Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Rereading Elmore Leonard

with 7 comments

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.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 January 2012 at 7:54 pm

Posted in Art, Books, Music

7 Responses

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  1. Great column. It’s funny, just today I started reading the new Pelecanos novel and was struck by how much I enjoyed falling back into the particular rythyms of his dialogue – very similar to Leonards. While this book is new to me the characters are from previous novels and you just fall right back into their lives swept up in their stories. It was kind of just a hazy thought for me, thanks for clarifying it.

    Dave Petty

    1 February 2012 at 6:05 pm

  2. I’ll tell you who else wrote like that: George V. Higgins, particularly the early Higgins: The Friends of Eddie Coyle, Cogan’s Trade, and those.


    1 February 2012 at 6:27 pm

  3. Have you read any Ross Thomas?


    1 February 2012 at 7:48 pm

  4. And Mark Helprin – Winter’s Tale, etc.

    The Eldest

    2 February 2012 at 6:08 am

  5. Ross Thomas: OMG yes. I stumbled onto his first and tracked him across the rest—much as I’m doing with Barry Eisler now (and Lee Child). My God, hadn’t thought of Ross Thomas for ages. Now I’ve got to read them again…

    My copy of *The Winter’s Tale* is *so* thoroughly marked up! 🙂

    Another one: *Robinson Crusoe*. Something quite satisfying about that book.


    2 February 2012 at 6:21 am

  6. I was reading your reedit(?) site, and would love to make some comments. I am 42, but still don’t feel very comfortable sharing too much info about myself on blogs. I asked the question above about Ross Thomas. I mainly would like you to know that I enjoy reading your blog (or more exactly, your philosophy about life). I am jealous of people that have a full command of the english language, and can write so well. I have never felt that I have that ability.

    On your other site you said you would like to take a trip to a cabin in the woods. You live very close to a place called Costanoa. It is not far from Half Moon Bay. You should stay in a tent.

    It is not really in the woods, but quite fun. Half Moon Bay has some great food, also.

    If you can see my email, I would love some Movie and Book recommendations. I think that I have some to share.


    2 February 2012 at 10:16 pm

  7. I’m waiting now for Cold War Swap to arrive. I want to reread them in order, of course, and so I’m ordering from those not available in the local library.

    On the “Useful posts” page, I have a post about writing. Like a lot of things, it’s something that just requires a certain amount of paying attention and practice. This post has some good information.

    It’s sort of difficult for me to make recommendations out of context, but if you use the “Category Search” function at the right on “books” and “movies” you’ll find quite a few posts in which I discuss one or the other. And in the sidebar at the right are links to pages “Leisureguy recommends” with more recommendations.


    3 February 2012 at 3:48 am

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