Sunday, April 30, 2006

Saving the Best for First

The House with a Clock in its Walls
It’s been said by many a fan that Bellairs’s The House with a Clock in its Walls was his best novel because it was first. Our introduction to Lewis and the book’s cozy familiarity have made fans out of readers for years. And while the later tales of Anthony and Johnny – and even Lewis – still send shivers through our fingers as we turn the page, there’s something about coming to New Zebedee that first time....
Seattle librarian Nancy Pearl says on NPR that writers pour their heart and soul into their first books. "Not that they don't do it for subsequent books, but I think in some cases maybe the best has come out there."
I love discovering new writers. The best way I've found to do that is by taking a chance on an author's first novel or first work of nonfiction. There's something so intrinsically hopeful and yet a bit frightening about reading these books, both on my part (Is this the start of a longtime reading relationship with the writer? Will the promise of that terrific first line carry through to the last page?) and, I trust, on the part of the writer as well (Will readers enjoy the topic as much as I enjoyed writing about it? Will the characters be as real to them as they were for me?).

Often, of course, there's heartbreak ahead: the characters refuse to come alive for the reader, the writing is workman-like rather than transporting, and the topic becomes dull after a chapter or two.

But sometimes, as in the books that follow, the results are pure wonder: three-dimensional characters, a mind-bending plot, and entrée into a subject that set me off in a dozen different reading directions.

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