Which is worse?
Finding a book you love and then hating everything else you try by that author, or
Reading a completely disappointing book by an author that you love?
Is there anything as bad as that awful feeling of betrayal that creeps across you when you realize a book by a beloved author is terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad crap? Or the sinking sensation you feel when you begin a book by an author you’ve loved, and it’s not great, and then you realize that the one before that was only slightly better? And then another comes out and it’s even worse, and you have to face the fact that your beloved author has lost it? Or worse, is just phoning it in for the money!
For me, that was the Wheel of Time series, which I initially loved, but slowly deteriorated over the years, each subsequent volume bigger and more convoluted than the last. I skipped reading Knife of Dreams til I came across a copy in our Lost & Found last year, and went the entire time til then without rereading the series at all, something I had done every year since 1996.
Reading a single good book by an author, then discovering that I hate everything else by them isn’t quite as bad, because I can write that one book off as a moment of genius in an otherwise mediocre (or worse) career. Some people only get that spark once, and at least they did. Many of us will never evince genius that will live on like that even once in our lives. And then of course, they have to live with the fact that they can never duplicate or better that one stroke of brilliance. So isn’t such an author to be pitied, really?
I cannot think of an example right off the top of my head, but I’m sure there is one. I do adore The Secret History, but remain undecided on The Little Friend. I may have to reread them both to find out!
And then there’s always the author you once loved, but when you go back to their books, you discover that they’re terrible. And that they always were terrible. And you have nothing to blame for that but your own bad taste and/or inexperience.
That’s how I feel about Piers Anthony. I devoured his books through sixth and ninth grade. A few years later, I read through a few again and hated them, realizing just what puerile messes most of them are. Well, we’re all young once, right?
Strip Tease by Carl Hiaasen
Originally published 1993
Warner Books, 1st printing, 1994
Genre: crime novel, satirical fiction
Synopsis & Review: Erin Grant is working hard for the money, dancing at the Eager Beaver in order to pay her divorce and custody lawyer after her felonious ex-husband got her fired from her position as a secretary for an FBI agent. One night at the club, a Florida congressman named David Dilbeck attempts to brain a young man having a bachelor party with a Korbel bottle, and from then on, Erin is increasingly entangled in political and personal machinations. Blackmail, murder, and graft all pursue a young woman fighting desperately to protect her young daughter and herself. click here for more about Strip Tease
My husband is not an avid reader, and he used to get very frustrated in college when teachers would insist discussing symbolism in a literary work when there didn’t seem to him to be any. He felt that writers often just wrote the story for the story’s sake and other people read symbolism into it.
It does seem like modern fiction just “tells the story” without much symbolism. Is symbolism an older literary device, like excessive description, that is not used much any more? Do you think there was as much symbolism as English teachers seemed to think? What are some examples of symbolism from your reading?
I sympathize with Barbara H’s husband: Sometimes, I just want to enjoy the reading, and not think overlong or hard about what it is that I am reading. At times, the constant need to analyze literature has frustrated me and left me screaming, “IT’S JUST A F*CKING BOOK!” (This often has happened in Women’s Studies classes; I am nothing if not contrary and pugnacious.)
However, not only do I not think that close reading is outmoded, I also feel that it has its place. I’m currently re-reading The Secret History, one of my all-time favorites for reasons I am sure I will soon discuss here. But just one of those many reasons is the intricate layering of allusion–classical and modern–and symbolism in the tale and the telling. As much as I enjoy simply reading TSH, my enjoyment of it is enhanced and increased by close reading and critique.
That is not to say that I don’t speed merrily along through my novels; I don’t hunch over annotated copies–though I do assiduously read every endnote–and rack my brain for meaning. But in the times when I cannot read, or in quiet moments, when I put the book down for a moment and reflect, I will consider every layer of meaning I can identify, to increase my comprehension, for I believe that a greater understanding of a novel will lead to greater enjoyment.
The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey
Originally published 1951
Scribner Paperback, Simon & Schuster, 25th printing, 1995
Genre: mystery, historical fiction
Synopsis & Review: While laid up in the hospital due to a matter of a broken leg, Inspector Alan Grant of Scotland Yard frets with boredom and inaction. Knowing his penchant for faces, his actress friend Marta Hallard brings in a selection of portraits from the National Museum, portraits of victims and perpetrators in some of history’s greatest mysteries. Fascinated by one fifteenth-century portrait in particular, Inspector Grant finds himself investigating the past trying to match the alleged crime to the portrait of a man variously described by Grant’s acquaintances as a judge, a saint, an invalid: Richard III. click here to continue reading about The Daughter of Time
The Curse of the Blue Figurine by John Bellairs
Originally published 1983
Bantam Skylark, 10th printing, 1986
Genre: gothic, horror, children’s
Synopsis & Review: Johnny Dixon loves ghost stories and listening to radio mystery programs and reading Egyptology books, and the three seem to combine when he finds unearths a small Egyptian figuring and a scroll reading “Whoever removes these things from the church does so at his own peril… Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord . Remigius Baart.” in a church basement. Soon after he removes the figurine, however, Johnny begins suffering nightmares and small gray spiders infest the house. He meets a mysterious man who offers him a ring, and from there on, Johnny becomes more and more tightly enmeshed in a tangled web that seems to extend beyond the grave. Unable to confess his problems to his grandparents or his friend Dr Childermass, Johnny worries less about being bullied and more about whether he’ll live another week. click here for more on The Curse of the Blue Figurine
BTT: Last Thursday, April 15th, was Tax Day here in the US, which means lots of lucky people will get refunds of over-paid taxes.
Whether you’re one of them or not, what would you spend an unexpected windfall on? Say … $50? How about $500?
(And, this is a reading meme, so by rights the answer should be book-related, but hey, feel free to go wild and splurge on anything you like.)
Schatzi: Whenever I have an unexpected windfall and go book shopping, I tend to buy a nice stack of non-fiction that I would otherwise bypass in favor of a quick fiction fix. A lot of my biographies and historical non-fiction were picked up that way. Since I’ve been so interested in gastronomy and food history these past couple of years (one of my required research seminars was on Food in Seventeenth Century England, and it was a blast), if I had a windfall of say, less than a hundred, I would pick up The Oxford Companion to Food by Alan Davidson. If I had a couple hundred to spare, I would indulge in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America and/or The Cambridge World History of Food. And if I had a thousand dollars to spare? Well, let’s just say that I believe there’s a Penguin Classics Library Complete Collection out there with my name on it (probably written on the inside cover of each volume).
Under $100: The Oxford Companion to Food by Alan Davidson
Under $300: The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America and/or The Cambridge World History of Food
Under $1000: The Penguin Classics Library Complete Collection