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One and Done (for Now) After Reading Certain Novelists

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I recently wrote about loving particular authors so much the first time you read them that you want to devour their other books ASAP.

This post will look at the flip side of that coin. Yes, it will be about reading novelists for the first time, perhaps liking their books, but not liking them quite enough to immediately start doing the canon thing.

Among the famous authors I've read just one book by over the years are Louisa May Alcott (Little Women), Ernest Hemingway (The Sun Also Rises), Muriel Spark (The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie), and Robert Penn Warren (All the King's Men). I liked all four books to varying degrees, but for varying reasons haven't read another novel by their authors -- yet!

Booth Tarkington joined my "one and done (for now)" list after I finished his The Magnificent Ambersons last week. I enjoyed the Pulitzer Prize-winning 1918 book, and think I'll read more of Tarkington's work in the future -- perhaps starting with Alice Adams. But I didn't love The Magnificent Ambersons quite enough to immediately do Tarkington 2.0. There are many other authors and novels I want to read first, so -- until our do-almost-nothing Congress changes the length of days from 24 to 240 hours -- title triage is needed.

Of course, not reading more of an author is a no-brainer when you thoroughly dislike the first novel you try by him or her. But things get trickier when you have some positive feelings about a book, as I did with The Magnificent Ambersons. I liked Tarkington's depiction of late-1800s life in the Midwest, his take on the dawn of the automobile age, his casual/skillful narrative style, his occasional humor and poignancy, and his characters such as Isabel Minafer (nee Amberson) and the widowed Eugene Morgan and his daughter Lucy.

So, why no Tarkington 2.0 for now? A big thing that bugged me about the novel was its main character -- George Amberson Minafer (son of Isabel and grandson of the magnate who made the Ambersons a super-rich Indiana family). George is spoiled, entitled, selfish, arrogant, narcissistic, and not as smart as he thinks he is, but the guy skates through life anyway because he's rich.

Of course, great literature has plenty of unlikable protagonists, but this one really grated on me. He reminded me of another George -- George W. Bush. Unlike the real George, the fictional one eventually learns some humility, but I couldn't warm up to him even then.

Also, while the The Magnificent Ambersons story line is absorbing, readers have to suspend belief as Tarkington turns the plot gears. Can George be that mean to his doting mother Isabel? Can Isabel let George control her life that much?

Finally, I was bothered by the novel's scant references to the non-wealthy, and by its almost offhanded racism -- including several mentions of "darkies" who Tarkington gave no individual personalities. I realize the author was "of his time," but still....

Again, I'm sure I'll read another Tarkington title or two. He's an excellent writer! I just won't drive 100 miles per hour to the library tomorrow to do so.

Which well-known novelists have you sampled only once? And if you'd like to explain why you haven't yet tried a second novel by those authors, I'll be a better listener than George Amberson Minafer!

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Dave Astor's new book Comic (and Column) Confessional is scheduled to be published this June by Xenos Press.

The part-humorous memoir is about Dave's 25 years at Editor & Publisher magazine covering, interviewing, and meeting notables such as Arianna Huffington, Heloise, Hillary Clinton, Walter Cronkite, Coretta Scott King, Martha Stewart, Ann Landers, and Abigail Van Buren ("Dear Abby"); and notable cartoonists such as Gary Larson ("The Far Side"), Lynn Johnston ("For Better or For Worse"), Mort Walker ("Beetle Bailey"), Charles Schulz ("Peanuts"), Stan Lee ("Spider-Man"), Bill Watterson ("Calvin and Hobbes"), Garry Trudeau ("Doonesbury"), Berkeley Breathed ("Bloom County"), Scott Adams ("Dilbert"), Jim Davis ("Garfield"), and Herblock. The book also chronicles changes in the media, includes personal stuff, and more.

If you'd like information about ordering a signed copy of the book, contact Dave at dastor@earthlink.net