In this post, blogger John Seavey reflects on a recent argument he got into after trashing Ravenous, a book by Ray Gorton. Another author wrote in and informed Seavey that he was being outrageously unfair to denounce Gorton as a crappy writer based on one book out of more than 60 that he’s written.
Seavey’s response: “In this, at least, he is absolutely right; it is unfair to judge Garton’s talent on the basis of one novel. The only answer I can give is: Life isn’t fair.
I don’t mean that in a trite, dismissive way; I mean it in the sense that the reader of a story is not in any way obligated to the author of a story. In fact, it’s the exact opposite; the author is asking for the reader’s time and (frequently) money, and is obligated to the reader to provide an experience that is worth that time and money. .. Every opportunity to impress a reader is a precious gift, and should be treated as such.”
I could not agree more. I can accept an occasional weaker book by an author I already like, but if my first encounter is a negative one—well, I’m unlikely to try again. I picked up the first Wheel of Time book more than a decade ago, and decided it was 600 brilliant pages in an 800 page book—and the remaining 200 were dreadful. I didn’t go back.
I haven’t touched a Stephen King novel since I endured The Stand, which is one of the crappiest books by a major author that I’ve ever read (I know I’m in a minority on that one).
I just picked up The Island by Tim Lebbon, couldn’t get into it at all. Doubt I’ll try again (I have no particular criticism, the set-up just didn’t work for me).
It’s perfectly true that the author may have had one bad book out of a stellar line. Or it may be his first book and he improves afterward. But in my experience, it’s just as likely I’ll dislike all his other books too. In times past, I’ve tried reading Heinlein and James Patterson and I dislike all their books as much as I did the first ones.
And as Siskel and Ebert once observed, the reason it was bad doesn’t matter: To paraphrase them, if I don’t like the book, I don’t want to hear the writer telling me why it had to be that way.
As a writer, of course, the lesson is clear: As you judge others, so shall you be judged. Nobody but my close friends is obligated to give me a second chance if they dislike my first novel (assuming I ever see one in print). If I can’t hit it out the ballpark every time, at least I should deliver a solid base hit. Because readers have no reason to give me extra innings.