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re-reading neuromancer


In spite of the fact that I believe rereading books is a good thing, I rarely do it. I’ve read maybe 20 or 30 books more than once. I can’t exactly explain why I don’t reread more. Maybe it’s that I have a reasonably good memory and sometimes I’m just plain old bored when I start a book the second time; I stop reading at that point. Or maybe I’m addicted to new. Some people in my life have suggested as much.

Whatever the case, William Gibson’s Neuromancer is among those books I’ve read more than once; I believe this was the third time through. I wanted something reasonably light but that I would also enjoy—a book that would engage some of the pleasure centers in my brain and few of those responsible for pain. I think I also wanted to read about a down and out loser who likes his vices, does a couple of things well, and manages to survive despite his contempt for life. My motivation was similar to why I rented a series of Eastwood westerns. At this particular moment in my life, loners are appealing and the resigned taking of the shit that life dishes out seems an important theme on which to dwell.

That was all by way of saying what has been said before more succinctly: context is everything. In this case, I think I was much more patient than I was during the first two readings of the book, readings through which I raced, inhaling the text like some kind of champion hot dog eater; the flavor and texture of the dogs tend to get lost in the rush to get them down the throat.

This time, for the first time, I see that Neuromancer is noir. It’s got: an anti-hero; a dead girl friend; multiple dark, dangerous cities populated by shady characters in bars and alleys in which you could lose your wallet or your life in equally fast moments; drugs; cigarettes; alcohol; a dangerous woman; some sex; a potentially life-threatening, but intriguing job to do with ambiguous moral consequences; and some bizarrely messed up rich people. All this and written in abrupt, cruel sentences that leave the reader feeling some of the words were razor-bladed out. Why didn’t I see it the first time?

However the book is classified, I love it; on my list, it’s still the best science fiction book I’ve read and I don’t think Gibson has ever regained that level of clarity and focus. Elsewhere, I have commented on his more recent development and speculated about some of the reasons. Again, it’s all about context and I think Gibson is now in such a different place in his life than he was back in the early 80s when he wrote Neuromancer that it is ridiculous to expect him to go back there, even metaphorically. Therefore, though I’m looking forward to reading his most recent offering, Spook Country, I’m not expecting it will be a return to his first book’s wonderfully, re-readably dark oeuvre.



  1. Ms. Whatsit says:

    Well, I will have to put this one on my list of what to read next.

    I tend to avoid re-reading books also. To me, it’s about the simple fact that life is too short and that there are too many books out there to read. It’s for the same reason that I have no problem abandoning a book if it fails to capture my curiosity by about, oh, page 50 or so.

    I am rather tempted to re-read the most depressing books (to me) I’ve read so far– Rushdie’s The Moor’s Last Sigh, Nabakov’s Lolita, plus a couple others whose titles escape me right now, if only to decide whether or not they are truly depressing OR if in fact there is an ingenious something else waiting for me to savor.

  2. halshop says:

    Ms. W. — I agree that there isn’t really time to read bad books, but that is one reason to re-read books you know are good: you’re guaranteed not to be wasting your time.

    I recommend trying Toni Morrison’s Beloved, too. It’s not so easy to get past the first 50 or so pages, but once you do, you are well rewarded for the effort.

  3. Cyrus says:

    You know, it had been ten years since I read Neuromancer, it might have taken me a week to read it back then-which left rushed. This time around it lasted about 3 days, with me taking it easy-which either means I’m a much better reader or spend an alarming amount of time on public transportation.

    But now that I’ve read it again, the book makes much more sense than it ever could have in 1997, simply because of the state of our popular culture and society.

    I kept thinking about Paris Hilton when Lady 3Jane was mentioned, how the plastic surgery that’s become commonplace today is alarmingly close to what Gibson wrote as abstract concepts, and let’s not forget the role corporations play in shaping society. It’s both amazing and alarming just how much of this piece of fiction has become reality.

    Yeah, I don’t think each book needs to be re-read, but like some great records, re-visiting them after life has changed several times over always brings better perspective.

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