I’ve been thinking about your last post all day, and I find that almost all of the examples I can think of are the opposite of yours. To start with a couple of adult authors: I have read almost everything Richard Russo has written, but I still think Nobody’s Fool is his masterpiece, and that was the first of his books that I read. I have very much liked several of his other books, and I can definitely see similar themes and, as you said, interconnections, continuities, and discontinuities. But even though he won the Pulitzer Prize for Empire Falls, to my mind, Nobody’s Fool is the better book.
Similarly, Book of Illusions was the first Paul Auster book I ever read. I’ve read most of his other novels, and I found them all fascinating and beautifully written, but Book of Illusions is the only one I’ve ever wanted to re-read.
In the YA world, I was actually thinking about this recently (before your post) because I read Angela Johnson’s new book, A Certain October, out just this week. It has already received starred reviews from SLJ, Horn Book, and Kirkus, and possibly others I don’t know about. As you know, her book The First Part Last was the Michael L. Printz winner for 2004, the year I was on the committee. You know I love the book, and I know that you have reservations about it. I just looked back over the list of Johnson’s novels (ignoring her books for younger readers) and I’m pretty sure that The First Part Last was the first of her books that I had read, with the possible exception of Toning the Sweep. Now, admittedly, I’ve only read A Certain October once, and briefly (on my flight home from ALA Anaheim, in fact), but I don’t think it has the depth and beauty of The First Part Last. And I read it with great anticipation, hoping that it would hit me with the same kind of impact that The First Part Last did when I read it in early 2003. It didn’t.
In fact, I think that the “anticipation” piece is a really big one. Today, I was thinking about the Printz honor books for 2004, to see if my idea held up. Fat Kid Rules the World, a debut novel by K.L. Going: have any of her subsequent books been as good? The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things, by Carolyn Mackler: ditto. A Northern Light, by Jennifer Donnelly: she’s only written one other YA novel, Revolution (2010), which was good, but not as well-wrought as A Northern Light. The only exception from my Printz year, in my opinion, is Helen Frost. Keesha’s House, another debut, did some marvelous things, but I think Crossing Stones and The Braid were even better: creating great, compelling stories within the constraints of innovative and interesting poetic forms. So: is the fact that I know all of those books so well, having read them multiple times and discussed them exhaustively, influencing my view of the authors’ later work? Or am I just wrong?
So I don’t know–it seems that I’m expressing that same cognitive dissonance you referred to. Will the 2013 Printz Committee agree with the reviewers and disagree with me on A Certain October and conclude that it is every bit as deserving of the Printz as The First Part Last was? Would members of the 2010 Printz Committee agree with you that Beauty Queens and The Diviners are better books than their pick, Going Bovine?