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December 9, 2011

Last week was the final session of my course A Sense of Scene: Murder ‘Round the World. The course consisted of ten sessions, ninety minutes each, in which we discussed a mystery novel that we had read for that week.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, we covered a lot of ground–France, Mesopotamia, Saudi Arabia, a Navajo Reservation, Quebec, Venice, Jerusalem, Alaska, Russia, and Iceland.

We had wonderful class discussions led by our group leader, Nancy Rawson, a former librarian.  I had read several of the novels previously, although most of those some time ago.  What struck me was that, in discussing many of the books, there was a huge difference of opinion. Several of the novels (Finding Nouf, Death in a Strange Country, and Jar City) received almost unanimous praise from the class members.  But some of others (The Bar on the Seine, A Cold Day for Murder, The Winter Queen) provoked a variety of opinions among us.

Some people thought a particular book had a great sense of scene, others didn’t.  Some liked the narrative in a book, others thought that same narrative was not very well written.

As someone who has strong opinions about which books are worth reading and recommending and which are not, I was surprised by the differences of opinion, especially when they differed from mine.  It’s definitely humbling to realize that although one may feel that she has made her point so clearly, others are not convinced.

What I also found interesting was that Nancy hadn’t always chosen the strongest book in a series or the strongest book by a certain author.  As per the title of the course, she said she chose a book more for its setting than its plot or its characters.  I don’t know that it made a difference in too many instances, but it definitely did in one case.

The Agatha Christie novel that we read, Murder in Mesopotamia, was probably the least favorite book of the majority of the class.  As a devoted A.C. fan this saddened me, although I had to agree that this mystery certainly was not one of her best; actually, it was one of her weakest.

But it did prove an important point to me, that just as the cliche “you can’t judge a book by its cover” is true, so it is true that you can’t judge an author by only one of his/her works. Even Shakespeare didn’t write a masterpiece every time.

So, in parting, I’d say that if a friend enthusiastically recommends an author and/or a book and you read it and don’t agree, give that author another chance. You may be pleasantly surprised by the next book.  And if you’re not, just chalk it up to an honest difference of opinion.  Then recommend your favorite author to that friend and see what happens.


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