Vacation Reading & Subjective Sequels

Before I left on vacation, I finished the last of Hilary Mantel’s trilogy, “Bring Up the Bodies.” How she was able to make historical fiction so absolutely entertaining is beyond me.

I would have never picked up non-fiction books on Henry VIII and French history. But she is such a great writer – beyond great – that I didn’t want the books to end. I wish now that I hadn’t read them so I could still look forward to reading them.

During vacation, I read another thick, juicy novel, “Canada,” by Richard Ford. It was a really good book – and I love getting lost in Ford’s language. He is a master. But I’m beginning to think I shouldn’t read subsequent novels by writers whose earlier book(s) I loved.

I truly loved Ford’s “Independence Day,” and only slightly less loved his “Sportswriter.” Maybe it was the time and location of where I was when I read “Independence Day,” but it is one of those few perfect books. Well, it did win both the Pulitzer Prize and the PEN/Faulker (the first book to do so), so it can’t just be me.

So how could “Canada” measure up? It’s my (and maybe just human) nature to compare something to what came before.

My favorite book in the world is “The Feast of Love,” by Charles Baxter and I can’t tell you how disappointed I was in his next book “Saul & Patsy.” If I hadn’t read “Feast” first, I probably would have enjoyed “Saul & Pasty” just fine. But how do you follow up perfection?

Somehow Hilary Mantel did it. All three books, “A Place of Greater Safety,” “Wolf Hall,” and “Bring Up the Bodies,” were all of equal excellence. I didn’t expect she could sustain such mastery through all three books, but she did.

Does this make her a better writer than Ford and Baxter?

I say yes.

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