The press is on fire about a new book. Your friends are falling all over themselves telling you that it’s a “must read.” So you dutifully pick up a copy and no matter how hard you try, you just don’t get it. You can barely get past the first ten pages, let alone finish the masterpiece. Then the second book in the series comes out, and the praise grows even louder. Year after year, the prolific author grinds out another story and somehow you can’t figure out what the buzz is all about.
I’ve got a pile of those mysteries on my nightstand. The ones that have captured the public’s affection – and left me scratching my head wondering how the author captured lightning in a bottle – and frustrated trying to figure out how I could do it too?
Now here’s the twist on that syndrome.
Sometimes, ten years after the initial tidal wave of public adoration has settled down, I’ll pick up a book by that same author whose prose left me snoring, and discover that actually I kind of like him, in fact, he’s pretty darn good. That’s what happened to me this weekend with Alexander McCall Smith.
I was wandering through the discount heaven, Home Goods, and found a copy of his tenth book, marked down to $2. Since it retails for $14 – I mean what could I do but buy it?
I liked it….I really liked it. And I immediately read the most recent book in the series and really liked it too. So now I’m starting the series from the beginning.
So what happened?
Did he become a better writer? Sure, to some extent, the more you write, the better your skills. But I don’t think that’s the answer.
Did I become a more sophisticated reader? I sure hope so, but that’s probably not the answer either.
OR, did watching the six-part series of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency make the characters leap off the page when I finally started reading the books? Did I need the visual landscape to enjoy the virtual one?
Most mystery writers I know play the casting game. They fantasize about the actors who would be perfect as their lead character. Rhonda and I agree that James Garner, circa The Rockford Files of 35 years ago, would be the ideal Mac Sullivan. We can’t agree on who would be best to play Rachel Brenner. Bravo to the casting agent who found Jill Scott to play Precious Ramotswe in the mini-series of Mr. McCall Smith’s books. Here’s an article by the director, the late Anthony Minghella, on the process of finding the right Precious, and the filming of the mini-series.
Years ago, my husband and I consulted an educational psychologist about one of our son’s reading habits – or lack thereof. He was about to enter high school and rarely, if ever, read for pleasure, and frankly, was barely reading the assigned school books. She recommended patience and permitting him to “preview” a book through a movie, if one were available. I thought it was “cheating” to watch the movie instead of the book, but her point was he should do both. It might make it easier for him to get into a book if he had some visual cues to the story. Long story short, pun intended, the psychologist was absolutely right. First, he matured which helped immensely. But through time, movies, and his own curiosity, he discovered the magic of books. I think that’s what happened to me and Mr. McCall Smith’s Botswana books. The beauty of the miniseries allowed me to understand and enjoy the beauty of the author’s words.
So I ask, Stiletto Faithful, have you ever discovered a literary gem, one you had previously discarded? What made the difference?
Marian aka the Northern half of Evelyn David
Murder Off the Books by Evelyn David
Murder Takes the Cake by Evelyn David
Murder Drops the Ball by Evelyn David, Spring 2011