Friday, October 28, 2011

Literary Overdose: Is Four Too Many?

It's Family Weekend at Twin A's college and we're hitting the road again. I wanted to write a quick Sunday Salon-type post before leaving, and last night's twitter conversation provided just the spark I needed.  It began as an impromptu meeting of the Stewart O'Nan fan club (@LitHousewife, @mattviews, and I seem to be the charter members), then several others joined in and our conversation broadened. At some point during the rapidly flying tweets, someone mentioned that they usually read three books by an author before moving on. I thought that was very interesting....why three instead of two? What happens if you read four in a row - author burnout?

Soon I began thinking about my own reading habits and notorious lack of structure and rules. Looking back over the past year, I have spent extended periods with two authors - Richard Yates and Stewart O'Nan. In both cases, strangely enough, it would appear that I followed the same three book rule.

A couple of years ago, I read Revolutionary Road. I thought it was brilliant and have been meaning to return to Yates ever since. I finally did last spring - in a big way. My personal Yatesfest began with The Easter Parade and continued with Disturbing the Peace and Cold Spring Harbor. The grand finale was A Tragic Honesty: The Life and Work of Richard Yates by Blake Bailey. Several short stories were also scattered along the way. I plan to read the remainder of Yates work, but after three novels and a biography, a break from his tragic reality was in order.

My author 'discovery' of the year, Stewart O'Nan, was next.  I absolutely love his writing style and characters. A stormy Labor Day weekend was spent reading Wish You Were Here. The lakeside setting provided an ideal end-of-summer read. Emily, Alone featured many of the same characters and was the perfect follow-up. In total awe of O'Nan, I headed to the library and came home with Last Night At the Lobster... also stunning. That was three and, just as with Richard Yates, I decided to take a break.  O'Nan's new novel will be released in January and is already in my amazon shopping cart for pre-order. This break will end in just a few months.

So that's twice this year I've unintentionally followed the 'three book rule'. Is it some sort of intuitive reading reaction, or simply coincidence? Now I'm curious. When you delve into an author's work, how deep do you go before taking a breather? Is there such a thing as literary overdose?

On to my current reading...
After Tuesday's Two-for-One Intros, it appears that Her Fearful Symmetry has 'won'. It's perfect for the season and, after 100 pages, I'm really enjoying it. However, On Chesil Beach has not been totally abandoned. I'll get back to it as soon I'm done.

I finished the audio version of Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach and must say it is totally unlike anything I've ever read... in a weird but totally interesting kind of way. For our road trip today, I have downloaded Travels with Charley in Search of America by John Steinbeck and hope my husband and Twin B will agree to listen.

We had our first snowfall of the season yesterday. Although I'm not really looking forward to winter, the snow in the trees and mist rising from the lake made for a beautiful view this morning. Have a wonderful weekend!


  1. That's interesting - I'm trying to think whether the three book rule applies to me but I think I usually read just one or everything the author has written! I will have read my third Adichie book next week though :P

  2. You could use Travels with Charley's beer focus to interest your menfolk, if they're any like my menfolk. :)

  3. I really need to read something by both these authors. I also need to log on to twitter more often! As far as the three book rule, I just play it by ear. I don't have a hard, fast rule.

  4. I go whole hog with authors when I discover them. If they keep being as good, I rarely burn out!

  5. Hmmm... I finished three Murakami's and then picked up his new one, so the three book rule doesn't work for me. Typically, I will keep reading as long as the author keeps delivering the goods. However, if he/she is really good, then I will try to space them out a bit to make them last longer.

    That photo you included is gorgeous! It was so hot here last week (over 90) but this week it has been cool and breezy (68 or so). A drastic difference for us.

  6. Great posting, and a gorgeous photograph of the wintry scene! If I like an author I tend to read all that I can lay my hands on. So, in answer to your question, with a good author there is no such thing as "too many" books. Have a wonderful weekend! Cheers! Chris

  7. I like your conversation about the number of books per author. I'm going to have to think about that. I'm not sure how many I do.

    I'm certainly singing your praises after recommending Stewart O'Nan's Last Night at the Lobster. I'm a third of the way through and thoroughly enjoying it. I can see why you are a fan.

  8. I definitely am one who goes back for more when I enjoy an author. For me this started long ago with Anita Shreve, Jodi Picoult, Stephen King, and most recently Richard Yates (Thanks to you), and Elena Ferrante.

    You snowfall on the lake photo is breathtaking. We may get snow tomorrow:(

  9. We haven't had our first snowfall yet but with the temps at zero this morning it can't be far off.

    Have your daughters been tempted to pick up Her Fearful Symmetry?

  10. Interesting question...I never actually thought of that, but while we're talking about Yates, I also adored Revolutionary Road, read some short stories and moved on. Same with King, Vikram Seth, Edith Wharton, Toni Morrison..In average, I read two from the same author, then break up, but mostly because I don't have any other of his novels at hand and read something else in between.

    Beautiful picture! It's hard for me to even imagine snow yet...

  11. I tend to get burnout if I read too many books by the same author in a short time. I think the only exception would be Louise Penny's mystery series set in Three Pines, Quebec. The characters feel so real to me!

    Your lake picture should be framed, it is so gorgeous.

  12. I go back to authors but tend to spread it out because I want to make it last.

    That photo is gorgeous! Believe it or not we got snow today in the city.

  13. Oh that VIEW JoAnn! You live in such a beautiful place.

    I think there is a sort of much as I love an author, I can't absorb myself in them for too long without starting to long for a new voice. I have so many books begging to be read on my shelves that it feels...I don't know...indulgent? to spend too much time on one author. I had a Richard Yates fest a while back but I think I stopped at three plus the biography all got too much for me!

    I think Blake bailey's biography has to be the best literary biography I've ever read. It had me in tears, and that's a first. I'm so glad you enjoyed it too!

  14. Stewart O'Nan has a new book coming out? Man, that's great news. I want to join next time there's a meeting of the twitter fan group.

  15. You have so many great books going on right now. Because of you and Diane I will be reading Stewart and Richard. She sent me Cold Spring Harbor the other day and I'm really looking forward to reading it. I liked Stiff...for exactly the same reason you did..different but good. I also really liked Her Fearful Symmetry. I thought it was a big departure from Time Traveler's Wife and was pleasantly surprised. Enjoy your reading.

  16. I've never read Yates but tehre's a lot to admire about O'Nan, I agree!

  17. Sam - I can't wait to read Adichie! Finally bought Half a Yellow Sun at a library book sale earlier this year and keep hoping it will be a book club selection.

    Pagesofjulia - LOL! That approach may just work ;-)

    Reviewsbylola - It was quite a night on twitter... don't think I've ever tweeted so much in one day! I'm usually on just a few days each week, so this was really fun.

    Rhapsodyinbooks - I sometimes hate to think of reading all their work and having nothing new - not a problem with O'Nan, but I want to space out Yates last three novels. Even with Jane Austen, I've never read Emma because I don't want to be 'done'.

    Ti - I like the idea of spacing them out more, too. Reading several books in a row like this was pretty unusual for me. Hope you're still enjoying the cooler temperatures.

    Chris - Glad you like the photo. My area managed to avoid last weekend's nor'easter, but we traveled to my daughter's college and would up right in the middle of it! Like I was just saying to Jill (Rhapsody), I sometimes avoid reading everything by one author because I hate the thought of running out of their work.

    Margot - I'm so glad you are enjoying O'Nan! I think he writes the most amazing, real characters. This was an interesting exercise for me, I never really thought about my reading patterns when it comes to single authors before. I know I've never discovered a new author and gulped down 3 books like I did with O'Nan.

    Diane - I've gone on streaks with all the authors you mentioned except Elena Ferrante... I'll have to read her soon! Our area missed the storm over the weekend, but we drove right into it for Family Weekend!

  18. Darlene - I think both twins were tempted by Her Fearful Symmetry when the noticed the cover... we'll see if they actually pick it up.

    Ivana - Interesting... Looking back over the past few years, I seemed to stop at two, so this year has been a change for me.

    Kaye - Aw, thanks! The sun got even brighter after I took the shot... was wishing I had waited just a little longer.

    Booksnyc - This area didn't see much from the nor'easter, but we drove right into it for Family Weekend... many of the events ended up being cancelled :-(

    Bookssnob - I am so glad you wrote about the Yates bio. It had me in tears, too, and is by far the best literary biography I have ever read! I may space out the last three Yates novels and read one per year... I hate the thought of running out!

    Lee - Yes, O'Nan's new books is The Odds: A Love story. It's in my amazon cart ready for preorder. Definitely jump in for our next O'Nan-fest on twitter!

    Staci - Can't wait to see what you think of Richard Yates! I really have had a string of great books lately... think I'm finally starting to make better selections thanks to all the great blogger recommendations!

    Marie - I'm starting to think O'Nan can do no wrong! You should give Yates a try next time you're in the mood for some tragic realism.

  19. I don't have a set number but three sounds about right. I tend to do that with a series that I discover and love. I read the first 3 or 4 then need a little break.

  20. Stacybuckeye - I guess stopping for a break after three is my natural tendency, too. Plus it's nice to have an author to return to that you know you'll love :-)

  21. Interesting ideas, JoAnn. I think I'm very weird in my reading of authors--in that I love to have lots and lots of space between books. Seems I had an exception this year with John Green, but I might be thinking about this year and last year. Sometimes I think if I read too quickly through an author I'll then run out of books to read by them (so silly and ridiculous).

  22. Trish - John Green is an author I've been meaning to read. Running out of an author's work is not silly at all. That's why I STILL haven't read Emma... can't bear to run out of Jane Austen novels.

  23. Hola, quizás os interese saber que tenemos una colección que incluye el relato 'Oh, Joseph, I’m So Tired' de Richard Yates en versión original conjuntamente con el relato 'A Small, Good Thing' de Raymond Carver.

    El formato de esta colección es innovador porque permite leer directamente la obra en inglés sin necesidad de usar el diccionario al integrarse un glosario en cada página.

    Tenéis más info de este relato y de la colección Read&Listen en

  24. Love this question! I generally read one book by a new author, and then it's usually a little while before I get to something else. I'm not sure why that is. Maybe it's because I'm trying to stretch out their work (if that makes sense).

    Stewart O'Nan is one that I have been meaning to read. Never read anything by him, but since he's a Yinzer (from Pittsburgh), I need to remedy that ASAP.

  25. Melissa - That makes perfect sense and is also the way I generally approached a new author. This three book mini-feast marks a change in my reading habits this year... but it sure has been fun!


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