Are books like wine?

When I visit wineries I love a vertical tasting. Tasting the same grape from different vintages through the years provides perspective. You can taste the dry years, the frosty years, and compare against the great years.

I recently decided to extend this love to my approach to reading. With a few authors in mind I braced the crowds at Clunes Booktown with a list of writers that I would “vertically read.” Alex Miller, The Flanagan brothers and Geraldine Brooks were on my list. My vertical taste list was boosted by a birthday present of So Much For That, Lionel Shriver’s latest novel. I cherish my tattered copy of We Need to Talk About Kevin. Kevin is riveting, I couldn’t put it down. The book was sensational and shot to the top of my favourites list. I forced friends to read it, and then forced them to deconstruct it. I loved it.

So when I got So Much For That, I took my shiny new book to get signed at Shriver’s Reader’s Fest gig. Then I rushed home from Melbourne to Ballarat in time to watch her on Q&A. I watched the Slow TV footage and read as many interviews as I could.

Then I read the book.

I hated it. Well perhaps hate is a strong word. It wasn’t the page-turner I had expected. I didn’t really care about the characters. Worse, I even found myself skimming!

I felt ripped off. To continue with the wine analogies it reminds me of wine tasting in Italy, when you’ve toured the barrels, seen the array and then they only let you taste one wine. I know Shriver’s got some great vino so I assumed that as she’d matured the strength and intensity of her words would knock my socks off. The golden rule – never assume.

I had a similar experience with Barbara Kingsolver. After The Poisonwood Bible I tracked down all of her other work but the honeymoon was over. The champagne was flat.

So the question is raised – when you find a novel you adore should you stop at that? Should you leave it be when you find the perfect vintage, or drink your way though the alternative titles in the hope that you find something just as good?

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