Friday, December 26, 2008

Regular reads

There are some books I tend to read over and over again, not for any philosophical value, or even to learn from them, but for the same strange reasons why some trashy movies entertain me no matter how many times I see them. Sure it's easy to say "I watch The Godfather over and over again" because it's acknowledged as an American classic. But Trading Places? Major League? Coming to America? Put one of those on and I get happy, despite their thin plots, cheesy acting and, well, general low-brow content.

Ditto, it would be great to say I read great classics over and over again because they speak to my soul, warm my cockles, etc. But the fact is, what draws me to re-read is not depth of thought but depth of setting and color. I want to get lost in a book and feel, viscerally, what the main character(s) feel. I want to know what they taste, what the air is like on their skin, and to feel like the book is a sort of guide to that world. That's why Clavell's Shogun and Auel's The Clan of the Cave Bear and Mccullough's First Man in Rome (Masters of Rome) series get a thorough read every year or so.

An odd book that makes me happy every time I reread it is Household Gods, by Judith Tarr and Harry Turtledove. It's odd because I can't say I am a huge fan of either of them writing as individuals. Some of Turtledove's alt-history stories are nice and fast reads, but they tend not to be volumes I keep. And the other fiction I've read by Tarr I have found heavy and meandering.

And it's also odd because there's nothing especially *me* in this book. The protagonist is a single mom lawyer who has made some bad choices in a lifestyle I find annoying to read about. She is astonishingly ignorant of history for a lawyer, which is important because it's one of those time travel books where the 20th century person winds up back in time. There are times when I want to reach through the book and smack her.

And yet...the descriptions of the people, the food, the smells, the buildings, the daily interactions are so right on. She might be dense from time to time, but she's tough, too, and crafty. And there is a certain pleasure in the story of a person who actually learns useful things in the course of a story. Best of all, the story doesn't end in two of the most common ways in time travel sagas; she neither finds true love in the past nor gets dropped off safely at her front door while "the end" appears immediately thereafter.

Readers who know my work might recognize the fact that I like multiple endings. The story isn't over just because someone falls in love or returns home. I always tend to ask, "and THEN what?" even in my own work. This book pleases me because I find out.

After a month of mysteries and police stories in the Kellerman family, it was nice to enjoy the richness of ancient Roman culture through the eyes of a California lawyer who didn't know what she was getting into. What I am going to read next, I dunno. This year, no one gave me books, possibly a first! It's back to the shelves for another re-read, and soon.

No comments: