Sunday, January 17, 2010

Yes, you can have too much of something you like

Since I blogged about reading The World According to Garp I have read nothing but other John Irving books back to back. The thing is that I think this might not have been a good plan. Just as I once ate five mangoes - one after the other - and can barely bring myself to eat this fruit any more, I am looking at the three Irving books I've yet to read with a distinct lack of interest.

Isn't it a shame that over-exposure to something so good can put you off? I have learnt on my OU creative writing course that the art of writing is a craft like any other - say playing the piano or learning how to draw. There are distinct techniques that can be honed and perfected and many successful writers have benefited from studying these various tricks to help narrative flow and characterisation be fully-fleshed out. Having now read nine Irving books in a row I can see these tricks quite clearly - not that it makes them any less good, just that I have overdone it and wish I had read other authors in between the Irving masterpieces.

As a complete contrast I am now reading a very light book by Ben Elton (Blast from the Past) and it is refreshingly simple and uncomplicated. I don't need to re-read a paragraph to savour the language, it doesn't fill my mind wondering how Elton thought of the characters - in short it is a basic readable airport novel.

Just as I hope one day to return to mangoes with my same enthusaiasm. I reckon that one day I will be ready for my remaining three Irving books. For anyone wanting to begin with an Irving book that I (and fellow bloggers Dumdad and Carol) think is the best, then try A Prayer for Owen Meany. It is quite a few months since I read it and I still think about Owen. How wonderful it must be to write such a perfect book and it's something not many people achieve.

Is there anything that you once loved and, due to over-exposure, can now no longer enjoy?


Nora Johnson said...

I wish I could say the same for chocolate! However much I over-indulge, I'm still regretfully an addict!

On a more profound note, I recently overindulged on Doris Lessing - an experience I would NOT recommend for the faint-hearted.

PS Thanks for the recent visit. I always enjoy *seeing* you! xx

Dumdad said...

I agree with you about Irving. I leave long gaps between reading his books. One day I shall re-read Owen Meany. A masterpiece.

Molly Potter said...

Wow - I did exactly that..started with Hotel New Hampshire - thought it was fantastic and then ploughed on through his other books and decided I'd overdone it. When I was younger I did the same with Tom Sharpe books. When the style of writing becomes kind of detracts you from it's brilliance. Law of diminishing returns!

Elizabeth said...

Yes, I once went on a John Irving bender.
To me his best was/is The Hotel New Hampshire.
I also loved The 165lbMarriage (actually can't remember the weight)
But enough is enough.....
I was quite besotted with Paul Auster for ages
but now am sad that his new books seem rehashes of his former ones....
they say that each writer always writing the same book.......
so something to be said for not writing too much.
Re family Henry James is my son's son and only an hour from me so I'm happily doing granny duty
and therefore rather not concentrating on blogging!

Steve said...

Complete avoidance for a short period is the only cure for over exposure... and even then it's sometimes not long enough. 6 months after finishing Uni I'm still not back into reading books... but the inclination is slowly growing...

French Fancy said...

Nora - yes, I never thought of chocolate. I don't often indulge but when I do start I just don't want to stop.

Dumdad - isn't it just! I wish I'd stopped reading Irving after that one really - although I thought the Cider House Rules was almost as good

Molly - I've just finished Hotel New Hampshire and then read the first chapter of The Fourth Hand. I thought ' I just can't carry on, I'm all Irvinged out.

Yes, HNH is one of the best.

Elizabeth - oh I am pleased you can indulge granny type things. I was feeling a bit sad for you with the newest little addition being so far away

Steve - ah, it's not just me then. I thought I was losing my quality literature mojo for a moment

Frankofile said...

After tonsillectomy I was overfed icecream. It has to be really good icecream now for me to look at it.

After 3 years of studying Eng Lit, I hadn't overdosed but was paralysed by fear of wasting my time reading rubbish. Too embarrassed to risk a non-classic, I missed a lot.

Including John Irving. But thanks meeting more sensible readers, I've got my confidence back!

LadyFi said...

I agree - it's good to vary your reading. I read the three Stieg Larsson books in a row but that really was my limit.

I can't face pomegranates anymore as I once ate so many as a kid that I was sick for a whole day or more.

Veggie Carrie said...

I try to vary the authors I read now, and don't like to read too many books by the same author in a row. I used to love reading Jodi Picoult (and still do) but after reading a few, they all seem very similar - I can see her 'formula' and can second guess the twists and turns she will make. It's a shame really when that happens.

Reasons said...

Very true. I've done the same thing myself. On the same subject, a very good little book, which is about the subject of reading books, is The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett. Think you'd like it if you haven't read it already.

Anonymous said...

An early book by Irving (pre-Garp) was one called The Water Method Man, which is one of my favorites, seems to have been hardly read by anybody. Did you happen upon by chance? Would be interested in your impression of it.

Angie Muresan said...

Julie, I am hoping chocolate is the thing for me. I doubt it though. The more I eat of it, the more I want. Anyway, hello to you, my dear friend. Hope it is a lovely Monday morning. Hugs and love!

Berowne said...

As a callow youth, before I knew what "callow" meant, I lived in an area where good Italian cuisine was pretty well unknown.

So the first time I had veal cutlet parmigiano it was an unforgettable moment:

"Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken..."

But years passed; I reached the point where another Eyetralian dish with tomato sauce was just something to be avoided. There's a whole world of Italian dishes, mostly from the north, a cornu, if that is the word I want, copia of elegance and taste, and they manage to achieve success without being drenched in tomato sauce.

Jennysmith said...

how strange, i'm reading Meltdown by Benny Elton. Never read Blast from the Past! Love the film of Garp tho' never tried to the book.

Hadriana's Treasures said...

I love Lindsey Davis and her "Falco" character (yes...a Roman detective) but I leave gaps between her books for exactly the reason you've described. Good luck with your course BTW. It sounds fascinating.

Owen said...

How could anyone not like a book with such a great name in the title ?

(only kidding, I haven't read it yet... but I plan to someday...)

Contemporary Troubadour said...

Oh yes, for me it was Lilian Jackson Braun's "Cat Who ..." mystery series about 15 years ago. Haven't really been able to get back into those since. But I do have my favorite few that I would read again (if I had the time).

Lulu LaBonne said...


I have also found that I've fallen in love with a writer on one book, then out of love on the next.

I'm currently in love with Marilynne Robinson

Carol said...

I have to vary the books I read or I find myself getting irritated with the author!! I try and read a heavy book (literary rather than actual weight), something light, something based in real life that I find interesting, something fictional that's a classic and then I go back to something heavy. It doesn't always work out that way because it depends what mood I'm in but I try...

Why don't you give 'The Firemaker' by Peter May a go! I'd be interested to see what you thought of it (and yes, it's a shameless plug for my Dad but hey...that's what daughters are for *grins*)

C x

A Super Dilettante said...

Darling, I think you are such a fast reader!! Nine Irvin books!!! That's incredible! Not to mention reading other authors (and Mr so-and-so letters) in between!! I think you can't get too over-exposed with the music but for me, books and paintings, I can't get them enough!!

A Super Dilettante said...

PS. Hope your arm is better dear! Get well soon xxx

French Fancy said...

Frankie - I adore ice cream but mainly home-made. I love making it and could probably eat it every evening in summer

Fi - I don't eat pomegranates very often now because for some strange reason they make my fingertips go yellow

Carrie - yes, each author does seem to have a predictable style. I can't think of anyone who drastically changes from book to book

Reasons - yes, I've read that lovely little Alan Bennet book - in fact I blogged about it about a year ago

Ian - that's an Irving book that I have here and that I haven't read yet. Probably will be read in about six months I reckon

Angie - I love chocolate but do not often buy it. I can't restrain myself from polishing off the whole thing. With such restraint you think I would be a slim thing - no such luck :)

Berowne - I know exactly what you mean with Italian cuisine (I find the same with Indian food as well) The generic 'spicy' taste does tend to pall a bit after a while

Jen - I've not seen the Garp film. Maybe I'll get it from Amazon. DVDs are so cheap on there these days

Hade - I should have done that all the time - left gaps and never read just one author back to back

Owen - do you mean the Owen Meany book? :p. Apart fom having something in common with it - it is a brilliant book

Contem - that's the trouble with you academics. There is never enough time left after a day of clever reading to eve concentrate on lighter fiction. I don't know how you do it - study so hard. I'm a very lazy student these days - and that's why I love writing poetry; it's so much easier :)

Lulu - I've never heard of her - I must investigate

Carol - I've got a few books yet to read (apart from other Irvings) on my bedside table. When I get to the end of those I promise I will get your dad's book. After all you were right about Owen Meany :)

ASD - no, I'm a slow reader. I began on the first of the Irvings last August. Actually I am only a slow reader with quality literature- I tend to re-read passages because of the beauty of the language.

I've abandoned the Ben Elton because it just wasn't very good. Will start on Graham Greene tonight.

My arm is slowly recovering I think.

Hope you are not overdoing preparing for the exhibition

Mark said...

I'd put cider into that category - loved it once, but after a few student parties, never again!

And I think lots of music can be like that too - you love an album, play it to death and then move on.


Kathy said...

Hey there FF, We have been painting for the last week or so and if I never see another tin of Antique white paint again, I will be most happy. WOW that;s a lot of Mangoes in one go FF. I read a variety of books now as I once read everything I could lay my hands on about Henry VIII and his wives, in the end I felt I knew less about them all than when I started. I gave up on Henry completely until just recently my interest has been sparked again, that might have something to do with Jonathan Reece Myers though. I also read the uncommon reader after seeing you post and have to say I enjoyed that little book no end. I sent a copy to three of my friends, my dad and my sister. I am off to London at the end of the month, this time for a whole five weeks. Speak soon, hugs, Kathy.

I have not read any of Irvings books, will check out Owen Meany.

French Fancy said...

Mark - I do enjoy a glass of cider but the doux, not the brut - I don't often drink it though. I think there is nothing nicer on a hot summer evening that cidre doux.

Hiya Kathy. Well done on the painting. I am rubbish at it - just as I drop food down me when I eat, so I drop paint on everything -even the non-drip variety. I just have that magical clumsy touch.

Five weeks in London will be good - are you staying with Hayley or Stephen or neither?


Phil Lowe said...

I have never read any of Irving's books but have recently discovered Mike Gayle and am on a third novel. He reading is easy and I have gasped aloud twice on things happening to his characters. An they are unputdownable.