but that’s mainly the way that smoking is depicted as such a natural, social thing to do. It’s an interesting insight into how times change!  I suppose those novels that were contemporary forty years ago are historical now!

Andrea:  I don’t do a lot of re-reading of books from 20 years ago. My TBR is so full of things that have been highly recommended by friends (including many from our monthly What We Are Reading post, where you all chime in with suggestions) that when I finish a book, I try to jump into another one I haven’t yet read. That said, I do have some oldies but goodies that I go back to from time to time, usually when I’m feeling stressed and just need a tried-and-true comfort read. The epitome of that is Pride & Prejudice, which I have probably re-read a gazillion times — and yet it still leaves me in awe at Austen’s sly wit and keen understanding of human nature. (Honestly, the first sentence is one of the great opening lines in English Literature!). The characters and the plot never feel old or dated. And on coming to The End, I always close the covers with a smile. (Making the experience extra nice is the fact that I have a complete edition of Jane Austen’s works from the early 1900’s. Holding a lovely old book with fine paper and frontispiece illustration is an added treat.)

Susan:  I’ve been a re-reader since I was a kid. If I loved a book, I’d read it again, sometimes immediately, and again later. I dogeared book pages with all that reading and re-reading, including favorites like Beverley Cleary’s Ellen Tebbits (I was Ellen!), Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking, and others. In high school, somehow I plowed through Gone with the Wind five times. And I read everything by Mary Stewart I could get my hands on, then ran through them again.

Looking back, I realize there was method in all that reading madness — I was learning and absorbing good storytelling and writing skills through repetition! I still reread Mary Stewart — her books are comfort reads that I’ll grab off the shelf if I need a cozy book friend and a warm, beautiful, skilled voice on the page. These days I don’t have the reading time that I used to, but when I discover a new book I love, I’ll hang on to it in hopes of revisiting. Sometimes I’ll read a book and later listen to the audiobook too. I’ve dual-read Alan Bradley’s outstanding mystery series featuring genius child-sleuth Flavia de Luce; the books are brilliant and the audiobooks are delightfully narrated by Jayne Entwistle (I hear now there’s a film in the works!). The books I’m drawn to reread have qualities that inspire me to be a better writer and remind me of the joy in writing and in reading.

Christina:  The only vintage books I reread with any frequency are Georgette Heyer’s – they haven’t dated at all and for me the humour in them is what always shines through. They lift me up and I leave her world smiling – definite comfort reads! Others I might consider rereading are the Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael series and the historicals written by M M Kaye. As for the rest – no. I do still have a lot of romance books from the 1980s on my shelves that I have kept for nostalgic reasons (and because I’m a bit of a hoarder), but I am reluctant to reread them because as Anne said, some of the heroes were jerks. I would rather remember them hazily than be disappointed, but maybe one day I’ll try one again, who knows?

What about you – do you reread old books or do you leave them on your shelf and just remember them fondly?

 

41 thoughts on “Ask a Wench”

  1. Mist over Pendle was published in the US as The Elegant Witch and it’s on my keeper shelf. Now I’m going to have to read it again. I reread favorite authors more than I sample new ones these days, and the audiobooks I listen to while driving are always older books I’ve already read in print format–why waste all that time unless it is a book I know I like? Since I have a terrible memory for plots (even my own) onlya couple of years need to pass between reads. Right now I’m working my way through Nora’s In Death series (why, yes, there are 60 of them so far) for the third time on the earlier books, and alternating those with a few older romantic suspense novels by Linda Howard. Just lately I’ve been thinking about rereading a couple of favorite historical romance series, ones I’ve already read multiple times by Mary Jo and by Jo Beverley. One of these days, when there are no other distractions, I’ll reread Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond books, but I’ll have to buy e-copies. The print in the paperbacks on my keeper shelf is tiny!

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    • Kathy, I also listen to familiar audiobooks in the car so I don’t end up parked in the garage breathlessly waiting to hear what happens next! And I hear you about the print size in those original Lymond books. I can still read the print if necessary, but an e-reader with an adjustable print size is just so much easier. (Thanks for saying that you still enjoy my books!)

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  2. Both those titles are great, Kathy Lynn – can’t decide which one sounds best! And 60 books in a series? Yikes! Listening to old favourites while driving sounds like a good idea though. I should really do that too!

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  3. I am trying not to reread, but I have a closet full of boxes of mint regencies from decades ago that I feel I ought to go through. They aren’t exactly rereads because though I read them before I don’t remember a thing about most of them (I acquired them before I started using a database program to track regencies and so I have no notes on them.) I have concluded that, to me, the books from the 1970s-early 2000s were much more substantial – better written, not speeded up or dumbed down and not too modern sounding in language or attitudes.

    As to books I consciously reread (that is, I remember them from before), I can pick up a Jane Austen or a Georgette Heyer regency or The Lord of the Rings at any point and happily sink into them. Most new books go to the swap club as soon as I’m done with them; I’m running out of space and time so I don’t collect as I once did.

    There are a few older authors that I used to reread that I now avoid. A few regency authors I won’t name – and to my surprise, Dorothy Sayers. I loved the Lord Peter books back in the day, especially the Harriet Vane sequence, but now I find that Lord Peter is getting on my nerves with his sheer perfection (in 1930s terms). Harriet is still real to me, but not Peter. I still like the language though.

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    • I’m like you Janice – can’t remember some of those earlier books so could probably reread them. Not enough time though!

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  4. I love my comfort reads. They are like old friends I can turn to when I need them. A lot of them are ones that make me laugh. Laughing makes me feel good. Barbara Metzger and Joan Smith’s book are at least 20 years old although My copies aren’t that old. I also have one of Erma Bombeck’s books that I flip open every now and then.

    I also love rereading Mary Balogh’s Bedwyn series – not for laughs – just for sighs.

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    • Humour is so important isn’t it Mary! That’s why I love the Heyer books so much – never fail to cheer me up.

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      • I am a Georgette Heyer rereader as well. Comfort read of the highest order. Mary Balogh is another reread for me. Another point about rereads is that I have changed (aged 🙁 ) and so see different sides to the stories

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        • That’s very true, Alice! And like Mary Jo said, we probably discover new things, little details, that we might have missed the first time round.

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  5. I do have my rereads. Some of them are from my childhood and were my friends and got me through tough days. I also have some Signet Regency books which I love. But for sheer comfort reads it’s Georgette Heyer all the way! I adore her books. I read one of hers a month with the GH group on GoodReads but also read them throughout the year.
    On the complete opposite scale I love time travel and have a few real favourites. Jack Finney had some fantastic stories and they’re definite rereads.
    This was a fab post!

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    • Thank you Teresa, glad you enjoyed it! And I’m glad you too find comfort in Heyer’s stories. They really are fabulous aren’t they!

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  6. This was a fun question (do we know who asked it?), and I enjoyed reading all the responses. What is a tad sobering is to realize that I’ve been reading romances for nearly. half a century. I can say that I have no desire to re-read any of the hundred or so Barbara Cartland romances I once owned and loved. However, I’d happily re-read some books I’ve had since the eighties by Nora Roberts, Jayne Ann Krentz, Elizabeth Lowell, and LaVyrle Spencer amongst others. As you may have noticed from the monthly reading threads, I am an avid re-reader of favorite books. I am happy to have an abundance of old favorites but am also happy to read new books as they have the potential to be new favorites.

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    • It was me who asked Kareni 😀 (Although perhaps someone else had asked this question before?). And I’m with you on the Barbara Cartlands! Although I occasionally watch the DVD’s of the film adaptations they did of some of her books – also very dated but still fun.
      I find that there are so many new books now (compared with when I first started reading romance) that it’s hard to keep up and find time for rereads. Sometimes I really need it though so I make time!

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      • It was definitely an inspired question, Christina.
        “…there are so many new books now (compared with when I first started reading romance) that it’s hard to keep up….” This is so true! And it’s true in genres other than romance as well. We are blessed – and inundated – with choices.

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        • Thanks Kareni! Yes it’s definitely a blessing! I used to never find enough romance books so I’m glad we have so much choice now!

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  7. I might not reread all my books from 20 years or more ago, but I usually reread most of my books at least three times. I don’t remember which books are old ones.
    I do have books going back to the 1990s like the Heyer’s as well as many others of all sorts.

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  8. Yes, I do re-read, Many of my re-reads are Wench favorites…Heyer, Austen, Stewart, Ellis Peters, and the incomparable Terry Pratchett. Also included are Lois McMaster Bujold and Patricia Briggs. Since I own the complete titles of all these, I can re-read whenever the mood strikes!
    I’m also in the process of weeding out a goodly number of my romance and paranormal title for the library’s booksale. It was a wrench to the system, but I’m rapidly running out of room and positively do not have space for additional bookcases. AND my TBR pile(s) has expanded into eight fabric storage boxes: some of these titles may end up as keepers as well! unfortunately, at my age time is a consideration.

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  9. Definitely do rereading. I go in spells and have favorite books that I might reread every month. (individual books) or several times a year. I’ve never worn out a book but I have a niece that reads Venetia 2 to 3 times a month and she has worn out multiple copies over the years. I always keep my eye out to buy a new one for her.

    Indeed I have a space problem so have weeded some authors out over the years to make more room. Last week I removed 15 books since I hadn’t even touched them in 5 or 6 years. And I keep finding keepers or favorite authors write new books and they have to go on the shelf as well.

    I reread for 3 reasons….One because I’m too tired, too whatever to actually read a new book and enjoy it. or Two, I got to thinking about it for whatever reason and the more I don’t go read it, the more I NEED/WANT to read it. Or Three, I just LOVE that world and want to spend another extended visit in it.

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    • Those sound like great reasons for a reread Vicki! And I guess we all have our favourite Heyer book – for me it’s Cotillion. I might need to buy a new copy of that soon!

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  10. Rereading is kind of a weird concept since we all probably have huge TBR piles. I think I read again because it feels like a new book. That happens a lot with Mary Stewart. I think it was Anne who mentioned the forced seduction storyline- my god – I hate that. I threw those books away. I wish I had time to read new & reread. Lol.

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    • Finding the time is always a problem but sometimes we just have to reread anyway. Yes I agree about the forced seduction plots!

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  11. Like so many of you , i re read for comfort and nostalgia or because i am not sure what i am in the mood to read next and the familiar works, 😊 like seeing an old friend. They make me laugh and sigh(particularly Heyer) Among those are definitely Heyer,Austen, Orczy and Sabatini and the older regency novels of the 1980’s. They take me into a different world away from the cares of today, when good triumphed and the guy got the girl and heavy psycho drama didn’t exist yet. I was never a fan of the “bodice rippers”either. Or any gratutitous sex for that matter. Some of the newer regencies recently are showing a lighter tone which i am happy to see and may become future
    re reads!

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    • It is definitely nostalgia, isn’t it Jane – I am always a bit scared of trying some of the old ones again in case I have a rosy view of them which will be spoiled by a reread. Thank goodness we have authors like Heyer who will never let us down!

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  12. I’m a keen rereader. During a long lockdown, I reread all of Austen. I do P & P and Persuasion (my favourites) regularly.

    Like a lot of others here, I’m a Heyer rereader. It started as a pandemic comfort thing, when I returned to them for probably the first time since my teens. A few of them have aged less well than others, but the world-building, casts of characters, & dialogue are always a joy.

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    • I have never reread Austen for some reason but I probably should! I usually take the lazy way out and watch the TV or film adaptations instead. Love both P & P and Persuasion, but also Sense & Sensibility.

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  13. A series i reread every so often are the Williamsburg novels by Elswyth Thane(my niece adores them too and rereads them) It takes two families from the American Colonial Era up to the mid 1940’s. They are well written, tell good stories about relationships and people they never fail to satisfy and i finish them with a sigh every single time! And while they were written in the 1940’s and ’50’s they have still are still a delight and a treasure.
    Another author i reread is Patricia Veryan whose books never wear out their welcome,. Well written, wonderful characters, stories. Closest to Heyer i have ever read! I have both hardcover and papberback copies. I have a “reread” bookcase with many of my favorite authors so ican indulge myself whenever i wish!

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    • Thank you for the recommendations, Jane, I’ve never tried Elswyth Thane but I’m pretty sure I’ve read some of Patricia Veryan’s stories.

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    • I read the Elwyth Thane books in high school (class of “61) and loved them. Looking back, they were probably my introduction to romance novels. There was, however, a detour to mysteries. Now it is mostly regencies. I have read the Rockcliffe novels by Stella Riley at least twice and probably will again.

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      • Oh yes, i second the re reads on Stella Riley’s novels. They are wonderful and well written. I love the characters and minor characters show up as major characters in her next book. Such fun! They are all good friends and have each other,s backs! Once you read one, it’s like potatoe chips..you can’t read just one…she leaves you wanting more!

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  14. I have a section in my bookcase that are just my rereads some of which are held together by elastic bands! My favourites are The Franchise Affair (Josephine Tey), The Blue Castle (Lucy Maud Montgomery), The Harper Hall trilogy (Dragon rider’s of Pern – Anne Mcaffrey), Naked in Death (intro to Roarke! Nora Roberts 1st Death book), Getting Rid of Bradley (Jennifer Crusie’s VERY early Harlequin -so funny!), Flavia books ( Alan Bradley), The Chrysalids (John Wyndham ), The Man Who Heard Too Much (Stockton Woods), Tea With a Black Dragon (RA MacAvoy), and Ring of Fear plus Restoree (both early McAffrey). There’s more but fingers getting tired! Love visiting my old friends as much as I love finding new ones.

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  15. In spite of my huge TBR list, sometimes I get the urge to reread an old favorite. I have a box of “keepers” in my closet, including books by Jo Beverly, Mary Jo Putney, Mary Balogh, Joanna Bourne, Anne Gracie and Georgette Heyer. So lots of Wench books in there!

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  16. Mary Jo said: “As to mystery authors who kill off a protagonist’s significant other just to increase the torment level and eventually introduce a new significant other: NO! Just No! It helps fill the pages but no matter; such authors and series are as dead to me as the unfortunate significant other: I will not read that series or author again. EVER!”

    I’m with you, Mary Jo. I *hate* that! They do it all the time on TV. The author has led me to make an investment of care in a character (introduced as the Love of the Lead Character’s Life) who is summarily knocked off to leave the survivor open for another romance next week (making the hero or heroine look as shallow as a puddle of rain). I remember the first time I saw Peter Capaldi as the Doctor and Danny Pink, who was Clara’s boyfriend and died a heroic, if convenient, death as a Cyberman – I threw something at the screen; I knew he was toast. I think I liked him more than Clara did and certainly more than the author did 🙂 I don’t like the idea of characters as shallow and disposable. Happily that’s one cliche we don’t see in romance too much.

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    • I totally agree with this as well – once the reader is invested in a character, we definitely don’t want them killed off! That’s feels like we’ve been cheated somehow.

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  17. I’ve been a rereader since childhood. To me not rereading is not like visiting old friends when you have the chance. Why wouldn’t you? I think I’ve said here before that three generations of my family (my mum, sisters and daughter) have often read the same series and might discuss what has happened in the latest series as if they are the people in the next street, so of course we revisit. I used to reread all the Heyers every decaded at least. I could probably recite parts still. Mary Jo’s books, Jo Beverley, Mary Balogh, Nora Roberts, Tolkien, Pratchett, McCaffery and others would also come out at least once a decade. I have rebought them all (you’re welcome) on ebook so I can continue to have them around. The rest of the Wenches only arrived in my life when I found this blog but I know that many of those stories will become friends in the future too. Comfort reading is so right. I’ve been a carer for my husband for two decades and sometimes, avid reader as I am, I need the familiar around me and to go somewhere safe. I often wonder if you all know that you are providing therapy. My eTBR is in the hundreds but when times are tough and sad, I know who and what I want. Interestingly, my mother did too. As she came to the end of her life, Regency novels by authors she knew and loved were all she was interested in. They were a great comfort to her and she loved being able to visit her friends there when she could not visit her friends and family here any more. I’m always grateful to you all for your writing and what you bring to the lives of me and mine. So thank you Christina, for asking a great question and giving me the opportunity to express my appreciation.

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    • Your wonderful words are the reasons many of us keep writing, no matter what obstacles we face. We know there are legions of readers like you, so you are in excellent company. I like to think of our books as warm hugs to all of you. Thank you so much for making my day.

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