Do you like your books rare, or well-done?

I came to the realization that on the whole, there are two kinds of authors whose works I tend to read. First, there are the authors who write good books consistently, usually rather prolifically. Second, there are the authors whose works just blow me away, really wow me, and who usually don’t write as many books but what they do write is pure gold.

This, in a weird way, can be likened to food. The type 1 author is the meat-and-potatoes kind of author. Their books are good, they’re entertaining, and you can eat/read a lot or a little and feel satisfied. They’re a staple part of one’s literary diet, and while they may never write a great book, you know they’re always (or nearly always) write a good book.

The type 2 author is likened more to a gourmet meal. The kind that leaves a lasting impression, and it’s all the better for the fact that it’s uncommon, it’s not everyday fare. It’s finely prepared and exquisitely delivered, and it’s something of a rarity.

Your mileage may vary on which kind of work you prefer more. Both have their upsides. Usually the meat-and-potatoes author provides the backbone of genre works, and are the big names that nearly everyone’s read something of, or at least have heard about half a dozen titles in their name. They’re good. They’re rarely great. But you can rest assured that you’re probably going to like just about any book you pick up that they’ve written. It takes talent to write quality that consistently, and even if they don’t ever break the mold and come out with something mind-blowing, well, you don’t always want something mind-blowing. Sometimes you want that good old comfort food – er, reading, that appeals to the same part of you that it’s always appealed to.

On the other hand, sticking with a diet of meat and potatoes can get old pretty quickly. You need variety. You need to break out of the box and grab something new that expands your boundaries and leaves you feel satisfied in a completely different way. Authors who write gourmet meal kinds of fiction are more likely to be diamonds in the rough, undiscovered or largely unappreciated. They have to fight for recognition and reading time against authors who sell things based on their established name alone, who have to make the extra effort to write something original that stands out from the rest, not only other gourmet writers but also against the bitterness that one can’t help but feel when you see some authors writing the same old thing over and over again and it always sells!

These categories are not set in stone, of course. Just because the idea of meat and potatoes seems like a standard filling meal in this country and in this time period, it wasn’t always so, and it won’t always be so. Today’s gourmets may rise or fall, depending on how you view it, to be part of the standard, the backbone around which the rest of genre builds and defines itself. To know that you can write what you want, and it will sell, and while it may not be ground-breaking the way your books used to be, they’ll still be good and people will still read them.

It sounds like I’m denigrating those authors. I’m not. Let’s face it, simply to get to be an industry standard today, they once had to be the gourmets, the rarities, the risk-takers who dared to take a chance and got lucky enough to have it work. And to keep going. And going. Until now most readers of their particular genre know that author’s name, have probably read a book or two or more of theirs. They stuck around through changing markets and made a strong enough foundation for themselves that even when others rose and fell around them, they stayed strong.

Is that the real test of an author’s talents? To go from a daring gourmet meal to a household standard? Maybe. It certainly does demonstrate a degree of skill that goes beyond merely writing a good book (as if writing a good book is some ‘mere’ task). But there will always be new gourmets stepping in, some who pass the test of time and stick around and change how we think of delicious literature. Things are always in changing. We will always have both. The foundation authors who give us all a place to launch from, and the peripheral specialized authors who give us that much-needed break from getting bogged down in the same old thing.

I know for a fact that one of my favourite authors, Mercedes Lackey, is one of those meat-and-potatoes authors. Her books are good. Her books are enjoyable. Her books are always comfort reading, always entertaining, and I always race through them because yay, another Mercedes Lackey novel. But looking through my reviews of her books, I noticed a trend. 4 stars. 4 stars. 4 stars. 3 stars. 4 stars. She’s a solid 4 star author, with very few deviations, and she’s not going to be anything but that. Her books are never going to blow my mind. I know what I’m getting into before I even open to the first page. She is going to entertain me, but she isn’t going to amaze me.

And I used to think that was enough for me. What I wanted in a book was some entertainment. I didn’t need to change things up. I didn’t need to try anything new. I needed my meat and potatoes, and then I was full, and why should I try to find anything more than simple satisfaction?

If I’d stuck to that mentality, I would have missed Courtney Schafer, Nnedi Okorafor, N K Jemisin, Will McIntosh, and dozens of others. Would I give them up to stick with the tried-and-true? Not on your life. I’ve tasted gourmet writing and I don’t want to look back. Yes, there are plenty of times when I want some familiar reading and I rely on those other authors, like Mercedes Lackey, to satisfy my craving, but my tastes have evolved and I’m quite happy this way. More and more I seek these people for my reading material, turning them into my own personal foundation. (Tell me that any one of the above people has a new book coming out soon and I can just about guarantee that I’ll want to sample what’s on the menu.)

So what do you think of this? Do you prefer meat-and-potatoes books or are you more of the gourmet type? Are there any authors you think sell on name alone, who are consistently good but will never be great? Let me know in the comments, and please, feel free to recommend some good gourmet books for me to devour!

5 comments on “Do you like your books rare, or well-done?

  1. As always, it depends.

    What really confuses me, Ria, is when a meat and potatoes writer tries for the steak tartare, or the writer whose work is fusion Asian cuisine suddenly decides to make General Tso’s chicken. Not every writer transitions from one to the other well.

  2. I need both. The nice thing about meat and potatoes is the authors are almost always consistent. I know what I am getting, so I should know going well in there is a good chance I will like it.

    Where as say, Gaiman, rocked my world with American Gods. Yet my long awaited sequel just didn’t make me care (yes I know I am often alone on my dislike of Anasi Boys). So the consistency ain’t always there, and the disappointment is higher because of expectations.

  3. I’d like to say that I’m a gourmet, but looking at the stuff I’ve read this year alone, it’s 90% meat & potatoes.

    But you can be picky about your meat & potatoes, too. Too much race/gender fail and it can upset your mental digestion (to carry a metaphor too far).

  4. Both :D I’m thinking along the lines of Brandon Sanderson and Patrick Rothfuss here. Sanderson writes awesome books quite often, Rothfuss is making me continue to wait for his third books for years. If I didn’t have Sanderson books, McCaffrey books (still haven’t read them all), etc, then I would go crazy waiting for the slower authors, haha.

  5. Pingback: November in Retrospect | Bibliotropic

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