How Reading Order Affects Reading a Book

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A few weeks ago, I finished reading Emile Zola’s The Masterpiece (thoughts here). As you may recall, I wasn’t thrilled with it. Nevertheless, it has been haunting me.

Shortly after I finished that Zola novel, I picked up The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas. I found it rather frustrating to read. “What is the point?” I kept thinking as one adventure led in to another. I was not particularly enjoying it. Since I was also under a self-imposed time limit in which to read Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky, I thought I’d take a Dumas break and read that. C&P is one of my favorite books, and this reread was no exception. It was my priority read so I read it in about a week and a half. So deep, so thoughtful, so intricate and realistic. I loved being brought inside Rodya’s head.

Last night I finished C&P on an emotional high and again picked up The Three Musketeers, since my Classics Circuit date and book club meeting is fast approaching. With in seconds, I was laughing. Dumas is so funny! It’s all a joke. There is no point, other than pure entertainment. This is truly a delightful read.

So what have I discovered? To what would be Zola’s delight, reading his novel made me approach my next book looking for a “serious purpose.” Reading Crime and Punishment after a “frivolous” read (that is, Dumas’s pointless adventure novel) was intensely satisfying. Finally, picking up a light-hearted adventure after a deeply emotional book is purely delightful.

It make me think more carefully about what order I choose to read books in. After my light-hearted Dumas novel, I might need something more serious before I tackle more light-hearted Tolkein. But then again, maybe Dumas will get me in the mood for something else “adventuresome” and maybe Tolkein is not all that light-hearted once the hobbits get to Mount Doom!

Interspersed with these other reads, I’ve been dabbling in some William Blake poetry. He’s also rather serious, so I may take my time on this! Hirsch’s How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry is also rather deep, so we’ll see how my progress will go on that (I’ve only just begun).

How does reading order affect your reads? Has a book been “ruined” for you because you read it after such-and-such book? Or, has a recent read made a book better?

Note: I have been doing weekly reading journals, listing my reading progress, for more than a year now, but I plan on doing them a little differently in the future. I have a full plate of Library Loot that I need to tell you about, but I think I’ll wait for one more book to come in and do a vlog about it because I’m quite excited about my recent picks. I also have a long list of “finds” from around the blogosphere, but I’ll get to that another time.

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Reviewed on April 14, 2010

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  • I guess Germinal was such an intensely emotional read for me, so it’s hard for me to think about what your experience with Dumas might have been (since you were saying C&P was emotional to you, I’m assuming you meant Zola wasn’t). But I do think book order really does change the way we see books. The Invention of Hugo Cabret was perfect for after Germinal. It was light and visual and striking, beautifully put together. Later I tried to read Northanger Abbey and just couldn’t do it. I might be able to in a few months, but right now, it’s not going to happen. I think you’re on to something here. 🙂
    .-= Amanda´s last post on blog ..Random Bookish Story (or the weird way our brains work) =-.

    • Amanda, Zola wasn’t emotional for me, but it certainly was draining to read. And it made me really want a “point” to Dumas which I think Zola would have been delighted to hear!

  • This is such a good point Rebecca! And it’s why sometimes I’ll set a book to one side, when it’s not working for my mood but I can tell the book in general is awesome. I can’t think of any details right now, but it’s definitely something I experience! And I can’t wait for another vlog. 🙂
    .-= Eva´s last post on blog ..Library Loot: April 14-20, 2010 =-.

  • You make an excellent point. I experienced something similar during the read-a-thon. My first book was not the greatest, and it set the tone for the rest of the day. I took a nap during the fifth book and found that I had a completely different outlook on the book when I started reading it again after the nap. Fresh eyes, fresh brain, distance between the first few books, and I found a book that I did not want to finish reading at night was much better in the morning. Reading order and what you have going on in your personal life are very important to reading enjoyment.
    .-= Michelle´s last post on blog ..Finished! Women Unbound Challenge =-.

  • An interesting question which I’ve never thought of before; although I agree with Eva in that with certain books I feel I need to be in the right mood in order to appreciate them, if that makes sense.

    Speaking of Crime&Punishment (and classics in general) I just found an interesting podcast that might interest you — it is called The Carte Noir Readers on Classics and it has brief readings of selected works. The most recent one is from Crime & Punishment (I haven’t listened to it yet) but the last one I listened to was of Rupert Everett reading an excerpt from Wuthering Heights which was fantastic.
    .-= Suzanne´s last post on blog ..J’accuse! =-.

  • Interesting observations of your reading process, Rebecca! I am super-cognizant of reading order, and when I finish one read (especially if, like Germinal, it is a big commitment), I usually feel like something very different in some regard. I end up alternating straight vs. experimental, funny vs. serious, realist vs. surreal, etc., or at least trying to. Or, when I end up reading a bunch of similar things in a row, I then have a big craving for something that contrasts.
    .-= Emily´s last post on blog ..Essay Mondays: Suleri =-.

  • I love this entry.

    I don’t understand how people can plan out what they are reading next. I have to grab what I think will suit my mood. Those big heavy books need time for reflection, so I need to make sure I don’t ruin the book after by choosing it at the wrong time.

    I often notice themes in what I am reading. I went through a phase a couple of months ago where I read a lot of novels with romance and sweeping saga-type stories. Now I am into some rougher, darker material. I think that when I pick things to read, they just naturally weave in and out of each other according to my moods and the impact of the book.
    .-= Allie´s last post on blog ..Book 35: The Picture. =-.

    • Allie, I am normally a big planner but I’m finding since my reading is slowing down I can’t do that quite as much as moods need to decide more often. I love themed reading too!

  • I think reading order makes a big difference. I often find that I love the first book I try from an author, but when I read their second I am disappointed as the two books are quite similar. That first one was wonderfully unique, but the second was a copy of the first.
    .-= Jackie (Farm Lane Books)´s last post on blog ..Sorry =-.

  • This happens to me all the time. I was recently disappointed by a few novels whose biggest fault, I think, happened to be that I picked them up after an amazing novel. Their other flaws were therefore more accentuated in my mind, and they might not have been if I had read them after a more “normal” novel.
    .-= Jenn (Bibliolatrist)´s last post on blog ..Not even Stains could save this one =-.

  • This is a very interesting question-for people who read more than one book at once we also have the bleed over of one work into another-for example I am currently read Nana by Zola for my upcoming classics circuit post and Grotesque by Natsuo Kirino-by coincidence both deal in part with the paths that lead women to prostitution, in two very different societies-
    .-= Mel u´s last post on blog .."A Respectable Woman" by Kate Chopin =-.

    • Mel u, I normally read many things at a time, but when I picked up C&P, I just couldn’t bring myself to keep reading 3 Musketeers. But yes, I completely see how works bleed over into each other. That was happening to me all the time last year!

  • So true! Reading order does get me in trouble sometimes. I often have to set a book aside to read something else, but if I go back to it after a break, or after reading something else, I am usually able to get back into it easily and enjoy it more.
    .-= Amy´s last post on blog ..Review: Dead Aid by Dambisa Moyo =-.

  • Reading order makes a difference for me too. I always have several books going at once and they are all different so they work together in a way. The hardest thing to do is after a really good novel, one of those that leaves you thinking nothing I read again could ever be as good as this, it is so hard to choose another. I generally go for something entirely different so I can’t make a comparison between the two. But sometimes no matter what I end up choosing suffers because of what came before.
    .-= Stefanie´s last post on blog ..Crazy =-.

  • Reading order is hugely important to me. Whenever I finish a book, I take the time to consider what I’m in the mood for next. Sometimes after a heavy book, I need something lighter, or sometimes I’ve gotten into a rhythm and need another challenging and provocative read. I’ve often found that my enjoyment of a book can be curtailed by my own predilections – reading the right book at the wrong time can be disastrous for me!
    .-= Steph´s last post on blog ..“Wise Children” by Angela Carter =-.

  • I don’t know if it’s reading order or what, but I have frequently picked up a book and hated it, and then found later on that it was fantastic. This happened to me with, oo, so many books, including The Three Musketeers (have you read it before? have you got to the bit with Aramis’s thesis yet?), The Satanic Verses, We Have Always Lived in the Castle. I think it may be to do with a gap between what I expect and what the book is actually like. But I haven’t really thought about reading order. I should pay more attention to that, especially since I have a blog to keep track of what I’ve read when.
    .-= Jenny´s last post on blog ..Better than Running at Night, Hilary Frank (not properly reviewed because I have news!) =-.

    • Jenny, I just read that part last night. I am finding 3 Musketeers rather amusing on this read. It’s not going to end up a favorite book in any sense but now I’m really enjoying it at least!

  • First of all, I was surprised to hear you find Tolkien light-hearted! I can certainly see that in The Hobbit, but I find most of LoTR so dark and emotionally draining (not in a bad way though). Anyway…my reading mood definitely influences how I read to a book, and my reading mood is certainly influenced by the book I’ve just finished. So yes, I definitely see your point.
    .-= Nymeth´s last post on blog ..Gasoline by Dame Darcy =-.

  • Nymeth, I have not READ LotR yet, only the first one, which wasn’t that dark. I am actually rather afraid of it being too dark (which is why I’ve put it off and am off schedule with the read-a-long), so I’m hoping the writing is at least “easier” to deal with rather than harder. (As in, easier like Dumas, which I find light-reading rather than harder like Dostoevsky, which takes more concentration.)

  • I am affected by what I read based on what’s going on in my life at the moment. When things are rough, I turn to more comedies. Some days I just want to escape into a good thriller, and so this week I think I’ll get my hands on the new murder mystery book, Her Mother’s Diary. This book is appealing to me because it deals with perseverance and believing in yourself. Should be a great read!
    .-= Audrey´s last post on blog ..Enjoy A Free Taco At Taco Del Mar April 15, 2010 =-.

  • Yes, this is definitely something I’ve noticed in my reading habits as well. It’s not only the mood of a previous book that will affect me, it’s also the “lingering” effect. Some books stick with you for a while and sort of mess with your head. In those instances I feel like I need to read something next that’s absorbing enough that I can lose myself in it without always thinking back to the previous book’s characters/plot, etc.
    .-= Maire´s last post on blog ..Teaser Thursday =-.

  • Good post! I know sometimes my feelings about reading order can be complicated. For example, if I finish a thought-provoking (or more dense) book, sometimes I want to follow it with something lighter. Sometimes not, because then it makes me feel disrespectful to the first book. i.e. reading a chick lit book about shopping doesn’t feel right after reading a book about, say, the problem women have in some Islamic countries. I hope that makes sense!
    .-= Valerie´s last post on blog ..Is Your Dog Fat? “Chow Hounds” by Ernie Ward, D.V.M. =-.

  • Oh yes, reading order is so important! This is one of the reasons why I don’t like to plan in advance what I’m going to read next. How will I know what I’m in the mood for, or what I “need,” before I’ve finished my current read? Also, I wonder sometimes if the reason I hate a book everyone else seems to love, or love a book everyone else seems to hate, is not just because I’m an oddball 🙂 but because of what I (or they) happened to have read previously.
    .-= Fredegonde´s last post on blog ..Invasive Procedures, by Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston =-.

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