Antici . . . pation


Well, if you’re going to bring Paul Auster into it – you asked for it.*  No, I won’t give you my whole spiel on Auster here (if you want it, read the link in the footnote below), but I will say that while I agree with you that Book of Illusions is Auster’s best novel, my personal enjoyment of it increased enormously by reading the rest of Auster’s novels.  Understanding his particular take on postmoderism and metafiction as pursued especially in the New York Trilogy, but also many of his other novels, gave me a great background as to what he was up to in Illusions.  Also, reading some of his lesser novels gave me a new appreciation for what he had done right in Illusions to make it so great.

More generally though, I think your point about anticipation is definitely worth pursuing – and perhaps it is not so much the opposite as the flip side of what I was talking about on Monday.  I was talking about reading all of an author’s work enriching my experience, and you are talking about how a first great experience can (perhaps) lessen the impact of later books**, but both points are about the ways in which the works interact with each other in our minds as we read. 

But wait – are you even right?  Did reading Fat Kid Rules the World limit your enjoyment of Saint Iggy and King of the Screwups or are those two books just simply not as good. Certainly, my personal take is that Fat Kid is leaps and bounds beyond Iggy and Screwups, but maybe I’m biased as well.  So what about an example where you absolutely loved a debut (or maybe just the first book by an author that you found) but then loved a later book even more? How about this one: Margaret Atwood.  Quick: what’s the first Atwood novel you read?  Can you even remember? What’s your favorite?   I’m looking through my OCD list of novels I’ve read and it appears that I read Alias Grace first, then The Handmaid’s Tale, then two of her novellas, and then The Blind Assassin, which happens to be my favorite.  In all I’ve read half of her 14 novels, and have very different opinions about each of them, even as I can see her very unique style and themes running through them all.  So I don’t think, in this case, that my anticipation effected my opinions too greatly, since I was able to see the greatness of those three, very different novels (historical fiction, SF dystopia, and metafictional romp) while having a lesser opinion of some of her others.

Nevertheless, I do think that it happens that a great book by an author can interfere with my enjoyment of another book.  I know I was very unprepared for Jonathan Stroud’s Heroes of the Valley after the glories of the Bartimaeus trilogy, and had a very negative reaction to it.  But I have always had a nagging sensation that I didn’t really give it a fair shake because I was expecting another Bartimaeus book–which he then delivered next (The Ring of Solomon), and which despite all my efforts to convince myself that it is objectively inferior to the original trilogy I still love to death.

So, that’s a lot to chew on. As for the members of the Printz committee, I’ve got to believe that living with a novel, reading it multiple times, and committing to a consensus with 8 other people has got to skew your views a little in the “anticipation” department.  At least, if you don’t do something similar with later books.  So, no, I don’t think the 2010 committee members agree with me about Libba Bray.  But you never know: part of the consensus process definitely makes it harder to get more divisive books on the table and it may well be that there were members on the 2012 committee who were convinced that Beauty Queens was better than Going Bovine, as well as everything else that came out in 2011, but they couldn’t get enough support from other members.

My instinct is that your group of books from the 2004 awards was pretty unique–I actually thought about asking you the very question that you answered about whether any of the authors had bettered their books, but I looked at the 5 books and couldn’t think of any later books by any of them that were particularly worthy.  So it would be interesting to hear from other former Printz committee members about their thoughts on later books by their winners.  Do you know anyone who might be willing to do a guest post, or maybe just write some comments here?

– Mark

*I once wrote a 900 word response to negative review of Auster’s novel Invisible in the New Yorker, not to submit to the New Yorker but just so I could stop obsessing over how mad the review made me. You should read my response – it’s actually pretty interesting, I think.

**When I wrote my completist post on Laurie Halse Anderson, I tried to make a case for Wintergirls as an equal to her much beloved debut novel Speak, and I was interested, but not at all surprised, to see how many comments I got just saying “good article, but Speak is really her best”


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