Ask Agatha: Should I give an author a second chance?
Ask our wise bookseller Agatha all your tricky (book-related) questions.
Is the book actually always better than the film? Or is that just a myth invented by book lovers?
Yes. I’m sorry to have to tell you this but the book is always better than the film.
I only read novels, but lately I’ve found myself increasingly bored, stuck in a rut of reading the same thing over and over. I want to diversify and try some non-fiction. Can you recommend anything? I don’t like history or politics, and I find people are more interesting to me than ideas. I’m twenty-five and female. Go!
I’m going to start you off with two new releases that I think are a perfect introduction to the pleasures of reading non-fiction. Out this week is Erik Jensen’s Acute Misfortune. It’s a fascinating character study of an Australian artist, written by a talented young Australian writer. Another new release by a talented Australian writer is Dress, Memory by Lorelei Vashti – a memoir of her twenties shaped around the dresses she wore. The two books couldn’t be more different, but they both capture distinctly Australian lives.
Still in the category of memoir (as I think that’s the best stepping stone for you into non-fiction), I would recommend The Family Law by Benjamin Law, Wild by Cheryl Stayed and The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls. All are very successful memoirs (Wild is about to be released as a film) and books I am always confident in recommending to people. They are popular for a reason – fascinating page-turners that have a lot of say about family, grief, growing up and figuring out who you are.
My final recommendation is for two essay collections. Leslie Jamison’s The Empathy Exams: Essays, has proved a favourite with Readings staff. The essay subjects are diverse, ranging from an assault in Nicaragua to a Morgellons meeting, but at the heart of each one is something decidedly human: the desire to understand. Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist is equally wide-ranging, covering feminism, film, Scrabble, television, books and more. Gay is particularly wonderful at writing about pop culture and her essays are extremely readable.
I read Karen Joy Fowler’s The Jane Austen Book Club a few years ago and didn’t enjoy it very much. Now I’m wary of reading her new book, We are All Completely Beside Ourselves. Should I ignore my misgivings and read it anyway?
My philosophy is that second chances are always worthwhile, even where authors are concerned. It’s true that some authors do have bodies of work that are extremely cohesive (think Tim Winton or Haruki Murakami) but then, some authors completely transform with each new novel (think Jeffrey Eugenides or Peter Carey) and really, there’s no saying how Karen Joy Fowler may surprise you the second time around.
At the very least you can enjoy the satisfaction of knowing you were right all along!
In this particular case, I’d also add that We are All Completely Beside Ourselves is, in my view, an extraordinary book and quite unlike Jane Austen in terms of content. And being shortlisted for the Man Booker is certainly a mark of good taste.
If you have a question for Agatha please email email@example.com. We’ll be publishing her next column on Monday 29 September. All questions answered on our blog will be kept anonymous and questions will be chosen at Agatha’s discretion.