Rebound books

What do you read after you’ve finished an astonishing book?

I always have trouble finding something good to read after I read a really superb book and the reason is because superb books are few and far between, the cream of the crop, and almost anything that follows the act will pale in comparison.  I call these “rebound books” and they are on my mind today because I am still basking in the glow of Connie Willis’ Blackout/All Clear and finding it very difficult to figure out what to read next. What could possibly live up to that book?

I went through the list of books I’ve read since 1996 and identified the rebound books that followed those truly remarkable books over the years.  Here they are:

  • Double Star by Robert Heinlein (followed I. Asimov by Isaac Asimov)
  • Asimov Laughs, Again by Isaac Asimov (followed Forward the Foundation by Isaac Asimov)
  • Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robins (followed Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury)
  • View From a Height by Isaac Asimov (followed Contact by Carl Sagan)
  • Time Out of Joint by Philip K. Dick (followed Dying Inside by Robert Silverberg)
  • The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury (followed Beyond Apollo by Barry N. Malzberg)
  • Lecherous Limericks by Isaac Asimov (followed The Forever War by Joe Haldeman)
  • Truman by David McCullough (followed John Adams by David McCullough)
  • The Iowa Baseball Confederacy by W.P. Kinsella (followed Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella)
  • Magic Time by W.P. Kinsella (followed Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck)
  • Let’s All Kill Constance by Ray Bradbury (followed Forever by Pete Hamill)
  • 1968 by Joe Haldeman (followed The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger)
  • Surely, You’re Joking Mr. Feynman by Richard Feynman (followed First Man: The Life of Neil Armstrong by James R. Hansen)
  • I. Asimov by Isaac Asimov (followed Death by Black Hole and Other Cosmic Quandaries by Neil DeGrasse Tyson)
  • Spook Country by William Gibson (followed Up From Dragons by John R. Skyoles and Dorian Sagan)
  • Creating Short Fiction by Damon Knight (followed The Accidental Time Machine by Joe Haldeman)
  • Marsbound by Joe Haldeman (followed Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson)
  • Other Spaces, Other Times by Robert Silverberg (followed Blackout by Connie Willis)
  • I. Asimov by Isaac Asimov (followed Other Spaces, Other Times by Robert Silverberg)
  • The Devil’s Eye by Jack McDevitt (followed Doomsday Book by Connie Willis)

There are a few discernable patterns in all of this:

  1. Stick with what works. In some cases, I’ll try reading something else by the same author (if I haven’t read it yet) in hopes of retaining or recapturing the wonder of whatever just blew me away. For instance, I read David McCullough’s Truman immediately after finishing his John Adams; and I read W.P. Kinsella’s The Iowa Baseball Confederacy right after finishing Shoeless Joe. But so far, I’ve never run into a case where the rebound book by the same author was as good as the one I’d just read.
  2. Old reliables. I will sometimes fall back on reliable authors or books. Clearly in many cases, I’ve turned to Isaac Asimov after finishing an amazing book in the hopes that what I read by him will at least get me through that difficult patch.
  3. Gaps. Often times, however, I can’t find anything right away, I am just too blown away by what I read that nothing else stands up to it and I linger in a kind of literary limbo for weeks or even months. I went 2 months without completing a book after I read Carl Sagan’s Contact.  Ditto for Death by Black Hole by Neil DeGrasse Tyson. And I had a dry spell of nearly 3 months after reading Connie Willis’ Doomsday Book.
  4. Lower ratings. In those cases where I do try to read something immediately after a breakthrough book, I tend to rate the rebound book lower than I might if I had read it at some other time.  I suspect this was true of Let’s All Kill Constance by Ray Bradbury and Spook Country by William Gibson. The one exception is Robert Silverberg’s Other Spaces, Other Times which I read immediately after Connie Willis’ Blackout and I thought it was brilliant. (But in that case, Silverberg’s book was nonfiction and Willis’ was fiction.)

I still don’t know what I am going to read next. I’ve browsed through about a dozen books today and nothing is sticking or appealing at the moment. I may need a few days before I find something that works.

What are your rebound books and how do you cope with finding something good to read after reading something absolutely brilliant?


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