Friday, February 1, 2008

A Reader's Evolution

By Melissa

Reading is a fickle thing.

Before I explain what I mean, I have to say that when I fall in love with a book, I fall hard. I want to stay captivated by the author, stay immersed in the story; I don't want the story to end. It becomes my new favorite book, the one that I shout about from the rooftops (or at least all over the book blogosphere), the one that I declare to be the best book and that everyone ought to read it. I crave more, I want more, I need more. More of this book, especially. And so, when I reach these moments, to mollify myself after turning the last page it has generally been my first reaction to go and check out everything else that the author has written and systematically read it all.

Invariably, I end up disenchanted and disappointed. Reading is a fickle thing: what I started out loving, I end up disliking. What I originally admired, I find fault with. I have asked myself why I turn into a fickle reader, especially in these instances. If I love one book so much, shouldn't I love everything by that author? Why is it that by the time I get to the third (or fifth, or tenth) book by that author, I just want to throw it at the wall and scream?

A lot of it is because while a book may be a static thing -- never changing -- the author and I are not. My life is constantly evolving and changing, as is my perspective on the story the author is telling. I read a lot of middle-grade and young adult fiction, and keeping my adult perspectives out of the way of the story is one of my biggest challenges. There are times when I realize that I just can't look at a story through the eyes of someone the author had intended to read it, and I know that I'm not going to enjoy it as much as I could or would have otherwise.

But it works the other way, too. I can't expect the author to remain writing the same thing over and over again. And often when they do, I'm still disappointed, wondering if the particular author has any other story inside them. Yet more often than not, when authors make radical changes in genres or styles, I find I don't like the direction they've gone. Someone writes an engrossing and engaging story in one genre and then, several years down the road, he writes something that just falls flat for me because it's a completely different (and new to the author) genre. Or she writes young adult books I love, but when I read that one book for adults that she's written, it seems to go down all wrong.

No author is perfect, of course. They are not always going to please the audience; their first and foremost duty is to the story and himself or herself. And if they want to experiment, that's fine. And then there are always the "off" years, the "bad" stories, the ones that aren't quite as good as the masterpieces. I don't assume that an author is going to be on their "game" (at least as far as my own likes and dislikes are concerned) all the time; like every reader, I have my favorites by any particular author, as well as the ones I like less.

But it's when I go on an author kick that those discrepancies are most notable. And so I've decided to change the way I read books. Call it an evolution in my finikiness. I have decided that no matter how much I love the author, or how much I love this story, I am not going to read anything else by that author. Perhaps, for a long time (series are an exception; I count them as a single whole work). I don't want to hate the author. I don't want to hate their work. And I've come to realize that if I wait a while before delving into another book by that author, the chances are greater that I will be able to like it on its own terms. And it's worth the wait to recapture the magic that particular authors provide.

1 comment:

Becky said...

We are so alike it's a bit scary. (But it's all good.) Isaac Asimov was my last example of this.