Thursday, December 03, 2009

A Fan or a Reader


Lester Dent reading.

In a review of Nabokov's THE ORIGINAL OF LAURA in the New York Review of Books, John Lanchester makes the interesting observation that some writers have readers and some have fans. I am not sure I completely understand the difference. The origins of the idea is with Alan Bennett: Evelyn Waugh had readers while Anthony Powell had fans, as did Henry Green. Eliot had readers; James Joyce fans. Gertrude Stein, fans. Edith Wharton, readers. What I think this means is the intensity of attachment to a writer makes you either a reader (admiring, but more distant) of his work or a fan (intensity high-you feel drawn to them).
Now as I am considering this, I realize that the intensity of attraction can fade. I was a huge fan of a number of writers years ago but haven't read their latest works with as much fervor. This would include Robert Parker, Ruth Rendell, P.D. James, John Irving, Richard Russo, Russell Banks and Anne Tyler. I have aged but so have they. We just don't like getting into bed together as much. (for reading, of course).

Who are you a fan of as opposed to a reader? What crime fiction writers provoke the most intensity of feeling?

24 comments:

John McFetridge said...

And nowadays we have the more negative term, "fanboy," which usually means uncritical devotion. Quentin Tarantino has fanboys.

R. T. said...

If there must be a distinction between "reader" and "fan," let me offer this from my perspective as a teacher of literature: A "fan" (i.e., a fanatic) is not likely to read with a critical eye; for example, a fan of a particular author will (by definition of the term "fan") embrace almost anything written by that author. On the other hand, the term "reader," if we want to make a distinction, can suggest someone who reads critically, objectively, and selectively; a reader's embrace will be forthcoming only if the author's particular work deserves critical praise. In other words, a reader--it seems to me--judges texts whereas a fan enthusiastically accepts and effuses over texts. Consider, for example, the fans of Dan Brown's books; the fans love his work but critical readers will find little to admire.

George said...

You were right about Jennifer on TOP CHEF, Patti. I feel as you do about Robert B. Parker, John Irving, and the rest of those writers you list. I enjoyed their early work, but as the years have gone by their works fail to engage me anymore.

Scott Parker said...

I agree with R.T.'s distinction. I enjoy Dan Brown's books but I have to turn off my critical brain. Having done so, I like the stories as they are. The same is true for the Tarzan books I've read this year as well as Doc Savage.

I wonder if the distinction being asked about isn't one of high and low literature. Said Tarzan books were highly popular in their day. Same for Doc Savage. They're not exactly literature since the worst Hemingway story can runs verbal rings about anything ERB wrote. Yet, readers consume these popular books (Dan Brown is a descendant of ERB and Dent) and don't really care how well/poorly they are written.

Take a movie example. In 1989, I thought the first Batman movie was the best thing in the world. Over time, however, I've come to realize its flaws. What happened? I aged, of course, but I also got more sophisticated in the things I like. Thus, I can apply my critical eye to things. Indiana Jones #4 was an example of the critical eye emerging from its hiding place about 10 minutes into the film.

However, I do think that there are instances where being a critical reader and being a fan merge. The Shadow of the Wind is one of those books where the writing is so beautiful that it sucks you in. The story is fantastic, too. Once I finished it, I recommend it to anyone who asks. The same is true for Mystic River. I can apply my critical eye and marvel at how well those books are written. At the same time, I follow both authors and will read anything they write.

Richard Robinson said...

When I read the first couple of sentences of your post, I thought "Okay, a reader will read an author if he or she comes across a book, a fan will seek out the books by that author." In other words, the reader has a casual interest, the fan has been convinced by the author's skill and makes an effort to read or re-read the books.

Then, reading the list of authors, I had the opposite reaction, that it is the readers who, as R.T. suggests, have the critical eye while the fan is more of a cheer leader. Thus in my mind, an author of what I call toss-offs, say a cooking-talking cat-funny-amateur detective-cozy series writer would be more likely to have fans, while the author of a more thoughtful, or thought-inducing, mystery would have readers.

Or, since there always seems to be an "or", it may have to do with timing: the newest sensations have fans, the established, long-term authors have readers.

Laurie said...

Based on the definition you provide, I'd have to say I'm a fan of Nabokov. But I was in a Borders last night and found The Original of Laura - in shrinkwrap, so you couldn't open it. Extremely irritated by that, I didn't buy it.

Charles Gramlich said...

I think I was more of a "fan" when I was younger. It's a passion thing, which comes with youth.

Graham said...

I tend to become a fan and inhale the work of various writers, then sort of take a break from them. My current fanboy crush is "Adam Hall", the pseudonym Elleston Trevor used to write novels about a spy named Quiller.

I read my first one about a year ago and by the end of the month I will have finished all 19 Quiller books.

Dana King said...

As a writer, I feel I always have to read with a critical eye. To me, being a fan of a writer means I get this feeling of euphoria watching his or her book work its way to the left edge of my TBR shelf, and I'm always smiling when I open it.

Who does it for me: Chandler (still), Ed McBain (I'm reading MISCHIEF now), James Lee Burke, Declan Hughes, Dennis Lehane, Elmore Leonard. (A few others are vying for such acclaim.)

As with Patti, Robert B. Parker used to have a place in my Fantheon, but no more. I need to re-read some of the vintage stuff.

Paul D. Brazill said...

Oh, I'm easily a fan. I have no critical skills at all. I either like something or it dissolves to the back of my mind.

Todd Mason said...

You've matured and almost certainly deepened in your understanding; John Irving's novels most certainly have not. Some of those others you cite are two- or three-trick ponies (or, in Parker's case, seemed to have grown lazy or bored or both).

While THE LOVED ONE made a (not uncritical) fan of Waugh for me, I still need to read VILE BODIES and...perhaps there is some reassurance or comfort (or, at worst, pandering) in the fan-favored citations. Certainly most of those you pass along from Bennett put a lot of their own personae into their work, while the likes of Wharton and Eliot were more likely to offer, if anything, a relatively reserved condemnation and otherwise tended toward a sort of disinterested observation (not uninterested, mind you).

I often have to wonder if more people who wax so enthusiastic about, say, Stephen King or John Kennedy Toole had actually read more work in the modes they wrote in before reading them at a relatively young age, if those often burbling fans would have a more informed perspective. Perhaps not.

I am a fan of, I suppose, Avram Davidson, Jorge Luis Borges, Kate Wilhelm, Joanna Russ...but I don't read any of them uncritically.

Todd Mason said...

Or a fan of me, of Waugh, of course.

Deb said...

I go from reader to fan and then back to reader again with a lot of authors. I start by reading a book by a new-to-me author, really enjoy it, then basically inhale anything I can get my hands on by that writer. After a while, my enjoyment/enthusiasm returns to normal levels and I find myself a little less excited by a new work.

On the other hand, I was such a hugh fan of some writers (Barbara Pym, Robertson Davies, Jane Austen)that I could hardly bear to finish reading all of their books because I knew there wouldn't be anymore to come.

Randy Johnson said...

For me, I usually get enamored of some writer early and grab everything as soon as it comes out, reading it immediately. As the years have gone by, those type of things have slowed considerably.

Writers that fall in this category are Robert Parker, Stuart Woods, Stephen King, and Alan Dean Foster. I still read their books, but they don't seem to have the same zip they did years ago. Maybe it's me. I can still enjoy them, but not like I used to.

Could be that's the critic in me, growing more sophisticated as I matured.

Corey Wilde said...

I echo Paul's statement.

Ed Gorman said...

Excellent question. But I'd split the difference. I think I'm generally an appreciative reader but a certain piece of work by an author I admire can turn me into a enthusiast. Though I think that Graham Greene is a great writer, for instance, he's written some less than great pieces. I can recognize them whereas a fan--who never read a Star Trek novel that wasn't magnificent, for instance, and I met a person who told me that--might not.

le0pard13 said...

I'm with Corey, which means Paul's comment resonates with me, too. Say... that's not like Three on a match, is it?

Steve Oerkfitz said...

The problem I've had with some writer like John Irving for one is that they have a limited bag of tricks and after awhile their works just seem less engaging. But there are certain writers that I will automatically read anything by as it comes out:Richard Price, Peter Straub, Michael Connelly, George Pelacanos,Dan Simmons, T.C. Boyle, Thomas Cook, Cormac Mccarthy, Jack Vance and many others. And some older writers I never tire of such as Chandler. Ross MacDonald, Ed McBain, Mark Twain.

pattinase (abbott) said...

WOW. You guys don't need me at all. I am like Gertrude Stein... after her death. Sorry I was at the doctor, then babysitting, then grocery shopping so I'm coming in late. I think I am no longer a fan of anyone if the reviews are bad or people tell me it's not "her" best work. At some point, I saw time was getting short and I could no longer afford to read bad books or books that are more of the same...such as Parker and Irving.
I never saw a novel shrink wrapped. Wow.

Todd Mason said...

Little publishers often shrinkwrap their books, since they're likely to sit in storage for a while and no need for them to be dusty. Ask a store clerk if you or they can unwrap one, or, if you're feeling less chatty, unwrap one yourself...someone at the store should've done so already. Writes the fellow who yesterday realized/recalled he'd worked for four of the five biggest bookstore chains over the years (Books A Million probably won't be blessed, and Crown and Tower Books aren't blessed at all any longer).

pattinase (abbott) said...

I need to page through a book to buy it.

Anonymous said...

Your dichotomy is excellent and also something that brings me face to face with mystery: There are some authors I can return to any time: some of Somerset Maugham, some of Jack London, some of Joseph Conrad, some of Graham Greene. They seem to survive over time without diminishing within me. But most novels simply vanish from my memory when I finish them. So I suppose I'm a reader of books that imprint; a fan of books that don't. So I'm a fan of John D. MacDonald whose Travis McGee novels I greatly enjoy--and are gone the next day.

Richard Wheeler

pattinase (abbott) said...

John D. MacDonald is a perfect example, Richard. I couldn't tell you the plot of one of them and yet I loved them at the time.
Graham Greene, I could. I wonder if we read books that we regard as strictly for pleasure differently.

Todd Mason said...

I try not to read too much that isn't pleasurable...I'm not sure that any fiction that I read doesn't fall into that category. And, say, THE COMEDIANS' plot wasn't more memorable than, say, THE EXECUTIONERS'...though certainly some of the McGees, at least, tend to run together...