I've been thinking about writers and the books they write. Right now, I'm reading Amor Towles' Rules of Civility, a best seller set in the late 1930s, coolly written, featuring a witty young narrator trying to figure her way around the New York of pre-World War II. It's a good read. Fun. Spunky. Evocative. But. . .it's not the same experience as reading Towles' oh-so-smart A Gentleman in Moscow, which is enjoyable on multiple levels of story, understory, sentence craft and character revelation. Gentleman: Great. Rules: Pretty good. And that's okay. For I'm thinking, how many writers write a great book? A few. And how many writers write another great book? Fewer than few.
A quick trip up and around my book shelves reveals some great titles--Wharton's Age of Innocence, Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises, Woolf's To the Lighthouse, Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude. Great reads. And all these novelists wrote more, some much more. But did they ever knock it out of the park again? Did Wolfe ever achieve another Look Homeward Angel? Did Bellow ever equal Herzog? (And, believe me, I have enjoyed the other works of many of these authors, but not quite as much as the works I'm mentioning.) Think Pynchon and Gravity's Rainbow. Think Melville and Moby Dick. Even Erica Jong had her Fear of Flying (haven't read it).
Jane Austen aficionados would probably vote for. . .well, let's hear your choice. . .
And now I cast the mirror at myself. Thinks Out Loud is my debut (first) novel. People have been saying some kind things about it. Standing so close to the words, I have a hard time being objective. I think it's unique. Unconventional. Diverting. Is it my 'great' book? (Not 'great' in relation to Literature, but 'great' or the best I am capable of. Pause. I'm working on a second novel, set in the early 1970s of post-love-in Berkeley, a coming of age story of a young man caught in the backwash of the late 1960s. Will my second book be 'greater' (better) than my first? (Big multi-level question that also makes the assumption the first one has some merit.)
Well, we (writers) can keep swinging for the fences, can't we?