The Second Time Around



Sometimes you just have to stop buying books and seeing new films and reassess what you already own. This month I’ve been going back to books, movies and shows I didn’t give enough time to first time around.

I’ve rediscovered a love for Florida-based crime noir, especially John Dupresne’s series about a therapist dealing with corrupt police starting with ‘No Regrets, Coyote’, and his books pushed me back to Carl Hiassen. I’m also trying to reread a backlog of short stories by two of my favourite female American writers, Shirley Jackson and Joyce Carol Oates, who I find have a surprising amount in common – although how any readers manage to keep pace with Oates defeats me.

Of course the classics stand rereading, because that’s how they got to be classics. Going back to Daphne du Maurier is a revelation. It’s the sentimentality of some Dickens novels that now keeps me away from them. His best works are stringent and bleak.

But like a badly hammered-in nail sticking up in a polished floor, I’m destined to like what others hate and hate what so many like. I rarely do a reverse-ferret on the novels I reread; if I finish them first time around, I usually like them enough to keep them. Movies present a bigger problem; second viewings can kill them. I sat through various ‘Spiderman’, ‘X Men’ and ‘Deadpool’-type movies with gritted teeth, trying to understand what the critics saw in them. Does this leave me out of step with popular taste? Would I have loved them when I was younger? Not sure – I’ve seen what the public likes. If I gave in too much to popular taste, the Bryant & May novels might be more successful but they wouldn’t be as quirky, trust me.

I love the films of Wes Anderson, for symmetry, tracking shots, dry humour and attention to detail. Just don’t back to ‘The Darjeeling Limited’, which for all its beauty now feels crass and pretty close to being offensive. The misadventures of three privileged brothers seeking spiritual enlightenment as they cross India uses Indians to provide local colour and even a child’s funeral pyre is treated as a stylish backcloth.

Sophia Coppola’s films are, to my mind, even worse, and as much as I first enjoyed ‘Lost In Translation’ (to the point where I visited Bill Murray’s barstool in his Tokyo hotel) it now feels quite racist. Perhaps I’m allergic to seeing and/or reading about privileged white-people’s viewpoints of other cultures. The problem extends to the films of Woody Allen. He’s never been able to act, and his presence in a film is always a distraction. The only films of his I can stomach now are the ones in which he doesn’t appear, my favourite being ‘The Purple Rose of Cairo’.

On TV I loved the lurid darkness of ‘Taboo’, which is how more period dramas should be made – true to the spirit if not the language, and as wildly over the top as a Ken Russell movie. Plus, Tom Hardy can stare down anyone on the planet! Ridley Scott exec-produced the show, as he did with the wonderful ‘BrainDead’, which was too sassy to survive more than one season.

On the reverse of the ‘only nail in a polished floor’ analogy, I’m drawn to underdog books and films. Alex de la Iglesias is the greatest populist film director nobody in the UK has ever heard of, and he’s yet to make a bad film. I’m also rereading a number of period thrillers which have been dropped off everyone’s lists because they exhibit the sexism of the times in which they were written. Can we just accept that certain books and movies belong to particular periods and deal with that without censoring them?

So, today’s question – are there any books or films which are actually better second time around?

8 comments on “The Second Time Around”

  1. Chris Webb says:

    I almost never read a book more than once. On odd occasions I have started to re-read a book I particularly enjoyed but usually give up quite soon. The only films or TV series I like watching repeatedly are comedies, plus a very small number of my particular favourites like Blowup or Get Carter (the original obviously).

    If you liked Taboo I’d be interested to know what you thought of Peaky Blinders. The former was the antithesis of the roughly contemporary Jane Austen, the latter the antithesis of the contemporary Bertie Wooster. It started off good if perhaps over-wrought, but then degenerated into a saga of wannabe aristos.

    The first Dickens book I read was Pickwick Papers which is, if not quite a comedy, certainly light-hearted and nowhere near being “Dickensian”. That is therefore my “default” view of Dickens. Most people’s exposure to him is through TV and film which is unfortunate because it is impossible to dramatise his work successfully. The storylines are often weak and implausible, the dialogue often sparse, but anything written by Dickens is basically carried by his quirky and creative use of language which is completely lost in a dramatisation.

    The sentimentality and mawkishness of his novels was I suppose typical of the time, but then they wouldn’t have been popular if he portrayed the poor and underclass with the authenticity revealed by Henry Mayhew. Maybe Dickens’ portrayal of those Mayhew described as “vicious semi-criminals” as almost saintly aroused sympathy and empathy among those higher up the social scale who were in a position to bring about social change.

    About 20 years ago the BBC made a series of dramatisations of his famous readings with Simon Callow. They were excellent, maybe they’ll show them again sometime on BBC4.

    “But like a badly hammered-in nail sticking up in a polished floor, I’m destined to like what others hate and hate what so many like.” I don’t understand that simile. Seems to imply some people like badly hammered-in nails!

  2. Martin Tolley says:

    Second time is hard for those of us who (as Bill Clinton put it) have had more yesterdays than we will have tomorrows. If I read stuff again, I’m afraid I’ll miss all those delights that I don’t yet know, all those experiences that I still want to have. And books were read at a certain time of one’s life, and re-visiting past times and memories is often not a good idea, almost always it’s a tad disappointing. For me, one author who always bears re-reading, and probably my “you’re going to expire at the end of the week, who do you fancy reading?” author, would have to be PG Wodehouse. I’m a curmudgeonly soul, and he’d guarantee to send me off with a smile.

  3. Wayne Mook says:

    Double Indemnity is a film I can revisit, I recently watched the old Frankenstein, I’d forgotten how violent it was, especially the restored version as Hays Code cut quite a bit.

    The very best of MR James ghost stories are always a good read or listen too (Christopher Lee & Robert Powell’s telling are splendid), Lost Hearts and the Ash Tree work against the idea he was a purveyor of gentle ghostly tales.

    I’m thinking of revisiting Chandler’s the Big Sleep & The Long Goodbye.


  4. Vivienne says:

    Like Martin, I feel I have to watch the time I’ve got left. But I do re-read. When I had flu in Feb, I went back to Bleak House which felt therapeutic. Dickens certainly became less sentimental. Look at Bradley Headstone and the extreme emotions in Edwin Drood.
    I bought the little Bloomsbury Guide 100 Must Read Crime novels, and worked my way through the lot (hard to track down in some cases) so I encountered the sexism, though I have to say, those from the 30s and40s had very feisty women quite often. So I encountered many I’d never heard of and now want more. Try The Deadly Percheron!

    Having recently, here, been reminded of The Magus, intend to read that again too.

  5. Peter Tromans says:

    I seem to have reached a stage where there are books that I’ve forgotten that I’ve read. I start them and suddenly realise that I know what will happen next though I don’t recall the whole story and certainly not the culmination. Should I plough on to the end? Or is the book so forgettable that it’s better that it remains forgotten?

    I should emphasise that this has never happened with anything written by Mr Fowler!

  6. Rh says:

    A New Leaf for films – Elaine May’s whipsmart wordplay and business; Gavin Young’s travel books, maybe all travel books!

  7. Helen Martin says:

    I’m mixing up new books and old ones. Books that I read as a young and very naive person (at 15 I blushed deeply while reading Sigrid Unset!) are very different now that I am old and cold. Re-reading is perhaps a good idea, especially if you read it too early the first time.
    I am reading John Buchan because he wrote the Richard Hannay books in real time, during the First War. I am finding the usual references to the Germans (or Gairmans as his Scots characters call them) as Huns or Boche and criticising most foreigners. My father warned me when I was reading The 39 Steps about anti-semitic themes in his books, but that’s not terribly noticeable in the Hannay stories. What is noticeable, especially in Mr. Standfast and The Three Hostages is a deeply seated hatred of the Irish (what my friend from Eire refers to as the “real” Irish not the Ulster people).
    I just watched the Mark of Zorro (1920). It was good and my husband told me I had to read the dialogue out loud for my (imaginary) little brother who couldn’t read . You don’t disturb the audience when you do because there’s no sound from the screen, just the music.

  8. Bill says:

    Chris, if you like Florida mayhem, perhaps you’d like Edna Buchanan, who, I’m proud to say, is my fellow New Jerseyite. She began as a journalist, whose “The Corpse Had a Familiar Face”, an interesting précis of her newspaper cases, was the genesis of a fun line of murder mysteries.

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