Jo Walton, Kate Nepveu (m), Naomi Libiki, Anne Wynn, Ron Drummond
“There is a school of thought that re-reading is a juvenile habit, something children demand as a way to gain comfort. Yet most fans re-read. All critics do. What is it we gain from re-reading, do some texts bear more re-reading than others? And does this notion of comfort reading have any validity?”
Kate mentions she used to re-read most frequently right after finishing a book, just to reconfirm what she read and analyze it.
Jo says she almost never does that, that she almost always re-reads after a significant gap, motivated by missing the characters.
Libiki re-reads especially for the sensory nostalgia of the experience.
Anne is a comfort re-reader, but also re-reads for additional understanding of complex works, and because of missing the characters
Ron re-reads because he feels all good novels are bottomless, that they can be appreciated no matter how many times you re-read it.
Anne brings up that you can't step into the same river twice, that the ever-changing self makes it really impossible to re-read, because the you that read that book the first time is no longer present.
Kate says the nostalgic effect is actually a reminder of the changes in herself since the first time she read it.
Naomi says that that's not so much of something she experiences.
Jo says that sometimes she re-reads because someone suggests a radical re-interpretation of the text.
An audience member says that she re-reads often because there's a subconscious desire to deal with something in their life at that time that a book is relevant to.
Another says she re-reads parts of a book specifically to refamiliarize herself with a specific passage. Jo says she never does that. That that cheapens the journey of a book.
Another says he has a poor memory, and that certain passages will have meaning at different times of his life.
Another mentions re-reading for refreshers on multi-book series. Kate obviously has some input on that.
Naomi brings up re-reading as taking up the time you could otherwise be reading new books.
Which brings up a brief discussion about how it's become an assumption that there will always be another new book there for you to read.
Ron brings up pre-Gutenberg society, where most literate people would not have access to more than a few books, and would devote their lives to re-reading.
Jo says that there are people studying whether people would have read certain books based on which monastery they lived in. She says that Tolkien's letters seem to imply that you can only read a book once, which seems utterly bizarre.
Jo feels that the first re-read is “the completion of reading.” That she reads knowing she's likely to read it again, and writes knowing that people are likely to re-read it.
Foucault said “He who does not re-read is doomed to read the same thing everywhere,” per Ron, who goes on to say that when you read a new work, all you can compare it to is what you've read before, and only on re-reading can you evaluate and appreciate what is new and really original in it.
On re-reading books they don't like, Kate says sometimes she'll re-read an unliked book before reviewing just to be sure she's given it a fair shake. Jo says she'll re-read an unliked book because other books by that author worked and she can expect it to work for her if given another go. She also observes that sometimes you may dislike a book because it disturbs you, which may contain insight that you perceive on re-reading.
In response to a question, Jo observes that you can read a book that is too intensely affective because plot pulls you through, but on re-reading, that affective burden may be too much to bear without the jeopardy of the plot to propel you.
Kate segues from anti-comfort re-reading to comfort re-reading, passes to Ron who says that comfort re-reads in genre may be motivated by that desire to satisfy genre expectation buttons in a known way.
Anne says that most of her comfort books are favorites from childhood. Says she's developing comfort authors, Jo being a major example. Some amusement ensues.
Ron recommends “Engine of Summer” by John Crowley. And Greer Gillman, who cowered in the front row.
Naomi says that she sometimes experiences anti-nostalgia, cites Witch Week by DWJ, cites the rape attempt in Mirror Dance as something she can't reread
Jo mentions that she hates people who object to comfort reading, because what the devil is wrong with being comforted? Jo says that she keeps individual books by dead authors on a dedicated shelf and doesn't read them. Decided recently that they're there for the occasion of her long decline into death.
Kate says that she sometimes re-reads very complex things just because that scratches a particular itch.
I asked about authors re-reading their own works. Jo says she understands why they might not because the act of completing a book can be such a traumatic experience. Greer speaks up on this later saying she's never been able to re-read certain of her books because the nostalgia of how difficult a time in her life it was.
Audience member likes re-reading works with little moral ambiguity.
Another audience member asks about “generational re-reading” based on your children reading things that meant a lot to you. Kate says they're already planning strategies on this for Steelykid, Jo says that that it has definitely occurred in her household.
Greer says she mostly re-reads to hear a particular author's voice again.
Kate brings up books you daren't re-read and Jo brings up books from childhood that she remembers as massive affairs and on seeing them as an adult realized she'd constructed most of the lovely stuff in by herself. Naomi introduces us all to the Suck Fairy, that comes and replaces the good in your old books with suck. Anne introduces also the Racism Fairy and Kate the Sexism Fairy.
In conclusion Ron says that you get to a point that it becomes so familiar it merges with the universe around you, and it's almost impossible to imagine that the work at some point didn't exist. Quotes John Crowley as saying “Storytelling is the only kind of magic there is.”
I enjoyed this very much, and Kate did a truly excellent job with the moderation, but right as the panel was ending I realized that the room was about 90% filled with women, and I really wished I'd noticed in time to ask the panelists if they thought there was a gender disparity in re-reading behaviors! Dammit!
See, also, Kate's notes from the panel.