Susan Oleksiw is the author of the Anita Ray series, featuring Indian American Anita Ray. The second in the series, The Wrath of Shiva, was published by Five Star in June 2012, and received a starred review in Library Journal. The first in the series, Under the Eye of Kali, appeared in 2010.
Oleksiw also writes the Mellingham series featuring Chief of Police Joe Silva, who appeared in five books. Welcome back, Susan.
Rereading Favorite Books by Susan Oleksiw
Most of my fellow writers, at least the ones who gather on a weekend to talk about how things are going, often segue from rewriting their current mss to what they’re reading and then to rereading their favorite books. I contribute what I can but I admit here that I rarely reread my favorite books.
Many, many years ago, when I was finally old enough to use the school library and borrow books on my own, to take home and keep for days and days, I took one home and fell in love with it. I loved that book so much I couldn’t stand the idea of parting with it. So, what did I do? I read it again. That was a mistake.
I don’t think even a full day passed between finishing the book and starting over. But I will never forget how I felt. I read it through to the end a second time, but when I was finished, a second time, I was sad and disappointed. I didn’t have the same feeling as at the end of the first reading, which is what I was hoping for. I have never forgotten the feeling. To this day I won’t even try to reread a beloved book unless enough time has passed for me to feel like a different person, so I can feel the book is new to me in some way.
Unlike novels, however, I often reread short stories. Reading short fiction is like examining a finely crafted piece of jewelry. I can hold it in one hand and see all facets at once, watch the light as it lands first here, then there, appreciate the craftsmanship on the clasp. Short fiction is like this; it is all of a piece. It doesn’t meander or grow and then shrink, and grow again. Short fiction is more perfect in its form than long fiction. So for me, when it comes to rereading, I choose the masters of short fiction (and some of the future masters as well) and reread a short story sometimes minutes after I have finished it for the first time.
So what did I learn from that early experience with my beloved book (a copy of which I still have, by the way)? You might think I learned not to reread books, but that isn’t it. In the many years since, I’ve reread lots of books for many reasons–to understand the nuances better, to enjoy the language again, to better analyze the themes for a paper, to find more of the writer’s views, to better appreciate the plot and structure.
But I did learn a valuable lesson, one that guides me in writing fiction even now. The lesson for me is this: You can only have an experience once. Whatever happens the second time around is going to be different because you’re different. You are a different person by virtue of having already read the book once. You can never recreate the original experience, or recover the initial feelings and reactions. You can remember them, but they won’t happen again in the same way.
Each novel I write is for me a lived experience, a journey of discovery. At the end, I can edit and improve, but I can never start over and expect it to have the same feeling of discovery. For this reason I try to make my first draft, my first experience with a character and a scene, as full and rich as possible. I can edit, add, cut, improve, but I can only discover once.
Susan, thanks again for being my guest today.
You can find out more about Susan and her books at her website.