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Divertissement

I don’t feel like taking on anything super-heavy today, so let’s see if I can start some kind of meme. Name three fiction books you’ve read more than three times, and why.

The book I’ve read the most is the Bible, due to my Christian past. I lost count of how many times I read it through cover to cover, but it was at least 8, and of course that’s only the times I was counting how many times I read the whole thing. It’s pretty poor fiction, though, so maybe we shouldn’t count this one.

I also read The Chronicles of Narnia any number of times, even as an adult. As a Christian, I enjoyed Narnia a lot more than the Bible even, because Aslan in Narnia seemed so much more like the kind of loving God Jesus should have been. I didn’t really realize it until after I stopped believing the Bible, but in a way the Bible created the kind of hunger a childish fantasy could best satisfy, by promising so much on behalf of a God Who could deliver so little. I can’t read it any more, though, because now it just reminds me of how badly my faith let me down. Fortunately, I’ve also got some secular favorites as well.

One of my early favorites when I was a jr. high student was Robert Heinlein’s Tunnel in the Sky. It’s thoroughly dated, awkwardly sexist, and pretty clearly aimed at the 10-14 year old reader, but when I was a kid I really loved it. The plot was about a high school class in the far future, offering a survival course that involved surviving on an unknown planet for a week, as the final exam. Through an unexpected technology failure, the portal back home fails to materialize at the end of the week, and the kids suddenly find themselves marooned on an otherwise uninhabited planet. Their progress from isolated nomads to a rather impressive civilization made a first class tale.

I’m not sure what to pick for my third book. I’ve read the Lord of the Rings trilogy any number of times just for its sheer grandeur and epic sweep. The Piers Anthony Xanth series is good light reading, so I’ve been through the first dozen books at least three times each. I only recently started reading Discworld, so I’m up to about my third trip through that series and I’ll be able to add that to my list shortly.

Honorable mentions to some of my oldies-but-goodies: The Werewolf Principle by Clifford Simak (about a man who returns from a lost exploratory mission, completely unable to remember anything about his past, but when he starts transforming into different alien species, it’s kind of a clue…), Sherlock Holmes (yes I know, but re-reading them still evokes the enjoyment I originally felt when I first read them), and Moon of Three Rings by Andre Norton (which I read a second time immediately after the first just because the first time through I couldn’t figure out what the heck was even going on).

How about you guys? Anybody got any real favorite books they’ve read repeatedly? What was it about the book that made it worth reading again?

Comments

  1. David Evans says

    1 Lord Of The Rings, J. R. R. Tolkien
    2 Ringworld, Larry Niven
    3 The Worm Ouroboros, E.R. Eddison

    (and many more, but I think those made the most impression on first reading. So much so that when I reached the end of #1 and #2 I went straight back to the beginning)

    Why? I think each of them made me feel I was in a new world that I wanted to stay in longer and explore further.

  2. Randomfactor says

    I second “Ringworld.” Currently reading a prequel series to it written by Niven and a collaborator, which pretty neatly weaves in threads from many of Niven’s “Known Space” short stories, especially the ones with Beowulf Schaffer.

    My all-time reread is probably Heinlein’s “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress,” about a revolt for independence in a lunar penal colony.

    My guilty reread is a time-travel series known as the Conrad Stargard series by Leo Frankowski. Imagine “A Connecticut Yankee” in medieval Poland where the Yankee’s first step is to establish a chain of Playboy-type clubs, in order to raise capital to fight the invading Mongol hordes.

  3. Randomfactor says

    Oh, and if I can be allowed a fourth, it would be John Brunner’s “The Shockwave Rider.” Written in the 1970’s for pete’s sake, and it still gets a lot of the Internet, government surveillance and malfeasance, etc. bang-on correct.

    Not to mention reality TV…

    • hotshoe says

      Yeah, Brunner was the one to coin the term “worm” for a self-replicating computer malware. I’m pretty sure I only read Shockwave Rider once, but I owned copies of three other of his books that I read so often I almost had them memorized:

      Stand on Zanzibar
      The Sheep Look Up
      The Stone That Never Came Down

  4. Tony Hoffman says

    1. The Hobbit. Once on my own, and once with each of my two kids. It’s a beautiful book that covers a lot of ground, never feels heavy, and teaches me something each time. And it’s often funny.
    2. All of the Tintins, many, many times. The characters are interesting, the story-telling is perfect, and settings are always so interesting. It also covers a breadth of humor, from slapstick, to funny banter, to subtle observations on character that remind me of Mark Twain.
    3. Any of the Calvin and Hobbes collections. Because Bill Watterson is a genius, whose combination of talents are those I most envy.

    Yes, I know that two of my three books are technically comics.

  5. says

    Besides any of the ones you mentioned,

    1. The Death Gate Cycle by Margaret Weis and Tracey Hickman. The first four books describe four separate worlds and are, in my opinion, the very definition of awesome, both for the setting and for the characters and their development. Books 5 & 6 are pretty good, and Book 7 kind of disappointed me, but not enough for me not to pick up the whole series once every other year or so.

    2. Dragon of the Lost Sea by Laurence Yep. Got it like in the 6th grade from Scholastic. It’s a fable you can read in an afternoon about a boy and a dragon, but don’t think Pete’s Dragon, because Dragon of the Lost Sea is beautifully written and obviously the dragon in my imagination is not animated.

    3. Calculating God by Robert J. Sawyer. When I was a Christian, it was a comforting to think that there still might be a God even though most of the stuff I’d been taught as a youngster was rubbish. I haven’t read it since losing my faith, and I’m kind of dreading reading it… I have no idea if I’ll still like it when I finally get around to it.

  6. Jeremy says

    1. The Silmarillion by Tolkien: one of the best creation myths out there. I think Feanor is a vastly better character than Abraham or Noah.
    2. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss: This book is the best story I’ve ever read. I think this will be one of the most successful fiction series of our time and I really love the way Rothfuss weaves the story together.
    3. Traitor by Matthew Stover: There is more valuable discussion of morality, hope, and evil than in any other book I’ve ever read.

  7. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    I’ve read Glen Cook’s Black Company books* three or more times. Unlike most fantasy, there are no black or white characters, only various shades of grey. The Black Company is a mercenary unit filled not with heroes but fallible, vulnerable humans. Nevertheless they’re are the baddest outfit around. The series is bleak and wry at the same time, with the occasional moment of hope to keep the reader alert.

    My literary guilty pleasure is Dashiell Hammett. I’ve read Red Harvest and the The Continental Op short stories once every ten years for the past forty years. Another book I’ve reread at least three times is David Drake’s The Sharp End, with the Red Harvest plot moved into Drake’s Hammer’s Slammers universe.

    I’m very fond of the late Roger Zelazny’s books. While the unfinished Amber series is good, I prefer his short stories. I’ve read The Doors of His Face, The Lamps of His Mouth and Other Stories at least three times.

    *I’ve only read The Silver Spike once. I just didn’t care for it.

  8. says

    1. The Harry Potter series (whew, that’s 7 right there)

    2. Persuasion by Jane Austen

    3. Cannery Row by John Steinbeck

    When I am between books or in a “book drought” I dig out an old favorite.

    To cheat and say a 4th: To Kill a Mockingbird. My kids just finished reading it for school and I had to dive in again myself.

  9. drlake says

    1) The first few books of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, so I could keep track of what happened when a new book came out. There are other series’ I’ve done this with, of course, but this is one of the most noteworthy.

    2) The Deed of Paksenarrion, by Elizabeth Moon (entire series). I just think it’s damn good.

    3)… I’m having trouble thinking of something that isn’t part of a series like #1, or hasn’t already been discussed like the Lord of the Rings.

  10. mikespeir says

    I do write fiction. I hardly ever read the stuff. (Which might hint at the quality of my work.) So probably the only fiction I’ve read more than once is my own execrable drivel. Fortunately, my tastes aren’t sophisticated.

  11. Karl Corwin says

    1) The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series by Douglas Adams because I’ve yet to find any other book that gives me that high of ratio of chuckles per page.

    2) The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant by Stephen R. Donaldson which would be my sweeping fantasy series since I never got into Tolkien.

    3) Almost any Spider-Man comic since I’m a big Marvel nerd.

  12. barbrykost says

    1. Lord of the Rings
    2. Song of Ice and Fire (only once for the latest one)
    3. The Stress of Her Regard by Tim Powers–This novel chornicles the misadventures of a man whose life goes horribly, horribly wrong when he finds that the world is not as stable and reasonable as he always believed. The easiest thing would be to give up and die, but he strives to be an honorable man anyway. I think it’s the most inspiring book about human perserverence ever.

  13. F says

    I’ve probably read a lot of light entertainment more than three times, it’s like music to me. Stuff like Agent of Vega or the The Cornelius Chronicles.

    I’m pretty sure I’ve read The First Circle at least thrice.

    2001 more than three times, certainly.

    And since you mention Lewis, Out of the Silent Planet. I don’t believe I’ve read the other two more than twice.

    The Forever War.

    Death is a Lonely Business.

    It was supposed to be three, wasn’t it? Oops.

  14. unbound says

    Here are the series I’ve read at least 3 times since I was a kid.

    1. The Belgariad series – Nice relaxing read.
    2. The Riftwar series – I like the author a lot.
    3. The Earthsea series – Got me started on fantasy as a kid.

  15. says

    Here’s my list:

    1. The Foundation Series, by Isaac Asimov. (It’s not really a trilogy, despite being commonly packaged as such.) I’ve read it at least three or four times through. I’ve also read a lot of Asimov’s other books multiple times, but I’ll just stick with this one for purposes of this list.

    2. Adventures In Time & Space, ed. Healy and McCommas. This is an epic anthology of Golden Age sci-fi stories; I have read the whole massive volume at least three times.

    3. One Corpse Too Many, by Ellis Peters. This is the second book in the Brother Cadfael mystery series, but I consider it my favorite (by a very narrow margin — all of them are good). Despite being novels, they are relatively brief and make for enjoyably fast reading.

    Man, keeping this to a list of three is tough!

    ~David D.G.

  16. cmking says

    1) Lord Of The Rings, J. R. R. Tolkien
    2) A history of western Philosophy, Bertrand Russell
    3) Both Alice Books, Lewis Carrol – annotations by Martin Gardner

  17. Katkinkate says

    1. Lord of the Rings
    2. The Hobbit
    3. The Silmarilion

    Because I like spending time in that universe. I’ve read hundreds of other fantasy, science fiction, historical fiction, detective/mystery novels and fanfiction but no other single stories have been read over again as often as Tolkien’s stories. Some of Pratchett’s might come close though.

  18. I'm_not says

    Under Milk Wood – Dylan Thomas. I have the classic BBC radio version starring Richard Burton on CD but still love to read it myself.

    Catch-22 – Joseph Heller. Read it when I was 16 or so and sort of got it, returned to it in my 20s, read it and turned back to the beginning and read it again. I still love just picking it up and randomly picking a bit. An amazing book.

    Delta of Venus – Anais Nin. To a certain lady at her request. I’m a lucky, lucky man.

  19. dgrasett says

    I am 70 and still unpacking books from a 9 month ago move – which for me is fairly prompt. I packed only the books I wanted to re-read. All other books went to used book dealers for the pleasure of others.
    Off the top of my head:
    Lord of the Rings, J R R Tolkein
    Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series
    Mercedes Lackey’s Elemental Masters series
    but maybe that’s because I have only unpacked certain boxes so far.
    By the way, I haven’t unpacked my Pratchett yet – and some of them are on their fourth and fifth reading – it’s just that no one specific is my favourite – all of them are.
    I loved early Heinlein, but he doesn’t age well – his later stuff needed an editor. Eddings’ universe is good, but on second reading a tad too christian. Steven Brust. Lois McMaster Bujold.
    and so on.
    Excuse me, I have another box to unpack.

  20. Artor says

    I’m glad to see Tolkien, Pratchett, Heinlein & Niven on alot of people’s lists. I have to add Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card. I can leave the rest of the series, but that one’s really good. Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars series is an amazing piece of work , but his Years or Rice & Salt is one of my favorite books of all time.

    I’ve tried reading Robert Jordan & Andre Norton, but I just can’t slog through their writing style, and Jordan’s work is so shamelessly derivative, I gave up before finishing the first book.

  21. Trebuchet says

    Agatha Christie. I once read all of her 80+ mysteries one after another, in order of publication.

    Also Tolkien and Niven.

  22. dukeofomnium says

    1) David Copperfield by Charles Dickens. It’s a great story, and very long – more like a library than a novel.

    2) Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope. Trollope is nearly as good a storyteller as Dickens, and less sentimental. Who knew that the Victorian Church of England was full of such internecine blood-feuds?

    3) And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. Even knowing whodunnit, the inevitability of the slaughter is fascinating.

  23. Otto Tellick says

    It’a amazing to me how many of my favorite books and authors have been mentioned (Hammet, Tolkien, Asimov, Card, Heinlein, Niven). I’ll add a couple more, not mentioned yet (maybe I’ve only read them through twice, not three times, but hey, I’m a slow reader):

    The First Circle, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
    A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens

    Then there’s A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess (actually, I only read that once, but I watched the movie at least 4 times, and the movie was very faithful to the book…)

    And there was an old short story by Poul Anderson called “Brain Wave”, but maybe short stories don’t count?

    • David Evans says

      I also read and re-read “Brain Wave”. I remember it as a novel, but novels were shorter (and books slimmer) in those days.

  24. machintelligence says

    Here are a few less common ones:
    The Compleat Traveller in Black by John Brunner
    The Green Pearl by Jack Vance
    A Small Colonial War by Robert Frezza
    The first two are fantasy, and the last is military SF.

  25. says

    Well, a lot of the Heinleins. Particularly, Have Space Suit, Will Travel and Citizen of the Galaxy. Great moral lessons; great action.

    Of course The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. I actually read these out loud to my kids when they were about 10-12 years old. Used a Peter Lorre-like voice for Gollum that worked very well.

    Let me also add Zelazny’s Lord of Light. Real gods (and a sufficiently advanced technology indistinguishable from magic).

    • typecaster says

      While we’re mentioning Zelazny, I should recommend “Creatures of Light and Darkness”, if for no other reason than the Agnostic’s Prayer.

  26. says

    It’s hard to keep to three. The first to come to mind were the Lord of the Rings trilogy; for quite some time, I was re-reading this once a year.

    I’ve read all of Ellis Peters’ Cadfael stories multiple times. CS Lewis’ space trilogy, and the Narnia books, as well.

    I’m barely on my second reading of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books, so they don’t count. Yet.

    Some that haven’t been mentioned, and that I re-read occasionally, are Lawrence Block’s Matthew Scudder series, Solzhenitsyn’s “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich”, anything by Mark Twain, John D. MacDonald’s colour series.

  27. Stacy says

    Lord of the Rings (Tolkien)–first time I was eleven or twelve yo. Throughout my youth and through my twenties I must’ve read it at least once a year every year, and lost myself in the epic adventure and the milieu of Middle Earth every time. (The Hobbit, too.)

    Lady Oracle (Margaret Atwood)–Funny, and I sort of identify with the anti-heroine’s messed-up childhood.

    Silas Marner (George Eliot)–Emotional masturbation, I guess. Sentimental as hell but beautifully written, and it makes me happy.

    Also the Alice books. And Angela Carter’s story collection Saints and Strangers (Black Venus, in the UK), which I couldn’t live without. And…wait, you said just three?

  28. iknklast says

    Up the Down Staircase – because it resonates, and especially now that I’m a teacher

    Thuber Carnival – because I love Thurber

    Robin Hood – because it was there, and it fascinated me

  29. says

    Wow, what a great list of old favourites (Niven, Asimov, etc) and books I haven’t read yet (to add to my must-read list)!

    I would add:

    1. Frank Herbert’s ‘Dune’ to the list (to be honest, bad sci-fi but great story and social commentary, particularly about religion)
    2. Philip Pullman’s ‘Northlight’ (aka ‘The Golden Compass’) and the rest of the ‘His Dark Materials’ series. These books are a great counterpoint to the Narnia series.
    3. ‘The Forever War’, by Joe Haldeman (in contrast to two other SF military books, ‘Ender’s Game’ and ‘Starship Troopers’, by Heinlein)
    4. Best fantasy – ‘Lord Valentine’s Castle’, Robert Silverberg.

  30. Revjimbob says

    Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit – JRR Tolkein
    Lord of the Flies – William Golding
    Darkness at Noon – Arthur Koestler
    Kidnapped – RL Stevenson

  31. says

    I can’t read Narnia not cause it’s a blatant analogy for Christianity, but because it’s so badly written. Remember in the Lion, the With, and the Wardrobe movie, that awesome battle scene between the White Queen’s forces and those on Aslan’s side? Remember the awesome battle in Prince Caspian? Those were, IIRC, about a paragraph each resembling little more than “a battle happened.”

    • David Evans says

      I disagree. The fact that the books don’t measure up to the movies (in one respect) shouldn’t count against them.

      These were children’s books. Battle scenes don’t have to be long or detailed in such books. Also Lewis was more interested in the moral development of the characters than in their martial skills. Don’t condemn them for not being a different kind of book.

  32. Brian M says

    My top three nooks? That’s a tough one.

    Maybe top three writers would be easier. I’ve chosen

    Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness just left me enthralled. There is a tone in the novel that really appeals to me…the society in question is somewhat nostalgic and medieval in an appealing way.

    John D. McDonald…I love the Travis McGee novels. All of them. :)

    Brian Stableford: the Werwolves of London Trilogy. Not a cheesy teen vampire novel at all. Tour de force combination of Egyptian mythology, philosophy, Victorian history, meditations on what “heaven” and “hell” might mean to fully sentient and thoughtful people…with a fascinating set of alien “beings” who exist in the interstices between the dimensions of the physical universe. Awesome.

    I also love The Culture novels by Iain M. Banks. The latest novel was just awesome. From Wikipedia:

    Surface Detail (2010)

    A former slave, who was murdered by her owner and then reincarnated through the intervention of a Culture ship, seeks revenge against the larger background of a plot within a war between the virtual and real worlds over the future of virtual Hells.

  33. clsi says

    The entire Dykes to Watch Out For series (Alison Bechdel). So much more than a comic strip.

    Wicked (Gregory Maguire). Raises great questions about the nature of good and evil. Unfortunately, I haven’t enjoyed anything else he has written nearly as much.

    Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen). So many people here like visiting other worlds for their fiction experiences, and I certainly do, too. If you’re more partial to fantasy than classic lit, it might help to think of this one as a brilliantly written glimpse into a very different world that just happened to have actually existed a couple of centuries ago.

    These are not the first to jump to mind, but they’re the ones I’d most readily recommend to others.

  34. says

    I’m a little late to this, but what the hell.

    I’ll second Catch-22, just a brilliant book, but my three would be:

    Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut (or Cat’s Cradle)- I read this first when I was 15 and revisit it every few years. I love the optimism at the heart of Vonnegut.

    White Jazz, James Ellroy – Ellroy’s best in my opinion. His prose is unlike anything else and this novel is the purest distillation of it.

    The True American, Melvin Van Peebles (sadly out of print) – this is a light weight story, but I loved it from the first time I found it in the library.

    I could also drone on at length about Richard Brautigan.

  35. typecaster says

    I could chime in with a bunch of “Me, too”‘s, but there’s some of my favorites that haven’t been mentioned yet, at least not explicitly.

    1. The Instrumentality of Man stories by Cordwainer Smith. I’ve re-read the whole lot several times. One novel and a large number of short stories. NESFA has a collection.

    2. Lois Bujold – the Vorkosigan stories, especially the ark from “Mirror Dance” to “A Civil Campaign”. Also, “Curse of Chalion” is not to be missed. The Vorkosigan universe has no organized religion that I can find, while Chalion has a very original theistic system that is experientially verifiable.

    3. Steven Brust’s Drageria stories, especially the Khaavren novels. I just get totally consumed by that universe.

    4. Emma Bull “A War for the Oaks”. Urban fantasy where the Light and Dark fairy courts are battling for control of Minneapolis. Trust me, you’ll love it. Some of the music is available on CD by the group “Cats Laughing”.

    5. Comic series – “Fables” and “Strangers in Paradise”.

  36. says

    1. 1984. My all-time favourite novel, hands down. And, really…it’s not hard to draw parallels between our society and Oceania, especially if you start factoring in the ways one has to curtail one’s own liberties in order to get or keep a job, and the interweaving of the 1% with the “democratic” established powers.

    Funnily enough, 1984 also has amazing religious references written into it. A statue that looked like Oliver Cromwell? The conversion of a church into a community center? The religious overtones associated with the Party and the state itself? I’d say that Ingsoc is not merely an ideology, but a state religion in the same sense as Juche.

    2. Lord of the Rings. Been mentioned a lot, but I have to get it out because it is one of the stories I will never ever tire of. Every time I go through it I pick out new details, and my picture of Middle-earth gets coloured in a tiny bit more.

    3. The Long, Dark Tea-Time of the Soul. I have not read any of the other Dirk Gently books, but I found myself liking this one mostly because of the utter lack of attention to plot. There is a plot, but…it’s really just there to underpin an amazing clusterfuck of outright ridiculousness. My favourite part has to be the first part of the novel that includes Gently himself, where Adams describes him going to some sort of important case (the details of which are not described) and poking around at a house where he finds some very weird things that are not expanded upon — or even seemingly linked to one another — at all. It is the entire book in a nutshell; a clusterfuck of ridiculousness underpinned by a few vague reasons for having the story in the first place.

  37. scotlyn says

    Those who haven’t given their Terry Pratchett books more than two readings…yet, WILL. I promise.

    Once I discovered Pratchett, I read everything as and when it came out, but then I would reread books, not in publication order, but in series that were more or less related – the “Vimes” series, the “Granny Weatherwax” series, the “Rincewind” series, the “Susan” series. “Good Omens” I’ve read and enjoyed more than 10 times. There are laughs a plenty, excellent characters (and I especially love his female characters!), exciting plots, moral dilemmas, etc, but there is also something else, which I can’t describe, that keeps you coming back to read and check that it is still there. A way of turning the tables on your preconceptions, perhaps. And it’s always still there.

    PS – I want to be Nanny Og when I grow up.

  38. rukymoss says

    All of the Dick Francis (and the more recent ones co-written with his son Felix), all of the Lord Peter Wimsey novels and short stories by Dorothy Sayers, who unfortunately gave up fiction to write Christian apologetics, and The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula LeGuin. And Harry Potter (audio versions). And the Ringworld books. And the Asimov robot books. Hmmm–how do I ever get around to reading anything new?

  39. rukymoss says

    Forgot to say why–Dick Francis books because his backgrounds cover a lot of different occupations (glassblowing, catering, bookmaking, wine merchant, railroading, etc) and because of the casual way his characters accept difficulties headon. Dorothy Sayers for the whole between-the-wars ambience of Great Britain, and the exacting standards of the lead characters. Left Hand of Darkness–wow–a world with no fixed genders. Makes me think more every time I read it. Also the idea of a world so cold that they have a common utensil for breaking the crust of ice on your beverages. Great book to read when it’s very hot outside, as well as when you’re inside and cozy in the middle of a snowstorm.

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