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Starting With The ‘Right’ Book

A photograph of a copy of Haruki Murakami's Norwegian Wood

Do you ever have occasions where there’s a book you feel you should be starting with, when it comes to your first book of a particular author, and if you get another book of theirs instead you just can’t get past that feeling?

There have been times when I’ve had a deep-rooted feeling I should be starting with a certain book but then, for whatever reason (the bookshop didn’t have it and I was impatient, for example), I get another… and then I can’t start it because it’s not the ‘right’ book. Even if other readers say it’s an excellent choice. When or if I push past the feeling, I often end up disliking it. More and more I find myself just putting the second choice to the side until I get the one I really wanted; experience has taught me it’s generally best to wait.

I think personal intuition in this regard is something to trust. If, for whatever reason, a particular title has grabbed you, as long as the book isn’t difficult to get you should follow it. I often find it’s easier to finish a book I’ve read for this reason even if I end up not liking it, than it is to finish another I read in lieu of it.

Two situations got me thinking about this – the first you may well know: I questioned with which book I should begin my journey into Haruki Murakami’s work, despite very much feeling I ought to opt for Norwegian Wood. I don’t know why it’s that one – it turns out it’s not the cover (the cover’s been changed and I’m still interested). Perhaps it’s the word ‘wood’, that makes me think of nature and the countryside and beauty? All I know is I looked at Kafka On The Shore and though I could tell it was excellent, it just wasn’t happening. (This is apart from my thought that I should read Kafka himself, first, so I had any relevant context behind me.)

I picked Norwegian Wood… though I haven’t read it yet. I’m a bit daunted. It’ll happen soon.

The second situation is recent – Ben Okri’s reading at Hay was fantastic. I’d like to read his work but he’s written a lot more than I’d have guessed. In this case I asked for recommendations but that was before I looked for synopses. When I looked, it was In Arcadia all the way and when I saw it wasn’t available at that time I decided to wait. I wouldn’t be drawn to his Man Booker winner.

This is all in the same vein as that question of timing and being in the mood for certain books. I tend to say that if you can match timing and moods, awesome, but you can’t live your reading life like that constantly. This, though, this ‘correct’, personally-relevant introduction to an author? I think it’s important to get right.

When was the last time you ‘knew’ you should be starting with a certain book but read another instead?


Tanya Patrice

August 5, 2016, 2:17 pm

I think about this when I’m starting books by an author I know I want to read quite a lot from. Recently it was with Margaret Atwood – I jumped in with the standalone The Handmaid’s Tale, before tackling the first book in a series.

Jenny @ Reading the End

August 6, 2016, 1:41 am

Oh man, I used to spend so much time trying to find the “right” book to start with for a given author. I’d say that if I’m interested in one book by a new author, and the library doesn’t have it so I have to get a different book by that author, it’s usually a bad decision not to just wait around for the book that I wanted in the first place.

However, I used to put a lot of energy into figuring out the optimal reading order when going through a new author’s backlist for the first time. My idea was that I’d read the WORST of a given author’s books first, and then it would be all rise after that. So like, after really unexpectedly liking Midnight’s Children, I heard bad things about The Ground Beneath Her Feet so I thought I’d read that one next and then move on to better Rushdie books. And then that one turned out to be, and remains, my favorite Rushdie. Best-laid plans.

Booker talk

August 6, 2016, 7:59 am

Don’t feel daunted by Norwegian Wood, it’s highly readable. I have the same question about Murakami now I’ve read one where do I go next

Literary Feline

August 7, 2016, 4:40 am

I immediately thought of Sarah Waters when I started reading your post, Charlie. I had expected to start with Night Watch (which I still haven’t read), but ended up reading Fingersmith first. It didn’t hurt my enjoyment of Fingersmith at all, fortunately.

I do struggle with what book to start with first when it comes to certain authors. Margaret Atwood was one–I ended up reading Blind Assassin. I still haven’t read anything by Murakami because I’m not sure where to start.


August 7, 2016, 7:44 pm

I have had this exact same feeling today. I keep feeling like I need to start reading Laszlo Krasznahorkai with The Melancholy of Resistance and I can’t shake that feeling. I’m going to do as you say and trust my instinct.


August 8, 2016, 6:51 pm

I used to worry about this too and i still do now and then if an author has a large body of work. My first Murakami was going to be kafka on the shore but ended up being Hard boiled wonderland and the end of the world which turned out to be fantastic. I have since read several of his books but have not yet read Kafka on the shore!


August 25, 2016, 12:58 pm

Tanya: That sounds a good – the best? – place to start with Atwood. And yes on that point of quite a lot – the more there is the more you want to get it right, and sometimes you want to carry on in a particular order, too.

Jenny: Yes on that time aspect. Another way we ‘waste’ time as readers. It is a gut-feeling isn’t it, and weird in a way that it turns out waiting is better, even if the second choice isn’t anywhere near bad. A weird sort of prejudice but a good one.

That’s really interesting, reading the worst book first. But it makes a lot of sense, and if you can achieve it (who knows how you’ll really feel until you’ve read them) you’d always know you were on the up. Just as long as the worst didn’t put you off continuing! Hehe, love that a reputed bad book was your favourite. How much did the bad points noted match your reading tastes when you read the reviews, prior to reading the book?

BookerTalk: Thank you for that. You’ve made me reconsider my procrastination. I could only suggest titles I’ve heard of; it’d be interesting to see which you choose and why.

Literary Feline: Interesting! I want to get to Waters’ books at some point and have a vague idea of starting with The Paying Guests – I think that’s the title – but only because I once saw a hardback copy which I considered buying; my own physical copy experience so to speak. Glad you liked Fingersmith. I hear you can’t go wrong with her work.

I’m going to have to ask – what made you pick Blind Assassin? Kind of thinking stereotypically here, as in The Handmaid’s Tale seems to be The One.

Alice: Best to :) Another author I’d not heard of.

Stefanie: A Murakami I’ve not heard of – is it a lesser known? Kafka is so long!

Literary Feline

August 25, 2016, 1:24 pm

My husband had read Blind Assassin and thought I would like it. He also told me it was a mystery, which was a bit of a stretch, but I guess one could argue it had an element or two of mystery to it. . .


August 25, 2016, 4:43 pm

Ahh. Did he perhaps tell you it was a mystery to further encourage you, I wonder?… Glad it did have a bit of it in there, even if you liked it anyway! Some mystery is always good.

Literary Feline

August 25, 2016, 5:13 pm

I did give my husband a hard time about misleading me. His reply was that every book, regardless of genre, is a mystery–it’s just a matter of how you look at it. He later confessed he didn’t remember much about the book other than there was a death. Haha



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