I am fortunate in this job because I hear months in advance when books are coming out — and when they are by authors I love, there's lots of time for anticipation. Last week, I got an email from Pegasus Books telling me they are publishing Raynor Winn's new memoir in September.
I reviewed Winn's previous memoirs ("The Salt Path" and "The Wild Silence") and so of course I am looking forward to this third one. Her books are memoirs of long-distance hiking, and as I am about to head to Ireland soon to hike across Donegal, her themes speak to me.
Seeing that email reminded me of the concept of "reading by author," something I have done all my life — something I'm sure you do, too. I first heard the term when one of my grade-school teachers remarked on it — perhaps it was an unusual way for a little girl to read. But even back then, I knew what I liked; it was a delight to see, in the school library, a whole shelf of tempting books by Edward Eager, or Noel Streatfeild, or Elizabeth Enright. A delight, and a comfort: Look at all the books I have yet to read!
As I grew, I continued to read by author — in my teens, I stuck with what I thought of as "the classics." I didn't know how to judge unfamiliar authors, so tried-and-true books seemed best. I read Dickens, Trollope (lots of Trollope), Jane Austen, George Eliot.
When I was in my early 20s a friend wrote me, recommending a book by a writer named Anne Tyler. And I remember thinking, how did my friend choose that book? How did she know that Tyler's books are good? They haven't yet stood the test of time!
(Apparently, I didn't read book review sections in those days.)
Still, I hunted down Tyler, and read the book, and loved it. I realized that I didn't have to read 100-year-old books in order to find a worthy read — great books are being written and published every day. It became a scramble to keep up. The so-called classics went by the wayside, and I got hooked on contemporary authors.
I went to the library and perused the "new" shelf. I asked my friends for suggestions. I went to bookstores, though I could only afford paperbacks. I began to develop my own reading taste.
Since then, it has become a passion — discovering new authors, writers who take me away from the familiar and push me in new directions.
Still, I'll never stop reading by author. Some, like Tyler, I read because they are comfortingly familiar. Those quirky families, that Baltimore locale. Others I read because they aren't similar — I know they will surprise me, but I know the surprise will be good.
Stewart O'Nan is a chameleon of a writer. His "The Names of the Dead" is nothing like "Last Night at the Lobster" (one of my favorite books of all time). James McBride's "The Color of Water" is very different from "The Good Lord Bird." And yet, the next O'Nan to come out, the next McBride, I am there. (And good news! There will be a new McBride this August.)
Reading unfamiliar authors is a wonderful adventure. But reading by author means you've found a writer you love, and whatever they write, you will read. Put them together, and you have a full reading life.
Laurie Hertzel is senior editor for books at the Star Tribune. firstname.lastname@example.org