Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Water for Elephants Redux (copy)

Do you ever return to a book for a second or third reading? My husband returns to the Charles Portis’ well every year when he rereads Gringos.

I recently reread Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen for the Reading Round Table sponsored by Sycamore Bank. The experience is comparable to watching a movie for the second or third time. You catch things that you missed in the first viewing like you miss in the book.

Unlike re-watching a movie, I forget so much in a book. For instance, I read Gruen’s book back in May of 2007 and completely forgot characters and plot. How in the world did I suggest it to anyone to read with my faulty memory? I am sure it was lame, something like, “It’s a good book.”

The prologue starts with a flashback from Jacob Jankowski. He remembers a turning point in his life as it unfolds over 60 years ago. In the memory the character August is killed. In my first reading I knew Rosie killed August, but in the second reading I was sure it was Marlena. Why such a discrepancy?

In the first reading I focused on the “redlighting” of roustabouts. To redlight a person is to throw them from a moving train. It can be certain death if the subject is thrown while the train travels over a trestle. I remember two episodes in the book where our hero, Jacob, is threatened with the custom by physically being dangled out the train’s car door. In the rereading, it only occurs once. Where did this extra episode in my head originate?

What happens to your brain when they make a movie and now all you see are the actors as you read? I habitually substitute actors for characters as I read. In Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series, I picture Sandra Bullock although she has outgrown the part. If a book features a little person, I see character actor Billy Barty. Morgan Freeman looms large in my reading, too.

It shakes my brain up to see someone placed in the part that is against character. Throughout Gruen’s book brunette Marlena is constantly moving one hand up to cover her mouth. Readers can guess she is either embarrassed about her teeth or afraid of what she might say. Reese Witherspoon is neither brunette, snaggletooth nor afraid to speak; thus, wrong for the part.

Ask me about the book and for the next few weeks and I will have lots to say before I drift back into, “It’s a good book.”