Friday, February 5, 2010

Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

Sometimes reading is serial monogamy. Did it ever dawn on you that you just don't like author XYZ any more? This happened to me with John Crowley's latest novel, Four Freedoms. When I read Little, Big in 1981, it immediately became one of my favorite books. Ditto with Aegypt, which came out in 1987 (am I dating myself?). These novels were not quite fantasy, definitely more than fiction, and too British to be magical realism. They were supremely satisfying for a longtime SF reader who was then tentatively branching out from genre fiction. At about the same time I also fell in love with Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin, which rendered fin de siecle New York with a slightly fey luster: a carthorse that learns to fly and a fatally ill heiress who sleeps on the roof in the open air . One Amazon reviewer calls it "Sheer Insanity and Gorgeous Magic".

I continued to read Mark Helprin with pleasure. Both he and John Crowley are not exactly prolific, and since I was so excited to have a new one, I didn't notice that their novels seemed any less enjoyable. But last week I admitted to myself that not only was I not going to read Four Freedoms, it would be wise of me never to take out another John Crowley book. He has gone in a different direction than I have. We have grown apart. "It's not him, it's me." We have irreconcilable differences, and so I am breaking up with him. I'm a little sad, but I will always treasure our happy memories.

I'm feeling a little less kind about author X these days. Her tough-as-nails Chicago PI thrilled me back in the day. She was sexy, short-tempered, and brought the city to vivid life in her relentless pursuit of justice. I stopped reading series fiction in general about a decade ago, because I felt I needed to read as broadly as possible for my job. But I picked up the latest novel by Madame X with pleasant anticipation of some Chicago history and a sharp-tongued feminist detective. This time around, the experience felt bitter, angry and hopeless. The mystery and its resolution was fantastic, but the emotional hit was painful. I'm sorry, Madame X, and I wish you well in your other relationships.

Fortunately, there are plenty of literary fish in the sea. I still adore Martha Grimes and Joanna Trollope. I have a serious crush on Charles Finch and Stephen Hunt. There are hundreds of appealing authors out there, and I'm going to have coffee with each one of them. We'll see how it works out.


Linda K. said...

I've experienced this problem too. I'm never sure whether there's been a change in my reading tastes, or whether the authors are no longer writing as well as they used to write. (I also had a problem with Madame X's latest book.)Since I still read lots of series mysteries I figure that some authors have probably just exhausted all the possible murder scenarios for a tiny little village. (Really, how many people can you kill off without reducing the population until only the village constable remains?)Luckily there are loads of new authors to try, so I guess I should be grateful when I sour on an old favorite. It opens up more time for new books!

Anonymous said...

I've never read a series start to finish. Come to think about it, I've never even read two in a series. Even if I've thoroughly enjoyed a book, I don't run to read more by that author. I take the dive and try something new. To quote Jeannette Wall's mother in The Glass Castle, "I'm just an excitement addict."

Europa said...

I feel this way about music too. Sometimes the best a songwriter can do is on the first record. A classic example of this is Elton John. His first albums were great but not the next twenty.

I often feel this way with mystery authors too. Sometimes the problem is me, however. I like the first book in a series so I try to gobble up the next ones in the series too fast. Then I'm critical because the characters are all the same or the plots are similar! Golly gosh, if I wanted diversity, why did I read a series? Mea culpa.

Post a Comment

Please leave your comments and suggestions here. Thanks!

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.