The Re-Readables: A Theory

I’ve been reading a lot of contemporary non-supernatural romance, and I’m noticing that while there are always books that I close after two chapters because I can’t take any more, there are a lot more that I finish. Those finished books fall into two categories: the ones I liked but that I doubt I’ll ever read again and the Re-Readables.

I’m pretty sure that everybody’s criteria for re-readable is different, but I’ve been looking back over the things I’ve re-read lately, some of them over a dozen times, like the Murderbots, the Rivers of London, some of the Ivy Years, some Pratchetts, some Heyers, some Stouts, some Francis, some MacFarlane, and others, and I’ve narrowed it down to four things:

1. The characters, especially the protagonist. Series protagonists are especial catnip; at this point, if Murderbot’s in a book, I’m reading it. I’ll follow Peter Grant anywhere. If Susan Sto Helit show up, you have me. But in the stand alones, too, the protagonist is the one who’ll draw me back in. I love Mhairi McFarlane’s put-upon heroines who never give up, Pratchet’s confused but driven heroes who zigzag through his plots, meeting setbacks with exasperation and pushing on through. The same with Heyer’s heroines, caught in a time when women were pretty much goods to be traded, steadfastly remaining true to themselves while society hammers them in an attempt to make them an alien ideal, their strength and their determination bringing great men to their knees, the good ones with a ring in hand. It’s not what happens in the plot that makes these books so good, although it’s nice when that’s there, too, it’s these people dealing with what the plot throws at them, acting as only they would and can.

2. The community. Beyond the protagonist, I want to hang out with the group. If it’s Peter Grant, there better be Bev and Nightingale and Molly and Tyburn and Abigail, not to mention Seawohl and of course, Guleed (I really want to know more about Guleed and her master swordsman boy friend). If it’s a Rex Stout, I want Wolfe and Archie, but also Cramer and Stebbins, and there better be some Lily in there, too, plus Saul and the rest of the PIs (has anybody ever used minor supporting characters better?). If I’m reading Pratchett, I really need Vimes to show up somewhere, and Carrot and the Patrician make everything better. I want to be part of that world. One of the things I loved about a book I read last week, Boyfriend Material, was that both Luc and Oliver had such great friend groups. Luc’s were slightly strange middle class misfits, and Oliver’s were slightly strange upper class misfits, but their groups were sold and supportive, true communities, and it didn’t hurt that they were all funny as hell. I will spend time with those people again, because that book is definitely a Re-Readable. I like the analogy that a story is a party; you have to invite people in and entertain them, and that’s infinitely easier if the other people at the party are fascinating.

3. The setting. I never talk much about setting, but as I looked back at my re-reading, I realized that setting plays a big role. I love Ben Aaronovitch’s writing, but his October Man left me cold. The book was well-written, well-plotted, but it didn’t have Peter Grant. Well, that made sense, I attach to protagonists. But then I realized I wasn’t as happy with Foxglove Summer as I had been with the earlier books, and that book is all Peter Grant. Why not? I think it’s because it’s not set in London. I want Peter doing his obsessive architure lectures, commenting in passing on the history of a place he’s trying to connect to supernaturally. Having now read Foxglove Summer three times, I’ve become used to it and I like it better now than when I first read it, so that part of the countryside is now another Peter Grant setting. But it’s still not London. Rex Stout wrote a terrific mystery that sent Wolfe and Archie back to Wolfe’s county of birth, Montenegro, but I want Wolfe in New York, behind that big desk, sending Archie hither and yon for fresh meat of both the human and butcher shop kind. Dick Francis’s heroes have a wide variety of occupations and I’m fine with that, but there better be a horse in England in there somewhere and we better spend some time on a racetrack or that book is not re-readable. I think it’s because the setting in a really good book informs so much of the protagonist’s character, but I could be wrong about that. Maybe I just like the new stories to play out across a familiar backdrop.

4. The author’s voice and world view. This is definitely one of the reasons I re-read, but it can be trumped by a lack of any of the first three criteria. Obviously all these authors keep the same voice and worldview throughout their books. The point is that a book can have a solid protagonist, a well-constructed community, and a vibrant setting, but if this author’s voice is a drag or the ideals underneath story are distasteful to me, it doesn’t matter that the first three criteria are met, I won’t make it through the first chapter.

You’ll notice that “plot” isn’t up there. It’s not that I don’t think plotting is important, it’s that I’ll read a lousy plot to keep company with the story people I love, and that a great plot will not hold my attention if the characters are flat or off-putting. In the best of all possible worlds, you get a great plot, too, but since I’ve re-read a lot of books with endings I could see coming a mile away or with plots that follow a pattern so well worn there are ruts in it, just to spend time with those people again. It’s not what happens that matters, it’s how the people in the story get there.

All of which leads me to believe (about my own work, not about anybody else, this is not advice or a rule or anything that might apply to another writer, just me) that I have to quit fruiting around trying to make plots work and just make sure the people are moving on every page, arcing as much as possible, involved and interesting in every move they make, surrounded by a fascinating community against a vibrant setting backdrop. And then make the plot make sense in the rewrite. Argh.

Or as Bob would say, “Forget the money laundering, write the romance.”

So over to you all. What makes a book a Re-Readable for you?

66 thoughts on “The Re-Readables: A Theory

  1. I agree about the plot not mattering a lot. I think for me, re-readable is mainly about the characters and sometimes about the setting. I’m compulsively re-reading Martha Wells’ Raksura series, and it’s almost totally because I want to spend time in that world with those people. I don’t much like the ending of the last book in the series but that’s not stopping me from re-reading.

    1. Of all the Dorothy L Sayers books, Gaudy Night is the big re-reader for me. I normally don’t like to go back over a book (or TV programme or film) where I remember the plot, but despite being a whodunnit the plot hardly matters in this book. Sayers isn’t particularly interested in the protaganist as a person but more as a point in the general discussion about women and education. It’s all about the characters, the setting and the academic discourse.

      1. I wouldn’t have said she’s not interested in Harriet Vane: surely she makes her personal dilemma central to the story, and the heart of all the discussions about whether/how a woman can have fulfilling work and a loving relationship.

  2. What you said.

    I alternate between re-reading your books and the Rivers of London books, which I learned about from this blog. I do read other books, but I re-read those—a lot. Before bed, at breakfast and on the subway (before I started working in my kitchen).

    I also agree about Vines and Patrician et al.-they make the Pratchett books more readable to me (and possibly re-readable) for those reasons. During the summer, I went through all the books with them in it. I wouldn’t want to live there unless I was a member of the Watch. The bank and the mint don’t work for me in that way.

    I want to live there in their community

  3. Liking hanging out with the characters + a plot that intrigues me enough that I’d reread it. I can say that for example, the October Daye series, there’s so many mysteries and so much foreshadowing that I made a fan site to keep track of it all.

  4. The characters I return to are are those that I have empathy for.

    While some authors write characters in a way that pulls you in to experience the feelings, others write so you’re observing. I prefer to observe. I don’t want to read SEP where the characters are often broken on the page before they rebuild themselves. Even though SEP has great communities, I’d rather read Alisha Rai who doesn’t make me feel I’m party to someone’s public humiliation.

    In Talia Hibbert’s Ravens wood books, the worst thing that happened to the characters happened prior to the start of the novel and is related in conversation later on. It’s easier for me to connect.

    Settings only matter to me if the author incorporates it as another character. If the same story could play out in another location, it’s not much of a draw for me.

    Re-reading is very much visiting old friends. So while I might not repeatedly re-read Mercedes Lackey’s Gryphon books focusing on Skanandron, I often return to the Owlflight books featuring Darian.

    I reread books that are authentic in cultural portrayals, so hello Jackie Lau and ugh to JR Ward.

    Re-reading is something that I am glad I get to do. I know of some people who NEVER re-read and I am happy that I have to comfort to return to.

    1. Thank you for the SEP comment. I almost always have issues with the humiliation. Which makes me sad, because she does so much wellm

  5. For me, re-readable books are all about the characters that I like and want to spend time with. If there is a dog or a horse or a dragon, that’s a bonus, but there has to be characters I’d love to know in real life. A well-written story is best, but I’ll put up with a lot of flaws to spend time with people I’m fond of.

    Who is the author of ‘The Boyfriend Project’? I can’t seem to find it.

    1. I think maybe it’s Boyfriend Material, by Alexis Hall – the names and communities fit. Also, it’s a great book.

    2. Ditto with the caveat that I must want to spend time with the characters and setting at a dinner party. If I wouldn’t accept a dinner party invitation (looking at you JR Ward), it doesn’t matter how engrossing the plot is.

  6. Rereads are a funny thing. During the previous century, I must have reread every book or story by Robert Heinlein at least a dozen times. This century, it’s only been his “juveniles” and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Starship Troopers which had a movie of the same name that ruined it. Then there is James H. Schmitz who I still reread today. Telzey is my heroine. There was a time whe I liked Poul Anderson best of all. David Falkayn of the Poleosotechnic League and Dominic Flandry of the Terran Empire were legendary. I own the books, but haven’t opened them in forever.

    Isaac Asimov wrote the Foundation Trilogy, aka The Rise and Fall of the Galactic Empire. Another “but not this century” series. All my old science fiction favorite authors are dead, so it makes sense that they’re being replaced, except as mentioned above. Replaced by who? Eric Flint and his Ring of Fire series and a dozen or two of the writers he’s brought along through that series – co-authors and independent contributors to the series. I used up a whole tube of eloquence wax talking up Paula Goodlett and Gorg Huff. Outside the Ring of Fire, there is Lois McMaster Bujold, I reread the Vorkosiverse stories religiously, but I probably reread her fantasy books even more often, especially the Penric and Desdemona novelettes. There are eight of those now. Then there’s her friend, Patricia C. Wrede and her fantasies. All rereadable.

    Romances. Our Hostess ranks first on the rereadability index. Susan Elizabeth Philips is up there, mostly the Chicago Stars series. and a few others. Heyer, thanks to both Jenny and Lois.

    I’m currently rereading Marion G. Harmon’s “Wearing the Cape” series, Bujold’s Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance (and finished her Masquerade and Physicians), and Hot Toy.

    1. My favorite Heinleins, this century, include Have Space Suit, Will Travel and The Door Into Summer. The first because of the wonderful alien being he called “the mother thing” and because of how plucky the young hero was, and how hard he worked. And the second because I’ve always had cats who were convinced that the door you opened for them, with the unbearable snow or rain lurking behind it, was just The Wrong Door, so you would have to follow them from door to door, looking for …. well, that’s pretty clear from the title.

      The latter story was the first I ever encountered that toyed with the idea of time travel and the protagonist existing in two times at once. Also, despite having been written in the 1950s about a world set far in the future — 1970, man! — it involved the invention of Roomba and various possible Roomba robo-cleaning task compatriots. Which not that many male scifi writers were writing about in the 50’s. 🙂

      1. You nailed two of my favorite Heinleins. As far as inventions ahead of his time, let us not forget Waldos, invented in 1945 based on a 1942 Heinlein story of that name. Also in The Door Into Summer was his Drafting Dan, which turned out to be achieved by software as AutoCAD and derivatives..

        I also like Tunnel in the Sky and especially Citizen of the Galaxy. “Lot 97… a boy.” I reread Farmer in the Sky not too long ago, too.

        1. Moon is a Harsh Mistress is my most frequent Heinlein re-read. (I love all the books where his engineering-mind gets to play.)
          And along with Bujold and Wrede, Pamela Dean is in regular rotation.

    2. I agree with just about every word and every book Gary mentioned above. (More than 40 years ago, my wife insisted our daughter would NOT be named Telzey!)

      I probably reread for 1) author’s voice; 2) characters; 3) dialogue (which may just be part of author’s voice). I don’t reread for setting. I like it when Nero Wolfe gets out of the house.

      Let me add to Gary’s list: Steven Brust (especially the books “written” by Paarfi); Donald E. Westlake (especially the Dortmunder books); Sarah Caudwell’s mysteries (an author unfortunately cut too short).

        1. None of the above!

          However our son is named for the title character in a James M. Barrie book.

          No, not Peter!

    3. I used to read A LOT of SF/fantasy and go back to hardly any of it. A few of the Star Trek novels get repeat reads – it’s all about the characters there, of course. Re-read certain mystery authors quite a lot. Probably because once you’ve read a mystery, you know how the problem gets solved, which means a re-read delivers all the fun of characters etc solving a problem without any suspense. (No stress!)

      Have read all of our hostess’ books multiple times. Trying to think if there’s another M/F contemporary-romance author I re-read and coming up empty aside from one set of books by Mary Jo Putney. Whereas there are a ton of historical-romance books I re-read, and a growing roster of M/M contemporary romance I’ll re-read.

    4. Isn’t Ivan’s book wonderful? I nagged my nephew (who I had already corrupted with Bujold) to read Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance and a little while later I got an email saying that I was right. Ahem, yes, always.

  7. I think that’s why we love fan service. We want to know how our friends are getting on. Davy calling Sophie.

    Maybe that’s why re-reading is all many people can do this year, the connection to old friends.

    For me I need emotional warmth, to see the characters connect (and grow) too, so this might be part of community (and why I like romance).

  8. Jenny’s points are all valid for me, but I’ ve been spoiled with some fine Regencies, and I’ve come to want a companion animal as part of the plot, Marlene, Katie, whomever. I’m a cat person, but dogs are fine and do sillier things, so they might work better. I think it’s one of Julia Quinn’s women who has a pet ferret.

    Humor also helps. And I like romances that aren’t simply romances, like the dyslexia piece in Bet Me.

    Some things I read for nostalgia, like Little Women or other Alcott books.

    If I’m not reading fiction, I need beautiful sentences/paragraphs. Right now, Rebecca Solnit is astonishing me in her latest memoir, Recollections of my Non-Existence.
    And/or wisdom–for this season, I’m reading a daily compilation of Thomas Merton.

    1. Lisa Kleypas has the pet ferret. It’s in one of the Hathaway books? Beatrix has a menagerie of animal friends. Love those.

  9. Completely off topic but Tor is offering a free download each day this week of a book in the Wayward Children series by Seanan McGuire

    1. Ah, thank you!! I was in a panic at missing the first, then realized I totally have it on Kindle already. HA!

  10. Sometimes I read a book at the perfect moment and rereading helps recapture that feeling. Sometimes I stress out about whatever bad thing I think is coming in the story and need to go back to reread the whole book at a normal pace so I catch what I missed (the first Murderbot; Red, White, and Royal Blue). Sometimes I want to revisit the beginnings of a series (the first Eve Dallas/Roarke). And sometimes I just love the world so much that I reread it all over and over again not really caring about the plot (Rivers of London).

    1. All of this. Most of Jenny’s points work for me, plot is definitely the least-important factor in whether I’ll re-read something.

      With the caveat that there are certain types of plot that are ever and always No. I’ll never know if I like X author because ze wrote Y plot, kind of thing. Or I’ll never read an otherwise-good book again because of Y plot.

      But I re-read A LOT. Compulsive reader, don’t always have the bandwidth for new material, and there are so very many books I love. 🙂

  11. I have no idea why I love rereading so much. I reread as much as I read. It’s something I have always done. However as I grow older, I find myself rereading different books than the ones I used to reread.
    In my twenties and thirties, I would reread all of Jane Austen’s novels apart from Emma, a minimum of twice a year. I haven’t reread them since. I am sure I would enjoy reading them again if I did but I have lost the urge.

  12. Characters: I have to like them and would like to spend time with them. Story: some stories are difficult to read because of all the pain and trauma — I can’t reread those stories. Ever. World: I have to have some affection for the world, even post-apocalypse (usually the magical kind) such as Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels Series. Or, if it’s violent and not apololyptic — like Ilona Andrews’ Hidden Legacy series (can you see what I’ve been rereading?) — the violence has to make sense and the world has to make sense. Why else would I read books where main characters kill people — many — as part of their lives? Even more “mundane” worlds matter as far as world-building. Normally I wouldn’t thought I’d read a book with tons of art fraud in it, but I love Faking It. It makes sense. I’ve read plenty of stories where even the “real world” of the story didn’t work. Sometimes I can’t even read the entire book when the world doesn’t work for me.

  13. I decided to see if there was any correlation between books I own physically, books I own as ebooks, and rereadability. With only one exception, the books I reread are ebooks. That wasn’t always so – in the first place, ebooks haven’t been around forever and a day. But, I only own 25 treebooks. Of those all but one fiction book I also own the ebook and I reread the ebook if I reread them at all.

    One book is the Dragon Compendium and I only own it because an article I sold to Dragon Magazine forty-odd years ago made the cut to be reprinted therein.

    One book is Bujold’s Borders of Infinity, a signed copy. Can’t toss that, can I?

    That exceptional book is Heinlein’s Podkayne of Mars, and if I found it as an ebook, I’d replace it. This edition is the one with three endings – the ending inflicted by his publisher in which Podkayne is severely injured but lives – the ending he originally wrote where Poddy dies, that the publisher felt the readership was too immature to deal with – and a compromise written by Jim Baen where Poddy lives but it makes better sense and incorporates what Heinlein was going for.

    The other books are owners manuals or educational, and who rereads those?

    1. Gary, I am your opposite, I have a few of my favorite authors on my kindle but hardly ever reread them, whereas my. Paperbacks and Hardcovers get reread often. Sorry Jenny the only one of yours I have on kindle is your short stories and I have only reread it once! I will order books from the library if I can’t get “real”books.

      1. No apologies necessary. It’s not a requirement of the blog that you read my stuff. Well, except the stuff on the blog. Actually, you cans skip that, too. We’re just here for the community.

      2. Diversity is to be unapologetically celebrated. Any Heinlein fan will tell you that most of his protagonists possessed and preferred “real” books. I did, too. But I kept moving to smaller and smaller quarters until I had no space left for bookshelves. And my library was all hardbacks, if they were available. Several local libraries benefited from the shrinkage I suffered.

        Ebooks are my consolation for loss of books. And lately, I’ve grown to appreciate the simplicity with which text size can be grown. And I love that I have close to 2,000 books on each of several thumb drives. With illustrations. 🙂

  14. Generally speaking, I think there’s something to be said for having already read a book and knowing what to expect on reread which is very attractive in these uncertain times. I agree with Jenny’s points about why some books become rereads while others don’t. I guess I’d add something about how the language itself sounds, which is why I can orally recite from memory great swathes of Hamlet and the Lord of the Rings and many poems.

  15. I agree with all your points, Jenny. I think character is the strongest one for me. The ‘old friends’ thing. But as well as strength and determination, for me they need to be basically good people who I can trust not to do really bad or stupid things.

    I reread Patrick O’Brian’s Jack Aubrey/Stephen Maturin series, Lois Bujold, Jenny Crusie, Barbara Hambly’s fantasies, Diana Wynne Jones’s and Joan Aiken’s children’s novels, Murderbot, Elizabeth Moon’s space operas.

  16. Yeah !!! Bookriot named Network Effect one of the Best Books of 2020.

    Jenny – how many re-reads have you done of the Murders books?

    1. Honestly, I stopped counting after twelve times each. They’re like a cup of hot cocoa now. With marshmallows.
      And there’s a new one in April! YAY!

  17. I agree with your diagnosis, and thanks for arranging it better than I could have. Most of my favorite/ reread authors are female because male authors tend to be much more action/plot based and I don’t really care. Maybe it’s one reason why Lord of the rings remains so perennial when other high fantasy series fall flat? That core of brotherhood?

    Anyway, pacing is also a factor for me. Most of my rereading is via audio book, so it has to be something that I can zone in and out of and still know where I am in the story. I can’t do Jane Austen or Dickens or Heyer even though I know the story. I get lost in the language.

    Conversely, Kristen Ashley is a favorite listen and relisten, but I don’t read her books. They are long, and kind of slow paces, and pretty much all about the characters and their possy. Mostly I like the ones that are just about life and very little excitement happens.

    Glad you like Alexis Hall. Since we have been talking about billionaires and tropes, maybe give How to Bang a Billionaire at try? It’s very self aware and I think that he is trying to play with the trope that has become so popular.

    1. You know I saw that and ran from it because I didn’t realize it was snarky. I may have to try it after all.

  18. Thanks, Jenny, this is fun to think about. When I search for a book to reread, I look through my bookcases imagining what sort of protagonist and what sort of place I want to return to. The personality of the protagonist often is highlighted by the plot; for example, she needs to succeed as a result of her own actions, but her success needs to be difficult and force her to change. I also care a lot about a setting I can really see and feel, tone (I like a mix of humor and building seriousness), and clear writing. It’s great when an author has more to say than the events of the plot; also, it’s wonderful when I learn something in the course of reading. Community is the least important of your 4 rereading points for me although much of what I’ve listed — the protagonist’s personality and actions, the effect of setting, the tone, the levels of meaning, and the opportunity to learn all depend on interactions of others with the protagonist.

    Right now I’ve reread just about everything that I like to reread. Also, my current taste is for adult heroines and all I have left are girls.

    1. Dear Elizabeth,

      I appreciate your points about what you look for in a book. It made me think of Lois Bujold’s book, “Paladin of Souls,” which has all of the ingredients you mention. It is a fantasy but if that isn’t a barrier for you, I believe you might enjoy it. Set in a time reminiscent of medieval Spain with a woman of middle age that embarks on a pilgrimage to find purpose and meaning. It is one of my favorite re-reads and she is one of my favorite authors with many other books particularly those featuring Cordelia Vorkosigan.

      1. Paladin of Souls is also my favourite Bujold. Ista is proof that you can grow into yourself at any age. She has such a distinctive voice.
        I started reading Bujold when her first books came out. I first read The Warrior’s Apprentice and then Shards of Honor which introduces Cordelia. I love Cordelia from that book and it’s companion novel, Barrayar (the shopping scene!) all the way to Gentleman Jole and the Red queen which a lot of Vorkosigan saga fans don’t like. She is a magnificent character, my favourite until Ista came along.

        1. Even thinking about the shopping scene can make me start to laugh out loud! All of the books you mentioned are also favorites of mine. I may slightly prefer “Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance” to “Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen” but both books made major shifts in my perspective about characters I thought I knew. Your comments and Gary’s about Heinlein are sparking a re-reading binge.

  19. I do reread for plot, but I’m a book nerd. Also, I sometimes skim (O no! Don’t let anything happen to Kate Shugak!), so I have to go back and figure out what actually happened.
    Often I reread a certain scene in a book instead of a whole book, especially the scene where the protagonists finally get together in a romance.

    Although in Eat Cake, by Jeanne Ray, I just love the part where the teenager saves the moms by delivering the cakes and saves her from performance anxiety.

    Speaking of performance anxiety, today is the debut of Scorpion Scheme, the latest Hope Sze adventure. If anyone wants to see Hope in Egypt:

    Book trailer:
    And a party in 45 minutes. No pressure:

  20. I love re-reading, especially now in the Time of Covid, where there’s enough chaos and threat out there, and few new people to talk/discover new things with, at least not in person. And my close friends and I tend to have the same restricted world settings, so we don’t do the discovering thing with one another — trips to new places, taking walks, gardening together etc.

    So re-reading is a form of adventure. Fifty years ago, I started to file my Georgette Heyer books chronologically (by recently read to read-long-ago) since it took a good few years for me to forget enough of the plot and character details to make a new re-read provide me with some new or enhanced discoveries. And I do my re-reading using that same general approach. It takes time to forget the small stuff, and time lets you notice things you might well have missed the first time.

    Although I agree with Jenny’s points 1, 2 and 4 above, I think I’m a little different on setting. The number one draw for me in any series or collection of books (the Vorkosigan Saga to me is a series; Discworld is a collection) is growth, both of the characters and of the worlds/settings in which things occur. I don’t want every single Rivers book set in London proper; I don’t want every single Discworld book set in Ankh-Morpork; I don’t want every Heyer set in Bath or Grosvenor Square. To me it’s more interesting to see a beloved character evolve and grow over time and place. Ivan is not ALWAYS barging into Aral Vorkosigan’s house to grab a seat, nab the delicacy on the table, and make himself a nuisance; put him on Komarr fulfilling a tiresome promise to an irritating friend, and he turns into a charming sort of prince rescuing a princess down on her luck and dragging along her dangerous blue acrobat sibling.

    Right now I’m re-reading the 12 Houses series by Sharon Shinn, which is nice because each of the five books has a different set of protagonists, linked by the community that the original group maintains. The setting in each book varies, but each one brings out new facets of character, and new understandings of one another. People who kind of hated one another in Book 1 become key allies and friends by Book 3; people who failed terribly in Book 3 run away to eventually find happiness and renewed friendship in Book 5. And thus it makes going back to read again more fun, because you see things blossom from an unfulfilled potential into a fine and enhanced new state of balance and satisfaction.

  21. I know from reading here that Jennifer Crusie at times preserves a quote for display above her writing place. I have a saying to suggest:

    “I’ll read a lousy plot to keep company with the story people I love.” J. Crusie.

  22. A sense of time and place will get me every time. Pat McIntosh’s “Gil Cunningham” series set in 15th century Glasgow/Scotland, just pre-Reformation. They are wonderful. Bujold, Bujold, Bujold, what more can I say? Patricia Briggs and her Mercy Thompson or Anna and Charles books (although her others are good also). Anne Bishop and her Others books. Some of Mercedes Lackey although not all. Richard and Frances Lockridge, particularly their Captain Heimrich books, mostly set in the Hudson Valley in the 50’s/60’s. Terry Pratchett, yes, yes, yes, I am especially fond of the Witches, the Guards and, of course, the Librarian. Donna Andrews, I have just introduced her to another friend. Patricia Wentworth and her Miss Silver mysteries. Phoebe Atwood Taylor and Cape Cod in the 30’s and 40’s. She is also Alice Tilton with her Leonidas Witherall books set near Boston during WWII, farce I tell you, farce! I could go on and on…..

    Yes, some of these have characters that are old friends that I enjoy re-visiting, but what hooked me first was the sense of time and place.

  23. Regarding Lois McMaster Bujold’s work, and following up from Bookgeek’s and LN’s suggestions, yes, I adore Paladin of Souls. The only fan fiction pieces I’ve written are World of the 5 Gods stories; also, I was one of the volunteer proofreaders for Bujold’s collection of essays called Sidelines. Bujold shines in creating full worlds and populating them with a vast collection of interesting characters. If you are interested in read throughs of her works, I suggest you join the discussion at choose “Mailing List,” then “New Bujold Mailing List Archive.” Go to the year a specific book was published; it may take some time, but you can find the group’s discussion. The discussion taught me lots about the books. Occasionally, Bujold chimes in; otherwise, it’s more a pack of old friends chatting.

    You all probably disagree, but I think one of Bujold’s few weaknesses is/was her inability to write romance. She is in some ways a reserved, distanced writer, and while she can brilliantly show inner tumult (usually combined with physical pain) she didn’t convince me of real emotional/physical/intellectual/romantic bonding until Paladin of Souls (2003). Ista’s growth from feeling devoid of emotion to experiencing love worth coming back from the dead for completely draws me in every time I reread the tale. She published Paladin of Souls in 2003; I’m also very convinced of Ivan and Tej’s love in Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, published in 2012. (I’ve thought about this in regards to the early stories, The Spirit Ring, the Vorkosigan Saga, and the Chalion tales; I haven’t gone back to the Spirit Knife series to ponder.)

    Nowadays, due to her partial retirement and rotten health, Bujold has pared down her writing in the Penric and Desdemona stories. I don’t find the romance convincing in them and I miss the full worlds, but I enjoy reading them as they come out.

  24. The book that kept me up all night and got me back into reading romance (I took a leave of absence because I was reading too much for school.) was “The Secret” by Julie Garwood. However, the book I recommend to friends is “Agatha and the Hitman.” I giggle just think about it. Flamingos…😂 However, I have also reread “Bet Me.” The love of characters and their friends, keep me reading, otherwise the book is over after the first chapter, or sooner. I look for books that make me laugh, which you have faithfully done, in every book. (Thank you)
    Kelly Harms is a new author I’ve found. “Good Luck Girls of Shipwreck Lane,” had some very funny scenes, and a great premise. “The Bookish Life of Nina Hill” by Abbi Waxman, is also a very fun read.
    Thank you for sharing ideas and good books.

  25. For me rereads usually come down to comfort. I mostly reread when my brain isn’t up to anything new (so, much of 2020, and usually the depth of winter, especially December when things are so hectic at work), so I’m looking for old friends to keep me company. Sometimes place matters–the last few years I’ve been reading a lot of contemporary romance set in the UK…anyplace but here, really. Mostly it’s the characters and that feeling of warm-fuzzy. While I have reread darker books (I’m a huge Bujold fan too), they usually have to have some kind of humor in them, and something approaching a happy ending.

    I have probably reread Jenny more than any other author (by a factor of 10?) followed by Dick Francis, Katie Fforde, and Trisha Ashley.

  26. I had not thought that hard about why I reread books. I think your list there hits my reasons. I agree that the plot means less to me than the way characters react to it and to each other. So long as they are moving, more or less briskly, across the page and through their lives, I will be happy to go along for the ride.

    One author I am absolutely in it for plot: Carl Hiassen. His characters are clearly evil, in a banal kind of way, or are ready to be heroic if necessary, and the whole tale hinges on what happens next. The recurring characters in his work are my favorites, over and above any single protagonist, I love the ways they swing through each book and make something else happen. But then again, his plots are a whole Florida level of batshittery that is hard to write about anywhere else.

  27. ok – I have a theory about why we love the pieces of things you publish here so much. It is because we get all the pleasure of characters moving briskly and bantering, but instantly and watching you do it. It tickles the same senses that are delighted with rereading, even thought it is the first time through (although I cheerfully go back and reread bits of everything you’ve let us see in the works). And why we insist we don’t really care about the plot or the structure – we really don’t! – because Hooray! New Characters!

  28. Something about the dialogue keeps me coming back to a book. I have to be able to hear the characters as if they were standing in front of me. So I keep going back to Heyer, Sharon Shin, Megan Turner Whalen and, yep, Crusie.

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