Responses to an Idle Question

Not all of the comments in response to “For Starters” were sent via the blog, and had to be tabulated separately. Amazingly, some people still stop and talk, instead of texting. I presume this is a vice which will fade as time goes on and we all develop small tendrils from our wrists to hold electronic devices. So this will give you some idea of response to the question beyond those two brave souls who were willing to put their recommendations into the blog itself. (Check “For Starters” back in November for the original blog and comments.)

The question was “If you meet someone who has never read your favorite author, what book would you recommend as the best starting point?” Do you recommend the BEST book he/she/it ever wrote, or just one that gives a good example of what you like about the author? What’s interesting is that not only are the readers of my blog interested in good literature as well, but that so many authors came up more than once. I always said the Newberry seems to draw in the Britophiles.

Three people told me that one should begin reading Jane Austen with Pride and Prejudice. One person claimed that while it is possible for a person to get lost in the other novels and not make their way to P&P, anyone who enjoyed P&P will eventually read all the rest.

We had two Wodehouse fans in the audience, both of whom recommended The Code of the Woosters as the way into Bertie and Jeeves. One, however, favored Leave It to Psmith, and the other Blandings Castle as the entrée into the rest of the work. (Wodehouse kind of spoils a reader. Since he kept at it for so many decades, there’s always something else you haven’t read yet.)

Two Dorothy L. Sayers readers sent in their two cents’ worth, one advising either Clouds of Witness or Strong Poison while the other came down strongly in favor of Murder Must Advertise. Both agreed that you must NOT start with the last two books in the Lord Peter Wimsey saga, but save those for last.

Similarly, a Robert Van Gulik fan suggested that one could start with any book EXCEPT Necklace and Calabash, which he maintained should be read absolutely last. He said he started in on the Chinese series with The Emperor’s Pearl.

Back to England for Georgette Heyer: These Old Shades was recommended by one person while another favored The Talisman Ring. Each, when informed of the other person’s choice, said, “Well, yes, that would be okay, too.” Amiable lot, these Georgetters.

On the other hand, I had two Raymond Chandler readers, and predictably, one picked The Long Goodbye, which comes at the end of the Marlowe series, and the other picked Farewell, My Lovely, which is the second book. Chandler fans will fight to the death about whether he was better at the beginning or the end of his career, and there’s no sense my getting involved in it all.

There were also single references to Elmore Leonard (52 Pick-Up), Agatha Christie (Murder on the Orient Express), and Terry Pratchett (Mort). And one delightful soul said you should start Arthur Koestler with Darkness at Noon. “And end there, too. Nothing else he ever wrote is worth your time.”

There’s one in every crowd.

By all means continue to send in your nominations for “the first book by X someone who’s never read X should read”. But I’ll toss out another one of these idle questions. What book would you wish on your worst enemy if that person were exiled to a desert island with only one book to read? I asked another group this question once and got rather surprising results. 

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