My daughter was home sick the other day, so I didn’t get much work done. Fevers require snuggling in this house and snuggling isn’t compatible with documents and laptops. Not that I minded – while she snoozed like a sleepy kitten (very well snuggled), I spent most of the day reading, something I love to do but rarely get to indulge in for long stretches.
I pulled Kate Atkinson’s Case Histories off the shelf at random, mostly because I had to get the girl settled so I didn’t have time to mess around choosing. I had tried Life After Life around Christmas because everyone told me I’d love it but, for some reason, I just couldn’t get into it, so I put it down after 100 pages. This is after trying Behind the Scenes at the Museum a few years before with similar results. After two failed Atkinson attempts, I’d pretty much decided that she and I were not meant to be, but I tend to give authors a three book shot. If, after trying three different books, I still don’t want to read them, I figure it’s a miss, no matter how much I should love them. Case Histories was my third and final shot at Kate Atkinson and I’m so glad I didn’t stop after the first two.
Case Histories is a (freaking gorgeous) literary detective novel. I’m still basking in the geeky afterglow so I can’t critically parse out how I feel yet, but suffice it to say that I loved this book. It impressed the hell out of me in pretty much every writerly way. Plus, Atkinson’s use of point of view and voice are amazing. Plus, it made me laugh and almost made me cry (that’s a big deal – I cry all the time at movies, but I’m tougher with books…though The Time Traveler’s Wife made me sob like a baby).
In other words, Case Histories was my gateway into Atkinson – the book that made me click with the author so that I suddenly want to devour everything she’s written, including the books I’d rejected earlier. This sort of thing has happened a lot for me over the years. I couldn’t stand Margaret Atwood until I read The Blind Assassin (oh, my god, so good). Now, she’s one of my favorites. Same thing with Sarah Waters. I tried to read Tipping the Velvet three times before I gave up. Then I read Affinity and couldn’t put it down, so I tried Tipping the Velvet again and binged it in two days.
The gateway thing doesn’t just work with authors either. I’ve had it happen with genre too. Sometimes, the revelatory book is an exception, like my love of Iain Banks’s Use of Weapons defying my general apathy towards science fiction. But in other cases, a gateway book cracks open a whole new world of experiences. I still remember reading a short story by Remittance Girl in my twenties. I’d never liked erotica but I read this by chance, and suddenly got the genre. That story is why I started writing it.
I’m not sure that I have any conclusions to make, outside of the fact that I think gateway reading experiences are kind of fabulous. I’m a really active reader – when a book or an author engages me, they engage me hard. It doesn’t happen all the time, so when it does, when I book opens me up to an author’s back catalog or a whole new genre, it’s exciting. I like being introduced to new things. I like having new obsessions and things to honestly gush about. Adding Kate Atkinson to my list of gushable things was a lovely surprise, and I don’t ever want to be the kind of person to turn lovely surprises down.