The Collector

Some readers are impressively committed to their favourite authors. (Hopefully my own readers will be thus committed one day… when I’ve, you know, actually written enough stuff to warrant commitment.) My sister is one such person. She has rows and rows on her (ever-increasing-husband-constructed-what-would-she-have-done-if-she-married-a-man-who-can’t-make-stuff) bookshelves committed to single authors. Her Stephen King collection is complete. I’ll give you a moment to wrap your head around this. It’s a work of art well before you open a cover.

I am not such a collector. In our house we have shelves dedicated to Australian authors, American authors, Classics, Feminism, Film, Spiritual, Cooking, Art, Short Stories etc (god this makes me sound cleverer than I am, I really need to add this to my LinkedIn profile somewhere), but my biggest haul of books with a single author’s name to the spines is my Ian McEwan collection.

I’ve had a love of Ian McEwan since I read Saturday several years ago. I’ve posted before about how the craft of Saturday influenced my novel (the good one). I loved every ultra-long, semi-colon filled sentence of it. It started my McEwan collection, which has since turned into an interesting exercise in the often somewhat blind loyalty of the collector. I want to love everything he writes. But his last two books left me disappointed. I bought his lastest novel, Sweet Tooth at the airport on the way to Perth. This wasn’t my intention. I had a Phillip Roth tucked into my handbag, but that was unceremoniously slung into the suitcase when I saw the new McEwan. The problem is, I didn’t much like it. It’s written in first person with a female protagonist, set in the early 70s and, for me, he doesn’t get into the head of the character well. It’s not a feminine voice. Of course, there are moments of Ian McEwan brilliance. That’s inevitable thank goodness, but, for many reasons, I didn’t love it. I really liked the play on the literary world in Britain he is now such a huge part of, including the kind of odd use of his own short stories from his old collections, but I felt like I was reading just to get to the twist at the end that I knew was coming and it just didn’t make for a satisfying journey.

The book before Sweet Tooth, Solar, was particularly unsatisfying for me. So what does the Collector do from here? Do you continue to collect? – I suspect I will – or do you stop after a certain amount of disappointments?

What do you do? Who do you collect?

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26 Comments

Filed under Art, Books, Criticism, Family, Fiction, Food, My Book, Perth, Reading, Review, Short Stories, Stephen King, Writing

26 responses to “The Collector

  1. From the Home of Sir Henry Newbolt

    I had the same dilemma as you describe years ago, as a serious collector of records, obsessively purchasing each release of certain bands, and still doing so when they became bloated parodies of their former selves. I think we’re frightened of letting go. Somehow, the identification with a certain author/band helps us identify ourselves, or a period of our lives. I now collect old comics, magazines, and football matches on dvd. So I can’t become disappointed anymore when they become stale as I know what’s coming.

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  2. Years ago, I read A.S. Byatt’s ‘Possession’. It became my favourite book, and I’ve read it two or three times since. But it’s the only one of hers I’ve read, simply because I’m sure I could never love another as much, and it would inevitably lead to disappointment.

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    • Yes, I think this is me with Barbara Kingsolver and the Posionwood Bible.

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      • I’ve heard lots of good things about The Poison Wood Bible, I’ll have to give it a go. As for Possession, it is the ONLY book I have ever read where I thought (about two thirds through), “oh my God, if I keep reading at this pace, I’ll be finished soon”, and from that moment I actually started rationing myself, allowing only two pages a day, then making myself put it down!

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  3. Sally Green

    I too loved Saturday. Loved it. In such a way I distinctly remember stroking the cover for some time on its completion, feeling profoundly grateful for having been in the company of such a genius for a while. That said, I didn’t read Solar. A few people I know and whose opinion I respect didn’t enjoy it much and it sounded weird so I didn’t bother- even though we own a copy.
    I’m halfway through Sweet Tooth right now. It’s ok. I’m a bit bored. I love the short stories in it. Probably won’t recommend it to anyone though.
    So, I guess I’m a bit fickle. But I do count him as one of my favourite authors and now that I think about it, we do own every single one of his collection.

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  4. Putting my hand up here as the Lionel Shriver fangirl. I wouldn’t call myself a collector, but I do try hard to read everything she’s written and think that she is a master craftsperson.

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  5. sandybarker

    I collect books that I love, sure, but there has not been one favorite author who has not disappointed me with at least one book. Paullina Simons comes to mind, The Bronze Horseman trilogy was phenomenal, but Road to Paradise was not. I own the trilogy, but not the other. And now, with a Kindle it is hard to say what I ‘collect’ – electronic files mostly.

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  6. Susannahthompson

    I also collect Ian mcewan and enjoyed reading some of his books for the first time and owning them – felt a bit odd by his repetition of the incest theme and definitely found him to use ‘twists’. Saturday and atonement really are fab though. Hilary mantel is blowing my mind with her brilliance and I’m on a Sebastian faulks journey right now. A week in December, Charlotte Gary, birdsong. Love.

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  7. Chris

    Solution: work backwards; raid the back catalogue of all the early stuff McEwan did. Seems few writers get better as they get older?

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  8. Dawn

    Whew! Thank goodness for that! Please tell me what it is that’s so good about Saturday. I don’t even remember it except I didn’t think much of it. The ABC had a competition where you have to name the 10 books you wished you’d never read. I thought this a weird comp because surely one forgets them as soon as possible – except in my case for a Nick Cave book I read which is THE worst thing ever (it was on the Librarian 100 books you must read list).

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    • Oh Mum. Saturday is so beautifully written, with these long, meandering sentences and yet the whole thing spans an hour. That’s very clever writing. The plot is intriguing and so is the protagonist. But, you know, each to her own, you don’t have to love it!

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  9. I’m going to break the mold here…and got out on a limb and admit to collecting an author who isn’t particularly…well literary…she is however a great writer of warm, funny, witty, and very entertaining stories…I speak of course of Georgette Heyer…I have all of her books just about…the old editions not the reprints naturally! I like Georgette’s books because they are exactly what one should read when one is writing a PhD at the same time…not too demanding, escapist in a healthy kind of way, beautifully written and basically a good fun read. Every year I read them all through again…they’re now like old friends…;-).

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  10. I am a lapsed collector of stuff I enjoy. Out of space but working on making more. Welcome back, Simonne. Hello!

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