When I saw that Julie Otsuka has a new novel coming out this year, I squealed. I was scrolling through upcoming books available to request on Edelweiss, and I literally opened my mouth and let out of some kind of very loud exclamation, which probably scared my dog. I was giddy with delight when I got my hands on a copy of The Swimmers (Knopf, February 22) and read it in one day. I already know it’s going to be a favorite of the year for me. It is a brilliant book, moving and funny and weird and full of so much heft and movement. It’s one of those books that I think about often; it’s hooked its way inside me and will not leave.
I get excited about a lot of upcoming books. The reason my reaction to the existence of The Swimmers was so pronounced is simple: Julie Otsuka’s last book, The Buddha in the Attic, came out more than ten years ago, in 2011. I didn’t read it until 2016, but still. That was six years ago! I loved that book with my whole heart. I immediately went out and read Otsuka’s first novel, When the Emperor was Divine (published, incidentally, nine years before The Buddha in the Attic, in 2002). And that was it. I’d read all her books. There are a ton of books in the world. I went on with my life.
There’s no set schedule for making a book, and obviously there are a ton of factors that contribute to how long it takes to actually write a book, not to mention get it published. Lots of authors have other jobs. Some books might be easier to write than others (not that writing any book is easy). Even if someone finishes a book quickly, there’s no guarantee it’ll sell quickly. I have a ton of respect for authors who churn out lots of books, one a year or every few years, and sometimes even more than one a year! Writing is a job, after all. As a reader, I’m delighted by prolific authors with long backlists I’m still struggling to get through.
But I am also delighted, in a different way, by authors whose books come out years and years apart. I’ve started to notice that having to wait six or ten years between books makes me think about those books in a different way. It’s not that I think a book that takes ten years to write is somehow more worthy than a book someone writes in two months (ugh). It’s simply that I have a different relationship with them, even before I pick them up.
Authors who put out books consistently are always hovering in the back of my mind. I love Nina LaCour’s books. She has a new one (her first adult title!) coming out this year, Yerba Buena (Flatiron, May 31). Mark your calendars now; it’s a gorgeous book. I was excited when I saw it, and gobbled it up as soon as I could get my hands on a copy. Like The Swimmers, it’s already on my Best of 2022 list. But I wasn’t rendered speechless (or loudly full of speech, more accurately), when I found out about it. Nina LaCour has been publishing a book every few years for the last decade. When a new one comes out, I read one. It’s a delight. This is true for lots of authors I love: Becky Chambers, Talia Hibbert, and Carolina De Robertis, to name just a few. I don’t take it for granted that these writers will continue writing a new book every few years. It’s simply that there hasn’t been enough time yet between their books for them to slip into the background. It hasn’t been so long since I’ve read their work that I’ve forgotten how much I love it.
Which leads me to what I find so different, and so wonderful, about waiting eight or ten years for a new book by an author I love. I had forgotten how much I loved The Buddha in the Attic. It’s just a consequence of being a reader. It’s a book that has stayed with me, but in a quiet, under-the-surface kind of way. I hadn’t thought about it in years. But when I saw that Julie Otsuka had a new one coming out, it all came flooding back. I got to fall in love with her earlier work all over again, and then I got to fall in love with an entirely new book.
The same thing happened when I picked up Circe in 2018. Madeline Miller’s first book, The Song of Achilles, came out in 2011, and I fell hard. I adored that book so much that I couldn’t imagine Miller ever topping it. I filed away The Song of Achilles in the all-time favorites folder, and went about my life. I had to pretend she’d never write another book or I’d just pine away waiting for it. So when Circe came out seven years later, it was almost shocking. It exceeded all of my high expectations, and while that’s mostly because it’s a remarkable book, I can’t ignore what I brought to the reading of it, either. It felt like an extraordinary, unexpected gift. I handled it reverently.
I’m not the sort of person who pays close attention to what my favorite authors are doing via social media. I’m not constantly scouring the internet for clues about what they might be working on and when their next books might becoming out. I love being surprised by books I wasn’t expecting. We live in a world that moves so fast. I devour books at an alarming rate. In the end, it doesn’t matter whether someone puts out a book every year or every ten years: I read what interests me, and fall in love with books because of what’s between their pages. But I can’t deny there’s something special about the ten-year books, the ones I have to wait so long for. They remind me to slow down and savor every word. They remind me just how much thought goes into making a book (no matter how long it takes). They remind me that every book I get to read is a gift.