The Pleasures of Reading an Author’s Second-Best Novel

Isn’t it a thrill to read, for the first time, what turns out to be one of your very favorite novels? It’s an experience hard to duplicate. You can reread the book, and greatly enjoy it again, but it’s not quite the same as that initial “adventure.”

Yet one can partly re-create the experience by reading what’s considered an author’s second-best novel. You’ll get a percentage of the aforementioned thrill — and also get the opportunity to think about what’s similar to the favorite book, what’s different, and why one novel is better than the other.

Of course, what you think is an author’s first- or second-best novel is subjective, and may differ from the critical and popular consensus. For instance, The Brothers Karamazov is actually a more impressive accomplishment than Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s amazing Crime and Punishment, yet I like the latter a bit better. It has a leaner narrative, and a feverish intensity that the more rambling, albeit even deeper The Brothers Karamazov doesn’t 100% match.

Jane Eyre is by far Charlotte Bronte’s most famous book — and, as some of you know, it’s my favorite novel by any author. But I got a good dose of satisfaction reading Bronte’s excellent Villette — whose lonely, brooding, self-reliant, buffeted-by-life Lucy Snowe protagonist reminds me of Jane, and whose crusty M. Paul Emanuel character has elements of Jane’s romantic partner Edward Rochester. Still, the set-in-France Villette doesn’t have quite the unforgettable heartache and primal passion of Bronte’s earlier book, though it does have plenty of melancholy that partly stems from being penned after the early deaths of Charlotte’s sisters Emily and Anne.

My favorite John Steinbeck novel is The Grapes of Wrath — a powerful, compassionate book that cries out for social justice while never losing sight of the need to have that cry filtered through the prism of memorable, three-dimensional characters like Tom Joad, Ma Joad, and Jim Casy. But I also got a lot of pleasure reading what I and many others consider Steinbeck’s second-best novel: East of Eden. The book doesn’t quite pack the emotional wallop or economic-inequality indignation of The Grapes of Wrath, but it’s actually more ambitious in certain ways — with its multigenerational drama covering decades, and its frequent use of biblical symbolism.

The Great Gatsby is of course thought of as F. Scott’s Fitzgerald’s best novel, and that iconic book indeed contains beautiful prose and more (even if one wants to sometimes say “who gives a … about these rich people” 🙂 ). But Fitzgerald’s Tender Is the Night also offers readers much to enjoy and admire, despite not having Gatsby‘s near-perfect construction.

Then there’s the case of George Eliot. Middlemarch is her most impressive novel, and it’s my favorite of hers in a way. Among other things, it’s hard to find troubled marriages dissected as expertly as the two unions spotlighted in that book. But the lengthy Middlemarch can be a slog at times, unlike Eliot’s very readable yet still multidimensional Daniel Deronda, Silas Marner, The Mill on the Floss, and Adam Bede. Heck, I think I prefer the riveting Daniel Deronda over Middlemarch.

A similar discussion can be had about Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Not surprisingly, the epic One Hundred Years of Solitude is my favorite novel of his; there are few literary works that as compellingly and comprehensively cover “the human condition.” But the legendary novel can be confusing at times — partly because of all those similar names! Love in the Time of Cholera is a very respectable second for me among Garcia Marquez’s works, as it depicts many facets of romance while maintaining a fairly linear story line.

Also not surprisingly, the acclaimed The Poisonwood Bible is my favorite Barbara Kingsolver novel. It unsparingly looks at the devastation of colonialism and evangelicalism while three-dimensionally depicting the Price family: the vile missionary father, and the beleaguered mother and four daughters. Prodigal Summer is my second favorite of Kingsolver’s other excellent novels; it’s less ambitious than Poisonwood, but does nicely challenge and entertain the reader with three separate story lines that come together at the end.

Mass-audience novels? If one considers the Harry Potter series to be one long book, then that’s my favorite J.K. Rowling work. Her much different The Casual Vacancy is a distant but satisfying second despite its grim subject matter and its much smaller canvas. But if one looks at the Harry Potter series as seven books (which it is!), my favorite is the initial one: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Not as complex and well-written as the later novels, but the thrills of first discovering Rowling’s wizard world are many. The series’ third installment — Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban — is my second favorite, and a memorable read.

Well, I could go on and on, but it’s time for this week’s questions: What are examples of your favorite and second-favorite novels by an author? Does the second book give you some or a lot of the thrill of the first? What makes your favorite books better than the runners-up?

(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.

63 thoughts on “The Pleasures of Reading an Author’s Second-Best Novel

  1. While critics have always argued whether The Heart of the Matter or The Power and the Glory were Graham Greene’s top novels, he has easily a hald dozen second placers, like The End of the Affair, Our Man in Havana, Monsignor Quixote, etc. The amazing thing is several of those 2-pots are actually light and funny rather than dark and serious. That’s impressive versatility. Thank you, sir!

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    • Thanks, Telly! I read Graham Greene for the first time last year on your recommendation, though it was a collection of short stories rather than a novel. It was excellent! I’ll get to a novel of his one of these days. The titles alone are interesting. 🙂 And, yes, versatility in an author is very appealing and admirable.

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  2. So many books Dave so little time..W. Somerset Maugham the first book I read perhaps was “The Razor’s Edge” what a book, then went on to “Of Human Bondage. ”
    Daphne Du Maurier , “Jamaica Inn “loved that book..then so many others “The Scapegoat”, I have not read “Rebecca” but seen the PBS movie long ago.

    In today’s world the first book I read of John Irving was “The Cider House Rules ” then so many others with the latest “In One Person”.

    Now one of our favorite author Lee Child, the book I read was a paper back ” Die Trying” took it on our trip to Florence and got hooked on Jack Reacher…the
    man with no possession.

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    • bebe, thanks for mentioning four excellent authors — all of whom have written enough great novels and near-great novels to make it hard to choose which ones are our first and second favorites. 🙂

      I’m back to reading Lee Child again, this time “Persuader.” Great so far. He’s one of those authors who gets one interested in the very first paragraph. “Die Trying” is a page-turner, too.

      And Maugham’s “The Razor’s Edge” — a stellar novel.

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      • You are far ahead of me. Dave…so you read that too, that was younger Reacher. After a week I again picked up ” Memory Man” by David Baldacci, like his writing style and how he builds up the suspense. A detail oriented writer, I am glad he writes his own books.
        Since this is my first i am going to look at other books by him.

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        • You’re right, bebe, about “Persuader” being relatively early Reacher — maybe the sixth or so? Jack really does get around — this time in Maine, with some stops in Massachusetts and Connecticut. I’m maybe a third of the way through the book now.

          The only David Baldacci novel I’ve read (“One Summer”) is I think an outlier for that author — more a love story/tragedy story than a suspense tale. Glad you’re enjoying “Memory Man”!

          Beautiful weather today in NJ; I hope it’s the same way where you are. 🙂

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          • I am more into suspense these days..all those love/ tragedy I like to stay away from.
            It is summer hot on here 90`s, one neighbor is going to have a back yard BBQ they do every year but now the neighborhood have expanded to 30 some houses so it will be some crowd. I hope those doggy mama comes, nobody have met her as yet .

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            • Suspense is great, bebe! Though I try to mix the kind of books I read (as you do), I like to read a novel with suspense every month or two. The Jack Reacher series is certainly one example. 🙂

              Sounds like you had a hotter day than us today — it was in the 80s here, though it’s supposed to hit the 90s again soon. Your neighborhood does seem to be getting more developed (overdeveloped?). Hope most of the neighbors you might see at the BBQ are nice — including the one with the two dogs with whom you’ve had some canine noise problems at night.

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  3. Another stellar springboard for excellent discussions Dave. The beauteous part is elsewhere among serious readers suggesting best and second best work of favorite writers would engender Hatfield -McCoy type feuds, not so in Astorville though 🙂 . The first pairing that occurs to me is one I think we may be in agreement on . Blood Meridian is without a doubt Cormac McCarthy’s masterpiece and probably one of the most powerful novels of postwar American fiction. As much as it blew me away I greatly preferred his surreal foray in autobiography : Suttree . As poetic as the prose in Blood Meridian was and as profound of a take on history it may be I found myself worn out by the endlessly inventive but mindless violence long before the bizarre shoot-out conclusion. Suttree on the other hand besides providing characters one could like and somewhat relate to also gave us an illuminating glimpse of a normally unseen part of Americana. Anyway first rate stuff although I may try and pop back in with a slight disagreement over the Dostoyevsky rankings as I place Crime and Punishment at third place among the master’s last four novels .

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    • I appreciate the kind words, Donny! 🙂 And the stellar comment.

      Interesting question about Cormac McCarthy’s best work. I agree with you. Although “Blood Meridian” is indeed a (violent) masterpiece, I also prefer the more genial but hardly Hallmark-ian “Suttree” (which, thankfully, you convinced me to read back in the HP days). “Suttree” is charming, melancholy, and memorable.

      If I extended the Cormac rankings, I’d put his “All the Pretty Horses” third. (I liked “The Road,” but…)

      Please do pop back in about Dostoyevsky!

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  4. What a nice topic Dave, and so many of my favorite books are already mentioned.
    So let me start with A.J. Cronin, a physician himself..”The Citadel” was my first book by the author when I was in my teens.The book dealt with medical incompetence and the politics behind that when an young idealist Doctor pointed out the injustices, unscientific practiced in the medical field.

    Then I moved on to the next one “The Keys of the Kingdom ” it tells the story of Father Francis Chisholm, an unconventional Scottish Catholic priest who struggles to establish a mission in China.

    Other day at the library and elderly woman was looking for books on A.J. Cronin and there was none on the shelf. Just realized I have purchased the movie starring Gregory Peck long ago and never have watched it.

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    • bebe, thank you for the mention of A.J. Cronin, who I had not heard of before seeing your excellent comment. The two books you described sound REALLY good.

      It got me to thinking of other writers who are/were also physicians — with Khaled Hosseini (“The Kite Runner”) and Tess Gerritsen being recent examples. Then there was William Carlos Williams, Arthur Conan Doyle, Anton Chekhov…

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      • Great author Dave…in my college years I read so many books instead of the books i was suppose to read for my studies. I have not read Hosseini or Gerritsen.
        Then comes the The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series we both read all three of then, the first one got me hooked to the books of Stieg Larsson.

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          • I just read that the fourth novel has just or will be coming out any day. I’m not sure I want to read it. For the life of me I can’t remember the name of it other than it’s “The Girl. Who …” There was a book that came out last year that was a new Hercule Poirot novel, blessed by the Christie estate, and by an author I really like (Sophie Hannah) but I just couldn’t buy it. It sounds stupid to say so, but it seems sacrilegious in a nonreligious sense for someone to appropriate a character or writing style. What say you, Dave?

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            • I totally agree, Kat Lib. As much as I loved the three Stieg Larsson novels, I’m not going to read a “money grab” fourth one by a different author. And I feel the same way about the Hercule Poirot exploitation you mentioned.

              “…it seems sacrilegious in a nonreligious sense for someone to appropriate a character or writing style” — well said!

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  5. Dave, I think with a lot of the popular fiction novels, the best work falls at the end even if many people rate the first as the best. The “Insurgent” trilogy is one such set. The last book “Agilent” is the best written, with the most complex story portions yet a large number of people really dislike it. The same can be said for “The Hunger Games” and even “Harry Potter”. I see it often in shorter series of one or two books. When you start getting into a longer series of more than 6 books the quality stops being as important as you become more invested in the story being finished than you do in the characters.

    I think it is different in books like those by Lee Child and Tom Clancy as they are writing different stories with the same characters. Those types of books bring you back for a different reason.

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    • Well said, GL, and I see your point. As a series goes on, the author can really get comfortable with the characters and story and start hitting on all cylinders. Of course, some series can go on TOO long. 🙂

      The last book in “The Hunger Games” trilogy was the deepest and, in a way, the most harrowing. But it was almost over-the-top depressing.

      With “Harry Potter,” the later novels definitely got better and better. (I thought J.K. Rowling went from being a good to a VERY good writer as the seven books got written.) But reading that first book, as clunky as it was here and there, was so…magical.

      I just saw a review of Lee Child’s latest Jack Reacher novel in yesterday’s New York Times. It was a positive write-up!

      http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/01/books/review-in-make-me-lee-child-adds-another-layer-to-jack-reacher.html

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  6. The first one that comes to mind is Tolstoy’s “War and Peace”. I LOVED this book that certainly met or even exceeded the high expectations I had. I couldn’t wait to read “Anna Karenina”. “Anna” was a wonderful novel, but in my mind did not live up to his other opus. Maybe I was expecting too much.

    The first Faulkner book I read was “The Sound and the Fury”, considered by many to be his greatest novel. Again, I loved it – with all its density. Later, I read “Light in August”. While not as dense, I enjoyed every bit as much, if not more. I’ve since read “As I Lay Dying” and “Absolom, Absolom!” and continued to be delighted by Faulkner’s work. I find it truly difficult to rank them.

    One of my favorite novels from my childhood was “The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe” by C.S. Lewis. I read some of the sequels, such as “Prince Caspian”, but they proved disappointing in that it could not seem to capture the “magic” of the first book. I did however, enjoy one of the sequels in this series: “The Magician’s Nephew” which turned out to be not a sequel, but rather a prequel to “L,W,and W” . Not as good as the first, but not a disappointment like the others in the series.

    It has already brought up, but I too read Irving’s “The World According to Garp” and thought it was great. I read “Hotel New Hampshire” and “Cider House Rules”, and they did not match up to Garp. However, after reading “A Prayer for Owen Meany” it quickly became my favorite Irving novel.

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    • So glad you mentioned Tolstoy, drb! Talk about two all-time classics — “War and Peace” and “Anna Karenina.” Unfortunately, I read them so long ago that I wouldn’t totally trust myself to rank them against each other. But I can’t argue with your opinion about “War and Peace” being first among the two. 🙂

      I agree that Faulkner’s “Light in August” is superb. I definitely need to read more of that author. I tried “The Sound and the Fury” a couple of times, and couldn’t make it past the first few dozen pages. I know it’s considered an amazing novel; maybe one day I’ll attempt it again.

      Thanks, also, for your thoughts about C.S Lewis’ and John Irving’s work — and for your terrific, wide-ranging comment in general! “A Prayer for Owen Meany” is a VERY memorable novel.

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      • The best way to approach ‘The Sound and Fury’ is to just go with the flow. The first section, Benjy’s. is the biggest stumbling block and I’m assuming you didn’t get through it. Just bear in mind that Benjy is flowing back and forth through time (similar to Billy Pilgrim in ‘Slaughterhouse-Five’ actually). Something like a fellow on the golf course bordering the Compson estate saying ‘caddy’ as in golf caddy, sends him spinning back in time recalling his sister Caddy. Each time there’s an italicized text it signals a time change. You can tell that when Benjy, Jason, Quentin and Caddy are all in the scene it’s a scene that occurs when they’re in childhood. As will be disclosed later, Quentin is in none of the ‘present time’ scenes corresponding to the date at the heading of each section except for his own section, the second. Quentin is at Harvard throughout most of his section in ‘present tense’ with plenty of time-tripping flashbacks to earlier points in time, mostly to the recent past i.e. the four years or so before the present tense. The fragmented syntax is actually fairly symptomatic of the breakdown of his mental stability. The third section is Jason’s, ostensibly the hard-boiled, cold-blooded realist stuck in time. Even in his there’s a bit of flashback as I recall, although the entire section is narrated by him in a bitter, self-obsessed manner. It comes as no surprise that in the earlier childhood sections he was the whiny little brat. The third section is third person, mostly seen through the eyes of Dilsey, the “Mammy’ character of the family, who has seen it all, from before these children were born until the present. It’s the ‘easiest’ section to follow, partly because it’s more coherent and also because it provides the last pieces of the puzzle, the final pieces of information. The way Faulkner referred to the novel was that he tried to tell the story through Benjy’s point of view, wasn’t quite satisfied, then Quentin’s story, then Jason’s version, then finally he said something like, ‘Then I decided to let Faulkner have a go at it’ in the last section. Once you know the overall scheme it clears up much, though not all, of the confusion. This is definitely a novel that should be read with a Cliffs Notes version handy to check frequently. This is all just a suggestion, Dave. No pressure. Just a few points to keep in mind in case you ever decide to give it another attempt. I’ve probably read it four times at this point in the past 40 years of so, so I’m beginning to get a handle on most of it, with the latest attempt two years ago, the most clearcut, and that includes reading it in an English course as an undergraduate devoted to the works of Faulkner. Just a few helpful hints.

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        • Thanks, Brian! I think we might have had a similar discussion before, and your advice on how to approach “The Sound and the Fury” sounds absolutely excellent. Much appreciated!

          I guess in the triage of what to read and not to read, that Faulkner novel is on the back burner. But I still may give it another try one day. I made a note on my to-read list that your “guide” is under my 8/30/15 column. 🙂

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  7. I think The Razor’s Edge is a perfect book by Somerset Maugham and I loved the narrator in the book. i believe Maugham is better known for Of Human Bondage. There are so many examples of authors who wrote wonderful books and kept coming out with better books to the point where you can’t tell which book is best. What a wonderful problem to have.

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    • “The Razor’s Edge” is a GREAT novel, Claire, and it could very well be Maugham’s second best behind “Of Human Bondage.” Or maybe his best. (Unfortunately, I haven’t read “OHB,” though I’ve heard many good things about it. In addition to “The Razor’s Edge,” I’ve read Maugham’s “The Painted Veil,” “The Moon and Sixpence,” and “Cakes and Ale.”)

      Yes, some authors write one or two great novels and others churn out many. In the latter category would be Dickens, Zola, Atwood, and various others.

      Thanks for your comment, and for mentioning Maugham!

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  8. I enjoyed Camus’ The Plague more than The Outsider. For me it felt a more compete story (possibly due to The Outsider being almost a novella) and the scope of it was more daring and adventurous. But I’m splitting hairs.

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    • Thank you, Andrew, for your excellent comment! I agree with you about “The Plague” — a terrific, riveting, sobering book. But it’s the only Camus novel I’ve read, so I can’t rank it among that author’s canon. 🙂 Hard to imagine a book much better, though.

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  9. Some novelists peak early while others just keep getting better. John Irving is an instructive example. I found his breakthrough work, The World According to Garp so compelling that I had to know what else he had written. He had published three previous novels which few had heard of: Setting Free the Bears, The Water-Method Man, and The 158-Pound Marriage. I thought they were quite good but Garp was better. Following were The Hotel New Hampshire, Cider House Rules–up there, but not Garp.

    Then, I found his prose style becoming denser, the pace slower. And then in one of the more recent novels I was shocked that I could not finish it (A Bend in a Twisted River). But that may have more to do with me than John Irving’s writing.

    By comparison, Hemingway’s first novel, The Sun Also Rises, was his best. Nothing that came after equaled it.

    So, I think it varies.

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    • “Some novelists peak early while others just keep getting better” — so true, Joe!

      John Irving’s later work does seem denser than his earlier work — sort of following in the footsteps of Dickens, Henry James, Atwood, Kingsolver, Margaret Drabble, Toni Morrison, and various others. (I guess that happens with some rock bands, too. 🙂 )

      I actually like Irving’s “The Cider House Rules” and “A Prayer for Owen Meany” better than “The World According to Garp,” but “Garp” certainly may be that author’s most fun, original, and quirky book.

      As for Hemingway, my favorite is “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” but there are some novels of his I haven’t gotten to yet.

      Thanks for the excellent comment — and glad you’re able to post here again!

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  10. Makes me realize how little I read on my vacation: too much else going on I suppose or perhaps I’ve read enough? Just kidding. I read John Gardner’s “Mickelsson’s Ghosts” which is fantastic but not exactly beach lit (it’s philosophical novel with great pace, pictures and characters as usual with Gardner) and also it’s not his second but his last. Still, it’s what I got to offer! Still on Gardner: his second novel “Grendel” is what he’s best known for. It is a great read. Much better than his official first (“Wreckage of Agathon”) or his inofficial first (“Resurrection”).
    The truth is (and my cupboards are evidence for that): any writer’s “first” or “second” novel are likely his seventh and eighth. Publication history rarely follows the writing path. But this is a whole different story…Gardner says somewhere that he sat on his first three books for 10-12 years before anyone took him on. He ended up publishing all his work I believe but for most writers this is (fortunately for us) not true (because most of what one writes is, well…material rather than masterful).
    I will take a number of your suggestions away and check them out – in some cases I hadn’t even heard of the 2nd novel. Thank you!

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    • Thanks for your excellent comment, Marcus, including what you said about John Gardner! I’ve never read him; he’s now on my list. I’ve heard of “Grendel,” and novels that tell a previously told story from a different point of view/different angle can be really interesting. Such as Margaret Atwood’s “The Penelopiad” (“The Odyssey” from a female perspective) and Robin McKinley’s “Rose Daughter” (a version of “Beauty and the Beast”). I’m currently reading the latter.

      I think you’re right — it’s rare when an author’s first or second novel is her or his first- or second-best novel. Some exceptions, but, like anything else, one needs to use training wheels for a while before the (potential) genius fully kicks in.

      Nice to hear from you, and I hope you’ve had a great summer!

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  11. Hi Dave, while for years I’d say that “Pride & Prejudice” was my favorite novel ever, there have been many other times when I’d have to stop and think about “Persuasion” being my favorite novel ever (I think you might agree to my ranking of Jane Austen’s novels). I also had many lively discussions with those who thought “Emma” was the best of her novels and we would might agree.

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    • Thanks, Kat Lib! “Pride and Prejudice” and “Persuasion” are both SO good, but I’d have to personally rank “Persuasion” first — something you seem to be contemplating as well. I’m not a huge fan of “Emma”; I’d probably place it fourth after “Sense and Sensibility.” Just one person’s opinion. 🙂

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  12. You’re so right! You can never quite recreate the adventure and thrill of discovering your favorite book! Some books are so compelling that they hold up over time and multiple readings. That’s certainly true of “Jane Eyre”, “Wuthering Heights”, “To Kill A Mockingbird”, and many others. Others do not hold up for a second reading, especially mysteries, because the element of surprise is simply gone. I found that true for “The Haunting of Hill House”.

    However, that’s not what we’re supposed to be discussing 🙂

    I know you haven’t read any Ayn Rand, but I found “The Fountainhead” to be her masterpiece, and “Atlas Shrugged” to be not quite so riveting. I know that most people regard “Atlas Shrugged” as her definitive work, but I became a little weary (a LOT weary) of some of John Galt’s ramblings. They’re both fascinating works and she writes so well. I’ve read another of her books called “We The Living”. She’s a great writer will quite a following for her philosophies more so than for her literature 🙂

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    • Excellent point, lulabelle! While one indeed can’t quite recapture the feeling of first reading a great novel, certain novels offer much of that thrill when reread. You named three classics that exemplify that.

      And mysteries definitely lose something in the rereading for the reason you mentioned. Though it can be interesting, even knowing “whodunnit,” to analyze how the author hid who the culprit was yet offered clues to who the culprit was.

      One of these days I really should try Ayn Rand, starting with “The Fountainhead.” I AM curious what her novels are like. I need more reading time… 🙂

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  13. I also want to put in a pitch for two amazing novels by Michel Faber that I’ve read this year: ‘The Crimson Petal and the White’ and ‘The Book of Strange New Things’. ‘…Strange New Things’ is his latest, having just come out last year. It’s amazing and original but I lean a bit more toward ‘Crimson Petal and the White,’ published about 13 years ago (?). They’re the only two I’ve read by him and they may very well be the cream of the crop but I’m very intrigued by at least a few of his others.

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    • Pitch received, bobess48! I put Michel Faber on my list, and I imagine some other people will, too. If I’m remembering right, you wrote one of your great reviews of Faber’s newer novel a few months ago.

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  14. “Isn’t it a thrill to read, for the first time, what turns out to be one of your very favorite novels?” It absolutely is 🙂 And it’s a shame that you can never again recapture that first read. Though it can be good fun finding people discovering the same books for the first time. For many years, I read my favourite books, and favourite authors over and over again. However since joining a book group (and reading blogs like this one) I’ve discovered some books that have never been on my radar. Some were painful, but I’ve been very lucky over the last year or two to find some absolute gems. I haven’t explored the authors at this stage, however I have added Daphne De Maurier after falling in love with “Rebecca” and also want to read “Love in the time of Cholera” after reading, but somehow just not getting “One Hundred Years of Solitude”.

    I also read “Middlemarch” (or as I like to call it, an advertisement for why it’s good that we can get divorced now) earlier this year, and while I did enjoy it, it required too much perseverance, and so I think it will be a while before I visit Eliot again. Though, when I do, “Daniel Deronda” will be on top of the list.

    But my favourite book this week is “The Shadow of the Wind”. I’ve just discovered that it’s part of a series, and I’m very much in two minds as to whether I want to read the others. It was so beautiful, and I just know that the beauty won’t be captured in quite the same way. And even if it is, you only get one shot to discover your favourite novels, so I know it just won’t be the same. Maybe I should find out what Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s second best novel is…

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    • Nice to hear from you, Susan! And hilarious to hear the line of yours about “Middlemarch” being “an advertisement for why it’s good that we can get divorced now.” So funny, and true!

      Yes, not being able to recapture that first read of a fantastic novel is frustrating, but what can one do? I suppose we could have one of those memory wipes experienced by Hermione’s parents in “Harry Potter.” 🙂

      Daphne du Maurier is great (if you like time-travel novels, her “The House on the Strand” is a keeper). And Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “Love in the Time of Cholera” is definitely more accessible (and shorter) than “One Hundred Years of Solitude.”

      You’ve piqued my interest with “The Shadow of the Wind.” It sounds off-the-charts good.

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    • The Marquez novels are a perfect example . I was blown away by 100 years but not only enjoyed Cholera more I also found it much more moving. The last sentence is one of my favorite endings to a novel ever. If you get to it I think you will find it well worth the time.

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      • Thanks, Donny. I will absolutely get to it, but as we all know only too well… So many books…

        Dave, I recommended Shadow to a friend of mine, however when we caught up for coffee, I was disappointed that the first thing she asked me was when does it get good 😦 I guess one person’s “Shadow of the Wind” is another person’s “Fifty Shades of Grey”.

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  15. I have plenty of candidates for this list from my own perspective. I think of ‘Crime and Punishment’ and ‘Brothers Karamazov’ pretty much ‘neck and neck’ although I always say, when someone asks me what my favorite novel is, period, ‘Brothers Karamazov’. I also hope to re-read within the next year the very worthy ‘The Idiot’ and ‘Demons’ (or ‘The Possessed’ as it’s often been published). There are amazing things in each of those novels as I recall. I too regard ‘Middlemarch’ as George Eliot’s greatest novel, although I appreciate ‘Daniel Deronda’ immensely. Still, I had a more powerful emotional reaction to ‘MIddlemarch’. I also feel as you do about ‘Grapes of Wrath’ and ‘East of Eden’. The Eliot and Steinbeck pairings are especially fresh as I have read all four of them within the past two years. I have no quarrel with anyone who claims that ‘Bleak House’ is Dickens’ greatest novel. However, I had a more emotional reaction to ‘Little Dorrit’. Of course, it’s been 20-30 years since I read either of them so who knows how I’d feel now. There are other authors that were so prolific that they created several masterpieces. Henry James’ ‘The Golden Bowl’ is often regarded as his greatest achievment. Yet how can you neglect the essential ‘The Americans’, ‘The Portrait of a Lady,’ ‘The Ambassadors’ and ‘The Wings of the Dove’, much less novellas such as ‘The Aspern Papers’ and ‘The Beast in the Jungle’ that are as powerful as any of those other novels. Balzac is another author that created several great works. ‘Old Goriot’ is his most perfect novel, structurally and emotionally, and it packs an emotional punch. Just as engrossing for me, though, is one of his very last, ‘Cousin Bette’. And I could keep adding others that I’ve read of his that are also masterful.

    I’ve never read anything by J,K. Rowling other than the Harry Potter books. Of those I reacted most strongly to ‘Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. I will say no more other than Harry’s adolescent angst co-existing with very real life-threatening danger and Dumbledore. Nuff said about that one.

    I could easily go on but I figure that’s as good a point as any to shut up and let someone else have the floor.

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    • I appreciate your very wide-ranging comment, Brian! I didn’t know “The Brothers Karamazov” was your favorite novel (though perhaps you once told me that 🙂 ). Some parts of that book contain the most amazing writing in literature.

      “Little Dorrit” is a GREAT book, and an example of how some of Charles Dickens’ slightly less famous novels (also including “Dombey and Son”) are superb. “Bleak House” may indeed be Dickens’ greatest accomplishment, but my favorite novel of his is…wow…that’s tough. “The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club” is his funniest, “Great Expectations” is so memorable, “David Copperfield” is very affecting, “A Tale of Two Cities” is incredibly dramatic…

      I haven’t read anywhere near as much Henry James as you, but “The Portrait of a Lady” is my favorite of the seven or eight I’ve gotten to. Will read his late-career classics “The Golden Bowl” and “The Wings of the Dove” one of these days.

      Balzac? “Old Goriot” may indeed be his best; I might put “Eugenie Grandet” second despite it being one of that author’s “simplest” novels.

      Ah yes, J.K. Rowling definitely ramps up the adolescent angst and the Voldemort danger as the “Harry Potter” series goes on!

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      • Thanks for reminding me of ‘Great Expectations’. I started rereading it on Feb. 12, 2012, the 200th anniversary of Dickens birth (as well as Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin, if I recall correctly). It is the freshest in my mind now although I had read it originally in 1979. It too is emotionally powerful, probably surpassing ‘Little Dorrit’ in that respect. I felt surprisingly lukewarm to ‘Tale of Two Cities’, perhaps partly because of the historic setting. I felt Dickens was on less secure ground than when he stuck with his own lifetime. Next one up for me is his last completed novel, ‘Our Mutual Friend’. Other than ‘Oliver Twist’ I have read none of the novels before ‘Dombey and Son’ and I read ‘Oliver’ first, way back in 1976, I believe?

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        • That was a very appropriate date to start rereading “Great Expectations,” bobess48!

          “A Tale of Two Cities” does indeed have elements that Dickens probably struggled with — being set in the past, and being set partly in a country (France) other than the author’s native England. What helps prop up that novel are the amazing opening and closing passages — among the best in the history of literature.

          If you get to more of Dickens’ early novels, “The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club” is just SO funny. 🙂

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      • Hi Dave, I’ll agree with drb. I think I’ve mentioned that I took a course on Tolstoy when I was in college. We started off with his “minor” works and ended with “Anna Karenina” and “War and Peace.” While I found the former quite admirable, the latter was fantastic and I want to reread it someday (actually I’d like to reread them both). I’m not sure what the ranking is for Edith Wharton’s novels, but I’d suspect the first would be “The Age of Innocence,” while my favorite by far is “The House of Mirth.”

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        • Oh Dave, I obviously posted this response under the wrong comment; however, since I’m here I’ll also respond to Brian’s comment. One of the problems with thinking about older books is that there is a greater chance that there has been a screen adaption of the book. While I don’t think I ever read “Little Dorrit,” I loved the BBC production of it. I know I’ve seen the production of “Bleak House,” which was great, but I also remember loving the novel. I’m also very fond of both the written and screen versions of “The Golden Bowl” and “The Wings of the Dove,” but I’m not sure which I’d love better. Does that make any sense at all?

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          • That’s okay, Kat Lib! I found and reread drb’s comment before replying to you. 🙂

            I know what you mean about older books and there being a greater chance there was a screen version of them. Those movie and TV productions can color our views/memories of the novels, and in some cases be our ONLY remembrance of a story if we’ve seen the screen version without reading the book.

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            • Regarding screen adaptations, a film version of a classic has often influenced my decision to read the novel then, either just before or just after seeing the film version. In the case of ‘Little Dorrit’, I read it in 1991 or 1992, about four years after an acclaimed two-part theatrical feature had come out and I wanted to read the novel before checking out that film. I was moved by the novel and the characterization of William Dorrit and his fallen circumstances before seeing Alec Guiness playing him. Derek Jacobi did a very good job of playing Arthur Clennam in that film as well. The same went for ‘The Age of Innocence’. I think I read the novel knowing that Martin Scorsese was working on a film adaptation of it. Those are just two examples.

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              • Two very good examples, bobess48!

                It’s also interesting how movies (obviously) differ from the novels they’re based on. For instance, films inspired by Dickens novels tend to lose some of the sprawl and tapestry of that author’s words.

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        • I’d also love to reread “War and Peace,” Kat Lib, but the time commitment to a book that length scares me. I’m willing to go up to about 800 pages or so these days, but not go well into four figures. 🙂 Too many novels to read to spend so much time on one!

          I was also more impressed by “The House of Mirth” than the also-great “The Age of Innocence.” And Wharton’s “Ethan Frome” is quite powerful, too, in its way.

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    • Thanks for the comment, Bill! I finally read “Slaughterhouse-Five” for the first time a few months ago, and it’s indeed a VERY memorable novel.

      Great that we got to see the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library back in June!

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      • I’m surprised that you haven’t read ‘Slaughterhouse-Five’ before now, Dave. Which ones have you read? FYI – I LOVE ‘Deadeye Dick’ but probably prefer ‘Mother Night’ even to ‘Slaughterhouse…’ also love ‘Cat’s Cradle.’

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        • Yes, I’ve been remiss with Vonnegut. I’ve only read “Slaughterhouse-Five” and that “We Are What We Pretend to Be” collection of his (minor) first and last novellas. I have many Vonnegut works to get to! I guess there’s only so many novels one can read (I finish 50-60 a year), and some great authors fall by the wayside. 😦

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