09/12/2013 10:07 am ET Updated Nov 12, 2013

Literary Monogamy and Polygamy

There are canon readers and then there are jump-from-author-to-author readers. I've been both.

For a number of years, liking a novel by a certain author set me off on a binge of consecutively reading other books by the same author. I did that with Margaret Atwood, Balzac, Willa Cather, Colette, Charles Dickens, Alexandre Dumas, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Jack London, Cormac McCarthy, Herman Melville, L.M. Montgomery, Sir Walter Scott, John Steinbeck, Mark Twain, Edith Wharton, Emile Zola and others.

It made sense. If you love one fictional work by an author, there's a good chance (though obviously no guarantee) you'll at least like another. Plus you get into the rhythm of that author's writing style, enjoy seeing the similarities and differences between various books by that author, find out how much the writer evolved or didn't evolve during her or his career, and so on. You might even spot the same characters in different novels -- something Balzac and Zola were fond of doing.

Of course, if you're reading a trilogy (think The Hunger Games or The Lord of the Rings), it's especially natural to stay with one author for a while. Same for a series after a number of installments have been published. For instance, if you finally tried the Harry Potter books in 2007 or later, you might have read all seven of them in a row. But if you discovered J.K. Rowling's series when it made its 1990s debut, chances are you read various other authors while waiting for the next six Harry Potter offerings.

In short, it's clearly easier to do the canon thing when you discover an author late -- or when you're reading a late author!

But I dropped the canon approach and began jumping from author to author in 2011 -- ironically, soon after consecutively reading most of Margaret Atwood's novels and writing an appreciation of that author for this site. It was my first Huffington Post book piece, and soon commenters were suggesting many other great authors I hadn't read before.

So, to keep up with some of those recommendations and expand my knowledge of literature, I began reading a different author almost every time I picked up another novel. This spring and summer alone, those writers included A.S. Byatt, Don DeLillo, Jasper Fforde, Ian McEwan, V.S. Naipaul, Marge Piercy, Arundhati Roy, Anne Tyler, Robert Walser and others.

The jumping-around benefits? Exposure to different ideas, different worldviews and different writing styles. The excitement of possibly finding a new favorite author. And more. Adjusting to an author one has never read before might be tough for the first chapter or two, but it can be very satisfying and educational to leave one's literary comfort zone.

There is the problem of loving a book so much that you have to resist the urge to immediately read more books by the same author. But resist I do! (Usually.)

Though I'm currently polygamous rather than monogamous with fiction reading, I don't think one approach is better than the other. Whatever works best for each literature lover! At some point, I may happily become "canon-ical" again for a period of time.

Do you prefer concentrating on one author for a while, or jumping from author to author? What are the pros and cons of each strategy? And which authors have spurred you to read a number of their books consecutively?


In his part-humorous Comic (and Column) Confessional memoir, Dave Astor recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists, columnists and others such as Charles Schulz ("Peanuts"), Bill Watterson ("Calvin and Hobbes"), Ann Landers, Hillary Clinton and Coretta Scott King. Contact Dave at to buy an inscribed copy of the book, which includes a preface by Heloise and back-cover blurbs by Arianna Huffington and Gary Larson ("The Far Side").