Thursday, August 21, 2014

Comfort Books and the Joy of Re-Reading

Every year (or every two years, depending on what Life is doing to me), without fail, I re-read one particular book.

Actually, it's one particular series.

The Belgariad by David Eddings.

In fact, I'm re-reading the series now.

I believe I have re-read it at least two dozen times.

I first picked up The Belgariad back in the mists of antiquity. Summer 1987, if memory serves.

We were on vacation down in the L.A. area for about a week visiting relatives. My aunt and uncle had taken us out to lunch someplace and then spirited us to the Glendale Galleria. The first thing I did, as I always did when visiting any mall, was head directly to the bookstore.

To Waldenbooks.

At that time, Waldenbooks was one of two popular bookstore chains (the other being B. Dalton). I always liked Waldenbooks. Our local mall had both stores but Waldenbooks was always more inviting than B. Dalton. I think it might've been the decor. B. Dalton (the one in our mall) always seemed spartan compared with Waldenbooks which, to me, was bursting with books.

Not only that, but Waldenbooks had the Otherworlds Club, which catered to sci-fi/fantasy readers like me and offered discounts on selected titles. And a really cool paper newsletter that came out, IIRC, once a month.

So there I was, on an upper floor of the Galleria, making my way past the mall shoppers, and diving directly into Waldenbooks and the sci-fi/fantasy section.

Some months earlier, a high school classmate and fellow sci-fi/fantasy fan named George asked if I'd ever read a book called Pawn of Prophecy. When I told him I hadn't, he immediately grabbed me by the shoulders and said, "You have got to read this!" and proceeded to gush about the book and the series it belonged to, The Belgariad.

By this point in my fantasy reading adventures I had read Papa Tolkien's magnum opus, Lloyd Alexander's novels about Prydain, The Sword of Shannara, and the Narnia books. Plus I was an ardent D&D gamer.

So I liked fantasy fiction and all that went along with it. I figured I'd give the book a try.

So I picked up the first novel, Pawn of Prophecy, and later that night after dinner and conversation with the relatives, settled into the bed in my aunt and uncle's spare room. I figured I'd read a little bit before bed and then get a good night's rest. Tomorrow was Universal Studios and I was jazzed about that.

When I next looked at the clock, thinking "Hey, it's probably late, I should go to bed," it was 1:30am, four and a half hours later, and I was three-quarters of the way through the book.

I finished the book the following evening.

Before we went home from vacation, I asked to go to the Galleria a second time and bought the second book of the series, Queen of Sorcery, to read on the drive back.

I finished the second book two days later.

Bought the other three books of The Belgariad and finished those within the space of a month and a few days.

Beginning my second year in college I started to re-read the series, going through all five books usually in about two months, and kept up the practice at least once a year. I vaguely recall a few instances that I read the series twice in one year, with a four to five month gap between readings.

Why re-read it?

It's my comfort book.

I've heard people complain the writing is pedestrian, the story trite and overdone, and the characters flat and stereotypical.

But I find Eddings to be a captivating storyteller. The moment I begin Chapter One of Pawn of Prophecy and read the words "The first thing the boy Garion remembered was the kitchen at Faldor's farm" I am immediately sucked into the pages of my well-worn, slightly yellowed copy and swept away into Garion's world, lost inside a realm of intrigue, magic, and high adventure.

Even after all these re-readings there are still passages that make me smile, snicker, shudder, and/or cheer heartily. Yes, I know how the story turns out. Yes, I know what's coming next in the narrative. Yes, I know the characters will go here or go there and this event will take place.

But I still find myself getting caught up in the tale and "forgetting" what comes next.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to get back to reading.

Your turn: What's your favorite book to re-read?

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