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Thread: Reading a novelists' complete novels, and getting a 'complete' feel for their works

  1. #1

    Reading a novelists' complete novels, and getting a 'complete' feel for their works

    I take it most on here have a few novelists who they felt compelled to read their complete works? Who are they and why? Do you tend to go through an author's work all at once, or do you just happen to cover that territory over the years? It probably depends on the author.

    In my case, I have not done that with any classic, non science fiction authors, but I have a curious aspiration to get acquainted with the complete or near complete novels of two classic novelists, who are a little off the beaten path in this day and age. These are William Makepeace Thackeray and Sinclair Lewis. I read Henry Esmond by Thackeray, and Babbit and Our Mr. Wren by Lewis, and enjoyed all three very much. So, I am making it my project to get to know these authors really well. I felt that they are both often satirical, but Thackeray gives you much content to chew on with a delivery that requires the same effort, and Lewis has probably far less depth but very pithy humor. They both are curiously flawed in some ways, and very opinionated and sharp in others, and both give you a tremendous feel for the times they hail from, or in Thackeray's case sometimes, what he chose to focus on of the 18th century. I also feel they are both curiously neglected these days.

    I have only done this with one author in the past, and that is Isaac Asimov. Granted, I didn't read his children's novels or the Fantastic Voyage II, but I think I'll pass on those. I devoured every lengthy work of fiction that man wrote as a teenager. I love knowing him so well, and so I'm finding some new idols to add to my unusual prospective pantheon. Walter Scott is also of interest, because Asimov is a master of science fiction, but I also enjoy the historical novel, and enjoyed the short story "The Two Drovers" by Scott, and think it would be an interesting balance to know a true master of historical fiction.

    I'm also working my way through a variety of classics, trying to add some general breadth all the while gaining depth in these authors of choice.

  2. #2
    confidentially pleased cacian's Avatar
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    i guess there must be a difference between a novelist and a writer#
    here is how i see it:
    a novelist plays charades using words.
    a writer plays with words getting rid off charades.
    a poet produces words to write not a charade but a ballad.
    it may never try
    but when it does it sigh
    it is just that
    good
    it fly

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    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    I have read most of George MacDonald Fraser's fiction. I read all his Flashman books. He wrote a couple of other books which were in the Flashman universe, but not about Flashman. Both of these were very good: Black Ajax and Mr American. Black Ajex is about an African American prize fighter who comes to England in the early 19th century to fight Tom Cribb, the best prize fighter in England. It was based on a true story. Mr American is about a Wild West outlaw who takes his stolen booty to England and becomes a gentleman. He also wrote a book called The Candlemass Road, which was set several centuries earlier on the border between England and Scotland, which was pretty lawless. The only fictional book of his that I did not like was The Pyrates, which was written in an odd, comic style. He also wrote some semi-autobiographical books about his experiences in the army. The were comedies about a private called MacAuslen, who was an absolutely terrible soldier. They were very funny. Fraser wrote a number of non-fiction books. I bought one about the border reivers, but I did not find it very interesting and I did not finish it. Fraser wrote in a number of styles and most of them worked. Some readers even liked The Pyrates. Fraser died a few years ago. I doubt his books will make it to posterity, but they might. I still see Flashman books at my local bookshops.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

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    Alea iacta est. mortalterror's Avatar
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    I've only done that with Hemingway and Shakespeare. I think I'm two plays short of the complete Racine. Homer was easy with just two books and some attributed poems. I decided to read all the Greek plays so Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes. I've read most of Virgil and Ovid with the exception of some Eclogues and Fastia... and large chunks of Akutagawa, Vonnegut, Hunter S. Thompson, and Chuck Palahniuk.

    This reminds me of reading in By-line Ernest Hemingway an article he wrote in 1924 for the Transatlantic Review about how he'd read all of Joseph Conrad's books and deeply regretted that there were no more. "If I knew that by grinding Mr. Eliot into a fine dry powder and sprinkling that powder over Mr. Conrad's grave Mr. Conrad would shortly appear, looking very annoyed at the forced return, and commence writing I would leave for London early tomorrow morning with a sausage grinder."

    With a favorite writer like Hemingway there are about twelve books, a collection of short stories, one of letters, and after that you are done. It's made me very envious of Balzac or King fans over the years.
    "So-Crates: The only true wisdom consists in knowing that you know nothing." "That's us, dude!"- Bill and Ted
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    For me these are projects for retirement. But I have made respectable dunts in TC Boyle, RC Hutchinson And McCarthy

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    I've never done this; I read most of Shakespeare, but I skipped Titus Andronicus and Henry VIII, so I guess I can't say I really 'completed' Shakespeare. There are however a number of writers whose complete works I intend to read (possibly excepting letters, diaries, etc): Jane Austen, James Joyce, Yasunari Kawabata, Emily Dickinson (including letters), Wallace Stevens, maybe Anne Carson now I think of it, and maybe possibly George Eliot and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

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    Registered User Emil Miller's Avatar
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    It's unlikely that many people who have read all of a writer's works initially set out to do so. In my case, I read one of Orwell's books and subsequently went through all of them over a number of years. Interspersing them with three or four biographical works that gave me an added insight into Orwell's psyche also kept me interested in what kind of impact the next work would have.
    Similarly, after reading one of Somerset Maugham's novels, I went on to read all of them and, as with Orwell, a number of biographies.
    In both cases, I didn't have an express intention of completing their entire output but it was their psychology that interested me and it seemed that by omitting to read all of their work, I might be missing something that I ought to know.
    One thing that a wide reading of a given author does is to show the unevenness of their writing. This applies to all writers but its extent can only be realised when everything they have had published has been read.

    I should add that Maugham was also a prolific playwright and although I haven't seen any of the plays, they were obviously discussed in some detail in the biographies.
    Last edited by Emil Miller; 11-14-2014 at 06:42 AM.
    "L'art de la statistique est de tirer des conclusions erronèes a partir de chiffres exacts." Napoléon Bonaparte.

    "Je crois que beaucoup de gens sont dans cet état d’esprit: au fond, ils ne sentent pas concernés par l’Histoire. Mais pourtant, de temps à autre, l’Histoire pose sa main sur eux." Michel Houellebecq.

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    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    I've read all of Jane Austen's novels (easy, I know, because she published only six), as well as the two fragments (The Watsons and Sanditon) and the Juvenilia (I particularly recommend Lady Susan). I've also read the complete works of Harper Lee.

    Contrary to Emil's contention, there is little "unevenness" in Austen's writing. All six novels are similar in quality (although I think the later three -- Mansfield Park, Emma and Persuasion -- are slightly better than the earlier three). What I noticed, however, is that the fragments are far, far inferior to the completed and published novels. Perhaps Austen abandoned them because she recognized this. It seems to me, though, that the fragments emphasize plot and character development, and aren't nearly as funny as the completed novels. Perhaps this shows how Austen worked -- writing a draft to get the story down, and then revising to make it hilarious and biting. This theory might be contradicted by Austen's Juvenile works, which are very funny (see "The History of England", written when Austen was 14 or 15).

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    Maybe YesNo's Avatar
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    In my twenties, I read all the novels of Jane Austen and George Elliot. I don't know why I did this. Perhaps I felt I would get cultured by doing so.

    Many years later when my daughter was in high school and her language arts teacher assigned her Austen's "Pride and Prejudice", she complained to me that she didn't understand it because it was written in such old English. I recalled that I read that book long ago and I wondered if I understood it at all especially if it were written in old English, and we read it together. I started reading it out-loud to her. After about 100 pages she realized the English wasn't all that old and she could do this on her own and I realized how humorous Austen's world was.

    Reading those 100 pages with her was worth more than reading Austen's complete works.
    Last edited by YesNo; 11-14-2014 at 02:38 PM.

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    Registered User Sospira's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by YesNo View Post

    Reading those 100 pages with her was worth more than reading Austen's complete works.
    That's lovely
    “Neither a lofty degree of intelligence nor imagination nor both together go to the making of genius. Love, love, love, that is the soul of genius.” Mozart

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    Registered User WyattGwyon's Avatar
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    Surely this isn't unusual? I have done it with Gaddis, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Hugo, Cormac McCarthy, and Conrad, not to mention Bulgakov and others with modest bodies of work. There are many more for whom I have read all but one or two. It isn't complicated for me. If I like one I tend to want to read more.

  12. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by WyattGwyon View Post
    Surely this isn't unusual? I have done it with Gaddis, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Hugo, Cormac McCarthy, and Conrad, not to mention Bulgakov and others with modest bodies of work. There are many more for whom I have read all but one or two. It isn't complicated for me. If I like one I tend to want to read more.
    I absolutely agree! You have a pretty impressive repertoire there.

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    I used to go through authors like that, reading one book after another, but I always saved one or two so that I would never run out of books to read by an author I loved (and if I didn't love the writer, I didn't bother). When I got older, I began to appreciate what a huge number of authors I wanted to read before quittin' time. I actually made a rule that I would not read two consecutive books by the same author. This turned out to be a great decision. It turns out that it is not necessary to exhaust an author's works to appreciate his or her voice; and trying authors I hadn't read before prevented my getting into intellectual ruts and missing ideas I'd never considered before I guess I still read consecutively for sequels, trilogies, and tetralogies--I read the Parade's End books one by one--but those are an exception. On the whole, I am glad to have traded reading deeply for reading broadly.

    Your wish to read the whole Thackeray corpus is interesting, by the way--and admirable in the sense of standing up to common critical opinion. Thackeray is a little notorious these days for not having fulfilled the potential he showed in his earlier works, although that view is hotly contested by some. Part of the problem, I think, is that with the exception of Vanity Fair, Thackeray wouldn't have agreed with modern critics about what his best books were. Personally I find him best when he's scathing and polemical, as in Catherine (of which he was ashamed); Barry Lyndon (which he discouraged his daughter from reading); and Vanity Fair (of which he was proud--perhaps because it made him famous).

    I suspect that Thackeray saw himself as rising above what was in fact his most entertaining literary quality--aggressive snarkiness as a social commentator--when he wrote much more conventional novels like Pendennis, The Adventures of Philip, and others. Henry James famously called these novels "baggy trouser monsters." Thackeray, on the other hand, seems to have seen them as his masterpieces. I'd be interested to hear if you think they are worth a read.

    I know people who swear by Henry Osmond but others who say that it takes itself a little too seriously. The Virginians, of course, is its sequel. I haven't read either, mostly because they didn't sound like the Thackeray I love--the nasty snob who manages to cut through people's motives like butter. They say he lost that quality as he got older, but I would love to have you tell me that's a lie. I wish I could read his early books for the first time all over again.
    Last edited by Pompey Bum; 11-14-2014 at 08:38 PM.

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    You've read the complete works of Harper Lee! Now that was a good joke. I didn't notice it till now - too subtly slipped in.

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    I plan to read all of Shakespeare's plays and many of his sonnets, George Bernard Shaw's plays w/ prefaces, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Thoman Mann, Goethe, Plato, nietzsche, and Philip K. Dick. These are the one's that I am sure of for the moment, but others may crop up as time goes by.

    Shakespeare is the man. I read Hamlet first and thought it was fantastic. I then read Macbeth and thought it was good, but not up to the level of Hamlet. Next came Two Gentlemen of Verona, which was decent, but showed sparks of his coming awesomeness. I plan to read his plays in their published order to see his growth. Having read Hamlet and Macbeth, it was easy to see that change when reading his first play.

    I want to read all of Shaw's works because his prefaces are fantastic and I enjoy his plays. I have not read any of his best known works since I have started from the beginning. I really enjoyed his first play.

    I read Tolstoy's short story, "A Spark Neglected Burns the house", which got me a little teary eyed. I liked his writing style, so I read The Cossacks, which was a very enjoyable read. After putting it off for awhile I read War and Peace, and LOVED it.

    Dostoyevsky is not a fun author for me to read, but he makes me think and his writing is intense. I started with Notes From Underground and then read Crime and Punishment. Loved them both even thought neither produced what I would call good feelings from reading them.

    I read Death In Venice and enjoyed the story and writing style of Mann. I just have a feeling that I'll really enjoy his books.

    I don't know what it is about Goethe that I find so fascinating, but I knew after reading his first novel The Sorrows of Young Werther, that I would be a huge fan of his work. Atm I've only read a few parts of the opening scenes of Faust, when he's in his study, and the thoughts he is thinking were enough to tell me that Goethe had a powerful and broad intellect.

    I've read half a dozen of Plato's works, but still haven't read his best yet, which I am looking forward to.

    Nietzsche seems to have been a real genius, from what little I have read. I started with The Birth of Tragedy and then read Human, All-Too Human, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Nietzsche doesn't make me feel bad when I read him. He makes me think. It doesn't hurt that he writes fabulous aphorisms.

    I read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and couldn't put the movie out of my head. I think the movie is a masterpiece of sci-fi and cinema. I enjoyed the book, but couldn't help but compare it to the movie, which I felt was far better. That said, I liked the book enough that my interest is highly piqued.

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