Thursday, October 20, 2011

Building up to Something New

When faced with a memorable artistic release like the publication of a new book or album by a favorite band, people tend to approach the event in one of two ways:
  1. They go into media blackout and forgo reading anything about the author or musician because they want to approach the new work with a clear fresh mind
  2. They obsess about leaked details and teasers about the work and endlessly ponder what it might be about
I actually combine the two tendencies: I don’t want to read about any details about the new book or album, but I do start obsessing about the artist’s previous releases. For example, when a new church album comes out, I listen to the band’s previous albums so that I the context for the new release is fresh in my mind. And when one of my favorite authors writes a new book, I read up on their back catalog so that I’m familiar with their themes and tricks and am ready to think about how the new book fits into their oeuvre as a whole.

This approach has its advantages and its disadvantages. It’s actually ruined a few authors for me, as when I started obsessing about J. M. Coetzee (after reading fantastic The Master of St. Petersburg and Disgrace back to back) only to realize that he tends to continually write about the same thing (and also displays the tendency of the aging male syndrome that Joel describes here). But for the best authors, it reveals more about their books than I would have remembered otherwise. Such is the case of my buildup to Murakami’s 1Q84, I’ve re-read both The Wind-up Bird Chronicle and After Dark and have loved my re-experience of them both.

What about you? How do you approach new books? Do you think I’m obsessively crazy in my approach?

Related posts:
Murakami's Boundaries
Do You Know What I'm Saying? (Review of The Wind-up Bird Chronicle)
What Makes Murakami Addicting?


  1. Yes, I think you're crazy (though it has nothing to do with reading). :)

    For me, it is a matter of finding the right time and place (physically and mentally) to read a particular book. That could be -- and often is -- months or even years after the book's release date. Since I don't know when that moment will come, there's no use trying to build up to it.

    By the way your post has gotten me interested in The Master of Petersburg. Would you care to say a little more about why I should (or shouldn't) pick it up?

  2. Although when you know of and are excited about a new release - like IQ84 - don't you know that you're going to buy and read it right away? And if so, you don't have any particular approach to it?

    I loved The Master of Petersburg, but it was also my first Coetzee novel, so his intense style of writing was new to me - i'm not sure it would have affected me as much if I had read a few of his novels before this one. Have you read any Coetzee before? Regardless, as a fan of the big Russian authors, I really enjoyed his take on Dostoyevsky, even if the book is relentlessly intense in it's exploration of psychological themes. But the mood fits; it feels Russian in the way that it constantly asks questions and deals with themes about the meaning of life and the role of politics in modern society. Check out the NYTimes review here for more, but I would recommend it. (For what it's worth, the other Coetzee novel I loved was "Disgrace," but I didn't enjoy "Waiting for the Barbarians" or "Slow Man.")

  3. I will buy it right away, since I am sure I will read it sometime. But there is no guarantee that I will read it right away. I often have a stack of unread books at home (or on my Kindle) for this very reason. Though of late, the stack has dwindled.