First Impressions: You Only Get One

Ever pick up a book by an author whose work you hear praised to the high hills, only to be disappointed in the end because what you’re reading just doesn’t live up to the hype? Wonder what you’re missing? Wonder what other people are seeing in this that just seems to be going over your head?

And how do you come back from that, anyway?

I’ve been thinking a lot about first impressions lately, since I started reading The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, volume 8, and came across a story by K J Parker, which I loved to death. Just as I did the last short story I read by Parker. Parker’s stuff seems to be awesome!

The disconnect comes for me when I remember that I read The Hammer a few years ago and was rather less than impressed by it.

There could be many reasons for this. Maybe that one book was just a poor introduction to Parker’s writing and their other books are considerably better. Maybe I just wasn’t in the right headspace to enjoy that story at the time; I know my tastes and appreciation have changed as time has gone on. Maybe, as some people have said of Stephen King’s writing, Parker does better short stories than full novels. I honestly don’t know.

Something similar happened when I read Maria V Snyder’s Touch of Power. I haven’t read anything else by Snyder, before nor after, but I’ve heard her praised endlessly for smooth writing and engaging stories, and people who like her books tend to like them a lot. For my part, though, I found that she largely lacked any ability to do decent foreshadowing (characters had 1 of 2 reactions to the MC: they either liked her instantly and were good guys, or were mean to her or told a lie and thus were bad guys, completely without exception), and the writing seemed too simplistic at times to deal the weightier subjects spread throughout the novel. I couldn’t see what the appeal of her writing really was, no matter how highly others spoke of other books.

And that’s the problem, really. You only get one first impression. One chance to either hook a reader or lose them, maybe forever.

It isn’t fair. I know that a poor first impression could well be souring me away from books that I might love to death, if only I could get over the lingering feelings from the first read. Thankfully, where Parker is concerned, those 2 awesome short stories I’ve read have convinced me that it’s worth taking another chance (though when that chance will be taken is entirely unknown, seeing as how I’ve had a copy of Sharps around for who knows how long now…); the same can’t really be said for Snyder.

So even if first impressions are a once-off thing that can have huge and long-lasting effects, maybe they aren’t so eternal. The effects, I mean. A couple of good short stories have turned me around on one authors, so who’s to say the same approach couldn’t work for others. In my review of The Hammer, I mentioned that I didn’t care much for Parker’s writing style, when in the short stories I freaking love it. Maybe I just caught them on a bad book.

I can’t offer advice to writers on this. “Don’t ever write anything that isn’t awesome on all levels” is pretty crap advice, practically. There’s no way to ensure that a reader’s first introduction to your work is going to be a good one, the one that will hook them and have them lining up to buy others in the future. Or advice to readers: “Don’t read anything except what you already know you’re going to like.” (Which would likely result in people reading the way I did in years past, which was to essentially reread old favourites more than I read anything new.) It’s a bit of an intimidating notion, isn’t it, to think that at any point, someone is going to have a first introduction to you and that may affect how they view you from then on.

So, at the risk of rambling further, I’ll draw this down to a question: have you ever had any poor first impressions of an author or their work that has later been turned around? How was your opinion change? Do the lingering impression from that first time still colour your appreciation or lack thereof of anything else they’ve done? Let me know in the comments!

5 comments on “First Impressions: You Only Get One

  1. I’m apparently easier to please ;-) Or more determined to slog through any book with the hope that the end will be awesome? I actually didn’t much like Mistborn when I first started it and it took me over halfway through to get into it and then I was in love. I think I also have an easy time loving some things about a book while at the same time not liking others. I agree with you about Snyder’s writing style, I’m not actually a fan. But I liked the world and romance and secondary characters, so I was happy in the end. I guess what I’m saying is that apparently first impressions don’t matter that much to me for some reason, weird D:

  2. Dresden is possibly the most talked about UF series out there. And everyone says the exact same thing, ‘book three is where it gets good.’ Problem is I stopped caring, i gave it two books and that is as much first impression as I was willing to give it. As such, I read Butcher not at all.

    I personally love Abercrombie. But I once saw someone put away the first law and say ‘new rule, i stop reading if I don’t see a female character after the first hundred pages.’ Cant argue with that, Abercrombie got much better in later books with representation but The First Law trilogy really is a man’s land story.

  3. I have a second chance policy. Depending on why I didn’t like a first impression, I will always give an author another chance if another book of theirs sounds interesting. There are, as you’ve noted, so many reasons I might not click with a specific book that I need a very compelling reason not to give someone a second chance. (Basically: I really need to hate the book or an aspect of the book.)

    So what I find incredibly helpful is looking at why my first impression is what it is, as honestly as I can, and just going for it if I find something that sounds interesting. It may not be the author’s most popular book, but that’s fine. (Actually that’s better. I have an abysmal track record with popular books.)

    I’ve done complete 180s on books before. I loathed Pratchett growing up. I still don’t know why. I loved the Discworld games, so it wasn’t anything about the humour or the setting. We just didn’t click in the “I cannot even get past the 50 page mark” way until I decided to give Pratchett one last chance with The Last Hero and… suddenly we clicked. I don’t know what changed except that that had pictures in it and none of the other books I’ve tried to read did.

    With H.G. Wells, I was assigned some of his books for different courses. I was assigned two of his science fiction novels in the first semester and two of his social novels in the second. I didn’t like the former, but I really enjoyed the latter. They had everything that I felt was lacking in the scifi novels. His case may not count for your purposes since I had to switch genre entirely to enjoy his works.

    I didn’t get on with the first book I read my Patricia McKillip either, but her stories always sound so fascinating in blurbs and her covers are always gorgeous. So I decided to give another book a chance and I liked that much better. She hasn’t made my “Must read all the books now, or at least asap” list yet, but I do look forward to reading more of her works. ^_^

    I actually find it harder to give authors a third chance if I enjoyed the first book and didn’t like the second than to give them a second if I didn’t like the first. I’m not sure why, though. I’ve only just realised it’s a lot harder from going over my read books for some titles I might’ve forgotten. :/ I’m pretty sure it’s in how much I disliked the second book. The more I dislike it, the less likely I am to read a third, anyway.

    But, yes. I’ve had first impressions turned around before. Sometimes my perceptions of a single book colour my opinions on other books by that author, but sometimes they don’t. It depends on how strongly I feel about whatever I disliked about the book.

    Um. That got long. Sorry. ^_^;

  4. Goodness I think a lot of us suffer from this. I think that’s just the way it is. Yes I’ve read books that I seriously didn’t like and of course I wouldn’t pick up another book by them. Why chance it when there are so many other books I want to read.

    Like you I’ve actually read shorts that have made me want to read an author’s work. It’s how I find new ones all the time. Oddly enough I sometimes find that the big names in those collections don’t always impress me.

    I think once they are slammed in the penalty box with me its almost impossible to get them out again unless it is years later and a dear and trust friend has read the book already and can vouch for it.

  5. Pingback: April in Retrospect | Bibliotropic

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