If You'd Read This One First, Then What?

I'm reading a book by an author I like very much...today. Since I like her current work, I went back to find her earlier books and, well, the one I bought just isn't as good.

Of course there's a learning curve, and some authors climb to better writing over time while others plummet downward, racing to keep a book a year in the hands of readers. And not every book can be a gem. But this book, unfocused, too cute in places, and unsure of what tone it wants to strike, got me thinking how many times we reject an author after reading one book, unaware that he or she has done better elsewhere. If I'd read this book first, I probably would have looked past this author's books on the shelves from then on.

As it is, I'm giving the author a break, enjoying her storytelling ability and ignoring those moments where the characters stop and tell you something that slows the story and shouldn't be there. A favorite writer has to get pretty far off the mark before I give up on him, but it does make me stop and think. There are a lot of writers out there, and if readers don't like the first taste they get of your work, they have lots of alternate choices. If you only get one chance, every book you offer the reading public has to be all that it can be.

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Comment by Dana King on December 7, 2009 at 11:21am
A funny side note here. By coincidence, I was lucky enough to interview Ken Bruen this week. (And yes, he's as delightful via email as everyone says he is.) I asked which of his books he would recommend to someone reading him for the first time. His answer: The Guards. So you never know.
Comment by R. Michael Phillips on December 5, 2009 at 11:59pm
Very well put, Peg. Sometimes it seems a writer is going for quantity over quality just to get that next book out. A writer must pause and give thought to how rushing to market might affect their reputation with readers.
Comment by Peg Herring on December 5, 2009 at 8:39am
I had the same experience with The Guards. Although I'd seen Bruen at a con and thought he was great, I didn't like the book. I see from the notes here that I probably should try again. I like the idea of asking a writer for recommendations, though. That really gives liking their work the best shot.
Comment by Dana King on December 5, 2009 at 4:32am
Funny you should mention The Guards. Highly recommended by everyone, I got it as a Christmas gift and read it over the holidays last year. Didn't care for it. Could have been because I thought Jack Taylor was more acted upon than an actor, could have been because I was sick and in bed while I read it. No matter.

In the spring I read Priest, and liked it a lot. I got the Taylor character better, and it's a beautiful story, told without sympathy. A few weeks ago I read London Boulevard; now I'm hooked. Great book. Fun to read, great story, great anti-hero. Can't wait to read more of him now.

You're right: there are too many good writers to waste time reading some you don't like. When someone's recommended as much as a Bruen (or Pelecanos) I always try to give them another shot.
Comment by Jon Loomis on December 5, 2009 at 4:32am
I can forgive almost anything if the writing's excellent and the characters are engaging. The characters want to stop in the middle of the chase scene to talk about the best way to grill a bluefish (with mustard or without)? Fine with me. But if it's not and they're not, one chance is plenty.
Comment by John Dishon on December 5, 2009 at 3:53am
For me this happened with Ken Bruen's The Guards. Recommended highly by everyone, so I read it and hated it. Maybe because it was hyped up so much, but anyhow it led me to write off Bruen for now anyway. Also leading to that decision was the blurb Bruen provided for the Night Gardener, which led me to purchasing that book, which I also hated. So no more Pelecanos either. I stopped reading Lee Child's The Killing Floor (I think that's the name, it was his first one) about 300 pages into it at the scene in the airport where he's fighting through the surge of people to meet someone. That scene was so ridiculous, how hard it was for Reacher to get through the crowd. Airports just aren't that crowded. I've walked against the grain through Shibuya crossing in Tokyo, one of the largest pedestrian crossings in the world, with less trouble than Reacher had. And the last straw was realizing this airport scene was the most dramatic, intense moment of the book up to this point. Plus, I hated Child's staccato writing style, so I quit that book and Child as well.

It's nothing against these authors, really. I just don't have time to give to an author who has disappointed me before; there's just too many books I have to read, ones I already have bought, and ones I still want to buy. So if a new author doesn't do it for me, then sorry. But I've got too big a pile to give them a second chance. That's just how it is.
Comment by Dana King on December 5, 2009 at 3:39am
Given an opportunity (interview, conference, signing) I like to ask authors which of their books they'd recommend to someone who hasn't read them before. Not necessarily their favorite, or the one that sold best, or had the best reviews; the book most accessible to a new reader, that will give the best example of how the author writes. It makes me more confident when choosing which book to choose when trying out someone new.

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