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Lucky Jim Changed This Man’s Life

How often can you say a book changed your life?

This outstanding article by Joseph Schuster at The Millions illustrates how Lucky Jim changed his life. Lucky Jim? The story of a sad, beaten-up, self-deprecating assistant professor at a no-name college in England? Yep. Lucky Jim.

That just goes to show—when it comes to literary tastes, we all appreciate different flavors.

Schuster talks about his annual tradition of reading Lucky Jim in the fall—and what (or if) he expects to learn something from each reading. Many of you who do the same with a favorite novel will probably relate:

On a certain level, it’s perhaps an odd thing to read a book perhaps two dozen times and to plan to read it yet again. After all, the primary force that pulls us through a work of fiction is the desire to find out what happens next and after we’ve read to the last page the first time, we know the sequence of events that make up the narrative.

As a writer, I’ve often re-read work that I’ve admired so that I can figure how the author accomplishes whatever he or she does: How does Gustave Flaubertbuild the structure of Madame Bovary so that Emma’s suicide seems inevitable rather than melodramatic?

How does Vladimir Nabokov convince me to feel connected to Humbert Humbert despite his desire for twelve-year-old Lolita? How does Stewart O’Nan make Emily, Alone or Last Night at the Lobster compelling novels despite the fact that little of seeming dramatic consequence occurs in them? How does Margot Livesey make The Flight of Gemma Hardy a fresh story despite its clear echoes of and debt to Jane Eyre?

Certainly, at least some of my trips through Lucky Jim have taught me something about how to build a novel: one of the reasons it succeeds is that Amis uses the comic moments more than merely for a laugh but as integral parts of what is really an extremely tight structure that allows us to accept that the unhappy and largely incompetent protagonist we begin with who is able, in only roughly 250 pages, to become the sort of man who deserves the happy ending he comes to, who deserves the good job and good woman he has by the final line that brought me to tears for its profound rightness that first time.

But two dozen times through? Is there profit in that?

I always find it interesting how unique we can be as readers. I would’ve never have thought Lucky Jim to be a life-changing novel, but that’s why we read (and re-read) the books.

So my question to you is this: Why do you re-read novels?

Are you just in love with the story? The writing? Do you hope to learn something new, like Schuster mentions above?

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9 Comments Post a comment
  1. I reread novels for three reasons: first, I read it when I was younger and I want to read it with more mature eyes, usually to see if I missed something (did this with The Great Gatsby a few times, still don’t think it is worthy of the top of your list!); second, I forgot I read it, which usually occurs with a mediocre book I didn’t like and then I am irritated about half-way through when I realize I already read it; and third, I read To Kill A Mockingbird annually because it is like having lunch with an old friend and makes me so happy (top of my list, needless to say).

    Like

    November 6, 2014
    • Good call on TKAM. I’ve only read it once but could definitely see myself re-reading it often.

      Liked by 1 person

      November 6, 2014
  2. I re-read certain novels to find out how the author was able to create the magic he created. Sometimes I will re-read a novel to find out if I was wrong the first time. I still don’t care for “Catcher in the Rye”. Then there are those I re-read for the sheer pleasure they bring me. It’s like I am with an old friend whom I have not seen for a while. The Great Gatsby, The Old Man and the Sea, The Old Capital, Heart of the Matter, The River Runs Through It. They’re all friends who have brought me hours and hours of pleasure.

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    November 6, 2014
  3. I re-read books very rarely but I think I’m doing it unintentionally at the moment. I knew I had started this book before but I was convinced I hadn’t finished it. Now I’m nearing the end and still none of it’s new to me, so I’m getting this sinking feeling…

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    November 6, 2014
  4. Re-reading is a separate “howdunit” for me. I usually don’t look at the mechanics until I’ve enjoyed the book once. If I find myself looking at the mechanics on a first read, it’s either because it’s unbelievable beautiful or mediocre/awkward writing.

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    November 6, 2014
  5. I don’t think I’ve ever reread a book, which seems odd now that I think about it because I often fully intend to–primarily for the reason Schuster identifies: to figure out how. Surely part of the issue that keeps me from going back is the simple fact that there is so much more to read and I’m afraid I’ll never get through it all if I reread Don Quixote every year like Faulkner did, or Lucky Jim like Schuster. In fact, I rarely even go back to look at all the things I marked or scribbled in the margins, certain as I was at the time of marking or scribbling that I’d be back, I’d have to. Whatever it is, it’s certainly not for lack of interest that I stay away. I guess, for now at least, I just prefer to glance ardently at old friends on the bookshelf over starting the conversation with them again.

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    November 6, 2014
  6. I don’t reread many books, mainly ones I read when I was younger which I’m not sure I fully appreciated at the time or the occassional book which requires rereading to fully appreciate it (like Julian Barnes’ A Sense Of an Ending). I probably should reread more to appreciate the writer’s craft, but there are just so many more books out there asking to be read!

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    November 6, 2014
  7. africanraingod #

    R.A. Salvatore has some books I have read over and over again. I would have to say though that the book I have read the most often was Watership Down. I loved that story and read it a lot as a child. Besides that one I tend to just read a book once, maybe twice and that’s it. http://www.indiepublisherbookstore.com

    Like

    November 7, 2014
  8. Reblogged this on YOUNG.

    Like

    November 8, 2014

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