The one book theory, for those who have not heard it before, or would like
to debate it’s validity, is: each of us has one good book in us, If the
content of the book is spread over multiple volumes we diminish the authors
value by making it too hard to track all of the subject’s values across the
I developed the rule of one book per author early on when I read Hardy Boy
books. After about the 10th one I noticed a pattern.
Later on while reading Robert Heinlein in university, I notices the same thing. The same for Ayn Rand. Robert Pirsig’s Lila is very much a regurgitation – or at least draws heavily from his first book, "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance". I’ve read all the Harry Potter books — lots of redundancy there.
I have read many books by the same authors. This just shows that I am
willing to break my own rules and read a second or third book by an author. Loren Eisley for instance. I’ve read his autobiography, "The Night Country" and "The Invisible Pyramid". I’m considering looking for "Darwin’s Century" too. There is redundancy but I read them mainly because I enjoy his writing style.
I’d be prepared to entertain a second book by an author if it was on a
completely different subject too. For instance Pierre Berton’s book on
Vimy would be quite different than "The Comfortable Pew." I have one of the two but have read neither as yet.
The real question is does one want good character development and complex issues presented or does one want a newspaper headline. The rule with newspaper article is that the essense of the story is revealed in the first few paragraphs, then the backgound details are provided. I do not think we can accuse newspaper reporters of writing good prose.
My thinking is the complexity of a play like Macbeth could not be presented in a simple article. The development of complex characters like Macbeth and Lady Macbeth demand more detail.
I think some of these issues need more words. In this world of instant mashed potatoes and fast food we really just want ideas presented in sound bites. We are losing something I think.
There is no question Shakespeare had his brilliant moments – Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, MacBeth. However “Much Ado About Nothing” has a self explanatory title.
I’ve watched 5 or 6 episodes of House. They are all the same, I stopped watching. In the next episode of House someone will walk into the hospital with symptoms. House’s brilliant team will try different things for 45 to 50 minutes to no avail. Then in the last few minutes of the show House will have a flash of brilliance, administer the antidote and the patient is discharged a happy dude. Meanwhile House has insulted 5 or 6 people and addicted himself to a few more self perscribed drugs.
Homer Simpson get is some trouble again — Doehp!
In Search of Excellence was a ground breaking book. So was Godel Escher Bach. They were both too long and too repetitive. Both Tom Peters and Douglas Hofstadter have tried to reproduce their success in follow on books – none have materialized so far.
Douglas Adams’ Derek Gently series — total bomb. The Hitch Hiker Guide to the Galaxy – is hilarious. Then he milked it into a four part trilogy that became worse than listening to Vogon poetry.
Lucas produced a screen play and stretched it into 6 movies. Making StarWars his life’s work. Spawned Industrial Light and Magic. But the real margin is in the action figures, so how many plastic alien shapes do we need? Ewoks are wookies that shrunk in the wash.
I don’t dispute the Dickens and Hugo were geniuses. Maybe I should modify my stance. Authors should be allowed to write as many books as they want as long as they don’t milk their characters and their stories to the point where we don’t care what happens to them.
Harvey’s theory was, most books can be condensed into a magazine article. Maybe that’s my point. When the author stretches a good idea out into a number of book they devalue their contribution to the literary world.
my experience has been dependent upon the genre and expectations. A couple of examples:
– Tom Clancy / Clive Cussler – great Fiction and it often has an underlying repetitive structure and process, but the story is often different and there is character development
– Don Tapscott Books – he has fans and detractors and I do not want to have that discussion, but he often collaborates with a second author (not sure if ever the same one twice) and I understand bases a lot of his books on work he has done with clients, so often different and I think he has a flare for telling the technical story.
– Other folks like say this blog (yes this is my blog, not my post), we can sometimes be repetitive, but the purpose is to have conversations or start new ones and for me often to work on thoughts and involve others that I don’t see on a daily basis.
The observations everyone has made so far are all valid and I think it depends on what you want. When we watch TV or go to the Movies we are looking for different entertainment and all have different expectations.
I agree with the rule of one book per author as I also have noticed the significant amount of repetition and overlap in follow-on books by the same author. It is also a good rule in that it forces us to broaden our exposure to new authors with new perspectives on a wider range of ideas and issues.
However, it is interesting to note how we all tend to gravitate back to the authors we know. As a reader of every Louis L’Amour western every written (some more than once), I am as guilty as anyone else in this – maybe more so.
By the way Graham, I think I may have some of those original Hardy Boy hard cover books somewhere in my parent’s basement if you are interested in revisiting the origin of your theory – you learned it much faster than I did
🙂 – I read the whole series.
Using those standards you probably stopped watching House, Simpsons and Law and Order after the second episode. 🙂
I don’t think you can apply this rule to quality authors – they tend to challenge themselves to come up with new ideas even if they are using the same template.
It applies well to film where typecasting and cannabilism are prevelent. It’s been interesting to watch the release of Spider-man/Shrek/Pirates 3 that all follow the same pattern. The first film is big, the second film is bigger and the third has a huge opening weekend (from the fan base) but declines more quickly than the 1st or 2nd films.
I really admire Pixar for coming out with completely new characters in each film and opting out of sequels – the most lucrative films of all. It must cost a bundle of money in development costs. I bet it frustrates parent Disney who pump out low quality sequels to quality animation movies like there’s no tomorrow.
I have to disagree. This theory might be true in some cases (even many cases), but not all.
What about Shakespeare, Hemingway, Dickens and Hugo (to name a few)?
I certainly disagree in many cases. I certainly enjoyed all of Ayn Rand’s book at the time and I found she developed the ideas more in each book.
I suspect the Hardy Boys was just meant to be light reading and really were formula books. Meant to be light reading, not a new idea every book.
However I do agree with many authors they just keep with the same idea. I guess if you liked the ideas he had then you will want to read more.