Immediate Gratification, Eventual Gratification, No Gratification — and 2019 Stats for This Blog

Richard RussoSome novels grab you from the first page or even first sentence, while others build more slowly. Sometimes so slowly — or so confusingly or so off-puttingly — that one flings the book away. (Hopefully not while reading it on an electronic device. 🙂 )

It’s often thrillers, mysteries, and other genre fiction, along with some mass-audience general fiction, that quickly grab a reader. For instance, I’ve yet to read one of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels without being hooked within a paragraph or two. But some literary fiction can do that, too, with a great first sentence certainly helping — as in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome, Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, Carson McCullers’ The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, Albert Camus’ The Stranger, George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye

But this blog post will focus more on novels with less-promising starts, one of which I read last week. That was Richard Russo’s Chances Are…, a 2019 release about three male college buddies who reunite on Martha’s Vineyard when they’re all age 66. Russo is a tremendous author — his Nobody’s Fool (1993) and especially his Empire Falls (2001) are sublime — but he’s 70 and novelists usually don’t do their best work after having been published for decades. Chances Are… feels a bit forced: its starring trio at times seems more like types than three-dimensional people, and I could sense Russo’s authorial puppet strings rather than getting really immersed in the story. But I stuck with the book (when one likes an author’s previous works, that’s more likely to happen) and the novel eventually grew on me — helped by the unspooling of a seemingly unsolvable mystery about a woman the men had been friends with in college while grappling with the threat of the Vietnam draft. Not Russo’s best effort by a long shot, but ultimately a solid “B” novel.

Back in 2018, I finally read the first book in George R.R. Martin’s wildly popular A Song of Ice and Fire series. A Game of Thrones was rather confusing at first — so many characters and details to absorb. But things gradually became much more compelling.

Then there are novels that start so-so and stay so-so. Ones I’ve read recently that fit that template for me include Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe (I realize it has many fervent fans, but I found it kind of “meh”) and Tony Hillerman’s The Blessing Way (forgivable in that it was a mediocre first novel in a crime-fiction series that would get better). Among the books I read years ago that also match the starts-and-stays-so-so criteria include Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey (which is not bad but nowhere near as good as her other five novels) and Erich Maria Remarque’s Shadows in Paradise (also decent, though it was obvious Remarque was running out of steam in that final, posthumously published novel after an earlier career of All Quiet on the Western Front and other masterpieces). But there was enough in books such as the four in this paragraph that I never seriously considered abandoning them.

Finally, there are novels that a person just gives up on, although which books those are of course often varies with the reader. For instance, I started Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life a couple years ago, and found it so confusing that I abandoned it after a few chapters — yet that novel is well-regarded by many, so maybe it was just me.

As I mentioned before in this weekly blog, I tried William Faulkner’s classic The Sound and the Fury twice (separated by a number of years) and found it incomprehensible. No regrets about giving it up both times after a few-dozen pages — life is too short. I did find the Faulkner novels Light in August and As I Lay Dying to be satisfying reads.

James Patterson is a mega-selling popular author who I tried just once about five years ago. Can’t even remember the novel’s title, but I was so disgusted by an early, kind-of-gratuitous, stomach-churning murder scene that I stopped reading and Alex Cross-ed Patterson off my list. I also don’t like the fact that he has co-written many books in recent years.

Some novels you’ve read that fit the various themes of this post?

As promised in the headline, here are some 2019 statistics for this blog:

— Fifty posts, 27,835 views, 13,133 visitors, 3,332 comments, 2,590 likes, and more than 1,000 followers added for a total of 3,442 at year’s end.

— The most 2019 views by far came from the United States (19,986), followed by Australia (2,386), the United Kingdom (1,510), India (1,392), Canada (677), the Philippines (347), Germany (198), France (179), Spain (177), and Italy (163). Readers from 133 countries total!

— In 2019, the runaway most viewed post was “Strong Female Characters in 19th-Century Literature,” despite it being first published in 2018.

My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com. The latest weekly piece — my 800th since 2003! — takes a weird look ahead at 2020.

59 thoughts on “Immediate Gratification, Eventual Gratification, No Gratification — and 2019 Stats for This Blog

  1. Hi Dave,

    Thanks for sharing those stats, both here and on Facebook. It’s incredible to see you travel so far around the world!

    I will never forget starting Lionel Shriver’s We Need To Talk About Kevin. I’ll confess that I don’t actually remember how it opened, but I was addicted to Shriver’s writing right from the very beginning.

    Of the books that you mention in your second paragraph, I’ve read seven and could quote the first lines of them all… except… Jane Eyre. I’m sorry 😦 But I knew if I googled it, it would come to me. Man was I confused when this was the response:

    “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.”

    But yes, I did recognise it when I finally got to it.

    I don’t think there are too many novels that have grown on me despite having a slow start. Despite that, I still always finish a book, no matter how much it doesn’t grab me in the beginning. If I did have a ‘life’s too short’ pile, it would probably include Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy, Peter Carey’s Oscar and Lucinda, and probably more that I’ve blocked from my memory after being disappointed.

    I remember really enjoying The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy enough to read the next book in the series. But it was a bit meh, so I gave up after that.

    Sorry for the late reply on this one, Dave. I started to draft this comment some time last week, but somehow got too busy to post it. I think I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed with this whole going back to work thing. I’m hoping that things settle down over the next week or two.

    But while I’m on a roll, I’ll also pop over to comment on Odd Couples…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Susan! I’m sure the Australia part of my blog statistics had a lot to do with you. 🙂 The WordPress platform certainly helps a blog get seen in various parts of the world!

      Lionel Shriver is indeed such a great writer! The four novels I’ve read by her all started off compellingly. I haven’t gotten to “We Need To Talk About Kevin” yet. 😦

      Ha! That googling you did definitely led to some mash-up confusion between the first lines of “Pride and Prejudice” and “Jane Eyre” (the latter novel of course starting with “There was no possibility of taking a walk that day”). 🙂

      No problem with waiting a while to post here. Any time is good!

      Like

      • Dave, are you saying I talk too much? No problem if you are, I probably do! (I know you’re not 🙂 )

        I guess google gave me a mash up of a few great opening lines including Nineteen Eighty-Four. It just took me a second to realise that not all books start with Darcy looking for a wife! It was a little bit like the time I came across an online comment asking what Jane Eyre had written. I knew it was wrong, but it took me a second to see why. But yes, when I got to the third line, I remembered that poor Jane didn’t have the best of starts in that wonderful Bronte novel. Things did get better for her though. The last line being more memorable than the first 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • Not at all, Susan! 🙂 I was just referring to how you visit my blog often, which I’m sure accounts for much of its viewership from Australia! And I greatly enjoy your excellent comments!

          Yes, things did get better for Jane Eyre. 🙂 And it would be weirdly fun if all novels started with that Austen line. 🙂 Jack Reacher books, Harry Potter books, sci-fi books…

          Like

  2. Dave, * * * As I mentioned before in this weekly blog, I tried William Faulkner’s classic **The Sound and the Fury** twice (separated by a number of years) and found it incomprehensible. No regrets about giving it up both times after a few-dozen pages — life is too short. I did find the Faulkner novels **Light in August** and **As I Lay Dying** to be satisfying reads.*

    _way_ back in the day, a colleague, Bob Johnson noted: “Some books are like NYC*, you don’t need to spend more than five minutes there to know you don’t need more”

    =*+[]+ Marty McGowan 908 230-3739 64 Diamond Spring Dr, Monroe Twp NJ 08831 http://mcgowans.org/pubs/family OR http://mcgowans.org/marty3/CurrentEvents

    * p.s. many decades ago in the “minnie-Apple” Mpls, MN

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Marty! Ha! I enjoyed that New York City analogy. 🙂

      (Though I also enjoy NYC itself, which I lived in for 15 years and still visit — my New Jersey apartment is 12 miles west of Manhattan.)

      Like

  3. Dave you are so right on Lee Child`s Jack Reacher thrillers, the first line every time gets me to hook on those books and as we know nothing ever happens to Reacher and I so wish it remains that way.
    The last one I read Jack develops a sweet romance which is added benefit.

    The Millennium Series by Steig Larsson, the first one, The Girl With the Dragon Tatoo, as we know all three were published posthumously, I read 50 some pages and got bored with it and returned to the Library. Later a patron convinced me to ignore those pages and continue reading, and I enjoyed the series thoroughly.
    Others hare writing on it but that never interests me.

    The John Gresham some so good from the beginning and the latest one started so good ” The Guardians” but I got distracted by trumps shenanigans and could not finish it and now I am behind 500 and sos on waiting list.
    The one before that ” The reconning” was a best-seller for several weeks but I returned the book and was bored with it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, bebe!

      Yes, the great Reacher books grab a reader immediately. And it’s true that while there’s mayhem, and the occasional death of a sympathetic “guest” character, Jack goes on…

      I agree — once “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” really gets started, it and the next two books become absolutely riveting.

      Most of the John Grisham novels I’ve read hooked me quickly, but there are indeed often some exceptions even with excellent authors.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I confess to ditching Martel’s “The Life of Pi” in recent years as I felt my intelligence was being toyed with– right from the start, and so was unwilling to suspend my disbelief. Perhaps if I had pressed on, etc., but I didn’t. More recently, I read Mercier’s “Night Train to Lisbon” all the way to the end, mostly to find out why it had been so unreservedly praised, and to find out what happened to its prime character. I’m not quite sure anything did, though it might have. Both these books have been described as philosophical novels, so the fault may well not be in the stars, but closer to home.

    I further confess, in the last few decades, to avoiding or ceasing to read books I find overly laden with realistically treated betrayal of loved ones or relentless self-destruction. Hence, I have yet to read IB Singer’s “Scum”, have yet to finish Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment”, and most recently, Gary Shteyngart’s funny, knowing, yet dismal “The Russian Debutante’s Handbook”. Good thing I got “Under the Volcano” out of the way in my 20’s.

    Perversely, I read crime fiction more consistently than any other genre in fiction, which I guess is an admission I find most of what I read therein entertainingly unreal.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, jhNY! “Life of Pi” was indeed weird and hard to believe, but I read the whole thing and liked it overall.

      An interesting experience to laboriously read a novel to the end in order to see why it’s well-regarded by many! I’ve done that a few times myself.

      Certainly some serious self-destruction, and destruction of others, in “Crime and Punishment.” But one of my five favorite novels of all time!

      Crime fiction definitely has its appeal, whether it feels unreal or not. I guess the very nature of the genre is so dramatic. Plus the violence is happening fictionally, not to the reader. 🙂

      Like

      • As a reader, over the last few decades, I confess to be more interested in thrills than insight. A bookish sensationalist, that’s me!

        In my youth, I’d like to think I was made of sterner stuff, but probably I wasn’t.

        I have every intention of rereading its beginning, and reading all the rest of that Dostoevsky thang at least. I’ve even got a good translation shelved in anticipation of that happy day.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Well, I still like to mix thrills AND insight, but must admit that thriller novels and other genre books can be a nice break from insightful books — especially with all the infuriating news out there “thanks” to the Trump administration.

          Good luck if/when you tackle “Crime and Punishment” again! I remain convinced that Dostoyevsky and Mister Rogers are two different people…

          Like

  5. This is a little off topic, but thought I would add my thoughts on books in general and why I have chosen to forego the pleasure of reading several books to the final conclusion. I confess, with trepidation given the many book lovers that follow your blog, that I have stopped reading books more often than I have finished books. It is a time thing – I don’t have time to read them all, so I chose carefully. When I start reading, I believe that I first connect with the writer before I become immersed in her or his narrative. It is a matter of trust, of recognizing that there will be two on the journey – the writer and reader. As the novel unfolds, no matter how dire the circumstances, no matter how difficult the ending, no matter if I like or dislike the characters, I know that the writer and I will be together. Perhaps this is rather fanciful, but imagination has many complexities. Books change our lives, the create new opportunities. Writers, whether living or long passed, non-fiction or fiction, become our friends. Another excellent post and discussion. I enjoy these conversations.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Clanmother, for those very interesting thoughts!

      Time IS a big issue during our busy lives, so I understand not finishing a number of books. While I finish most of the books I start, I do make some compromises for time reasons — such as reading a shorter book rather than a longer one (though I do read quite a few longer ones). Or, once in a while, I might skim a few pages here and there.

      And I totally hear you about the importance and pleasures of connecting with an author, and about how authors become our friends in a way. After all, we “know” those writers in a deep sense because we know many of their thoughts (filtered through the words and characters they place before us).

      Liked by 3 people

  6. One of the first “chapter books” I tried to read as a child was “Little Women.” It was quite daunting and I don’t know how many times I started and then gave up before finally finishing. I should really go back and reread it as an adult.

    Then as a teenager I had a hard time with both the beginning and end of “The Lord of the Rings.” It seemed to start so slowly, and the end dragged on and on! Plus there was all that poetry in the middle…

    I am glad to say that I later learned to appreciate it properly.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Elena! I totally hear you. Some novels can indeed be better appreciated later in life. (Or not in some cases. 🙂 )

      In my case, three novels I struggled with when young but loved when rereading or restarting decades later include “Moby-Dick,” “The Scarlet Letter,” and “Middlemarch.”

      I like “Little Women” a lot and I like “The Lord of the Rings” a LOT. But with the latter work, I agree that the poetry (while well done) slows things down a bit.

      Liked by 1 person

      • We used to regularly drink espresso at a little place in the Village, right across from a place once inhabited by Alcott. As I never read her, I felt its silent rebuke.

        I rad Tolkein’s trilogy before I read The Hobbit, and I confess, had I read the first one first, I might not have read the latter three. But I was seventeen, and even I didn’t know then what I might do next.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Louisa May Alcott spent some time in New York City? Didn’t know that! Her “Little Women” is excellent — of course, now getting the movie treatment again.

          Ha — your comment on Tolkien’s work! I’m a fan of both “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings,” but I realize not everyone is.

          Like

  7. HAPPY NEW YEAR TO YOU DAVE!!!!
    And to your family and wonderful and clever Astorers—great health, great friendship and all good things in this New Year.

    I suppose the novels with “less-promising starts” are the one we haven’t yet read.
    Keeping with my NY resolution, my typos, grammaticals and or any-other faux pas are made with love for all to enjoy.

    Liked by 2 people

      • No one could beat me with my constant typos. Just other day Dave, I was mentioning to Jack, none of you ever have picked on me for my constant typos. If we were in the other place , so many would be after me, so thanks for being such a gentleman 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  8. My favorite genre is mystery; in fact, for many years that’s all I read. I tried several different times to read Agatha Christie and just can’t do it. Too many characters, too dry, too everything except interesting. I know many people LOVE her books and read them multiple times. I can’t imagine getting through one.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Becky! I hear you about Agatha Christie. I like her work (I’ve read about a half-dozen of her books), but don’t love it. Except for “And Then There Were None,” which I did love. 🙂 As in your case, there are mystery (as well as detective and thriller) writers I enjoy more. Dorothy L. Sayers would be one of several examples.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Back in high school for some reason I was in an advanced French class. We had to read a book called if I remember, “Huis Clos” by John Paul Sartre. I could not understand it in English I am sure,so reading in French was a nightmare! No wonder I barely passed the class. However,I remember one part,that being: -L’enfer c’EST les autres!. Translated hell is for others. I think. 😯

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Michele! That’s quite a memory you offered! Reading a challenging novel (and Sartre is almost always challenging) in another language can’t be easy. “Translated hell is for others” — that IS a sentence that would stick in a person’s mind!

      Like

  10. I started reading Chandler’s ‘The Long Goodbye’, read the first 10-15 pages where Marlowe first meets Terry Lennox and then put it down as totally implausible. Picked it back up a day later and couldn’t put it down.

    Liked by 1 person

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