I think there's another way to look at this. Some writers have only one or a few terrific books in them. Harper Lee and John Kennedy Toole are examples. Do we think less of them because they only wrote one great book? Nope, we are grateful for that one novel. Other writers only have four or five or part of a series in them.Heck, that's an amazing accomplishment. To say that their newer writing is "irredeemable" is a harsh assessment.
Now, the Sophomore Blues/Slump explanation has been popping up recently in many different news venues in conjunction with the question of whether or not we would have wished for these authors to write more even if it couldn’t match their premiere works. As many of you have mentioned (both here and on the Smart Bitches thread), you would rather wait or have fond memories of an author rather than to read work that you consider “phoned in” (unless you are Raine, who needs someone to hook her up with a medium so she can get Nathaniel Hawthorne to cough up a few more stories, or someone who can fake his style well enough that we have something to base next year’s literary scandal on. Long lost Hawthorne works, anyone?). Still, despite this “phoning in” aspect, many of you continue to buy, follow a series in paperback, or at least linger over the newest title by an old favorite. In my own store I’ve had many a customer practically yelling their frustrations at a novel one minute (because it is completely acceptable to talk to a book like it’s a person), only to plunk down thirty bucks for it the next. Because they paid the money, they feel it is perfectly fine to complain that the book has let them down.
But what about when you, as the reader, have changed? In her comment, Marta also says:
The writer/reader relationship is two-way. Not only does the writer progress, but the reader goes through things that change our perception of a novel. I read Bridehead Revisited when I was young and read it again more recently. It was a different book to me (though still marvelous).
Our personalities are an amalgam of different experiences and backgrounds, and no two people are going to approach a book the same. There will be books that we read and enjoy because of this, and others we will hate simply because of a certain plot aspect that we don’t agree with. We can’t expect that our favorite author should mirror us in our growth, nor that a book will look or feel the same way after several years of distance. To further complicate the matter, our emotions when we read the book the first time might be heightened due to a traumatic event or stress, adding another aspect to the reading experience. It’s like having the munchies due to smoking pot; everything you eat under the influence is just the BEST. THING. EVER, but when you revisit the same flavors while drug-free they taste and feel completely different. Does this mean that they are worse? No, simply that the change in the environment and in your emotions cannot create the same affect.
(Not that I would know anything about drugs. Nope. I’m pure, mama, I swear.)
This divergent growth from your author love does not necessarily explain the Disappointed Potential Redux (DPR) that I explained yesterday. DPR is most common in series that strike the reader as having gone on too long, or entered into the realm of repetition, something Wry Hag at Smart Bitches blamed the editors and publishers for:
BLAME THE PUBLISHERS. BLAME THE EDITORS. They’re the ones who keep
the same old same-old assembly line running. They’re the ones who, once an author becomes a cash cow, refuse to say, “Listen up, Steve. You’re beginning to plagiarize from yourself. That means you’re pushing my yawn button. Plus, this fucker is so rambling and discursive it makes Gulliver look provincial. Shave off two-thirds of that rancid fat, and we might just have us a digestible hunk of meat here.
Again, it’s an opinion shared by many a reader at my store and one that from the readers end is hard to argue against. But as an editor of a series, you have to figure in some ways they are held captive. It is the author who has the overarching themes and plot planned out in their heads and it is the author who knows (supposedly) each step along the way. If that author says that the repetition is necessary then who is the editor to argue. This might be a simplification of the situation or way off base, I don’t know. I just tend to steer clear of most series because I’ve been disappointed so much in the past. Anything that extends beyond four books usually doesn’t even get picked up.
Unfortunately this means that I miss out on a lot of great books, and I know that. Just like I might miss out on some great titles because an author to me is hit or miss and I’m tired of looking for the hits. With so many books out there to choose from, a reader can afford to drop one author for another, meanwhile an author can forever lose a reader with one “bad” book. Whether book is considered bad by all, or just that reader who’s moved on is (I would like to believe) a measure of the writing and the caliber of the story…or whether or not drugs were involved in any way.