We’re always told that first impressions are the strongest, and it’s true that as writers we need to be aware of what impressions we’re giving the reader in the first pages (I’ll go into this at another time), but as a reader, I’ve noticed that there are lots of places I form opinions about a book. Not just the first pages.
I often have preconceptions about a book before I even crack the cover. Especially if it’s an author I’m familiar with or a subject I feel strongly about. Then, of course, there’s whether or not I want to keep reading after the first couple pages, but this one’s not as important for me as I tend to be a patient reader. I’m willing to give the author the benefit of the doubt (and another twenty pages) so long as I’m not bored out of my mind or absolutely hating the characters. Now if the story is told by a gruesome serial killer, then he’d better save the cat by page five or I’m putting it down.
More importantly for me than the beginning is the ending. Was it satisfying? What taste did it leave after it was all over? As a rule, I try not to eat my books, but taste is a pretty good word for the feeling I’m left with on the last page. Am I licking my lips thinking Carol Berg tastes like chocolate mousse, something to take my time with and savor? Or am I gagging because Catcher in the Rye tastes like that little green steroid pill I had to take in the hospital, bitter and best swallowed quickly with lots of jello? Those reactions tend to be the most powerful for me.
However, I’ve noticed those aren’t necessarily my last impressions. Books mellow in my memory. I may put it down thinking it was the best book ever, but over time I’ll remember all the little things that I ignored because I was so caught up in the story. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing to be so sucked in that the imperfect details fade away; in fact, quite the opposite. However, I know I think about a book more objectively after my emotions aren’t so wrapped around a character and their story.
Which of all of these is the truer impression? I don’t know. I thought I’d have an answer by the end of this post, but I don’t. If anything, I think I’m more appreciative of the complexity of the novel and its ability to manipulate me better than Pinocchio’s puppet master. But is that enough to base a blog post on? I like to make some kind of greater point so y’all will come away feeling like you didn’t waste your time. Otherwise it’s jut me muttering to myself. Maybe that is the point. If we’re going to engage in the hugely manipulative art that is novel writing, we should at least be aware of the feelings and impressions we’re trying to make our readers feel with every word we type.
So, I’m curious now, what kind of taste do my posts leave you with? I’m hoping potatoes.