There are a lot of ‘second timers’ on my February reading list – i.e. works of writers whom I’ve only read once before. I always dread these sorts of experiences. Earlier this year – or was it late last year? – I was very impressed by Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, and it’s invariably affecting my reading of When We Were Orphans. Unconsciously, I draw connections and make comparisons, and I’m afraid the same will happen when I read The Waves and Tender is the Night.

In fact, with Woolf, it has happened before. After falling in love with Mrs Dalloway and Behind the Acts, I picked up To the Lighthouse with enthusiasm, only to return it to the library after reading the first ten or so pages. The characters appeared two-dimensional; the plot contrived, the writing stilted. And while I was at the bookstore, I peeked at the opening paragraphs of Tender is the Night. There was nothing repulsive; I just wasn’t as excited as I was when I first read Gatsby. Then again, I found the first chapter of Gatsby incredibly dull, and still think it’s a rather weak opening for such a powerful and restrained book.

So yes. I am currently ploughing through When We Were Orphans, and I’m thinking of reading either Orwell’s Essays, or The Waves afterwards. I would have liked to read Metamorphoses, but I only just ordered a copy of Mandelbaum’s translation from The Book Depository – thank you once again, JRSM, for introducing me to FREE DELIVERY WORLDWIDE! (except for those poor, poor things in Denmark) – and I think I have to wait a week for it to come from the UK. The Book Depository is the solution to all my book-related problems. I don’t think I’ll even be going to the bookstore, since books in the UK appear to be much cheaper than in Australia. Even if there were shipping fees, I would be saving money. I think.

The only other book I’m missing from the list is Ondaatje’s In the Skin of a Lion, which I might borrow from the library.


21 thoughts on “Thoughts

  1. I hate that – picking up an author’s second book only to compare it to their first. It used to happen to me with Jane Austen and Jodi Picoult after reading Pride and Prejudice and My Sister’s Keeper, respectively. Now, my favorite Picoult book is Salem Falls. Go figure.

  2. Christina – I’ve never read Picoult, so I can’t really comment there, but Austen – definitely. I think the first Austen I ever read was Northanger Abbey, and I remember really liking it. Then I read a whole string of others, and I couldn’t decide which I liked best. I would have to say I love Persuasion and Emma the most, though. I’ve never really been a fan of Pride and Prejudice.

  3. I have to admit that I’ve never been let down by Austen. Never ever. I think Northanger Abbey is a bit dweeby, but I wasn’t disappointed by it at all. But it can certainly be a problem, building authors up in your mind on the basis of one book, only to find the rest of their repertoire doesn’t match up. I had that experience recently with J.D. Salinger, when I finally read Franny & Zooey, which was pretty abysmal in my eyes. It pained me to cut it from my collection, but I returned it to the bookstore because I would never ever read it again. That experience made me wonder if I wouldn’t enjoy The Catcher in the Rye as much on a (third) re-read, but I know one of these days I will muster up my courage and see whether it stands up to my memory of it.

  4. I can’t wait to here your review of When We Were Orphans. I’ve enjoyed most of what I’ve read by him. I read Tender is the Night several years ago, and didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as The Great Gatsby.

  5. Tuesday, that happens to me too. Sometimes first reads just set the bar too high. I have to keep reminding myself to keep an open mind.

    Steph, I haven’t been let down by Austen too, not yet anyway. Also, thanks for your Franny & Zooey input.

    1. zawan – no, I don’t study literature. Actually, I was thinking of taking a lit elective this year, but it’s definitely not my major or anything.

      Steph – Dweeby! So true. I have to admit I’ve never any Salinger, apart from a brief encounter with Catcher in the Rye. I’ve been curious about Franny & Zooey (mostly b/c I’m a fan of Zooey Deschanel, hahah) … but now I’m not sure if I’ll be reading it!

      Shelley – I’m sorry to hear you didn’t enjoy Tender is the Night as much as Gatsby. I’ve been hoping it’ll be EVEN BETTER, but I suppose it won’t do to get my hopes up too high. And yes. Ishiguro is turning out to be one of my favourite writers. I’m really looking forward to reading Remains of the Day!

      claire – hm, yes that’s definitely the key to being satisfied: being open-minded. I thought I’d learned that from reading Soul Mountain, but I guess I’ll have to try harder :)

  6. If you’re interested, I have a more lengthy review of Franny & Zooey on my site:

    Also, Tuesday, you must be over the moon having discovered that Book Depository! Sounds wonderful, and just the cure to all of your expensive Aussie book woes!

    Isn’t it funny how one book can skew our perspectives so thoroughly? It doesn’t just go for good books of course. Sometimes you read a book that you write off, and subsequently write the author off, too. I could very well have done that with De Bernières after A Partisan’s Daughter, but for some reason I do think I may have just picked an unrepresentative bad book of his. There are just so many books to read in this world that it’s hard to know whether an author deserves another shot!

    1. Steph – I’ve never read A Partisan’s Daughter, but I’ve read a lot about it, and it’s never really sounded like my kind of thing.

      Also, I have a feeling that after an unfavourable first encounter with Dickens, I’ve just closed myself off to him forever. No matter how hard I try, I just can’t sink my teeth into his writing. I just find it so incredibly dense and dull. It’s not so much his writing as the themes he explores. Little Dorrit, for instance, focuses so much on financial issues, and I really detest that sort of thing. A Tale of Two Cities, I half liked. I should probably give it another go.

      I agree that it’s hard to discern, though – how do you measure one author’s worth over another, or one BOOK’s worth over another, for that matter? Sometimes I think I’m pressured to like Dickens simply because he’s accepted as a ‘Master’.

  7. The opening of Gatsby might be very dull but I find the writing very contemplative. Nick Carraway tries to establish a pose of an outsider who is not willing to be associated the people whom he calls “a rotten crowd” much later when he tells the devastated Gatsby to leave for a week. The opening certainly isn’t anything so explosive that would make you mouth a big O.

    Tender is the Night is now on my radar. :)

  8. Tuesday, I hope you don’t feel too pressured to read any more Dickens.. your reading choices are wonderful enough as they are. Although you know I love him, but A Tale of Two Cities really isn’t my favourite (a lot of boring parts). I really loved Great Expectations and David Copperfield, however. Little Dorritt I tried to start but it bored me too early so I won’t be reading it anytime soon. :)

    1. Matt – hm, yes. I think I would even go so far as to say that the opening is the book’s major flaw. It just doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the novel. It’s one of those books that gets progressively better as you get deeper and deeper into it. And the ending is sheer perfection :)

      claire – I do like the idea of David Copperfield, but yes. I’ve decided to ease into Dickens slowly; I’ll will probably start with Great Expectations, then read Two Cities..

  9. Tuesday, I think my experience has been similar to yours. I just got into my mind that his writing is dry and impenetrable what with the being long-winded and somewhat dull. And now I just have a mental block or something, where I’m kind of intimidated by him and think I won’t like him, even though other people assure me that I would if I just gave him a fair shot.

    I think in the end that I am quick to decide that I love an author (it only takes one great book), and more cautious about ruling an author off my list. I suppose there’s always an exception, for instance, if an author has a really distinct style that I just don’t jive with, or if I thought their writing was poor, then I think I am less likely to read more of him or her in the future, citing “irreconcilable differences”!

  10. I’ve got a long list of authors I haven’t had the nerve to read beyond the one book which I’ve loved (eg Gustave Flaubert, Italo Calvino, David Mitchell, Charles Frazier, ALice Sebold, Mark Haddon).

    Orwell’s essays are wonderful, so I’d read him next if you don’t want to be disappointed. On Dickens, I love A Tale of Two Cities but would recommend Bleak House and Our Mutual Friend as the books most likely to convert doubters!

    1. Steph – same! It only takes one book! But then it only takes one other book to completely destroy my faith in them as writers. Of course, that’s only if it’s abysmally bad. And then there are authors that continually disappoint me, no matter how many of their works I read….

      Sarah – ooh, I love Flaubert, but I’ve only ever read a collection of his short stories and novellas. And yes, Orwell’s essays do look wonderful – I had a peek the other day, and I think I’m going to enjoy the book. But! I have to return The Waves to the library soon, so I’m probably going to have to read it first!
      Thanks for the Dickens recommendations. Now that I think of it, lots of people have been putting a good word in for Bleak House, but the title makes it sound rather dreary, so I’ve been avoiding it. I’ll be sure to give it a try though.

  11. Oh the last chapter is so beautifully written that I can visualize the scene.

    After all, society is, as Nick says, “boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” It resonates the opening sentence in sense of time.

  12. I love book depository! I try not to order too much stuff from there, but every now and then I go a little crazy. It’s so cheap.

    Do you pick your TBR list at the start of every month?

    1. estelle – yep, or at the end of the month before. It’s a habit I only got into recently, but I found it stops me from going crazy at the bookstore (and I suppose now, at the Book Depository). It’s a sort of reminder that I have enough books on my shelf, or from the library, to keep me going for a month.

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