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If I Had a Theory It Would Be About Books

Ever read a book and loved it, then read the same book later (in a different edition, from a different publisher, etc.) and thought, hm, well, maybe not?

I read the Future Tense Books chapbook PLEASE DON’T KILL THE FRESHMAN by Zoe Trope and was blown away. I loved its style, its pressure, its pinning-down of ordinary angst ridden existence.

But just recently, I made it around to reading the expanded Harper Tempest version of PLEASE DON’T KILL THE FRESHMAN by Zoe Trope and I couldn’t even make it through. It felt bled out, stagnant in its pushy style, too static for its own good.

Years have passed and the editions were different, but what the hell?

This ever happen to you?

14 thoughts on “If I Had a Theory It Would Be About Books

  1. I can’t help but wonder, too, how much your change in enthusiasm is due to time passing, you changing, your reading habits maturing, etc. vs. the different editions.

    I remember this book coming out, both in chapbook and then expanded big publisher editions, and though I read neither, it did seem very much of a specific time, mindset, etc.

    This is no new idea — revisiting a book to find you love it less than you had last time. But this is an interesting tweak on it because the book you are revisiting is actually a different, version. I don’t know if I’m trying to get at anything, mostly just avoiding being productive…

  2. It sounds like something that worked as a chapbook simply didn’t hold up over a longer form. I see novels criticized this way pretty often–reviewers will say something like “It would have made a great short story or novella, but there wasn’t enough to fill 300 pages.” I wonder how often it happens that editors will work with an author to stretch work that would naturally wrap up more quickly than is deemed suitable by the publisher.

  3. no doubt for me it is a combination of the two things – I am certainly in a different place, have read more lit, etc. and the book was also ( I think ) pushed by Harper Tempest to be something it was not, to stretch it as Shya so aptly phrased it. would be interesting to know also what Zoe Trope is working on now, as this book was specifically written from her perspective (not as a character) and is really a memoir and not a fiction.

    Shya & Aaron (& others) – if this has happened to you too, what book was it?

  4. I give my students a whole list of books and say, “Read these now, at college age, or they won’t mean that much later.”

    Zen and art of…

    that type of stuff.

    I really believe there is a window.

  5. Yeah, I’d agree that Vonnegut is maybe the most typical example of this. I think Catcher is much better if read earlier in life.

    I typically don’t reread books. This is one reason why — I like holding onto my initial perceptions of them and don’t want to decrease that appeal.

    Personally, Palahniuk was a total gateway author, to the point where I almost even want to say he may be our generation’s Vonnegut. I’m sure I’ll never go back and reread his stuff, and I have no real desire to read his current books, but I’m also hesitant to downplay how important reading Fight Club and Survivor and Invisible Monsters and even Choke was for me.

  6. Yes, Catcher, certainly a time sensitive one.

    Maybe Of Mice and Men as well?

    I think you are right about Palahniuk too (or at least I agree – I don’t really want to read the new stuff, but I could not have done without some of those older books).

    About re-reading though, I pick up a peter markus any time I want a good quick jolt of lit – I have read Good, Brother probably 4-5 times by now: aaron, which book(s) do you re-read?

  7. Yeah, you’re right. I kind of overstated my belief in re-reading a little. To some degree, I think you can often tell what you “should” or “shouldn’t” reread. You know?

    I’m not sure that I’ve ever read a novel more than once. I reread a lot of stories though — especially more language-y type stuff, perhaps just because that’s what I’m interested in at the moment. Stuff like, as you mention, Markus, and also, of course, Evenson. I’ve read Derby’s “Sound Gun” maybe more than just about any other story. I reread stories a lot when I want to get inspired, and/or when I am trying to “figure out”/remember how they worked. (i.e. I’m trying to copy them and make my own stories decent, in their wake.) Jesus’ Son. Arthur Bradford, sometimes. Hmmm… who else? This is an interesting idea to me: which authors and which stories do people read and reread the most often?

  8. for me: all the markus, often lock’s The Long Rowing Unto Moring or The King of Sweden. Also Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, Beckett’s Endgame, and often the opening lines of several Sparling books.

  9. I rarely reread, for the simple reason that my to-read stack grows so quickly that I always feel I’d be neglecting it by picking up one that’s already made it into my hands. It glowers at me. I live in fear.

    But I should. I know that texts change in interesting ways upon rereading. I should start a reread stack, and put one book in it for every ten I have in my read stack. That seems like a decent ratio.

  10. I was rereading some of the stories in Karen Russell’s St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, which used to be one of my favorite collections, and I wasn’t liking them at all. I got bored reading her story in Tin House too.

  11. JA: Yeah, Endgame fits into a tidy, one-two hour slot. I like to watch Atom Egoyan’s Krapp’s Last Tape, maybe it’s on youtube. John Hurt is great.

    I reread Isaac Babel: Guy de Maupassant, Dante Street – Denis J. said those stories gave him the license to do Jesus’ Son.

    Sometimes I’ll read poetry to get jumped started.-Ashbery, Gluck, there was a Katie Ford poem in the NYer a few weeks ago that was best thing they’ve had in there for a while.

    And Lutz too, from ‘Stories’ because I think those are more playful in a way than the impossible to find ‘I Looked Alive’

  12. Man, I have to admit, I can’t get into Lutz’ ‘Stories’. Don’t know why. Have tried several (read dozen) times.

    Am I now shunned from the lit world?

    This was a post about re-reading, but I can’t even get one down on that book.

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