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Monday, August 27, 2007

Theory #36: Readerly Theories: Timing Is Everything

I was thinking, as I was writing down my thoughts about Lean Mean Thirteen, how important timing is to my enjoyment of a book. As I said there, I still enjoy the Stephanie Plum series, and I think it's in no small part due to the fact that I read just one (or two) a year, that there's a long period of time between installments.

If I were to read the series one right after the other, the similarities between the books would undoubtedly drive me nuts. But since I have such a break between the books, the similarities, while I do recognize them when others point them out, aren't as glaring because they're masked by the haze of several months worth of other reading.

Case in point: Christine Feehan's Carpathians. When I first discovered her books, I bought the first four and read them straight through. Then I bought the next two or three, but by the time I got through them, I was much less enthralled with the series. It seemed like they were all alike.

But it takes me a long time to give up on an author once I'm hooked, so I kept buying, but stashing the books in my TBR pile. By the time I got to Dark Symphony, I was hooked again. I'd been attributing my two changes of heart to changes in the quality of the books, but I'm beginning to suspect that it had at least as much to do with taking some time between the books so that the similarities didn't bore me.

Which is not to say that either Evanovich or Feehan writes formulaic books, or the same book over and over with just the names and small details changed. But there is, inescapably, I think, a sameness in a series. If you have a series with the same cast of characters or the same type of characters, there's only so much you can change before it's not the same series anymore.


And if it doesn't make me bored, they still blur together. When I first discovered Laurell K. Hamilton, I bought her first 9 Anita Blake books in omnibus editions and read them straight though. I still can't tell the first 8 apart. Even though I re-read them a few times and discussed them thoroughly, it's like it's just one long book.


It's not just a problem within series, either. If I read two unrelated fantasy books back-to-back, my enjoyment of at least one of them will suffer from the genre similarities.

That's why I make such an effort to vary my reading. I don't read two books from the same genre or sub-genre back-to-back. It seldom turns out well if I do.

Something else that I've noticed is that the first time you encounter something in a book makes a big difference. I've read so many secret baby romances at this point that no matter how well-written one is, I still cringe. I may end up not hating the book, but because I've seen the plot device so many times before, I'm probably not going to love it. And yet, the first time I encountered it (which I'm nearly positive was in Honest Illusions (#24) by Nora Roberts), it wasn't by any means the first time anyone had written such a thing, but it was the first time for me, so I loved it.

Now, Honest Illusions is one of my favorite Nora books, and it goes against the grain to think that I'd ever not love it regardless of the circumstances, but I'm afraid that if I read it for the first time today, I might only like it very much because I've seen that secret baby thing too many times.

And that sounds like a contradiction. Stephanie Plum blowing up cars in book after book doesn't bother me, but a plethora of secret babies does. I still think it's timing. I only encounter those cars once or twice a year--15 times total. The secret babies show up a lot more frequently. And too, the later Evanovich books don't grab me nearly as much as the first ones did. I don't think it's because they're less well written--I think it's the timing. I think it's because I've seen it already--not just specific things, but the style, the tone, the Stephanie-Plum-ish-ness of it all.

And that sounds like a complaint or criticism. It's not, really--it's like a love affair. At the beginning, it's all new and exciting simply from the newness. Later on, it's still exciting, but in a different way--it's exciting because you know just what that person (or that book series) can do for you.

...more

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Comments:
I just stopped by to let you know I posted the results of last weeks TT13 Song Q's
It's up at http://anyapples.blogspot.com/
 
I still like the Stephanie Plum books. To me, they're comfort reads. I know what I'm gonna get, everytime. And I'm in the mood for that -- perfect.
 
Oh, yeah--that's something I should have added--being in the mood for it. That makes more difference than anything else.

And me, too--I don't read the Stephanie Plum books until I'm in the mood for them, and when I do, I enjoy getting what I expected.
 
I so get this. I have sent SO many books back to the library unread this year. It is hard to find something new and fresh in a genre you love.

I like the love affair analogy.
 
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