Maybe Rereading “Dune”

I’m rereading Dune. At least, I think I’m rereading it. I’m beginning to wonder if I ever read it at all until now.

I remember thinking I liking the book when I was young, and several times over the intervening years I’d end up with a copy and try to reread it, but I could never get into the story again. Admittedly, when I was young, I had a lot more patience for books that were mostly descriptions of day-to-day living, whether on this planet or another (the first 150 pages of Dune seem more like setting the scene than the beginning of a book) and I lost that patience in later years. It’s also harder to keep whole books in my head now, so that adds to my impatience with dragginess.

It’s possible the book gets better (I’m not even halfway through), and it’s possible it has a great ending that would make me feel good about the book. And it’s possible that something in the latter half will strike a chord of memory, but so far, there isn’t so much as a ding. Even if I can’t remember books I read decades ago, if they impressed me in some way, I have some sort of lingering impression of them. Most books, of course, leave no impression — there is simply no “there” there. I’m not sure where Dune would fit in the book spectrum because it is different enough that I should remember something or hear a faint echo of recognition in the back of my mind. But nope. Nothing. I can’t even figure out why I would have read it. I have never liked authors who have to create incomprehensible names for people, things, and places. The strange spellings seem to take up space in my brain that would normally be used for following the story.

Even more confusing, I see the cover in my mind’s eye — a reddish cover with a fellow trudging across a wide expanse of dunes. I spent some time looking at Dune covers today, and there is not a single one of them that looks familiar. (Except for the one I bought at a library book sale a while back and redonated unread.)

It makes me wonder what book I did read. It’s possible I read some other book and misremembered it as Dune. It’s possible I misremembered the cover. (If there even was a cover image. It could have been a rebound book from the library.) And I could have found the book completely unmemorable.

Too bad there’s no way to rewind a memory to see the truth of it.

What I am seeing is a lot of similarity to The Wheel of Time series, at least in small things — the witches, the truthsayers, the uncanny powers, the manipulation of people and events. Of course, these are all fairly common archetypes and scenarios for the hero/savior story, but people often compare The Wheel of Time world to The Lord of the Rings, and I don’t see it at all. (But then, that’s another iconic series I haven’t been able to slog through, so I could have missed any similarity.)

One thing that amused me — in a book that uses so many strange-sounding names and words, at one point, Frank Herbert describes someone as having olive skin. Couldn’t he have come up with a more interesting word? I have always hated “olive” applied to skin because it takes me out of the story and makes me wonder what color the character is. I still remember the first time I came across that descriptive word. I couldn’t figure out if the character had green skin or black. It took years before I realized the word referred to the color of the inside of a black olive.

So, I can remember being puzzled by olive skin, but I can’t remember anything about a book I thought I read and thought I liked.

The life of a reader does get bizarre at times.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

8 Responses to “Maybe Rereading “Dune””

  1. rami ungar the writer Says:

    I can recommend a few other stories of the sci-fi and fantasy bent if you want. Ones that you would hopefully identify with better.
    Also, guess what? I’ve been using my Tarot deck more, and now I’m going to be doing Tarot readings at a convention I’ll be selling books at next weekend. And I think your posts have influenced this choice of mine.

  2. Estragon Says:

    I find my impression of many books is as much a function of my state of mind at the time, as it is the book itself. Sometimes I just don’t have the patience for a slow start, or the imagination for a lot of scene setting, or whatever. If so, I don’t force it. It happens with movies, and sometimes music too. Some supposedly great work just doesn’t “click” with me, but might later when my context is more suitable. Some work I can read/watch/listen to many times, still getting something new. Like you, I think I’ve read Dune, but now that you mention it, I’m not sure either. That happens with beach reads a lot.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I remember loving many classics when I was young, and now if I try to reread them, they just don’t stick in my brain.

      I finished Dune, and even knowing that books sometimes click and sometimes don’t, I can’t imagine ever having read it or ever having liked it. Now I wonder what book I confused it with.

  3. pamkirst2014 Says:

    I agree that time of life affects our experience with a book!

  4. Sam Sattler Says:

    I’m working on one of those “Great Courses” things right now, and I’m on Episode 16 of 24 called “How Great Science Fiction Works.” I was an avid SF reader when I was much younger but in recent years have pretty much only read SF if it pertained to time-travel or alternate history. The course has given me lots of new insights…and leads to follow…and I’m really enjoying it, especially as it’s finally getting to some of the more “modern” novels.

    “Dune” has been mentioned a couple of times and one of the segments followed the whole chain of books that followed the original volume. Even the professor presenting the material could not work up a whole lot of enthusiasm for the book or the series but he called it a classic anyway.

    I can wholeheartedly recommend the one I’m reading now, Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2015 “Aurora.” I learned about “generation ships” from the course, and this is one of the novels about that kind of space craft. Some 2,000 people from all over Earth set out for a distant planet, knowing that it will take them 170 years to get there. That means that none of the original colonists will be alive, of course, and that the ones at the end of the line may not be exactly thrilled to find themselves there. It’s an intriguing concept that can easily be turned into a rather literary novel. I’m about 65% of the way through it…and things are not going well for the current generation at all.

    Your doubts about having ever actually read “Dune” before remind me again how happy I am that I’ve been keeping a list of books I complete since February 1, 1970. I’ve got it set up in a database now, too, so I can always check my “doubts” that way. And, just so you know, I have looked up numerous books that I could have sworn I’d read – but hadn’t.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Aurora sounds interesting. I never thought of multi-generation space travel as being a subgenre, but it definitely is. I never read Aurora, but I’ve read dozens of such books.

      I’ve finally put Dune to rest. Now I have to search out the book that so impressed me all those years ago! Or maybe not. There are plenty of books to read.

      My favorite science fiction writer was Kate Wilhelm. Her books always resonated with me. Apparently, science fiction had a downturn of popularity, so she turned to mysteries, which were only ho-hum.

      When it comes to science fiction, short stories seem to stick in my mind more than novels do. For some reason, I just flashed on Heinlein’s “And He Built a Crooked House.”

      Jeff always kept a list of books he read. It seems such an admirable thing to do.


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