Monday, August 30, 2010
Sure, it will. I'm not naïve. But the seedy underside of that vacuum-writer-judgment is that one reading experience can often determine your future with a writer. Let's be honest, we've all had reading experiences where we've been so put off by a book, we vow never to read that writer again. It happens all the time, and we rationalize it thusly: "There are just too many books to waste time on an author I didn't like when I tried him/her the first time" or "his/her writing style didn't appeal to me, so I'll never read him/her again."
I would argue, however, that keeping an open mind and giving second and third chances may lead you to some of your more rewarding reading experiences.
We all know that any writer, even the best, or your most favorite writers, like John Irving (The Fourth Hand, Until I Find You) and Zadie Smith (The Autograph Man), are capable of spectacular duds. The key is to not let the frustration of the time you wasted with those duds, or maybe not a dud but a book that just didn't agree with you, color your decision too much of whether to try the author's next book. Sure, that's easier said than done, I know.
But here's why I bring this up now: I read Michael Gruber's The Book of Air and Shadows a few years ago. By all rights, I should've loved it — a literary mystery about a lost Shakespeare play written by a novelist famous for his cross-genre success. I was bored to tears. I wrote after finishing it, "It's always a roll of the dice when I try these 'literary thrillers' and this one crapped out." But then I read about Gruber's new novel — The Good Son, an international thriller about a kidnapping in Pakistan in terrorists with nuclear weapons. It sounded like a literary version of a Vince Flynn novel, so given my weakness for international thrillers, I was intrigued. It took several weeks of internal coaxing, but I managed to overcome my Gruber Trepidation, and I picked it up. You know what? I'm about halfway through it, and I'm really, really diggin' it.
Blood Meridian and his Border Trilogy. But, I read The Roadtwo years ago, only because it was short, it had won the Pulitzer, and it sounded a lot different than McCarthy's other work. Wow, what a reading experience! That novel is now in my Top 10 of all time. Thank goodness I didn't give up on good 'ole Cormac!
I could cite many other examples, both positive and negative. Of course, yeah, this open-mindedness sometimes backfires — for instance, I loved Richard Powers' The Echo Maker, and so I picked up his newest novel, Generosity: An Enhancement, the day it came out. It made me kinda sleepy. But in all reality, the positive times far outnumber the negatives, in my experience — especially when you're second-chancing writers with great range, like Gruber. And the incomparable feeling of being surprised by how much I liked a book I took a big risk with is one of my favorite things about being a reader!
What about you? Any anecdotes about a novelist to whom you gave a second or third chance, and are thrilled you did?
Posted by Greg Zimmerman at 12:25 PM