Thrown from the Saddle by a Great Book!

Kenny Brechner -- August 10th, 2017

A great book can sometimes end just like a great vacation does, by making it hard to transition back to even a pleasant norm. This can be a problem for people who read copiously for a living. We have dietary restrictions. The conveyor belt of frontlist titles does not grow less insistent when a jam occurs. Re-reading cannot be more than an occasional indulgence. It’s a safety issue. And yet sometimes a book throws us so that in turning to the next book in our queue we taste nothing but ashes in our mouth. To head off into a different world is suddenly unpalatable. We are cast off course.

This sort of thing is rare for me, and I treasure it when it happens. The Resurrection of Joan Ashby, the debut novel by Cherise Wolas, caused such a breakdown. It had been a while. The last book to halt the line was Sally Green’s sublime culmination in Half Lost. I recalled picking up book after book but finding myself unable to engage. The need for another trip back to sit by Nathan’s tree was slow to fade.This recollection did not auger well for my current predicament.

It turned out to be a legitimate concern. I read The Resurrection of Joan Ashby on vacation and found that when I tried to read one of the other book I’d brought, an alien invasion YA from an author whose adult work I enjoy, it read like a hyperactive farce. The book seemed worthless. Duty called but I had no answer. Next I tried Artemis, the new Andy Weir. Nothing doing.

The scope of The Resurrection of Joan Ashby, the breath of its engagement with the reader, the impressive realization of its ambitious literary character, all resonated so deeply that the pages of these other books offered naught but hollow echoes. Not only had Wolas succeeded in creating a character presented as a literary icon, complete with accompanying primary text, but she powerfully engaged the reader through an exploration of personal identity. Ashby’s struggle to survive her broken adhesion to an uncompromising artistic identity, shattered by unwanted changes and betrayal which are ultimately absorbed without a loss of integrity, make for a rich and reflective reading experience indeed.

Part of the issue here is that the natural response to  such a strong book is to traverse along the line of its literary antecedents, and that means a binge of backlist reading which I cannot afford. The Voyage Out? Sure, I’d love to have the time to re-read it. Sigh. Well, help me out here. What current frontlist do you see as a present remedy? And while we’re at it, what books have thrown you in this way?

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