Rereading Elmore Leonard
Some authors one enjoys almost as much in the rereading as in the reading—not even counting those that demand an instant rereading in the light of later discovery (e.g., Bernard Malamud’s A New Life). I got to thinking about this as I picked up my copy of Pronto, the novel in which Elmore Leonard introduces Raylan Givens. I had read reviews of the recently published sequel, Raylan, and so I wanted to get ready for it by reading the kick-off novel. And little time to wait: I’m number 7 of 8 in the hold queue, and Elmore Leonard novels tend to move briskly along: can’t put ’em down, you see?
So I read half the first page and remember it—I’ve read it at least two times before. But I plunged ahead, reading with enjoyment, though in some cases I could almost recite the words. And I wondered at this: rereading with enjoyment, knowing what is to come in the story, but still enjoying it. Obviously, it’s not plot that draws us so, it is style matched with content.
Think of a familiar piano concerto—some Beethoven Sonata or Chopin Prelude or some such. When it is well performed, one’s enjoyment seems even more intense than on first hearing, though by now one knows every note to come. But it doesn’t make any difference: what we enjoy is not knowledge, but music.
And in Elmore Leonard’s novels—and in the novels you yourself can reread again and again (Scaramouche, by Sabatini; the Patrick O’Brian series of Aubrey/Maturin novels are on my list, along with many others)—what we enjoy is the music, the artful, honest, fitting arrangement of words to convey the ideas and images that carry the story forward—and, of course, the story itself is one we must enjoy in the retelling. Obviously, many of the “great books” novels are survivors of this kind of natural selection of memes, starting (in our tradition) with Homer.
So I read with enjoyment the well-told recitation of a good story, exactly as I would listen to music I already know and have heard many times before.