Second First Time

A question from Booking Through Thursday:

If you could magically reset things so that you had the chance to read a favorite book/series again for the first time … which would you choose? And why?

Dracula (first edition cover), Bram Stoker's v...
Dracula (first edition cover), Bram Stoker’s vampiric novel, a reference for gaslight fantasy literature. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The only book I’ve ever read more than once is Dracula. (Eyerolls abound from everyone who knows me.) Sometimes I pick up one of my copies and open it at random and just read a few pages. In an odd sort of way, it’s a comforting thing to do, like soaking in a steaming hot bath or eating a giant bowl of chocolate chip mint ice cream.

But if I could read it again for the first time, would I? I don’t think I would.

First, because it’s so comforting. I know the story, the characters, and the settings so well, it feels like putting on my favorite t-shirt. (Last simile I promise.) I wouldn’t want to give up that feeling.

Second, there are so many layers to the story, it’s impossible to get everything that’s going on all in one reading. The first time I read it, I read it for the story itself. The second time, because I didn’t have to pay as much attention to the story, I read it for the language. I paid attention to the words Bram Stoker used in order to ratchet up the tension and the overall creepiness. He was a master of atmospherics. Take, for example, this passage:

It was now nearly the hour of high tide, but the waves were so great that in their troughs the shallows of the shore were almost visible, and the schooner, with all sails set, was rushing with such speed that, in the words of one old salt, “she must fetch up somewhere, if it was only in hell”. Then came another rush of sea-fog, greater than any hitherto, a mass of dank mist, which seemed to close on all things like a gray pall, and left available to men only the organ of hearing, for the roar of the tempest, and the crash of the thunder, and the booming of the mighty billows came through the damp oblivion even louder than before. The rays of the searchlight were kept fixed on the harbour mouth across the East Pier, where the shock was expected, and men waited breathless.

The wind suddenly shifted to the northeast, and the remnant of the sea fog melted in the blast. And then, mirabile dictu, between the piers, leaping from wave to wave as it rushed at headlong speed, swept the strange schooner before the blast, with all sail set, and gained the safety of the harbour. The searchlight followed her, and a shudder ran through all who saw her, for lashed to the helm was a corpse, with drooping head, which swung horribly to and fro at each motion of the ship. No other form could be seen on the deck at all.

I find it still shudder-worthy.

On subsequent readings, I’ve been able to appreciate even more aspects of the novel, such as its commentary on Victorian sexual mores or its exploration of how we as Western society regard the “other.” (Think how the mentally ill were treated or how all the characters think of Eastern Europe as some place exotic and strange.) Then of course, there’s the fun of spotting all the literary allusions. (Okay, maybe just fun for me.)

In any event, I think I maybe have possibly answered the question, or not. I like reading a book for the first time and falling in love with it, but sometimes, I just need an old friend. (See, that doesn’t count because it’s a metaphor and not a simile.)

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