Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Thoughts About Re-Reading and The Big Storm Knocked It Over by Laurie Colwin

Once upon a time, I had just finished a round of interviews for graduate school and was struggling with the unsettled feeling that only comes when I stand on the edge of a life-bending decision. I was lost metaphorically as well as physically, with only a paper map to get me around a strange new city (I know that some of you are asking, “What’s a paper map?”).

I went looking for a coffee shop so I could think about the choices that were in front of me. This was a time when there wasn’t a Starbucks on every corner, and most coffee shops were unique, with their own character. On the way, I passed a used bookstore, one with appropriately scholarly Ivy on the brick exterior. I couldn’t resist a visit.

When I came out, I had acquired Laurie Colwin’s A Big Storm Knocked It Over.  At the time, I knew nothing about this author’s long catalog of cooking-related books or about her early death. Imagine being without a smart phone to look at reviews before purchasing!  All I knew is that I couldn’t walk out of a bookstore without a book in my hand, and this one was cheap ($1.50!) and a family drama (my favorite!).

At the coffee shop, I started reading the book and found it boring. I remember being disappointed that a book that looked so promising was so slow and plotless. I finished the novel, but if Goodreads had existed, I would have given it only 2 stars.

Last summer, my family and I went to New York City, and I was swept away by the noise and the people and the constant action. Of course I went to The Strand, and of course I had to buy books. I ended up picking several that had a Manhattan setting, and one of them was, once again, Colwin’s A Big Storm Knocked It Over. I wondered if the issue I had years ago was that I wasn’t old enough yet to imagine the feelings of the main character, a woman who married “late” and was worried about all the things that were involved with becoming a couple and a mother after being single for so long. It seemed worth a second shot. Plus, the book was cheap ($6!), and it was a family drama (my favorite, still!).

A Big Storm Knocked It Over is my first read of 2016, and it turns out that sometimes a boring book is just boring, no matter where you are in your life when you read it. At first, the story feels a little bit like a slightly more dated version of Sex in the City – if Carrie and the Gang did nothing at all except for sit at a restaurant and talk about how weird it is to be them. The main character, Jane Louise, gets married and then gets pregnant. And she thinks about that. Sometimes she talks about it with her best friend. Sometimes she tries to talk about it with her husband, but he doesn't really like to analyze things. Her smarmy boss wants to talk about it, but she tries to avoid him. The end.

I don’t like to dwell on unsatisfying books, but this experience made me think about re-reading. I don’t usually re-read, because I am worried about falling out of love with my favorites. But in this case, I tried to revisit a book that I felt wasn’t quite ready for me all those years ago. And it’s still not right, even though I have changed so much as a reader.

What about you? Are you a re-reader? What kinds of books draw you back?


Lisa said...

These days, one of the questions I ask when I try to weed my bookshelves is whether it's something I'll re-read. If not, then it goes to the library sales. I culled quite a few last year!

I think it's often the characters that draw me back to a book first, more than the plot. Re-reading can make me feel like I'm meeting old friends again, even if I know their stories.

I don't think I've ever had the experience you describe though, of finding a book lacking both times I read it. Some books I've liked have disappointed me the first time, and vice versa.

Rebecca in Seattle said...

Colwin's Home Cooking is one of my favorite books to reread every few years. I wonder if she has any fiction that is as wonderful....?

jennifer said...

Lisa, what's your best experience with re-reading?

jennifer said...

Rebecca, the funny thing is that I think I've read all of her fiction. But I can't remember any of it. I think that Happy All the Time received the most buzz back in the day.

Lisa said...

I think with Dorothy Dunnett's Lymond Chronicles. I read the six books, turned the last page of the last one, and took the first one down from the shelf and started the series all over again. So many things fell into place on the second reading. And then I read them all again later that same year :)

jennifer said...

Lisa, I haven't heard of that series. I'll take a look! Thanks!

Lisa said...

Jennifer, I can almost envy you, having Dorothy Dunnett's books to discover (two historical series, one book about the historical Macbeth, six thrillers) - they are the most addictive books I have ever read.