The Right Book at the Right Time

Good post by Molly Templeton at tor.com: Every Book in the Right Time

Books come to us when they come, and it’s either their time or it’s not.  … You can build the perfect moment, but you have to have some idea what it is. And you have to have the time and inclination to design it, rather than taking the moment that you get. … Still, sometimes the books are late. Or early. Or just off. A friend and I were talking recently about The Secret History, a book I still haven’t read but have, for at least a decade, intended to. She said that most people she knows who first read it as adults hated it. (Did I take this as a challenge? Only slightly.) Those who read it younger, on the other hand, are passionate. Another friend has told me more than once that you have to read The Secret History in the wintertime. Maybe this cold, dark, gloomy start of the year is exactly my time—or exactly the book’s time.

It’s a good post. I’m not reading anything right now, but perhaps soon.

Have you heard of this book Templeton mentions, The Secret History? By Donna Tartt. I had not heard of it. It turns out it’s literary. Here’s the description: Under the influence of a charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at a New England college discover a way of thought and life a world away from their banal contemporaries. But their search for the transcendent leads them down a dangerous path, beyond human constructs of morality.

My instant reaction: Wow, rush right out. /sarc

I have zero sympathy for the oh-so-sensitive, oh-so-special alienated misfits who just can’t bear the banality of modern life. I have deeply negative sympathy to these superior individuals who discard “human constructs of morality.” I will add that I felt just as strongly repulsed by this sort of protagonist thirty years ago; it wouldn’t matter how old I was when I read this, I would be dropping in the trash the moment a protagonist moaned about the banality of ordinary people and how painful existence is for someone with such special, delicate sensibilities. My reaction to Steppenwolf was For heaven’s sake, get a grip. And see a shrink because you’re obviously clinically depressed.

In fact! You know what this brief description of The Secret History reminds me of? It reminds me of From All False Doctrine, where the charismatic classics professor’s special manuscript is a hoax and the cult based on that manuscript is completely misguided; where the clever, eccentric misfits who get pulled into his cult certainly get led down a dangerous path beyond human constructs of morality; and this that is not at all something desirable.

Templeton finishes:

This year, I am trying—trying!—to alternate old and new. Writing about books means there is always something new I should be reading. But there is also always something old that I should understand—there are always books whose moment I might have thought slid past me, but it didn’t, or books I just never saw before. Or books like The Night Circus, which sat right in front of me, waiting.

Yeah, it would be nice if I finally read some of the books that have been on my TBR pile for a decade or so, including The Night Circus, in fact. Realistically, I probably won’t get to it this year either, but who knows?

Anybody got a book you have kind of wanted to get to for years and years but haven’t? Drop them in the comments and maybe someone will give you an emphatic thumbs up that finally makes you open that book, or a vehement thumbs down that makes you decide not to bother. Either would be valuable!

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23 thoughts on “The Right Book at the Right Time”

  1. Your upgraded(?) content management system is randomly throwing “read more” in at the end of posts. I much prefer to use the comments count to know if there are new ones, and save “read more” for extended content that properly doesn’t belong on the main page. I’ve never seen this particular mis-feature before.

  2. I have so many TBR, some very old. Here’s a selection, fiction and nonfiction.

    A Stranger in Olondria
    Sorcerer to the Crown
    The City We Became
    Foreigner
    Infomocracy
    The Voyages of Cinrak the Dapper

    The Pleasant Profession of Robert A Heinlein
    Open Wide the Freedom Gates
    The World: A Family History of Humanity
    A Splendid Exchange: How Trade Shaped the World
    The West: A New History in Fourteen Lives

  3. Thanks, Pete, I’ll ask the people who actually handle the behind-the-scenes WordPress stuff to see if they can make it not do that.

  4. That’s a great selection, OtterB! I stopped with Olandria because I was writing MARAG, but I will go back to it soon. After I finish beta reading a book for someone and then proofreading a different book for someone else …

    Every one of those nonfiction titles looks really interesting.

  5. Too many to count.
    But this weekend I just want to read the new Penric and Desdemona story for a quick read.

  6. I read The Secret History a long time ago, and I remember being engrossed in the book, but I don’t remember what it’s about and I wouldn’t read it again. I DNF The Goldfish. On the other hand, I loved, loved, loved Wolf Hall- I remember everything about it and have the paper copy. The only series that I really wish I would get to is the Robert Caro series on LBJ. I wish Manchester had finished his series on Churchill before he passed away. Again, I remember everything about those two books. For me, not remembering that much about A Secret History is quite telling.

  7. This year I’m mainly hoping to finish some series I’ve had in progress for a while– Melissa Caruso’s Swords and Fire, Cate Glass (Carol Berg)’s Chimera, the sequel to Zen Cho’s Sorcerer to the Crown, A.M. Dellamonica’s Hidden Sea Tales, Moira J. Moore’s Heroes (not!! fantasy parody like the earlier covers indicate but a rather neat science fantasy setting), Claudie Arseneault’s Isandor, Laurie J. Marks’ Elemental Logic, Heather Rose Jones’ fantasy of manners Alpennia series, rereading the Ancillary Justice trilogy and catching up on Ann Leckie’s post-Ancillary works in that setting so I can read her new short story collection this spring… All of these are series I’ve really liked but when it’s a while between reading books I always get stuck on whether to reread the earlier volumes or just jump in where I left off!

  8. Oh, I would really like to know what you think about Leckie’s translator book, Sandstone! I have that one, but who knows when I’ll get around to reading it? I re-read the Ancillary trilogy last year, though, partly because I knew that was coming up.

    I started the first book of the Elemental Logic series and then set it aside for some reason … oh, it was a big pov shift that I wasn’t prepared for. I liked the beginning of it and do mean to go back to it. For a lot of books, It’s Not Them, It’s Me.

  9. I’m quite interested to read that one, Rachel! I had tried Provenance a couple of times but bounced off it, but I think I might have a better time if I get back into that setting first. The translators were some of my favorite characters in the original so I’m really interested to see more of them in Translation State!

    The first Elemental Logic book is quite grim, but I understand that some of that is relieved later in the series as things progress. I was pleased to learn recently that Laurie J. Marks is blogging about a new work and also has brought The Watcher’s Mask and Dancing Jack, two standalones, back into print- I remember really liking The Watcher’s Mask when I read it years ago while Dancing Jack is one I could never find used. I’m hoping for eventual reissues of her earlier Children of the Triad trilogy which is a fantastic no-humans setting, similar to but different from Martha Wells’ Raksura, coincidentally also about an outcast among groundlings who turns out to be from a flying people and reconnects with them.

  10. I really should try Patricia McKillip’s “Ombria in Shadow” again. I neither liked nor understood it on the first attempt, but… I was about fourteen. It could be that, at thirty-six, I’ll love it. I do like a LOT of her stories… but not all of them. Song for the Basilisk, the Riddle-Master trilogy, Lady of the Skulls (short story), Alphabet of Thorn, The Changeling Sea – love them. The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, The Tale of Atrix Wolfe, Kingfisher – nope. (Didn’t actually UNDERSTAND Kingfisher in the slightest, and since I was thirty there’s very little hope of that one changing!) And there’s several that slot in midway – many of which I *also* must reread, because I don’t actually remember them. Trying to remember Patricia McKillip’s tales – at her best – is much like trying to recall a particularly beautiful and misted dream.

    (Not understanding a book because I was too young also happened with “To Kill a Mockingbird”. Tried it at twelve – understood every word and didn’t follow one bit of the actual story -and after two chapters could NOT understand why this incomprehensible rubbish was considered so wonderful. Tried it again at seventeen because my mum told me to “yes, stop reading if you’re not enjoying it… but DON’T give up on it entirely; it IS an absolutely beautiful book but you’ve got to be old enough to understand it: so WAIT”… and I LOVED it. The narrative voice was what completely blocked me when I first tried it. An adult looking back on their childhood but telling it in present tense as the child they once were, with the adult insight? Not a narration the 12-year-old me could get any fingerhold on. The 17-year-old – no problem at all. So thank goodness for my mum. It was definitely the right book at the definitely several-years-too-soon WRONG time, and I wouldn’t have picked it up again, if not for her telling me that it was DEFINITELY worth a second go when I was old enough to follow the thing.)

  11. I once read a writer seriously saying that a man who set himself on fire in protest of the meaninglessness of his life was a hero.

    As if anyone else can make your life meaningful.

  12. Mary Catelli, absolutely. It’s like waiting for someone else to make you happy. It’s unbelievable that anyone thought that was in any way admirable.

    Heather, KINGFISHER did not work for me. OMBRIA is lovely, but it is possibly best if you read it while someone else is also reading it so you can enjoy conversations like, “But what about when? What was that about?”

  13. Rachel, the three books of Marks’ non-humans series in order are Delan the Mislaid, The Moonbane Mage, and Ara’s Field. Thriftbooks is my usual source for paperbacks these days but I see that Half Price Books is selling the first two for cheaper at $3.00 each on their website (it looks like they actually have them at the Half Price Books up in St. Charles MO if you feel like a drive up Highway 70 next time you’re up around these parts!)

  14. Oh, thanks, Sandstone. It’s been a long, long time since I visited a used bookstore — I should add that to the list of things I’d like to do next time I’m in St. L.

  15. Half Price is a fine chain, I’m afraid we’ve lost most of our independent ones, but there are still a couple- Dunaway Books near SLU and the Book House in Maplewood have decent selections although they’re not the best organized (Book House has a bigger selection but it’s also pricy, Dunaway’s SF is all downstairs in their basement), Left Bank Books in the Central West End has a small used section too but parking can be difficult. I visited Rose’s Bookhouse up in O’Fallon MO some years ago and was pleased with their selection but haven’t ever made it back up there.

    The huge Greater St. Louis Book Fair still runs in early May although in a different location at a county park instead of the mall– I’m hoping to go this year for the first time since the pandemic started!

  16. More than you thought, right, Alison? Maybe I should ask people to say where they’re from sometime just to see.

  17. Yes! And besides Sharon Shinn, I believe Amy Spalding must live in or near St Louis, and I see Laura Nowlin has something at a bookstore on Feb 6 which is when her new book comes out, so she must live nearby too. St Louis is the new Mecca of authors and readers! Although, I believe Beth Brower is from Utah, as is Shannon Hale. I have great respect for those women from Utah who write. If anyone knows of other authors from Utah, I’d love to hear about th, bc those two’s books are terrific.

  18. Alison, you’re not wrong. If I wind up in St L without dogs with me, I should text Sharon Shinn and see if she wants to go to lunch. Or maybe Sandstone! There are a few other authors I know in St L as well. I always enjoy running into Brian Katcher at Archon if he’s there.

  19. Currently living in Utah:
    Brandon Sanderson
    Brad Torgerson
    Larry Correia
    Eric James Stone
    There are a surprising amount of sci-fi authors who live in Utah. Maybe it’s the prevalence of alien-looking landscapes. :D
    Actually, there are a lot of authors of all genres in Utah. It’s a writer-heavy state. It’s also the home of the Life, the Universe, and Everything Symposium.

  20. Jessica Day George, whom I associate with Shannon Hale, and whose writing the Teen likes better than I do.

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