Sunday, June 07, 2015

On the gift of re-reading

Baen Books cover for Shards of Honor
by Alan Gutierrez, June 1986

Long before I even dreamed of being a writer, I was a reader. One of my earliest memories of reading was from the 1st or 2nd grade, when the elementary school librarian began to read to us, aloud, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis. After the first chapter, I couldn't stand it. I took out the entire series from the little library and read them all.

I remember discovering Madeline L'Engle's work and devouring everything of hers I could lay my hands on. Then, later, Asimov, Bradbury, Heinlein, and a host of other SF&F writers that the adult library card my mother bullied the public library into letting me have gave me assess to.

Along with being a voracious reader, I became a re-reader.

There is something about returning to a beloved book that is comfort food to a reader. There are books I have re-read dozens of times, others I have only returned to once. Though I don't re-read everything - not even books I loved.

These past ten days, I have gone on a binge of re-reading the volumes of one of my favorite space opera series: Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan books. I have read them at least three or four times, all told. The stories offer no surprises to me, and yet I turned to them for solace in the aftermath of my father's death and funeral.

My emotions are a confused and intense muddle. Working through grief is a difficult and intensely personal process and one that is all encompassing. I needed something that would be diverting and engrossing, not to cut myself fully off from the work of mourning, but to give me brief respite from it. I needed something with intensity and emotional stakes, but also with humor and the assurance that the heroes will triumph in the end.

In the weeks before my father's death, during his final hospitalization and rehab stay, I stayed up late at night mainlining the first few seasons of the TV show Eureka. Again, it was a mix of familiarity and comfort, humor and adventure I needed.

I continue to be raw - the slightest kindness will make me well up with tears. I feel everything more intensely now and dare not reach for something new to read, lest it erode my very tenuous control. And so, at least for some moments each day, I need to retreat into a world I fully understood, where what is on the page or on the screen has not changed its shape in the bewildering way reality has.

And when I say the work has not changed, that is not precisely true. As someone reminded me earlier today, creativity is a collaboration between the creator and the audience. It is my belief that a writer writes one work; the reader reads another. The true collaboration happens by what the reader brings to the experience. So the stories may be unchanged, but I am changed each time I read them. On this reading, I made a very personal connection to Miles Vorkosigan and his relationship to his father in the hopes that I have done my own father proud. I am not ashamed to say that I have cried in places, re-reading these books.

It is no surprise that I turn to genre fiction for refuge: I have been doing so all my reading life. I refuse to apologize for what I love, nor see it as less than. SF&F is what I read; what I write. It is certainly my hope that something I have created will bring comfort to a reader in the way that Bujold, the creators of Eureka, and a whole host of other writers have brought to me.



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