A while back I wrote a Sunday Salon post about Four Letter Word, a collection of fictive love letters edited by Joshua Knelman and Rosalind Porter. This is what I had to say, shortly before giving it a 5/5:
This book is amazing. I began it this afternoon and finished it this evening, on the couch for the most of it, and then sitting sideways in the computer chair, hurrying through the last two or three because I was so excited to write about it.
This book is about love. It’s about love gone right, and love gone horribly wrong, and sometimes love just gone. There are letters to lovers, and to former lovers, and to perhaps future lovers. There are letters to parents, to children, to strangers. There’s at least one letter “to whom it may concern.” There’s a love letter to a mountain. There’s a letter from a chimpanzee to Miss Primatologist Lady in the Bushes Sometimes. There is a letter to Santa — from Bigfoot.
I was looking for something to read this weekend, and I chanced the pick Four Letter Word up again. Love letters!, I thought, just the thing! And besides, I had loved it before, and surely had nothing to lose.
Did you know that was coming?
Upon re-reading, most of these stories have significantly lost their lustre. So many of them depended on the shock or twist ending that a second look completely stipped them of power. It was most disenheartening, in fact, and I have been left wondering what exactly it was that made me adore this book in the first place. The stories are good — some of them quite good — but I don’t know if I would call any of them brilliant.
Could it be that all of them are craftedwith a similar flaw? Was I just not in the right mood? I’d give this collection about a 3.5 this time around; clearly something has changed.
Perhaps the difference was that the first time, I was reading the book in the glow of P having bought it for me … and this time, simply because it was there.
It’s a little bit upsetting, actually. How do you take it when a favourite book suddenly isn’t?
6 thoughts on “Love Letters, Revisited”
Ok, but c'mon, Atwood's is funny and doesn't depend on a twist does it? I found it amusing and totally Toronto. (Haven't read the whole thing, but had bits of it read out to me by ONF and the Playwright.)
And on your actual question, sometimes it is a mood thing – and sometimes I've re-read a favourite too soon after the last time (one reason for my once-a-year rule), and sometimes we just change. Or the book depends on twists of plot so much that a re-read strips it of power. According to C.S. Lewis in An Experiment in Criticism books that can stand multiple re-readings are the great books. Others are not.
This is why I never re-read books! I have tons of favorite books, but I'm afraid they'll lose their luster if I re-read them. I've been seriously considering re-reading Oryx and Crake because I loved it so much last year, but each time the thought occurs to me I let it pass because I'm so afraid I won't like it the second time around. Weird, right?
I think I might have to adopt your no-more-than-once-yearly rule, Glum. Except for P&P. As applied to other books, it appears sensible.
I allow the P&P exception in your case – you read it weekly almost right? 😉
No, not quite weekly…. but probably 2-3 times a year.
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