03 September 2010

Scalding Hot Coffee and Comfortable Cups of Tea

Reader Jane Martinez from Brooklyn writes, “I would like to point out how enjoyable are the Brunetti mysteries by Donna Leon. I picked up on them because I will be going to Venice and the Veneto for the month of September. I always like to read some fiction set in the area in which I will be traveling... (Leon) (develops) her main characters, many of whom return in subsequent tales, but I am fascinated by the Brunetti family itself.

“I cannot decide whether or not I like to have a series,” she continues. “On one hand it is entertaining to get to know the characters and wait eagerly for more of their adventures (for example, the “Outlander” series by Diana Gabaldon). On the other hand I get too involved in reading all the books that I have missed and do little but read until I am caught up.”

“I do little but read until I am caught up.” Is that supposed to be a bad thing?

Jane, I know the feeling. I once spent an entire summer on the family couch reading every Freddy the Pig story I could find in the West Portal branch library in San Francisco. I have been thanking the late Walter R. Brooks ever since for showing me how much fun total immersion can be.

Then there are the novels of Patrick O’Brien. I came to these seafaring tales long after other friends had praised them for years. Once started I could not stop, and the high quality of these books never falters. O’Brien never hits a wrong note. The series begins with “Master & Commander,” which introduces the enduring characters Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin, and ends with number twenty, “Blue at the Mizzen,” and that might have been it, but in fact there was a wee bit more: When O’Brien died ten years ago, three chapters which would have begun the 21st novel were found neatly arranged on his desk. The manuscript plus a sketch for a deadly duel was posthumously published as “The Final Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey.”

When an author is capable, the characters rich and interesting, there is every reason to continue enjoying everything that author cares to produce. There may be disappointments along the way; no running back scores a touchdown every time; but when authors get on a winning streak we follow in awe, eternal fans.

Over here I have a knee-high stack of novels by the British/American author Bernard Cornwell. That stack recalls a heck of a lot of entertaining reading. Cornwell tends to group his books into small series set in, say, medieval Europe, or the Napoleonic Wars. Several novels – yes, another series – take place during the American Civil War, others concern King Arthur. Very few of Cornwell’s books are one-offs – he tried a modern setting with “Scoundrel,” bringing in the IRA, CIA, British intelligence, gunrunning, and a bit of marine surveying. It is so easy to turn his pages.

When I want to get lost, to dive in to some books and stay underwater for a while, I want a reliable series – Wilbur Smith comes to mind; so does Isaac Asimov, Robert B. Parker, John Mortimer, Conan Doyle, and so many more. I take these authors with me on airplanes, trade them with other fanatics, read them repeatedly. They keep me up at night and wait for me when I have ten minutes to spare.

This week I enjoyed a truly excellent novel, “Fame,” by German author Daniel Kehlman. His nine connected short stories add up to a beguiling novel, funny and poignant. Kehlman has one other novel to his name, “Measuring the World,” which has won prizes and been translated into more than forty languages.

Readers like (and the literary world requires) scalding hot coffee from challengers like Kehlman, but readers also have an appetite for comfortable cups of tea from writers who entertain with a recurring cast of characters. It’s a reality show, a soap opera, a set of  sequels; it may be the same book written twenty different ways; we make it our own, and we love it.


Too many books and authors mentioned here to identify them all with prices, publisher and ISBN. Everything mentioned above is in print and readily available. Go get hooked!

I apologize for not mentioning YOUR favorite authors and series. Leave a comment and let us all know...


Charles Grady said...

Right you are, Tony, re continuing series, especiallty those by Patrick O'Brian (I think I recall correctly that he chose this variant spelling) and Cornwell. Let me add a good word for a classic series for young readers: Arthur Ransome's "Swallows and Amazons" stories. This English lover of sailing captivated me all of 70 years ago & gave me a lifelong passion for small boats, sailpower, lakes and the sea. I dug out the first ones, Swallows & Amazons, and Swallowdale, & they still read well. Some of us never grow up, nor do we want to! --Charles Grady, Hendersonville NC, soon relocating to Minnesota.

paul in davis said...

I will read anything by Bill Bryson and William Langewiesche.

On the fiction side, I can only recall having read two series. Dune? Wrinkle in Time quintet? Fellowship of the Ring? No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency? Any of the others mentioned in WOB?


For me they were The Mouse on the Motorcycle trilogy and the Encyclopedia Brown series. I haven't read a fiction series since fifth grade.


I tried most of the aforementioned series but just couldn't get into them. By the time I got to the middle of the second book, I got bored (sometimes this would happen midway through the first...). I think I also have a phobia for feeling trapped by literature. Not enthralled, but ensnared. I feel intimidated by having to "stay underwater" for so long with just one author and one set of characters. There is probably at least a half dozen series out there that will enthrall, not ensnare, me but I have yet to discover them.

Confession: there is one series that I started with an unsolicited comp I got in the mail thirteen years ago. Read the first three chapters and thought, this looks pretty good! I put it down and told myself that maybe I'd get back to it after the entire series was published. (I HATE waiting for "the next book". Probably another reason why I can't do fiction series anymore.) Funny though, after all the hype and hoopla over the publication of the entire series, I have yet to go back and start it up again.

One day, Harry Potter, one day......

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