Wednesday, September 23, 2009

You Owe it to yourself #6: Reading your favourite Author more effectively

One morning while reading the paper I was struck by an interesting idea - what if you read all of an author's books in chronological order? Would it change your perception of the world? Would it change me from a black-and-white '50s Dad into some sort of demented bookmonkey? Only one was to find out.

I started the habit back in 2003 - never having read any crime fiction I thougt I would try some Elmore Leonard, and more specifically, I would read his books in the order he wrote them. I had just finished reading all of Louis L'Amour and as Leonard started with Westerns before he moved to crime fiction, I figured it would simply be a fun couple of months reading.

6 months and 40 novels later, my reading habits had changed. I was hooked on reading authors in publication order.

What I noticed as I went through Elmore Leonard's books (his first novel, The Bounty Hunters, was published in 1953) was that over time, the quality improved. I love his early stuff (again, big fan of westerns - thanks Mom), but by reading his books in order I could see that over time his pacing, his descriptions and his already amazing dialogue just get better and better.

I only had two problems with my experiment: first, reading 40 books of a similar style and tone in 6 months kind of made all their plots run together, secondly, it felt really cool to read an author like that, really, REALLY cool - I had to do it again.

The next author I tried this with (starting in July of 2004) was Terry Pratchett, and to solve my first problem I limited myself to one book of his a month. I just caught up with him this spring (March 2009). Pratchett wrote his first book - The Carpet People, when he was 17 years old, so again, over the course of nearly 50 books and 30+ years I got to see the evolution of a writer.

Since then I've done the same with a few more writers - Lois McMaster-Bujold, Michael Crichton, Robert B. Parker, Pierre Burton, and Robert R. McCammon, next up is Canadian fantasy author Charles De Lint.

The rewards are great - especially if you are personally looking to get into writing yourself. What I do not recommend is doing this with an untested author - often their first book is the worst place to start - read something you've heard good things about first, and once you've decided you want to commit, then you can go back to the beginning.

It'll show you a lot of stuff about the writer you might not have noticed before, which will make you appear much smarter (and slightly annoying) to your friends and family.

If you've already done this - congrats - get yourself a celebratory piece of cake and send me a comment letting me know about your experience, otherwise give it a try, after all, you owe it to yourself.


  1. You are indeed a clever (and slightly annoying) fellow! I'll talk to you before too long anyway, but good post, man!

  2. Well, I didn't try reading the author's books in chronological order, but some weeks ago I decided to read every Stephen King book in my possession. I'm not sure I want to repeat the experience. It didn't take long to start seeing similarities in his characters if not his plot. And reading the same style and genre just gets tedious after awhile.

  3. I definitely had the same problem when I read Elmore Leonard - by reading them back to back I ended up turning all of his plots and characters into a kind of mush-memory; I know what happened in all of his books, but not exactly what happened in each individual book. That's why I limited myself to one book a month of my next author.