Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Secret Ingredient

If Colonel Sanders was still around, perhaps he could answer a question for me...
I'm not jones-ing for a bucket of Original Recipe, not exactly. But I am curious about something I've been chewing on for days now. (not as disgusting as it sounds)

It started with a conversation about movies. There was champagne involved, but then, champagne is only barely alcohol, right?

What the subject, and the booze, got us thinking about--and subsequently chewing on--are the movies that stick with us, that we watch over and over, that become personal classics in the I-can't-get-enough-of-it category. When the results were in, the titles each chose as a "repeat offender" left us scratching our collective heads. What is it about Twister that makes it so re-watchable? I don't remember that one collecting any Academy Awards. Why is it that I have seen Armageddon 365 times and still weep uncontrollably for the last 45 minutes? (despite coaching myself each time, that I KNOW what is coming) I will eventually watch it again--it's not a question of if, but when--and I will, no doubt, bawl my way to the credits. How can something still be that touching after 367 viewings? Still be funny? Still be remotely interesting???

And that led us to books. It wasn't a huge jump--there was more than one author in the room. As an author, one would like to think, that their work might some day fall into the re-readable category. We checked--sure enough, each of us had a list of repeat offenders in the book world too. We scratched our heads again. What IS it that makes this mish-mash of titles so engaging that we revisit them regularly?
We had some ideas, but we ruled them out one by one...
humor? no joke is funny 255 reads later.
subject? not a chance, we're all over the board here and our re-reads fell right along side one timers in the same subject/genre.
plot? They say there are only a few plotlines in existence, repeated with variation. I ruled this one out by simple example. Deep Impact had the same Plot as Armageddon. I fell asleep half way through and can guarantee I will NEVER watch it again.
Writing Style? Nope, one author can have a dozen books or more and only one will fall in the repeat category.
Characters? This one almost had me...nobody loves good, quirky characters more than I. Could it be these fictional personas that seize our interest and cause us to invest emotionally? It's possible, but there are characters I adore in some of my one-time-only reads.

We were left to ponder, and sip, and consider what remained. How can an author catch something so elusive and pin it down? What is it that one can incorporate to inspire such devotion and adoration in one's work? Damned if I know. But there is something, something that touches the reader personally and draws them back to visit again, and again. The secret ingredient.

So I ask you, if you care to venture a guess. What is that one book that calls you back to re-read over and over? Why? Maybe the secret ingredient is an individual thing...can you pin it down?
Inquiring minds want to know.


Anonymous said...

I believe it's very personal, either it touches on a precious memory, or shakes up a deep belief. The trigger would be different for each person.

Stephanie said...

I have one book I'll read at anytime... Night Play by Sherrilyn Kenyon. What draws me back again and again are the foibles of both the heroine and hero. Both are certain they aren't able to be loved and that a happily ever after is not in the cards for them. That they find it together draws me back again and again.

Then I have a book that is one I read ever five years or so - Shanna by Kathleen Woodiwiss. I like the way Shanna grows up and Ruark has to be one of my all time favorite heroes... and I love how all the seemingly unrelated events in the book tie in together.

Frances Pauli said...

Stephanie, your Night Play description reminds me of one of my favorites. Crystal Griffon by Andre Norton. Characters with wounds to heal, underdogs, larger than life obstacles... maybe we're onto something.
thanks for the comments!

InkSplat said...

hmm. I think... geez. I read The Book Thief over and over... I think it's the books that get you thinking. Because I think about that book, and if there is a book I am thinking about I want to re-read it.

Pauline B Jones said...

I think it has to do with you and the author having a sort of story chemistry. I've tried to figure it out and come back to chemistry. And comfort? When I'm sick or its raining and I'm blue, I head for my rereads, because I know I'll be satisfied and delighted all over again. No surprises.

I'm not saying I don't like surprises, but when I'm rereading, not in the mood to be surprised.

It would be nice if it were something you could bottle and sell. But I do think it is as personal and unique as authors and readers.

All the author can do is write from the heart, write as true to self as possible and hope.

It's a crazy business. **wg**

litlflame said...

That secret ingredient is an elusive thing...
I believe it's all in the eyes/brain of the one particular reader, and what he feels when reading that one book.
If a book make me feel, picture the story, laugh out loud or even cry it's a safe bet I'll read it again. I enjoyed it and liked the story. But if nothing happens, that I don't care what happens next in the story...I most certainly will never read that book twice...if I in fact actually finish it.
Some books I re-re-re-re-re-re-read, I might only read particular sections or chapters at this point. Good writing in conveying the settings, atmosphere is also a reason as long as the story keeps me wondering. There's a lot of different feelings that will draw me back to re-read a book.
Take The Discworld Series by Terry Pratchett. I've read the entire series at least 6 times and I do it because I still laugh out loud at the jokes, puns, the hysterics and parallels to our own twisted world. But on the Discworld it's all safe, escape from reality etc. and somehow I feel that societey here can actually learn something from the Discworld...

Anyway, someday I hope someone will re-read my book too.

The Author of
G.E.N.I. Genetically Enhanced Natural Intelligence.