Prolific Prose Practitioners

There’s a saying that “everyone has a book in them,” but some authors have a LOT of books in them. They’re terrific at being prolific, churning out novels and other works as fast as cartoon bird Road Runner moves (but with fewer feathers).

Many high-speed authors average at least a book a year, with some putting out even more. The vast majority of prolific novelists write mass-audience fiction, because that kind of book can be rather formulaic and thus more quickly created than literary fiction. But there are challenging novelists who also write fast.

Some quick authors, such as James Patterson, have help from assistants — meaning they are not quite as personally prolific as they seem. According to Wikipedia, the 68-year-old Patterson has 150 books to his credit!

Of course, the number of books a novelist writes is not the only proof of productivity; the size of the works has something to do with it, too. For instance, Charles Dickens penned “only” 20 or so novels before dying at age 58, but a number of them are quite long.

And Dickens is an example of an author who also kept busy in other ways — giving speeches, performing in theatrical productions, etc. Meanwhile, some writers pack their schedules by not only penning novels, but short stories, plays, poems, children’s books, nonfiction books, articles, and/or reviews as well. Yes, all that quantity can make the quality suffer, but not always. Some people just write like the wind!

First, let’s look at some literary and classic authors with many books to their credit. For instance, France can boast of Honore de Balzac and Emile Zola, who each wrote about three dozen novels (among other works) before dying at ages 51 and 62, respectively. Given that they obviously weren’t published authors as kids and teens, that’s a ton of output during their adult years. Fellow French author Alexandre Dumas penned about 40 novels, 10 travel books, several plays, and more during his 68 years.

Some prolific novelists from other countries:

Sir Walter Scott wrote a whopping two dozen or so novels and other books between 1814 and his 1832 death at the age of 61. That was after he focused on his widely read poetry during the earlier part of his career.

Henry James, who lived to 72, authored about 30 novels and novellas plus tons of other fiction and nonfiction. And his subtle, intricate, psychological writing was not the kind to be knocked off easily.

Edith Wharton, who died at 75, had nearly the same output as her friend Henry even though she didn’t become a published author until her late 30s.

W. Somerset Maugham wrote 36 novels and short-story collections, 25 plays, 15 nonfiction books, countless articles, and more before dying at the age of 91.

John Updike penned nearly 30 novels, 17 short-story collections, and other works during his 76 years.

A very prolific living author with a literary bent is Joyce Carol Oates, 77 — who has written an astounding 44 novels, 11 novellas, and 38 short-story collections under her own name; 11 other novels under a different name; and more.

Alice Walker, now 71, has written a total of 30-plus novels, short-story collections, poetry collections, and nonfiction books.

Mass-audience novelists? One of the most productive of the past was mystery writer Agatha Christie, who penned 66 novels under her own name, six novels under another name, 17 plays, and more during her 85 years.

Prolific living authors in the mass-audience (but sometimes literary) realm include Dean Koontz (well over 100 novels since 1968), Stephen King (55 novels since 1974 — plus lots of other work), Sue Grafton (24 novels since 1982), John Grisham (29 novels since 1989), Lisa Scottoline (25 novels since 1993), David Baldacci (32 novels since 1996), and Lee Child (20 Jack Reacher novels since 1997).

Last but by no means least, the great Isaac Asimov wrote or edited an incredible 500-plus books — many not science fiction — before dying at age 72.

Oh, and William Shakespeare penned 37 plays and 154 sonnets during his 52 years.

Who are some of your favorite prolific authors? (You can also name some you don’t like. 🙂 ) Can there be quantity and quality?

(The box for submitting comments is below already-posted comments, but your new comment will appear at the top of the comments area — unless you’re replying to someone else.)

I’m writing a literature-related book, but still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as Ann Landers and “Dear Abby,” and other notables such as Hillary Clinton, Coretta Scott King, Walter Cronkite, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. You can email me at dastor@earthlink.net to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson.

118 thoughts on “Prolific Prose Practitioners

  1. Hi Dave. My name is Susan, and I am a bibliophile…
    I know I’m once again late to the party, and once again, any author that I could think of has already been mentioned. Stephen King was one of the first that I thought of. I’ve read about 20-30 of his books, ranging from his first in the 70s to some that have been published this decade. I definitely prefer his earlier work, but I think “The Girl who Loved Tom Gordon” was the only novel of his that I really didn’t enjoy. And I know that you’re reluctant to commit to reading a lengthy series, but if you ever had a chance to read it, I’d love to know your thoughts on the first two or three books of King’s Dark Tower series.
    As I think I’ve said to you before, I had no idea that W Somerset Maugham had written so many novels. “Of Human Bondage” being the only work of this that I’ve read. Another book that I’d love to know your thoughts on…
    Are you aware of the website http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk ? I don’t mind Wikipedia, but as you’re no doubt aware, it can be edited by the general public. I’m embarrassed to confess that I have fixed an odd typo or two on there. But it also means that I can edit the entry for “Great Expectations” and say that it was written by Lee Child. Not that I would of course. However, I have been wandering through the lists on Fantastic Fiction for years, and am yet to find an error or incomplete list.

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    • Ha! Love your intro line, Susan!

      Stephen King was also the first author I thought of when writing the column. I think he must write in his sleep or something. You have read a LOT of his work; I think I’ve gotten to about 15 of his books.

      I’ve read a half dozen of Maugham’s excellent novels, but not yet “Of Human Bondage” — which seems to be perpetually checked out of my local library. 😦

      I wasn’t aware of the site you linked to. It looks terrific — and, from your description, sounds VERY accurate.

      Your comment about editing Wikipedia is hilarious! And here I thought Lee Child wrote “A Tale of Two Beatdowns”…

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  2. Great topic Dave , the first name that occurred to me was Dame Agatha Christie who I was happy to see already got mentioned. While her mystery’s are marvelous it is more impressive when a writer is able to produce a large oeuvre of work in different forms, genres and topics. William Trevor ( probably my favorite living writer) is best known for his brilliant short stories which have been appearing in the New Yorker since the early 70s has also penned a dozen plus novels which are universally excellent. Felicia’s Journey may be the best known due to a movie version starring Anthony Hopkins but his Fools of Fortune is as close to perfect as a novel can get . There have also been quite a few plays which were successful in the British Isles and two first rate Anthologies which he’s edited and introduced. Definitely a “writers writer” who deserves to be more widely read. Oh and as a side note on an artist totally unrelated Willie Nelson released his 68th studio album a month or so ago, now that’s prolific !

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    • Thanks for the kind words and excellent comment, Donny!

      Well, you’ve convinced me to try a novel by William Trevor during the next month or two. 🙂

      And, yes, it’s especially impressive when a writer is prolific in various genres. Churning out lots of work while changing creative gears — not an easy combination.

      Sixty-eight albums from Willie Nelson? Wow! I wonder how many other musicians or bands can match that? Of course, there’s the question of how many albums by any artist are original vs. greatest hits, live recordings, etc.

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      • Donny, I just took out “Felicia’s Journey” from the library today. (“Fools of Fortune” wasn’t there.) Thanks again for recommending William Trevor — and I’ll let you know what I think!

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        • Awesome Dave, I think you’ll be riveted I just went and read the original Times review of the novel . It was not only a rave but quite insightful it kind of has spoilers though so I didn’t link it. If I recall correctly along with a couple other readers I got you to read James Joyce’s The Dead back in the huffy-po glory days, seems I’m a successful proselytizer for great Irish literature ,who knew ? 🙂

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          • Yes, you — along with “3fingerbrown,” I think — got me to read “The Dead,” and a memorable short story (or novella?) it was!

            I’m greatly looking forward to trying William Trevor — my second Irish author of the summer, after Colm Toibin. I read his “The Master” novel about Henry James a month or so ago, after reading his “Brooklyn” novel a year or two ago. I think you might have recommended that book, too. 🙂

            And the clever term “huffy-po” is the slangy, dismissive nickname that site deserves!

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            • Morning Dave, is 3fingerbrown here ? I remember his comments…
              Also Willie Nelson worth mentioning…what a fine tuned voice he has. I remember long ago in NPR interview in Fresh Air He mentioned from childhood he learned breathing from his diaphragm from his grand father, they used to hold hands in circle and practice that.

              Anyway…I am up since when…two beautiful huge German Shephard moved in with a lady next door. She built a 6 ft iron fence…but middle of the night last night they were barking..which is a no no..to be out that late. The lady was friendly when introduced herself..but where is her common sense. The fence is right next to our bedroom… 😦

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              • Good morning, bebe!

                So sorry about those dogs keeping you awake. Not good. 😦 I hope your neighbor figures out a way to stop that from happening again.

                Unfortunately, 3fingerbrown is not here. I never knew his (I think he’s a he) real name or corresponded with him via email or social media, so I wasn’t able to contact him when I started the blog last summer. His comments on HP were always great and often funny.

                I agree that Willie Nelson has a superb voice. Fascinating information about the breathing practice he did with his grandfather!

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                • Oh well…you have excellent commentators in here Dave .

                  I don`t get it some folks are thoughtless or have no common sense. I am not the type to knock on her door and ask her not to have them out after 9 PM that should be the cutting point.
                  There is another neighbor on another side..works from home knocked on the door across his house and mentioned to the another lady he is close to call police. That was day time the those have two rat-like dogs , who don`t stay out but barks when out.
                  Wish he lived on my side 😦

                  Liked by 1 person

                  • Thanks, bebe — you included! (Among the excellent commenters.)

                    Yes, too many people are thoughtless or lack common sense. Like you, I’m also not comfortable confronting those type of people. Now that I’m in an apartment, I feel very lucky that we don’t have any annoying neighbors.

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                    • Not fair to the dogs at all …I have a feeling one more night like that I will knock on her door..geezee…the woman works from home she said. She should be out in prairie not in a neighborhood where there are certain unwritten rules.

                      I have to think…:(

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  3. There are other prolific authors Dave decorate the library shelves…namely Stuart Woods, Clive Cussler, Nora Roberts, J.D Robb, Danielle Steel, Mary Higgins Clark..and so on.
    All of then have ardent followers ..unfortunately I haven`t read most of them.
    Patterson normally publishes more than one monthly.

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    • Thanks, bebe, for all those additional names of prolific authors! Great list! I haven’t read any of the ones in your first paragraph, but know of them and have seen their books crowding my local library’s shelves. 🙂

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        • bebe, I also was shocked at the large number of books Dean Koontz has written. I wonder if he has some assistance like James Patterson does?

          I’ve read only one Koontz novel — “Seize the Night” — and it was pretty good. But I’ve never been quite motivated enough to read another by him.

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            • Wow, bebe! Good for that Michigan bookstore! I think the store’s description of “Go Set a Watchman” as basically being a first draft is exactly right, from what I’ve read about the whole situation.

              I’m now glad I didn’t spend money on the book. Might still read it if it’s ever available at my local library.

              Thanks for the link!

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                  • I don’t regret the money I spent on ‘Go Set a Watchman’ (which wasn’t that much as I got it at a discount rate from Amazon). I was curious and wanted to satisfy my curiosity. I knew that if it was disastrous I could just follow it up with a new reading of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. Interestingly, I’ve seen several reviewers on Goodreads, probably younger people that aren’t so invested in the hallowed reputation of ‘TKAM’ or the sainthood of Atticus that have a different perspective on it altogether and are actually fairly favorably impressed with it and feel that it’s good to get a realistic depiction of Atticus at that point in his life. I think the marketing of the publisher is perhaps misleading although considering how massively popular ‘TKAM’ is, no matter what they said about it, the reaction of eager readers would still be the same. The comparison in the article was with ‘Stephen Hero’, James Joyce’s early draft of ‘Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man’. However, there weren’t masses of rabid ‘Portrait of the Artist’ fans just waiting to gobble up ‘Stephen Hero’ so that’s not really an accurate comparison. And meanwhile, Harper is laughing all the way to the bank, at least according to her friend retired professor and historian Wayne Flynt who noted her amused reaction to the early reviews of ‘GSAW’. I wouldn’t rush out to get it unless your curiosity is that intense although it’s worth checking out at some point.

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                    • Thanks, bobess48! I was being “jokey” with bebe, but I wouldn’t mind reading “Go Set a Watchman” someday if I don’t have to pay even a few dollars for it. It would have been nice if the publisher emphasized more that “GSAW” is essentially a first draft of “To Kill a Mockingbird” rather than marketing it as a separate novel. But, as you say, the publisher and others and perhaps Harper Lee are laughing all the way to the bank. I remember that you liked “GSAW” to some extent, and I respect that. To say you know literature would be an understatement!

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                  • I was reading your conversation with bobess58, sooner or later you will be able to find it at your Library. If i ever see it in Library book sale I will be more more than happy to send the book to you after skimming through it. 😀

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                    • Thanks for the offer, bebe! And I loved your droll last line!

                      As you say, I’m pretty sure I’ll eventually find “Go Set a Watchman” in my library. Shelved under L (for Harper Lee) or PG (for Publisher Greed) or MNBTBAB (for Might Not Be That Bad a Book). 🙂

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  4. Dave, I reconnected with my childhood best friend a few nights ago after not being in touch for over 30 years. She was telling me that she has three dogs now, at least two of which are Shelties, and I asked her if she remembered that we talked about having our own collie farm one day. She immediately laughed and said, “Albert Payson Terhune”! This made me think that he was a fairly prolific writer; from Wiki: “The first of his novels about his dogs, Lad: A Dog, collected a dozen stories of his collie Lad in novel form. Lad was followed by over thirty additional dog-focused novels, including two additional books about Lad.” The three I remember most after “Lad” were “Bruce,” Grey Dawn” and “Wolf.” I just may have to see if can find some of those again. I do have a fairly decent collection of Nancy Drew, the Dana Girls, the Bobbsey Twins, and Cherry Ames books. Of course while there were are many books in each of those series, they were written by multiple authors under one name; respectively. Carolyn Keene (the first two series), Laura Lee Hope; and Helen Wells. So I guess they don’t exactly count as prolific authors. 🙂

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    • So great that you connected with a childhood friend, Kat Lib! And a fellow fan of the great Albert Payson Terhune! I didn’t realize he wrote so many books.

      And, yes, for “Nancy Drew” and other (often YA) series, the pen name was prolific rather than the multiple authors writing under one pen name. Of course, some of those multiple authors did churn out lots of books even if no individual one of those writers penned every installment of the series.

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      • Since I left that comment, I did go onto the Barnes and Noble website and found a seven novel bundle of his works, including Lad, the Further Adventures of Lad, His Dog, Bruce, three others, all for $2.99 on Nook, so I did download it. As much as I enjoy reading real books, you can certainly get great deals, especially of classics (and I am out of room to keep bringing in new books)!

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        • That IS a great deal, Kat Lib! (I love “His Dog.”) And I hear you about running out of room for books. I’m now stacking some books in front of other books on my living-room shelves, which makes it hard to see the books in back. 😦

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  5. Great topic Dave…first name came to my mind was Agatha Christie..oh how I loved them in my teen years, bought so many of them they all walked away.
    Somerset Maugham..great author..Razor`s Edge, Of Human Bondage, The Moon and the Sixpence,,and so on. Those were the days when I read them instead of my study books.

    In recent years of course Lee Child and his Jack Reacher the character with no possessions, no destination in particular.

    oops..looks like I need to reboot my computer…:(

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, bebe!

      Agatha Christie was amazingly prolific for more than half a century, as was W. Somerset Maugham. You mentioned three great novels by him; I also thought his “The Painted Veil” and “Cakes and Ale” were excellent.

      And Lee Child definitely churns out those exciting Jack Reacher books — about one a year. I’ve now read 11 of them — nine to go!

      Hope your computer is now doing okay.

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      • great…it got posted…Daphne du Maurier ..Rebecca, Razor`s edge, Jamaica Inn, The Frenchman`s Creek….oh my, forgot all about them. Now I feel like finding the books to read again Dave. So many books and so little time.

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        • You’re right, bebe — Daphne du Maurier wrote a LOT of books, too. Thanks for naming several of them! I also liked her “My Cousin Rachel.” And if you’re ever looking for an excellent time-travel novel, her “The House on the Strand” is memorable.

          “So many books and so little time,” indeed. 😦 Because of that, I don’t reread novels that often, but I’m currently rereading — and am impressed again by — Charlotte Bronte’s “Villette.”

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          • I have not read Villette , and yes the Bronte sisters.
            Oh I must mention here John Grisham I have read all his previous books then i took a long break and back to them again.
            James Patterson as you`ve mentioned above. When he was the solo writer i have read so many like “London Bridge” ” Mary Mary”..now with other authors no.
            David Baldacci a very popular author in modern times Just started his latest ” Memory Man”..my first of his…a great writer but only have read 100 some pages.

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            • I have a feeling the Bronte sisters would have continued to be prolific if they hadn’t died so young. They wrote seven novels between them (and some poetry) during their short lives.

              As for James Patterson, bebe, I can totally understand preferring his solo work over his assisted work!

              I’ve also only read one David Baldacci novel — “One Summer” — but liked it a lot.

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        • “So many books and so little time.”

          I keep no less than three paperback books in my shoulder bag at all times, plus my Kindle. Hundreds of audiobooks on my iPod. There are 2-3 books in my desk at work that I rotate every month.

          No matter what I’m doing – waiting at the doctor’s office, during my lunch break, at the bus stop, in the park, exercising at the Y or jogging around the neighbourhood, cooking, on the train/ferry/plane/water taxi, weekend road trips with my husband, in the checkout line at the grocery store or Farmer’s Market, at the salon or spa, relaxing at home in the backyard or our little home library – my reading materials are always with me.

          Think it’s time I publicly make my confession:

          *steps up to the mic*

          “My name is Ana, and I am a bibliophile.”

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            • Reading in public is very common here, and that’s a good thing. Yes, we love our techie toys/devices, but go to any park or beach, and there will be several heads buried in books.

              That’s right Dave, join me in my confession. It’ll make you feel better.

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              • I read every spare moment, too, Ana. While eating (if I’m alone), on a post-office line, on my exercise bike, on mass transit, etc.!

                At the beach, it’s better to see heads buried in books than in the sand. 🙂

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                • Exercising and reading are two fantastic activities. I workout at the Y a lot, and one of my favourite machines is the treadmill. If I’m caught up in whatever I’m reading, I end up exercising longer (which of course is good for overall health). I did almost three hours while reading “Kindred” by Octavia Butler because that book was soooo intense, I couldn’t put it down.

                  Strength training while reading is a no-no since that exercise uses heavy weights and you have to concentrate to avoid muscle strain, but working out on an elliptical machine or treadmill while reading is a definite win.

                  Good for you Dave for combining two wonderful activities. You’re promoting good physical and mental health.

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                  • Thanks, Ana! Yes, reading and exercising are a terrific combination. Great that you do it. Almost three hours on the treadmill that time? Wow! “Kindred” must be some book. I just exercised my fingers to highlight it on my to-read list. 🙂

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              • That reminds me of someone…one library patron…older woman when comes borrows a bagful of books. She had some chosen words for “Go Set a Watchman” publisher.

                She tells me she has three W`s going for her so she goes anywhere she pleases with a book to read.
                When asked she said ” Widow, White, Well educated”. ( no malice intended)
                So I said ..sorry..her answer was oh don`t be..I should have divorced the man long ago. HA..

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  6. Howdy, Dave!

    — Who are some of your favorite prolific authors? —

    Although the father of Jorge Luis Borges authored at least one novel (“El Caudillo”), the anti-communist, anti-fascist and anti-Peronist director of the National Library of the Argentine Republic between 1955 and 1973 himself eschewed that literary form and focused instead on writing a boatload of essays (I have read a few), poems (I have not read any) and short stories (I have read many), despite his progression from partial to complete blindness (at the age of 55). Without first coming across the likes of Borges’ stories “The Garden of Forking Paths,” “The Library of Babel” and “The Secret Miracle,” I doubt seriously whether I would have been encouraged to read subsequently the works of Julio Cortazar, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Mario Vargas Llosa, Octavio Paz and Juan Rulfo, among other scintillant Latin American scribes. And I doubt seriously whether Junot Diaz would have employed footnotes as he did in “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” without Borges blazing that particular trail in his own work.

    J.J. (Alias MugRuith1)

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    • Thanks for the excellent comment, J.J.! Jorge Luis Borges did write a LOT, even though he didn’t author novels. I read a book of his short stories a year or two ago, and many of them were riveting. I could see, as you mention, how reading Borges would whet one’s appetite for certain other authors. And I imagine he influenced some of those authors.

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  7. Dave,

    You’ve covered many of my favorite prolific authors. Agatha Christie, Isaac Asimov, and others.

    Terry Pratchett makes mention again for a total number of books, he co-wrote some, of over 90. Its hard to get an exact count even using Wikipedia and I think that was intentional. The only solid way to count is to get a recent publication and try to count, though a few may get missed. There are 41 Discworld Novels (some are young adult), 29 (I might have missed one or two) books that aren’t novels; science, almanac, diary, cookbook, children’s books that aren’t what you expect, books about Discworld, and 21 other books (non-fiction included). The 21 other’s included his short story and non-fiction article compilations. Pratchett was first published in 1971 after turning a series of newspaper stories for children into what would be called a middle grade novel today. His work as a reporter has not been collected to my knowledge.

    Anne McCaffrey also wrote over 90 (I counted 93 but might have missed one) spread across sci-fi, fantasy, non-fiction, romance, and childrens books. She began writing short stories in the 50s, but her novels began publication in 67.

    Both are dead and speculative fiction fans felt the loss of both quite strongly.

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    • Wow — Terry Pratchett and Anne McCaffrey were indeed prolific, GL! Thanks for mentioning them!

      And I know what you mean about it being hard to get an exact count of the number of books authors write. I also used Wikipedia for much of my article, and it was annoying when I would run into lists of “selected works” rather than complete bibliographies.

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      • I find that Wikipedia has issues with people not knowing or wanting to do the work to be accurate in certain situations. Even when an individual has all the information they don’t put it in for some reason.

        Perhaps someday they’ll get there, but until then college professors will keep saying go to the source not Wikipedia.

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  8. L.M. Montgomery is known for her Anne of Green Gables series (and to a lesser extent, the Emily series), but her writing career was more broad than that. She published over 500 short stories. It is impossible for me to track down/read every single short story Montgomery ever wrote, but there are two volumes I enjoy, and would be the best starting points for any fan who would be interested in her short stories.

    Chronicles of Avonlea and Further Chronicles of Avonlea are both set on Prince Edward Island. About 90% of the characters are from the Green Gables series. Anne and Gilbert are not prominently featured in either volume, so these volumes are not exact replicas of the Green Gables series. These two collections focus on minor characters and their families, friends, and lives on PEI. Anne obviously was the star of AoGG, and many of the other characters were forgettable. Chronicles of Avonlea and its sequel both put the spotlight on the minor characters. So readers still get the charm of Avonlea and the aesthetic beauty of Prince Edward Island without the presence of Anne.

    I see her collection of short stories as a way for L.M. Montgomery to sort of “break out” of Green Gables mode and show readers that she was so much more than just the creator of Anne Shirley. Maybe that is why she wrote so many.

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    • Great addition, Ana! I’m smacking my head about how I forgot to include L.M. Montgomery in my column; I’ve read most of her novels — though not a lot of her short stories.

      As wonderful as “Anne of Green Gables” and some of its sequels were, Montgomery indeed had many other sides to her writing — including the short stories you mentioned, and works such as the wonderful “The Blue Castle” novel that’s in the adult rather than YA category.

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      • I should also add Catherine Woolley. She wrote almost ninety children’s books. Some titles (the Cathy and Ginnie & Geneva series) were all published under her real name, but she used a pen name for her picture books.

        Ms. Woolley lived to 100. Never used a computer; always relied on her trusty typewriter.

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        • That’s an impressive number of books, Ana, even for an author who reached 100.

          There are definitely some older writers who can’t shake the typewriter habit. I believe Cormac McCarthy still pecks away at one — or at least did until recently.

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            • A new Cormac McCarthy book! Fantastic! Thanks for the link, bobess48!

              Is “Blood Meridian” a first read or a reread for you? It’s an amazing novel — probably McCarthy’s best, though “Suttree” is very charming and “All the Pretty Horses” is very gripping. “Blood Meridian” is one of the most violent literary/mainstream novels I’ve ever read, but all the mayhem does “serve” the story.

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              • I have only read ‘All the Pretty Horses’, ‘No Country for Old Men’ and ‘The Road’ by McCarthy so far so ‘Blood Merdian’ will be the first time. It’s been so acclaimed and I’ve heard so much about it that I’ll just go for it. I’ve also heard high praise for ‘Suttree’. About 15 years ago, my brother gave me his Border Trilogy (All the Pretty Horses, The Crossing, Cities of the Plain) but I only read the first of those, so I need to return to those as well.

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        • Oh my goodness, Ana, I remember reading at least one book about. Ginnie & Geneva way back when. I never would have come up with the author’s name except that I remember those two names, namely because I wasn’t sure how to pronounce “Geneva.” Thanks for a blast from the past!

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          • Catherine Woolley made several generations of women and girls smile. I think my favourite Ginnie book was Ginnie and the Wedding Bells. Ginnie was supposed to be a junior bridesmaid at her cousin’s wedding in Nantucket, but she kept running into mishap after mishap trying to get to the wedding (she became ill, her cat ran away, her family’s plane reservations somehow disappeared). Very adventurous, yet funny, book.

            Kat, are you familiar with Rosamond du Jardin? She wrote the Tobey & Midge Heydon books. The series originally started with Tobey Heydon, but the little sister Midge was developed into a separate character and series after Tobey got married. Most people I know who are familiar with Ginnie & Geneva and the Cathy books don’t remember Rosamond du Jardin’s “Tobey” books for some reason.

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            • No, I don’t remember reading Rosamund du Jardin, though I’m not sure how I missed her since she was writing in the 1940’s and 50’s. I also don’t know how I missed the Cathy books by Catherine Wooley, even though they were about a girl named “Cathy” instead of “Kathy” with a “K”!

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  9. Another living prolific author with a “literary” bent is Phillip Roth. I’ve read several of his novels, including “Portnoy’s Complaint” from the 1960’s and “The Plot Against America” from 2004. I believe he has penned over 30 novels in that span, including the wonderful “American Pastoral”. His books seem to really reflect the modern American character, usually through the eyes of a middle aged Jewish man in Northern New Jersey. There are certainly other great contemporary Jewish writers (Bellow, Malamud, Potok, to name a few), but I think Roth does the best job of reflecting the American soul – warts and all- in his work. I look forward to reading much more by him.

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    • Very glad you mentioned Philip Roth, drb! He was extremely prolific for decades until his announcement a couple of years ago that he would stop writing. I’d love to read “American Pastoral” eventually.

      I haven’t read a lot of Saul Bellow, but I can take or leave him. It has been decades since I read Bernard Malamud, but I was impressed with “The Fixer,” “The Assistant,” and “The Natural” (the last of which I felt was much better than the Robert Redford movie version of it).

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      • I didn’t realize he made that announcement. I don’t know, we’ll see if that holds up – one thing about prolific authors: they seemed compelled to write!

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          • Most of the concerts I’ve attended over the last 5 or so years have been of artists (Rush, The Eagles, Garth Brooks, Elton John, Fleetwood Mac) who’ve been retiring for years. Mike + The Mechanics is back on tour and is headed once again by Mike Rutherford, you know, the same Mike Rutherford who, ummm, “retired” after Genesis and the original Mike + The Mechanics w/ Paul Carrack split up. And Willie Nelson, who I saw in Tacoma earlier this year, started his retirement before I was even born.

            In the music industry, “I’m retiring and leaving the music business forever = “new music and a world tour are coming up, so look for our announcement on Twitter, Facebook, Ticketmaster, StubHub, Instagram, and our fan websites.”

            Thanks to retired musicians, I always have concerts to attend.

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            • Great comment, Ana — funny and accurate. It’s almost a joke the way some rock bands and musicians retire and then “un-retire.” But I’m glad they come back. Well, I’m glad some artists come back; others should have stayed retired…

              In addition to all the bands and musicians you named, I believe The Who also “retired” more than once. Of course, this year they did a 50th-anniversary tour. 🙂

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              • Journey should’ve stayed in retirement. I’m just not feeling them without Steve Perry. Journey without Steve Perry is like U2 without Bono. Or Rush without Geddy Lee. Sometimes replacing the front man works, but sometimes it doesn’t. In Journey’s case, it didn’t.

                I hope I hear rumours of The Zombies retiring. Because that means tour dates will be announced soon…

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                • Totally agree, Ana. Journey without Steve Perry — one of the great voices in rock history — is not that appealing.

                  I also agree that a replacement lead singer sometimes works, as when 10,000 Maniacs tapped Mary Ramsey to take over after Natalie Merchant went solo. Or to go WAY back, to the mid-’60s, when Justin Hayward (and occasionally other band members) took over the vocals when Denny Laine left The Moody Blues.

                  The Supremes, after Diana Ross departed, didn’t fare as well.

                  Funny Zombies line!

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              • Speaking of bands that retire and come back, did you manage to catch Toto and Yes when they played in NJ earlier this month?

                I’m not sure if I’ll attend the British Columbia concert. Without Chris Squire, I don’t know. But if Michael McDonald was added to the lineup (because he did provide backing vocals for Toto on some of their songs), that could work.

                Oh who am I kidding. Yes and Toto in concert…I will be there, as usual.

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                • Didn’t catch that, Ana. I never followed Toto much, but was a huge Yes fan back in the day. (And now I will add my usual line: “I still have some of their vinyl albums.” 🙂 ) Is most of the group, minus Chris Squire, still intact from the band’s 1970s heyday?

                  You are an avid concertgoer!

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                  • The only current members of Yes that were in the group at any time in the 70’s are Steve Howe, guitarist, and Alan White, drummer. Chris had been the only constant element through all the personnel changes from the beginning until about a month ago. Rick Wakeman has occasionally toured with them but that was a few years ago. Original singer Jon Anderson retired (in his case pretty much permanently) a few years ago.

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                    • Thanks for that information, bobess48! Just a partial Yes from that band’s peak. 😦

                      I own the vinyl versions of “The Yes Album,” “Fragile,” “Close to the Edge,” the two-record “Tales from Topographic Oceans” (just four songs!), and “Relayer.”

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                    • The original guitarist Peter Banks (he was on the first two albums) died a few years ago. The original keyboard player, Tony Kaye, left after ‘The Yes Album’ in 1971 but returned in the revamped lineup in the 80’s, when they had their biggest hit “Only of a Lonely Heart”. Original drummer Bill Bruford left after ‘Close to the Edge’ and, other than rejoining for a reunion tour in the 90s, has never come back.

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                    • You are a Yes expert! That band has definitely had an “eclectic” history in terms of personnel changes. I guess a number of other long-running bands are also like that, with a few exceptions such as U2 and Rush. (Well, the latter did change its drummer, but that was more than 40 years ago. 🙂 )

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            • Ana, I live near Philly and there is the Keswick Theater that has many old bands or solo acts performing there. My friend and I saw many concerts there such as America, Don McLean, and others. They also have many tribute bands, such as Elvis, the Beatles, the Stones and Bruce Springsteen. They are actually quite entertaining. The biggest rip-off was Van Morrison at the Tower Theater, for which we paid $300 for a very mediocre concert!

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  10. Stephan King, is a great example of a modern day prolific author, as you mentioned. Over the years, I’ve read five of his novels – some very good (“It”, “The Shining”) some OK (“The Dead Zone”), and some disappointing (“Firestarter” “From a Buick 8”), and I’ve seen three great movies based on his work (“Stand By Me” , “The Green Mile” and “The Shawshank Redemption”), as well as a bunch of mediocre films. Even with all of these under my belt, I’ve only scratched the surface of his work. I feel as if he can write a novel much faster than I can read a novel. To my knowledge, he writes alone, without a team of helpers to put structure to an outline, which so many of the prolific authors do. I don’t know if any of his work would go down in history as great literature (ala Dickens and Scott), but it certainly has helped define popular culture over the last quarter century.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, drb! When one thinks of prolific living authors, Stephen King is indeed often the first writer who comes to mind. His work does vary in quality, but I’ve liked most of the novels of his I’ve read (about 15 or so) — even admiring “From a Buick 8” and its low-key (for King) nature. And King, who does get “literary” here and there, is to be commended for not using assistants.

      “I feel as if he can write a novel much faster than I can read a novel” — great line! It does seem that way to MANY readers. 🙂

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  11. Hi Dave, goodness, you’ve mentioned many of the authors that I have read through the years. As you know, Henry James and Edith Wharton are favorites of mine, and I loved “The Ambassadors,” although it has been a long time since I read it. I did buy a copy of it not too long ago, but I have yet to get to rereading it. I read all of Lisa Scottoline’s books late last year; I didn’t realize just how many it was until you mentioned it! I read most of Agatha Christie right after college; but about ten years ago, I went through a period where I would go to Barnes & Noble, buy a Christie novel and a classical CD. I think I have a collection of mass market paperbooks in my storage closet of all of her novels. I didn’t check it out, but I’d think Ray Bradbury would have to be mentioned here, with all of his stories and novels, but I may be wrong.

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    • Glad the column mentioned many of the authors you like or love, Kat Lib!

      As I discussed with Brian below, “The Ambassadors” is certainly a memorable book. Not easy to read, but the relationships between the characters are so subtly depicted amid the amazing writing.

      Ray Bradbury? Definitely! He wrote a ton of novels and other works. Many great, of course, as you know. Plus the “Moby-Dick” screenplay — which reminds me that for an 11-year period (1846-1857) Herman Melville wrote a LOT of novels and short stories.

      I’m still eager to try Lisa Scottoline’s novels, but it’s possible I might have to wait until I get through all of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels. 🙂 I have seven to go, I think.

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      • I just read the other day that there is going to be a second movie starring Tom Cruise called “Jack Reacher 2.” How original! My brother must be going nuts (he was most unhappy about Cruise portraying Reacher in the first film).

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        • I hope that’s just a working title! 🙂

          I didn’t see the first Jack Reacher movie, but, as has been discussed in many places, Tom Cruise just seems so wrong for the role — with his height being one reason. He’s about 10 inches shorter than the 6’5″ Reacher.

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  12. Mary Higgins Clark and Robert Ludlum are both writers that would fall into your “mass-audience” category, Dave. Mary Higgins Clark has written 50 novels. I have read several of them, and they are suspenseful and spellbinding! Ludlum wrote maybe 20 to 30 novels that were very formulaic, but they were best-sellers nonetheless. Years ago, I read LOTS of books by Ludlum. I guess “Bourne” was the “Jack Reacher” of his day. However, I didn’t have a crush on Bourne. I do have a bona fide crush on Jack Reacher 🙂

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    • Thanks, lulabelle, for mentioning those two very prolific authors! I’ve definitely heard of both writers, but haven’t read either of them.

      I can understand anyone having a crush on Jack Reacher! 🙂 The guy is just so charismatic, fundamentally decent, and almost super-humanly capable of inflicting maximum hurt on the bad guys.

      I’ve read about 10 Reacher books now, and the last two (“The Hard Way” and “Gone Tomorrow”) were set in New York City, where I believe Lee Child lives. He got everything right about NYC — I recognized so many street names and other locales.

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  13. Hello Dave, I’m back after a bruising month of non-stop work.
    You mentioned most of the authors I like and read/have read, especially Isaac Asimov. Other prolific writers that come to mind are mass-market writers: in addition to Agatha Christie, my favorite mystery writers of the modern age are Robert Parker with his series about detectives Spenser and Jessie Stone plus others, about 40 novels total; my all-time favorite is P.D. James, with a modest 20 or so books including 3 non-fiction.
    Before them, there was Edgar Wallace who died in 1932: his books addicted me to the mystery genre, especially British mysteries. He was definitely prolific : wrote 170 novels, 18 stage plays, and 957 short stories, ALL BY HIMSELF!! Patterson could learn a thing or two from Wallace. 🙂 I admit I’m not a fan of Patterson, the fact that he uses a stable of writers is one reason.
    And, if I may wander outside the field of novels, Thorstein Veblen, the author of the weighty – and prophetic – “The Theory of the Leisure Class”, wrote at least a dozen more volumes and scads of articles and papers. Then there is Arnold Toynbee, with his 12-volume “A Study of History” whose pages surely are counted in the thousands, in addition to 50 more books and countless papers and articles. He must have been writing at least 12 hours a day, non-stop. I wonder how they avoided writer’s cramp. 😉

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    • Nice to hear from you again, Clairdelune! (After your massive amount of work. 😦 ) And thanks for mentioning and interestingly discussing several notable prolific authors — including nonfiction ones! Edgar Wallace sounds especially productive; wow!!! And it’s to his great credit that he wrote all he wrote in a non-James Patterson-like way.

      Yes, pre-Digital Age, writing enormous amounts had to have been hard on the fingers, hands, and arms. Even after typewriters were invented, those manual machines required a lot more pressure than computer keyboards do today. I have a vague memory of reading about past writers who eventually had some issues with their hands or arms: Sir Walter Scott? Henry James? Willa Cather?

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  14. Another one that just occurred to me that many of us may not consider is Mark Twain, perhaps because he did not write that many actual novels. Actually, considering his very busy public life of speaking and lecturing and generally being the world’s foremost humorist of his time, his writing output was phenomenal. Not only did he write those novels, but he wrote dozens of stories, essays and travel books. And then there’s the posthumous gift that keeps on giving. How many books have been published by him since his death? Almost as many as were published during his lifetime? At least close, I would say. This gift is continuing to give as we have seen by the fact that two of three volumes of his ‘complete’ autobiography have been published since 2010, the centenary of his death year, meaning that there should at least be one more. Is anything else in the chute or has the well finally run dry? Probably too early to say.

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    • Excellent, bobess48! Mark Twain was indeed MASSIVELY prolific when one adds up all the things you mentioned. And those things mostly didn’t start until his 30s. Before that, he was busy being a riverboat pilot, among various other non-writing-related endeavors.

      And, yes, the releases just kept on coming after Twain’s 1910 death.

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  15. The first author to come to mind that you did not mention that was certainly as prolific as Balzac although nowhere in the same league regarding quality is Edgar Rice Burroughs. The list of works published by him numbers around 92 if my memory serves and that’s just a guess based on one of the lists I saw. There’s a second list of works that he wrote that were found in his papers that were never published that is almost half that number. For those uninformed of the world of pulp fiction of the early 20th century, ERB was the creator of Tarzan. If no one knows nothing else about him they will know that fact. Tarzan, of course, is one of our most universally known superheroes along with Superman, Sherlock Holmes and a few others. ERB wrote 24 Tarzan novels plus a few Tarzan novellas. Beyond that, of course, he wrote much science fiction, westerns, general sensational tales of rough life for those in the mean streets of Chicago or the heartless environment of Hollywood, as well as several general adventure tales along the lines of Robert Louis Stevenson or Joseph Conrad or H. Ryder Haggard. Although all of these were quite formulaic, in my opinion they were written with artistry (if one can apply such a pompous term to something so lowbrow with a straight face, and my face IS dead straight at the moment). Some of his science fiction is similar to H.G. Wells and Jules Verne. For example, his own earth’s core series, dealing with the inverted bowl-shaped world of prehistoric life called Pellucidar, is in my opinion a more original invention than Verne’s own depiction in ‘Journey to the Center of the Earth’. A sun hangs in the sky constantly so there is no night. There is an unrevolving moon to the internal sun, therefore creating a region of perpetual total eclipse named The Land of Awful Shadow. Other than Tarzan, ERB’s most well-known character is John Carter, who teleports psychically to Mars and lives an entire alternate life on that planet, named by its inhabitants Barsoom. The John Carter books in particular but really most of ERB’s interplanetary series and standalone novels could be considered the ancestors of ‘Star Wars’ and just about any other space opera of the latter part of the 20th century. While I will be the first to state that in no way could Edgar Rice Burroughs’ work be considered great literature, I have respect for a man who dedicated his life to such a craft. ERB never regarded himself as anything other that a pulp writing hack. Nevertheless, he committed himself to such a low level of craft with a spirit of fun and enthusiasm.

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    • Great comment and addition, Brian! I’ve never read Edgar Rice Burroughs, but had sort of a vague knowledge that he wrote an off-the-charts number of books. And interesting that the “Tarzan” novels — which, as you say, he’s most known for — are not a majority of his canon.

      As an aside, the terrific “Prince Valiant” cartoonist Hal Foster worked on the “Tarzan” comic strip based on Burroughs’ books.

      Burroughs’ Pellucidar concept indeed sounds original and fascinating! Very nice description.

      Formulaic with artistry — that’s an EXCELLENT way of describing the output of a number of popular authors, past and present.

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      • Brian, I wanted to add that I just finished reading Henry James’ “The Ambassadors,” which you had recommended. It was my vacation reading when I was away this past week. It’s astounding how James stretches what could have been a short story into 400 or so pages. But the writing is gorgeous, moving, subtle, delicate, psychologically astute, and much more. I was almost bored at first, and then gradually got drawn in a LOT. I’ve read that it was James’ favorite of his own novels.

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        • It IS quite challenging and the reader has to be willing to allow himself to get sucked into the wavelength of the prose and be willing to view it as James himself viewed it. However, once you do get swept into it you see that it has a purity of expression and artistry (in the highest sense). It’s probably the supreme expression of James’s American in Europe theme and, as I said, it was even easier for me at this point in my life when I’m actually chronologically older than Lambert Strether to identify with him and the liberation of his consciousness and cultural awareness. I also suspect that Strether is probably closer to James himself than most of his characters, which may be why it’s his favorite. It’s probably closest to his heart. I’m glad you appreciated it.

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          • Great thoughts!

            One really does have to get into a “Henry James zone” to appreciate “The Ambassadors.” It probably didn’t help that I read a Jack Reacher thriller immediately before, but my brain gradually adjusted. 🙂

            I’ve found myself thinking about the book a lot, which is a sign that it really affects a reader on a deep emotional level. Most novels don’t linger as much in the brain as “The Ambassadors” after they’re finished.

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