Thursday, 20 May 2010

Best Before

When I was a mere chit of a girl, I jetted off to Switzerland to work as a ragazza alla pari (which was gainful employment; nothing at all like this). I planned to stay away for a year at least so consequently began to pack thirty minutes before I was due to leave for the airport.

The only book I took was a slimline edition of The Bero Cookbook. A classic, if I say so myself though I suspect if La Famiglia Lotti never again see ruff-puff pastry it will be too soon.

At the airport I suddenly realised that I'd have nothing to read on the plane, so I bought the fattest book I could see in John Menzies: The World According to Garp by John Irving.

It was an eye-opener. As an ex-Sunday school teacher, I had thought - for several years - that an orgasm was a collection of cells. (Yes, of course I know what one is now. It's food that's been grown without pesticide.)

I read and re-read The World According once a month whilst I was away, alternating it with a battered copy of The Mayor of Casterbridge (which had been left by a previous ragazza).

It's a miracle, all things considered, that I've turned out so well.

During the Borders Closing Down Sale (of which we can only speak in hushed tones as I am drip-feeding my purchases into the common areas of the house and saying with all honesty "What? This old thing? No, I've had it for ages.") I bought a fancy-pants edition of TWATG - gosh! what an unfortunate acronym - and I'm wondering how I managed to read it once, let alone fourteen times.

Do books have a read-by date? Have I missed my window for Jane Austen? Will I ever again enjoy The Women's Room? Shall Martial's Epigrams continue to comfort me in old age?

Have you delighted in a book, gone back to it years later and muttered a disappointed or exasperated  Pshaw!? And if so, which books have never passed their read by date? Similarly, which books would simply be wasted on the young and have a do not read until date? (Most of Chekhov, I suspect.)

The Mayor of Casterbridge pleading with a local Ponte Capriascan for Moptop's Ruff Puff Pastry recipe


  1. The Paddington Bear books should not be read until one is well into adulthood. The humour goes way over any child's head.

  2. The thing is, a week after I read a book I have no recollection of it at all, but don't ever want to read it again because I already know the story.
    People who re-read books over and over are beyond my understanding, although for you Moptop, in the circumstances you were in - with no option other than immaculate and efficient Swiss books - I would make an exception.

    'Drip-feeding purchases' was hilarious. So was most of the rest.

  3. I can re-read almost anything by the wonderful Laurie Lee. Cider With Rosie, being a classic.

  4. Went back to Proust, was disappointed.
    Turned again to Finnegans Wake.
    Am still enthralled.

  5. I'm rarely disappointed by rereading, though there's rarely the same frisson you get from the first time. I annually revisit prolific favorites such as Graham Green, Anthony Burgess, and Brian Aldiss, and the occasional Yank such as Cormac McCarthy. But there are so many NEW books to delve into! I did read Hilary Mantel's HUGE "A Place of Greater Safety" twice in succession - surprising even myself - because it was so superb. I read quite fast and like Deborah the details slip away relatively soon, but I am infatuated in the moment.

  6. @ Sean - I read A Place of GS but then (thinking I ought to take a break from big, fat books and failing) went on to read Wolf Hall which I enjoyed far more.

    @ Lane - What about The Faraway Tree?

    @ Martin - yes, uncomfortable comfort reads

    @ Deborah - I also read very quickly, forget plots, characters and style immediately until I reread and it all comes back - so I miss out on A)Being able to quote pithy sentences and 2)The frisson Sean mentions.

  7. I've been talking to my users about this very topic and the consensus seems to be that if you go back much later to something you loved it will disappoint, but it is well worth going back to things you were forced to read in your youth because some of them turn out to be quite good.
    * This message was brought to you by Sweeping Generalisations Inc. Please be aware that all sweeping generalisations are false, including this one.