Literary Flip-Flop

The Bookends post in the NYT Book Review Section often poses some interesting questions for the two commentators to reflect on. The current question is a good one:

Which Authors Did You Have to Grow Into?

Liesl Schillinger offered Ernest Hemingway as the author she disliked at first and later one was “ravished by the writing, and bewildered by my adolescent antipathy.” This is interesting to me because I had quite the opposite reaction to Hemingway: as a youth I was told Hemingway was great so I thought he was great but when I grew up I realized Hemingway (at least in his novels) was highly overrated.


Everyone has at least one author or several books that when they first approached them there was the good chance of enjoying a new dent in the wall. Later on that same book or author might have moved from the “Most Painful” list to the “Favorite” list.

At least for me, I find that I do not “get” the books I dislike at first; well on into my life, I may pick them up again and they begin to make sense. Tristram Shandy is a good example of this for me. The first time I read Tristram I knew it was great but I just didn’t get it. This often happens to me with books that the publisher touts as being laugh-out-loud funny. Then several years later I reread Tristram and was completely lost again … more so, in fact. The next reading found me in-the-groove and the book was both understandable and a lot of fun. Then when I read Tristram again with an online reading group it seemed so obvious and undeniably brilliant.


Another author I loathed at first and later on learned to love is Stephen Dixon. I actually considered Dixon a very bad writer. Later on I read more of Dixon’s work and discovered that the author was not flopping around in his prose but rather manipulating his writing like a mad scientist. That first novel, Interstate, which I hated, was the literary equivalent of a laboratory filled with petri dishes of prose, each with its own intricate blossom representing a slightly altered combination of the simple elements of fiction. I never went back to reread Interstate but Dixon has become one of my go-to authors.

It’s a good question:

Which Authors Did You Have to Grow Into?

An alternate exercise might be to consider those books of authors with which you had no problem—even enjoyed reading—yet most readers have found the books or authors seriously lacking in value, readability, enjoyment, whatever. A knee-jerk answer here is Shakespeare, some love him, some hate him. Is it a Yahoo vs. Houyhnhnm thing?

What are your thoughts on this?

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