Vacation, sure. I went on a week long camping trip in September. But I’m also back from a six-week reading freeze that was induced by trying to read The Goldfinch for book club.
I’m not going to attempt a review of The Goldfinch. I can’t do it objectively. I’m pretty sure the author accomplished what she set out to do: the book makes you love the main character, Theo, as a vulnerable young child, and then builds suspense by making you watch all of the bad decisions and wrong turns and abuses in his life. It’s the extreme version of ‘make the worst possible thing happen to your character’, and Donna Tartt does it over, and over, and over again.
It worked on me. By about page 400, I had a sense of dread every time I opened the book. By page 600, I was experiencing near-constant anxiety as I tried to squeeze in just a few more pages. My reading pace crawled, and then stopped completely. I did not finish it in time for book club; in fact, I didn’t finish it at all. I wasn’t reading anything else, either.
Of course, what I’m describing is a very powerful book that was able to influence my emotions in a significant way. You could say the same of my sixth grade teacher. She was a horrible witch who taught me to hate school and dread waking up in the morning. Powerful.
I’m not sure I ever found an antidote to that teacher. But I did find an antidote to The Goldfinch, and it came from a surprising source.
Because I hadn’t been reading at all, my sole library loot this week was Night of a Thousand Stars by Deanna Raybourn. I’d put it on hold before its release, back in my pre-Goldfinch days. This particular author, if you’re not familiar with her, has written a 5-book series of gothic romance/mystery novels starting with Silent in the Grave. For me, the best book was #3, Silent on the Moor, and my interest tapered off a bit after that. She followed up with four standalone books: a Dracula novel, a book set in colonial Africa, a book set in the 1920’s about a fictional aviatrix. Most recently, she published Night of A Thousand Stars which was a travel adventure-romance also set in the 20’s.
I didn’t finish the book on Africa or the one about the aviatrix, but I was still willing to try Raybourn’s latest. I’ve never really fired an author. I may never find my way back to her again. My interests may change. But once I’ve really enjoyed an author, it’s like first love: I have never completely gotten over it.
Here’s why: a huge part of our reading is what we bring to it, and it’s always possible to pick up the right book at the wrong time. Sometimes we need to think, or be challenged. Sometimes, we need to escape. Sometimes (this is usually not me) we need some emotional stimulation. And sometimes we just need to have fun.
Romance, in particular, is good at the fun part. Night of a Thousand Stars was pure joyous entertainment. I felt like the author set out to write a book that she herself would enjoy, and tucked a lot of readerly pleasures into the pages. Good food, a spa trip, three attractive men, costumes, mystery, and travel. In a different mood, I could have found all the Gothic awesomeness a little cheesy. Maybe that is what happened with her last two books. This time, with The Goldfinch recently under my belt (most of it, anyway), Night of a Thousand Stars was the perfect counterpose. It hit my reset button, and reminded me why I love reading.
Readers, have you ever fired an author, once you’ve enjoyed at least two of her books?