Thursday, July 29, 2010
Here's how it happens for me: When I like a new book or writer, I find myself spending hours clicking through the the "Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought" sections of Amazon for every novel or novelist remotely related to the book I just discovered. I try to find interviews in which the author talks about his/her influences or books s/he recommends. I look at the author's Web site or that of his/her publisher to try find other connections, no matter how tenuous. And, I scour the blogosphere to find out what book bloggers are saying about the novel and what connections to other books or writers they've made. All this usually yields quite a new list of authors and books, and so I set work on ebay, Better World Books, and many of the fine Chicago used bookstores.
Oftentimes, these literary connections can open up whole new, unexplored literary landscapes. About five years ago, I took a chance on an obscure book of essays titled Consider the Lobster by some hippie-looking dude with three names. My favorite sports columnist, ESPN's The Sports Guy had recommended it, so I figured it was worth a shot. About halfway through the book, I realized my life had changed. I've since read nearly every word David Foster Wallace has written, tried some of his immediate influences like Don DeLillo and Thomas Pynchon, and read and loved many of the novelists who DFW has influenced. (Mark Danielewski, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers, Jonathan Lethem.)
By way of further example, last year, after reading Jonathan Tropper's This Is Where I Leave You, I also found via literary connection Jess Walter's The Financial Lives of the Poets and Josh Bazell's Beat the Reaper — two of my favorite books so far this year.
But this literary connection phenomenon/book hoarding obsession has a seedy underside, too. About six years ago, after reading The Da Vinci Code, I went temporarily crazy. I got obsessed with the whole religion/science/conspiracy genre thing and started reading connected books like Holy Blood, Holy Grail, The Golden Ratio (which was actually kinda interesting), and one of the lowlights of my reading career, a six-book series titled the Zion Legacy Series. The absolute rock bottom, though, was when I tried Dan Brown's Digital Fortress — to this day, my immediate answer to the question "What's the worst book you've ever read?" My shelves are still littered with the detritus of that temporary insanity — obscure, probably-never-to-be read novels like Charles Palliser's The Quincunx and Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco.
Are you also obsessed with collecting novels connected to new novels you've loved? What impacting literary connections have you made? Any good stories?
Posted by Greg Zimmerman at 1:38 PM