A Reader's Guide to Unfamiliar Literature
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A Good Place To Start

Them 3
Blonde 1

A Bad Place To Start

We Were the Mulvaneys 1
Wonderland 1
The Triumph of the Spider Monkey 1
Solstice 1


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Categorization is odious. There is tremendous overlap among genres. These pigeonholes are offered only as a convenience.

Joyce Carol Oates

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Please consider recommending where to begin reading this author, or where not to. A few words about your experiences reading this author and why you make the recommendations you do will be helpful to other users. If you are the author or have studied this author extensively, please say so.

alexismacnab March 2nd, 2010 06:52 PM PST

Joyce Carol Oates is my favorite author but she's really tricky because she's so prolific; maybe half of her books are terrible (I say this to you as a huge fan), and another forth are just okay. But the last forth are sublime and since she averages about two books a year there are tons of tons of the sublime ones. I like to tell newcomers to Oates to start with Blonde because it's one of the greats and the historical fiction angle (a "fictionalized" account of the life of Marilyn Monroe) means it has broad appeal. Second, if you're a boy, would be My Heart Laid Bare, since there are actually some male characters who are decent people. Oates' major narrative flaw is a universal and serious distrust of men and most of her novels are about women surviving abuse by men, or about nasty, abusive men themselves. Her treatment of those feelings and subjects is intelligent and powerful, but it does get old. My favorite of hers, and actually my favorite book of all time, is Foxfire, and the only reason I didn't vote for it as a place to start is because I simply love it too much to have any perspective on it. I think it might be more powerful to women than to men, but I don't think I've spoken to many men who've read it. Guys: any thoughts here? Another huge favorite of mine is Because it is Bitter and Because it is My Heart, which I actually think has great cross-over appeal and would be another excellent place to start.
Solstice, in my opinion, is one of the duds, so don't start there. Also I didn't like Wonderland because it's fairly long and the main character is essentially cowardly and uninteresting. This from Wikipedia: "Oates later wrote that Jesse [Vogel] is a protagonist who does not have an identity unless he is "deeply involved in meaningful experience", a theme that allowed her to address both what she calls "the phantasmagoria of personality" and the faceless nature of the novelist." Um... whatever. I can only imagine this book is still in critics' "Best Of" lists for Oates because it's early and they remembered liking it but don't realize that it really doesn't belong in the top ten anymore. But that's just me.


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