Why I re-read

October 2, 2008

John Jakala recently pondered the re-readability of manga… the “keepers” on the shelves that you revisit instead of donating to the library or selling or trading. As I started composing my own list, I thought about what general qualities make a book re-readable for me, or what I’m looking for as I identify the keepers.

One thing that’s true of almost any entertainment I enjoy over and over again, whether it’s a book or a movie or a comic or whatever, is a lightness of spirit. Maybe it’s shallow, but I think a big factor in re-readability is comfort and escape. I pick up a comic again because it made me smile the first time I read it, and I likely could use the mood boost. (It’s sort of the same as comfort food. Mashed potatoes and grilled cheese sandwiches aren’t culinary challenges or super foods, but they soothe. They’re reliable.)

There’s a spin-off of that category that I’ve described as “bathtub manga.” In this class, the comedy doesn’t need to be laugh-out-loud, but it should be a significant component of the work. “Bittersweet” might be the best term for it. Prime bathtub manga, the ideal complement for a good, relaxing soak, is generally romantic in nature, though not necessarily mushy.

And while I’ll often go back to refresh my memory on past developments in sprawling sagas, the titles I re-read a lot tend to be either shorter series or stand-alone works. John mentioned Love Roma, which hits pretty much all of my re-readability buttons – funny, occasionally bittersweet, often romantic, and short. It’s sort of the platonic ideal for me. But I also find that I’m a lot more flexible when grabbing a one-volume story or collection of short stories to re-read. This category has more leeway in terms of complexity, and it extends to episodic titles that feature a regular cast engaged in stand-alone stories, books where there’s a formula but not necessarily a driving narrative that carries from volume to volume.

Up later: What I re-read.