22 July 2016

The Thin Man Called

It's rare these days that I reread a story or book simply for the pleasure of it.

I do reread a number of things, I should stress, but almost exclusively because they're texts that I'm teaching in one or another of my classes (though perhaps there's some blurriness here, since I'm obviously assigning books on my syllabi that I enjoy or admire). This past semester, for example, I revisited—and marked up anew—several dozen stories and several novels, including works by classic writers Poe, Conan Doyle, Hammett, Chandler, Goodis, Highsmith and McBain (among many others) and books by contemporary authors Megan Abbott, Tana French, Mark Haddon, Cormac McCarthy, China MiĆ©ville, and Steve Weddle (also among others).

But picking up a book I've already read and rereading it solely for fun? with no syllabi or lesson plans on the horizon? That's a luxury that seems tough to afford, when my TBR piles are towering with books I sometimes feel like I'll never get to enjoy. (It's a common problem for all writers and readers, I'd think, that we acquire books faster than we read them—something hopeful about it maybe.)

Given all that, a recent vacation brought a couple of treats. First, our good friends Barry and Meg Teasley passed along a very nice copy of the 1965 edition of Dashiell Hammett's complete novels, a terrific gift in so many ways. Barry and Meg hosted a baby shower for us nearly five years ago before our son, also named Dashiell, was born, and they'd given the book to my parents more recently, but I only got it myself when visiting over Fourth of July.

The second treat? Spur of the moment, I started reading The Thin Man again—a book I haven't taught and therefore haven't read in a long while. Just a couple of chapters, just to reacquaint myself, right? Then a couple led to a few, and a few led to a few more, and pretty soon I was engrossed again in the characters and the story while other books—new books, unread books, at least one I needed to read for the coming semester—fell at least briefly by the wayside.

It felt like playing hooky.

It felt good.

(And I should point out: I've recently been reading Karen Huston Karydes' provocative new study Hard-Boiled Anxiety: The Freudian Desires of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Ross Macdonald, and Their Detectives, and her analysis about The Thin Man opened up some new perspectives on the book during this rereading—particularly her comments on the "two leveled" nature of the book, where she measured out both its jauntiness and frivolity on the one hand against its undercurrent of sadness, loneliness, and dissipation on the other. Proof that rereading, especially with age and with greater contexts, can reward with enriched insights.) 

What's interesting about all this: While it's rare for me to reread books for fun, there are a number of movies that I've rewatched—and, in fact, several movies that when I've caught them while flipping the channels, I usually settle in to watch the rest of them. I think of Unforgiven, for example, and then a handful of Hitchcock movies—Vertigo, Rear Window, North by Northwest—and then a couple of silly comedies which never fail to please, both classic (Sabrina) and newer (Blast from the Past, Clueless, 10 Things I Hate About You). But books? I'd be hard-pressed on that count.

I'm curious about others here. How often do you reread books? under what circumstances? and which books? And are you—like me—more likely to rewatch films than reread books? If so, why and which ones? 

Surely, with questions like that, I'll be adding even more titles to my TBR list—and my TBW list too, I guess!


  1. Art, you're definitely right about not having time to re-read things. I think it's easier to watch movies over because that can be done in the span of a couple hours, whereas a book takes longer. Also, like you say we'll come across a movie just while sitting down and flipping channels and then get sucked in. At least that's what happens to me. I do re-read books too, but less often. I particularly like re-reading Ross Madonald, but others too.

    And the book by Karen Karydes sounds fascinating. Thanks for turning me onto it.


  2. Thanks for chiming in here, Paul. You're right about the difference in time commitment—and maybe a difference too in how we approach the two media, which you reminded me here, echoing my own comments. While I don't mind hopping into the middle of a movie I've seen before, I'm sometimes less likely to just start a reread in the middle or at some random point--or, admittedly, just to read excepts more randomly, without investing in the full experience.

    Kaydes' book is interesting, yes, but dense as well. Much to learn there, I think--about the authors and the books both. (I'm reviewing for Crimespree, btw.)

  3. If the book I am reading doesn't feel right for bedtime reading, I will often reread old favorites then... Tolkien, LeGuin, Guy Kay, and such. No need to reread the whole book, so the time commitment is minimal. Other than that, there are way to omany new things to be read to do much re-reading. We have a collection of movies that we re-watch when we need a slow evening, stuff like S&S, Love Actually, Shakespeare in Love, and so on.


  4. Thanks, Jim, for this--and for pointing out that you can indeed revisit previous reads without committing to the whole book. (I haven't really done that but might try sometime.)

    And it's interesting that you mention Love Actually, since another friend was chatting about that on FB, also in terms of rewatching it multiple times. I wonder if some movies just generally are more popular for revisiting than others (i.e. it's not just personal favorites, idiosyncratic favorites, but crowd favorites). Hmmm.....

    Hope you're doing well!

  5. I re-read books regularly, both as comfort food and as study materials. Right now I'm rereading "East Lynne" that old Victorian thriller/mystery by Mrs. Henry Wood. The complex plot is a marvel, because there are two heroes and two heroines: but what is good for one of these is often disastrous for another, or for all of them, and nothing is ever good for all four of them. That alone keeps the tension up. Even the eventual solution of the actual mystery - who killed the gamekeeper - turns out to be miserable news for one of them.

  6. East Lynne! What's funny is that the only reason I know about that is that it's referred to in another text that I teach--and for the life of me right now, I can't recall what text it is, only the image of my margin notes about background on the book and its dramatization..... Now I've got to put my thinking cap on again.....

  7. I've been re-reading a few pages at a time in an old book I found when my sister and I cleared out our parents' house. It's a collection of 4 novellas (The Circular Staircase, The Man in Lower Ten, The Case of Jennie Brice, The Confession) by Mary Roberts Rinehart. First read it as a teenager while visiting my grandparents. Though how this former Brooklyn Public Library book came to their farmhouse in the Appalachian mountains will remain a mystery. My late mother was an avid reader. Her legacy to me.

  8. Hi, Karen --
    A couple of years ago (a few really, maybe more than a few) I finally read a Mary Roberts Rinehart book--The Circular Staircase, in fact--and it was a real pleasure. Old-fashioned in many ways (outdated in some of its social attitudes, clearly) but great fun. It was easy to see why she was so popular once.

    Good that both your grandparents and your mother were such great readers! It's a nice legacy to have passed your way. :-)

  9. This year I've bought five books. The only one of the five I didn't buy so that I could re-read it was Windows 10: The Missing Manual. Two are obscure astrology textbooks I used to own, but several years ago I was in a scuffle with somebody & the books disappeared. I was fortunate to find new copies on eBay.

    Also in the scuffle, I lost The Shipping News and The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. I missed both of them so I had to buy them again. I don't like ebooks because I can't read 'em in the bathtub ...

  10. Art, I enjoyed this.

    As for your question, I'm more inclined to watch movies over and over again than to re-read books, I suppose (probably because of the time involved), but for some reason I have found myself rereading several novels lately. (More than several, I guess, since this spring I took it upon myself to re-read all fourteen of Ian Fleming's Bond books, in order--and loved them.) Others, though, include Plum Island (Nelson DeMille), Pillars of the Earth (Ken Follett), Sunset and Sawdust (Joe Lansdale), It (Stephen King), Double Indemnity (James M. Cain), Track of the Cat (Nevada Barr), Appaloosa, (Robert B. Parker), and Magic (William Goldman).

    Like you, I have a TBR stack that's way too tall.

  11. Thanks, Elizabeth and John, for sharing the experiences and the titles here!

    John, I remember you writing about rereading all those Fleming novels, and I'll admit, it sounds like a fun project indeed!

    Sadly, I'll admit that I've only read ONE of the novels that you list beyond that--Double Indemnity--and Elizabeth, I haven't read any of the ones you mention.... More for the TBR pile! ;-)

  12. Eve, I just downloaded "East Lynne" from Gutenberg. I love convoluted crazy thrillers. Thanx for the recommendation. When I said I didn't like ebooks, I just meant I don't have a Kindle device to read in the bathtub, so I read ebooks on the big screen in my office.

  13. Oh, I think Kindles are great - and I still have floor to ceiling bookshelves that are FULL of "real" books.

  14. When I was a little girl, I reread Little Women compulsively--reached the last page, turned back to the first page, and started reading again. I'm afraid to think about how many times I did that. Later, I was nearly that bad with Jane Eyre. I've also reread Barchester Towers and Pride and Prejudice many times--I've read all of Austen's novels several times, but Pride and Prejudice is the one I return to most often, especially when I'm feeling unsettled. With mysteries, I find it hard to stop rereading Dorothy Sayers. More than once, I've started with Gaudy Night, couldn't resist going on to Busman's Honeymoon, and then had to go back to Strong Poison and read the whole romance through from the beginning. As for movies, my husband and I are both addicted to Michael Clayton and Charlie Wilson's War. When there's nothing on, we look at each other and say, "So which will it be--Michael or Charlie?"

  15. Great list there, Bonnie--and interesting your comment "when I'm feeling unsettled." I think that's part of it with some titles--like a return to comfort food.

    I've never seen Charlie Wilson's War, but Michael Clayton is a terrific film and we have it on DVD here as well. Need to rewatch that one sometime soon too!

  16. I seldom reread unless it’s a rare item that truly impressed me, and Hammett falls into that category, more than Chandler, McDonald, and others. Likewise, I almost never rewatch a movie, but I do like rewatching the Man With No Name films.

  17. Thanks, Leigh — and oh, yes those films too. Hard to pass up.

  18. I used to reread the Nero Wolfe novels bu lately I don't have patience or time for much rereading. (Used to especially reread them when I am sick and don't have the brain capacity for new books. But now I rewatch the Nero Wolfe TV series instead.)

    I still reread Thomas Perry's ISLAND, marginally a crime novel, and Russell Hoban's science fiction masterpiece RIDDLEY WALKER.

  19. Thanks for chiming in, Rob--and I can imagine the Nero Wolfe books and TV series both being a draw. Thanks for mentioning the other two books as well! I'll have to look those up--don't know Island at all!


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