I love to read and consider myself a chain reader with a to-be-read pile and a to-be-read list. With more than eighty favorite authors and counting, I try to read a book by each one every year, although many times I fall short. One of my problems, though, is that I feel compelled to read everything that my favorites write. Of course, I realize that the book police are not going to invade my private library and force me to read something I don’t want to read. Nonetheless when I come across a novel by a favorite author that steps out of the norm of that author’s style, and although I balk at reading it, I usually read it anyway. Totally ridiculous, of course—the author would never know whether I had read the book in question or not—nor would anyone else for that matter. This reminds me of a friend from Illinois who once told me that Norah Lofts was her favorite author and that she felt guilty if she read a book by any other author. That was even more ridiculous than my reading everything my favorites write. Norah Lofts lived and died in England and never knew of my friend’s existence.
After years of reading for pleasure and experimenting with various kinds of fiction, I realized that I preferred mysteries of all kinds—from cozies to international intrigue to gory murders—more than any other kind of literature. However, it has been difficult to ignore certain novels written by favorite authors who sometimes changed their genre. The following are examples by three of my favorite but very different authors.
The first is a novel by the English mystery writer, P.D. James. I had read all of her Dalgleish mysteries and had postponed reading her novel The Children of Men because it wasn’t a mystery. In fact I knew it was a novel set in the future, a complete departure from the enigmatic Inspector Dalgleish. I dreaded reading it because when I pick up a P.D. James novel, I want to read a good mystery and I knew that I wasn’t going to get one from this novel. But, because I wanted to say that I had read all of her novels, I reluctantly picked it up and began to read.
With disdain I realized that it was worse than I had anticipated. It painted a picture of a dreary world without hope—the demise of human beings. I plodded on, although halfway through the book I seriously thought about stopping. All at once the plot turned in a different direction and the protagonist and his cohorts became involved in a race against time, which had me turning the pages, reading as rapidly as I could. I do love caper novels (and movies) that involve chases and running from the law and/or bad guys. As I read I tried to imagine how this bleak novel could end because I knew that the second half had to be more upbeat than the first. The author gave a rather obvious clue—Part One was titled Omega and Part Two Alpha. Despite the depressing story line, P.D. came through for me. She pulled a surprise ending that almost justified having read the novel. I say, almost, because while reading the first half of the book I seriously considered putting it on my list of the worst books I’ve ever read. The ending salvaged the book. Also, it was made into a movie and nominated for an Academy Award.
The next book I chose to read was Caper by Lawrence Sanders. I have ambivalent feelings about Mr. Sanders. I have read two of his novels that I hated and many that I enjoyed very much. I never know what to expect from him. But the title intrigued me and I began to read. The plot was very clever but I became impatient during the first half because he took his time setting up his premise, a necessary task nonetheless. Then wham!—the novel took off and I have never read a book as fast as I did that one. Although it didn’t end the way I would have written it, nonetheless I was left smiling at the end. I have now included Caper on my list of favorite novels.
A novel that I decided that I was not going to read was John Grisham’s A Painted House because I knew for one thing that it was not one of his “lawyer” novels and I assumed, erroneously as it turned out, that it was going to be some kind of sentimental twaddle. The reason that I finally decided to read it was that I learned that the book had been made into a Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation and I wanted to read it before I saw it on television. So, with misgivings, I began to read. Sentimental twaddle? Hardly. Grisham presented a world full of hardship, yes, but one also with action and mystery, plus both evil and lovable characters. The reading was fast-paced and it was hard to put it down and most surprising of all, I found the story to be, well, just plain fun.
This is not intended to be a book review or recommendation for any of the three novels mentioned here. Everyone has his/her own tastes in reading enjoyment and far be it from me to suggest that two of the books should be read and the other not. If only I could convince my inner being that I don’t have to read everything my favorite authors write. Or maybe I should leave that little voice alone.