When Readers Finally Enjoy Their Masterpiece Theater

Oftentimes, we read an author’s best and/or most famous novel before moving on to her or his other works. This can be a personal choice, or the result of assigned reading from our school days — when teachers introduced us to top novels such as Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, Richard Wright’s Native Son, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, etc.

But sometimes we don’t read an author’s best and/or most famous novel first, and the reasons vary. Maybe we want to experience an author chronologically, to see how her or his writing style developed from the first novel on. Or perhaps we want to first read a short book by an author, to sample how we feel about the writer’s prose prowess. Or maybe we want to initially try a book less challenging than the author’s masterpiece. Or perhaps we mostly use the library rather than buy books, so we’re at the mercy of what’s on the shelves at the time.

Whatever the reason, if we end up liking an author before reading her or his top effort, we have an even greater sense of anticipation as we at last start the writer’s most transcendent title.

I thought about all this last week when I finally began Of Human Bondage — widely considered the best of W. Somerset Maugham’s many novels. OHB is always checked out of my local library, I don’t have much of a book-buying budget, and I don’t use a Kindle, so during the past couple of years I instead read the Maugham novels my library did have on its shelves: The Razor’s Edge, The Painted Veil, The Moon and Sixpence, and Cakes and Ale. All excellent books, so I figured if the much longer OHB has an even better reputation, it must be great indeed. And after reading a good chunk of OHB this week, I’m VERY impressed so far.

In other cases, I tried various authors’ shortest or near-shortest novels before deciding whether to tackle their longer iconic works. For instance, the first George Eliot book I read was the 200-something-page Silas Marner, which I loved so much that I quickly polished off much of that author’s longer fiction. Middlemarch is considered her masterpiece — and it is indeed a magnificent accomplishment — but Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss and Daniel Deronda also approach that rarefied level of quality.

I chose Ethan Frome as my first Edith Wharton book because it was a novella, and it packed such an emotional wallop that I quickly moved on to that writer’s two best (and lengthier) works of fiction: The Age of Innocence and The House of Mirth.

Same for Henry James, whose short The Turn of the Screw and Daisy Miller got me interested enough to read that author’s widely acclaimed The Portrait of a Lady and his lesser-known but subtly masterful The Ambassadors. Both are many-paged novels.

While many people read Charles Dickens’ short A Christmas Carol before segueing into his longer and more intricate fiction, I eased into Dickens with the not-hard The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club — which was not only the author’s first novel but has the reputation of being his funniest. It is indeed hilarious.

For which authors did you read the best and/or most famous novel first? For which authors did you take a different reading route — and why?

(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.

66 thoughts on “When Readers Finally Enjoy Their Masterpiece Theater

  1. Of Human Bondage is probably Maughan’s deepest book and, as you note, the one where the one liners pile up. I didn’t read it first cos we have a complete works of, and it’s probably just as well that I liked the crispness of his prose enough, cos I started with the first book in that volume, Liza of Lambeth which was also his first. Steinbeck, it was Eden first. In fact I nearly ignored the shorter books thinking they must be lightweight. Bad me. It is a fascinating topic to explore, also from these authors’ point of view. Did they see the masterpiece they were creating? Or was it just another book to them? If you asked them for their fav, what would it be? Dickens had so many beasts, i find it incredibly difficult to decide which I liked best, and to know what is actually his most famous book. I can think of some authors where their best known isn’t the one I’ve like best. I am minded on what Rebecca said re readers and writers and the world they take writers take you in to, which again, depending on what you are looking for and what you find can affect how you regard a book. Once again what a thought provoking post in a hundred ways.


    • Thank you for the excellent/wide-ranging comment, Shehanne!

      “Of Human Bondage” is definitely Maugham’s masterpiece and, I understand, semi-autobiographical.

      As for Steinbeck, “The Grapes of Wrath” was the first novel of his I read and remains my favorite with “East of Eden” a strong second.

      So many of Dickens’ novels are indeed classics — even somewhat lesser-known ones such as “Dombey and Son.”

      And, yes, there are indeed authors whose best-known novels are not necessarily their best. One example for me would be Sir Walter Scott, whose “The Heart of Midlothian” and “Old Mortality” I found more compelling than “Ivanhoe” and “Rob Roy.”

      “Did they see the masterpiece they were creating? Or was it just another book to them? If you asked them for their fav, what would it be?” — great questions! I think authors more often than not realize they are creating a masterpiece. (I remember reading that Willa Cather asked for a little extra money for that reason when handing in “Death Comes for the Archbishop.”) I also think authors know their favorite books, even if they won’t always publicly reveal it.


  2. Oh “Of Mice and Men ” John Steinbeck`s…so much depth in his heartfelt writings, then was ” Cannery Row “.
    “The Old Man and the Sea” by Ernest Hemingway so glad you read the book.

    Liked by 1 person

    • As you know, bebe, Steinbeck wrote a number of great novels. Exemplifying that is the fact that as wonderful as “Of Mice and Men” and “Cannery Row” are, many feel that two or three of his other books are even better. “The Grapes of Wrath” and “East of Eden,” of course, but I’m also a fan of his “The Winter of Our Discontent.”

      “The Old Man and the Sea” was definitely a compelling read, but of the Hemingway novels I’ve read so far “For Whom the Bell Tolls” is my favorite.

      Thanks for your comment, and for mentioning those three excellent books!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes Dave…what an author Steinbeck was , I have not read East of Eden or the The Winter of Our Discontent, so many classics so little time. Now I am back to David Baldacci`s Memory Man which I set aside half way for GSAW.

        John Grisham`s latest ” Rogue Lawyer” is out , It is only time I get it from the library.

        on a personal note..remember the howling German Shepherd next door, continuing to bark if outside . Another neighbor saw a coyote wandering about there in mid morning, called police but the police would not shoot him, they only can if they pose a threat.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. So many classics Dave…read most of them in my college years..so don`t remember which one I read first.
    Didn`t even remember Of Human Bondage was 700 pages long so glad you`ve read that. The Razor`s Edge was another of my favorite.
    Daphne Du Maurier`s ” The Scapegoat”, “Jamaica Inn “, “Rebecca ” and so many others.

    Oscar Wilde and his “The Picture of Dorian Gray”, used to have the complete set of his classics of course years have gone by and the book walker away.

    Definitely TKAM a classic I read it first by Harper Lee 😆 , then other day GSAW interesting plot which I have described many times.

    “Pride and Predudice” was definitely my first book by Jane Austin. followed by several other ones by her. “Emma” of course your most favorite one.

    Should I mention “Fountainhead ” by Ayn Rand the only one I read ? Now Paul Ryan in on his way to be the speaker.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, bebe, for mentioning all those classics!

      Yes, “Of Human Bondage” is lengthy, but it’s one of those novels I wish were even longer. I’m about halfway through now.

      Daphne du Maurier IS great. In addition to the titles you named, I’m also a fan of her “The House on the Strand” and “My Cousin Rachel.”

      My favorite Jane Austen novel is probably “Persuasion,” but “Pride and Prejudice” is a close second. Hmm…what’s with all those capital P’s? 🙂

      Ah, yes, Paul Ryan is a lover of Ayn Rand’s writing. What a hypocrite Ryan is — wanting enough family time in return for agreeing to become Speaker of the House (a good request) but opposing family leave for the average worker. 😦

      Liked by 1 person

  4. My first Dickens book was ‘Great Expectations’ which was required reading when I was in secondary school, and I loved it. I borrowed whatever Dickens book I could find in the library after that. His writing has definitely had a big influence on me through the years.

    Liked by 1 person

    • “Great Expectations” IS a terrific novel, Jean. One of my favorite Dickens books. I also went on a Dickens reading binge — in college and soon after. I’m still impressed with how 19th-century authors such as Dickens had very coherent plots even as they wrote their novels in serialized form.

      Thanks for your comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Despite being an English major, there were many authors I went all the way to a B.A. without being exposed to, even not reading several iconic British authors (partly because I took the American Novel and Major American Writers classes rather than the English novel classes (shorter novels, in general, less time to read the tomes in a three month quarter–silly reason I know, but I was only 19-21 years old). Of course, English departments, at least in the 70’s, seemed to be oblivious of the literature that the world outside of Britain and U.S. of A. had produced. Therefore, I had to remedy those gaps myself, beginning with ‘Oliver Twist’ while I was still in college. I didn’t read Dickens again until about three years later when I read ‘Great Expectations’. While I liked both of those quite a bit, it wasn’t exactly love at first sight. After I’d read ‘Bleak House’ about two years after that and then did a bit more reading and read more of Dickens throughout the years, primarily reading the novels ‘Dombey & Son’ back up to a re-reading of ‘Great Expectations’ I realized the brilliance of Dickens. I’m not a huge fan of ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ or ‘Hard Times’ although they’re both well worth reading. I had more of an emotional response to ‘Little Dorrit’ than to ‘Bleak House’, totally subjective, and I appreciated ‘Great Expectations’ more the second time around (I began reading it on Feb. 12, 2012 the 200th anniversary of his birth.

    I didn’t read George Eliot until 1993 when I read ‘Middlemarch’. I was reading it during one of the most melodramatically stressful summers of my life and that seemed to enhance the experience. Years later, I read ‘Silas Marner,’ ‘The Mill and the Floss’ and ‘Daniel Deronda’ (last year after re-reading ‘MIddlemarch’). I’ve loved all of them but ‘Middlemarch’ seems to be the most perfect one.

    With some authors, I hardly knew where to begin. Case in point: Balzac. Although he wrote some 90 stories and novels, I’ve probably only read a handful of them, starting with one most people think is his masterpiece, ‘Pere Goriot’. It probably is the most perfect of his creations, but I liked ‘Cousin Bette’ just as much and found much to admire in ‘Quest for the Absolute’ and ‘The Wild Ass’s Skin’.

    Those are just a few examples of how I progress through novels by authors who’ve written multiple books.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for another terrific and wide-ranging comment, Brian! I guess no matter how much we read, there will always be gaps — major works and major authors we didn’t get too for many years or still haven’t gotten to…yet. And it’s true that many high schools and colleges back in the day mostly focused on British and American literature.

      I was very interested to hear about your experiences reading and rereading Dickens. It’s been so many years since I’ve read that iconic author, but my favorites back then included “David Copperfield,” “Great Expectations,” “Dombey and Son,” and “The Pickwick Papers,” among others.

      George Eliot’s work is so great, isn’t it? Her prose, narration, dialogue, character development, psychological insight, etc., are as good as it gets.

      Balzac’s “Pere Goriot” IS tremendous and, as I think we’ve discussed before, I’m also a fan of his “Eugenie Grandet.” But “Pere Goriot” is clearly a more sweeping novel.


  6. Thought provoking as usual Dave, It occurs to me that random choice on the decision of whether to jump into an author’s Magnum Opus or one of his lesser works could not only effect your assessment of the writer but even if you’re to continue reading him. On reflection I believe I’ve been lucky with this , two examples being first James Joyce : I read Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and his magnificent short story collection Dubliners long before I decided to tackle his difficult , brilliant Ulysses. Had I started with the novel not having experienced the myriad pleasures of his writing in the less taxing works I probably would have given up before I fell in love with Molly Bloom and lived through that day in Dublin. Tolstoy on the other hand I did War and Peace along with Anna Karina before eventually reading the short stories and novellas . I’m pretty sure had that been reversed I’d have wondered what the big deal was and perhaps passed up on two of the greatest novels ever penned. Interestingly enough one writer whom I picked wrong was Ms. Eliot, tried and failed at least twice on Middlemarch and forgot about her until a certain writer/blogger whom shall remain nameless prodded me into reading The Mill on the Floss , which I adored 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Donny! Well said, as always!

      Excellent point that the order one reads an author can affect our opinion of the author and even whether we read more of the author. I can think of several writers I’ve read for the first time during the past few years who I didn’t revisit when I found the novel to be so-so. I could be missing out on some great books by those writers.

      Very interesting thoughts on your experiences with Joyce, Tolstoy, and Eliot! You were one of the people who urged me to read Joyce’s “The Dead,” which is absolutely terrific. And your Eliot situation reminds me of how I couldn’t get into Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury” despite two attempts but ended up reading his “Light in August” and thought it was really good.


  7. I believe I encountered this notion in Bud Shulberg’s “What Makes Sammy Run?”, but it’s been decades, so…

    At any rate, a man who would butter up an author figured out a very neat trick: praise the man’s least popular work as his best. I believe this trick is most often played by authors on themselves. Each work is a darling sent out into the world to fend and prosper. Sometimes, maybe most times, it does neither. But it will remain if the owner does not pluck it out, the apple of its creator’s eye, perhaps precisely because it has fared poorly.

    So: who picks which of an author’s works is the masterwork? Readers? Critics? The authors themselves?

    I’d choose readers, were it up to me, but I also know: sometimes the books really are better than the audience of the day, and sometimes their author knows it. Case in point: Stendahl, who wrote, correctly and in several places, that posterity would grant him a readership his contemporaries could not. Perversely, of all his writings, he remained fondest of “On Love”, a loosely-organized scientifical musing on that precious emotion. So far, “On Love” is my least favorite Stendahl. But oh that “Charterhouse!” (BTW, my pick wins.)

    Also, though a bit tangential: When a fellow sets out to build a step-stool, the object he makes should be compared to his intention. In other words, don’t fault him for not building a thirty-foot ladder. Sometimes the masterwork is a small thing, sans grandiosities of any kind, despite the author’s lavish attempts at greatness elsewhere and at other times, which like good intentions, pave the road to a bad place, though the paver thinks all the while he will soon arrive at artistic immortality. After “Gatsby”, the next essential Fitzgerald, I think, is “Babylon Revisited”, a collection of short stories.

    To address the week’s topic directly: read minor James (“The Turn of the Screw”, “The Beast in the Jungle”) first, then attempted “The Wings of the Dove” and “The American Scene”. Could not finish either. I love to read the man by the sentence, but not by the chapter, it turns out. I’ve been told by trustable sorts I took up the wrong long James, so eventually, there’s a Daisy Miller in my future, if not more.

    Read Hammett’s “The Big Knockover” and “The Continental Op” first (each a short story collection) before moving on to his novels. My favorite: Red Harvest, though The Maltese Falcon is wonderful, as is “The Thin Man”. Very good: “The Glass Key”. Unloved: “The Dain Curse.” The short stories were a fine introduction, in this case.

    Hemingway: Read “The Sun Also Rises” after some Nick Adams stories, then on to “A Farewell to Arms”, “For Whom the Bell Tolls”, etc. Those Nick Adams stories really stand up….

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, jhNY! Your wonderfully written comment brings up the very important question of what IS an author’s best work? Sometimes a less-famous work by a writer is more the masterpiece than the one most people think of. (I delved into that a bit in my second Huffington Post book piece, way back in 2011: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dave-astor/a-piece-about-lessfamous-_b_874742.html )

      Henry James in not always an easy read, and his accomplished prose is not “page-turning,” but I do like much of his work a lot. Among the longer novels of his I’ve read, I found “The Portrait of a Lady” to be the most engaging (quite depressing, too).

      As you note in your last paragraph, short stories can also be a really nice way to try authors before moving on to their novels — the good ones and the masterpieces. “For Whom the Bell Tolls” is my favorite Hemingway novel of the ones I’ve read.


      • One of the other great things about this blog and the comments, is that we can trust the literary opinions, and be pretty confident in giving an author a second chance, or branching out to something different. For instance, as OHB was the only work of Maugham that I’d heard a lot about, I figured everything else of his was not even close to being as good. But after the comments here, I know that’s probably wrong. And as per your other comment, “Persuasion” and “Emma” are high up on my list because people here seem to enjoy them just as much, if not more, than P&P. It’s much nicer to have that here, than maybe relying on the opinion of strangers in bookstores, or even friends who have such different reading tastes and experiences.

        Having said that, I have a confession to make. I finished my first Jack Reacher a few days ago, and fail to see what all the fuss is about. I tried really hard to like him, but I just found the story and characters too implausible to enjoy it.

        On the plus side, I have discovered a Russian author that I’ve not read before. I’m about a third of the way through “Crime and Punishment” and finding it completely unputdownable. I’m not sure if you’ve heard of this Dostoyevsky guy, but I’m predicting great things for him 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thanks for your great comment, Susan! I agree that the people who post here have literary opinions one can trust. (Very nice of you to say that.) The vast majority of novels I’ve read after commenters here enthusiastically recommended them have been worthy of that enthusiasm — including “Of Human Bondage,” “The Luminaries,” etc., suggested by a certain person. 🙂

          There are exceptions, of course, to one person always liking what another person likes. Sorry that the Jack Reacher novel didn’t grab you, but we all have different tastes. One DOES have to suspend belief in a Lee Child book; Reacher is practically superhuman! But I do love that series.

          Glad you’re finding “Crime and Punishment” compelling. That iconic novel is as riveting as it gets. “I’m not sure if you’ve heard of this Dostoyevsky guy, but I’m predicting great things for him” — LOL!!!!!


    • It IS, Roz! While “A Tale Of Two Cities” was not the first Dickens novel I read, I think it’s among his best. And possibly no other book ever has a better combination of opening and closing passages.

      Thanks for your comment!


  8. Dave, your essay this week makes me realise that for so many of these great authors, the masterpiece is the only work that I’ve read. Much as I love “Of Human Bondage”, it’s the only Maugham that I’ve read, although comments from you and others have convinced me I need to explore some of his other stories. I’ve only read “Rebecca” from Daphne Du Maurier, and “Pride and Prejudice” from Jane Austen. I’ve read a few Charles Dickens novels, though not any of his more humorous novels.

    I’m not sure if Stephen King has a masterpiece novel, but despite reading about 20 of his novels, I’m yet to read “IT”.

    On the flipside to that, I read, and very much enjoyed “The Cosmic Trilogy” by C.S. Lewis, who is probably better known as the author of the “Narnia” series.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, you certainly read a LOT, Susan. If for some authors you’ve only read one of their books, that one book having been the masterpiece is a good thing! 🙂

      I’m about a third of the way through “Of Human Bondage,” and I can see that it’s Maugham’s best. Of his other novels, the excellent “The Razor’s Edge” might be the deepest. Trying to find the meaning of life and all that.

      As for Jane Austen, I sometimes think I like “Persuasion” more than “Pride and Prejudice.”

      I haven’t read Stephen King’s “It” yet, but want to. Clowns can be scary!!! 🙂 Not among his most prominent novels, but one of King’s most subtly scary — and “literary” — books is “From a Buick 8.” (I realize I might have already mentioned that in some past post.)

      That C.S. Lewis work sounds interesting!


  9. Hi Dave, I thought I posted this comment yesterday, but I must have hit “Cancel” rather than “Post” comment. I’m still not the greatest typist, but I’m a bit better than last week. I’m sure I’ve mentioned that the only English course focused on one author was one on Tolstoy at the University of Texas at Austin in 1970. I can’t remember the exact syllabus for the course, but I think we started with “The Death of Ivan Ilyich,” “Resurrection,” then moving to “Anna Karenina” and “War and Peace.” Interspersed with these works were non-fiction, such as “What is Art,” and “A Confession.” It was a great class, and I think the professor translated some works from Russian to English of works by Dostoevsky. In this case, it probably would have freaked us out if the professor had immediately had us reading “War and Peace.”

    I think the first Charles Dickens I ever read was “Bleak House,” which I’ve said before was a favorite of mine, that made me read “David Copperfield.” Since then, I don’t think I’ve read any other books, though I was very fond of the BBC production of “Little Dorrit.”

    As a great reader of mystery novels, I find that since usually the main folks show a sense of character that you should probably read these series back-to-back to understand what is driving them. It doesn’t much matter what Ms. Agatha’s characters are up to when reading them, nor the time period they are living in.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, Kat Lib! Glad you’re now able to type a little better after your operation!

      Sounds like a very nice progression in that Tolstoy course. I’ve only read his “Anna Karenina” and “War and Peace” myself (on my own, not connected to a class) and I made sure not to read “War and Peace” first. 🙂

      “Bleak House” may be the most “challenging” Dickens novel, so that was brave of you to read that one first.

      And good advice about mystery novels!


      • Dave, I think that “Bleak House” was the first Dickens’ novel we were required to read in high school,and I think I was the only one in my class that actually read the entire book. I think I’m still on a high from getting together with my childhood friends last weekend, who were all so different from each other: a clinical psychologist specializing in vets with PSTD, a jewelry designer, a lawyer for the DOJ, an FBI agent, an artist, a school bus driver, a retired pastor, a retired book school driver, and someone working for a fashion store that is nowhere in my price range. But whatever happened, they were still my friends.!

        Liked by 1 person

        • So not your choice to read “Bleak House” first. 🙂 But very impressive, Kat Lib, that you were the only one in your class to read the whole thing — and in high school no less!

          Wow — such a wide variety of professions your friends entered! While all having the early friendship in common. Wonderful!


  10. I think my fist discovery of a book that was worth reading up to was R. A. Salvatore’s “Dragonslayer’s Return”. I had read seven or eight other books by him and it was a fantastic book compared to the ones that had been written before. On classical authors I must agree that George Elliot was much more refined and skilled when writing “Middlemarch” after writing “Silas Marner”. I also really was amazed at the writing difference that Mark Twain showed while writing “Personal Reflections on Joan of Arc” having read “Tom Sawyer” and “Huck Finn” multiple times over the years.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the excellent comment, GL!

      Seven or eight books is a long run-up to an author’s best work, but delayed gratification can be nice. 🙂

      Yes, it’s hard to imagine something like “Middlemarch” being an author’s first or almost first novel. Too “mature” and sweeping a work. Though George Eliot’s debut novel, “Adam Bede,” was darn good.

      And I agree about Mark Twain! In some ways, his “Joan of Arc” book was the most “mature” novel he wrote (it was his personal favorite) — even though his most-famous works (“Huckleberry Finn,” etc.) were in some ways more groundbreaking, memorable, engaging, and so on.


  11. Dave: I read “Of Human Bondage” in high school and it messed me up theologically and philosophically for several years. I will tell that story in my next book — “Faith and Doubt: Why Unanswered Questions Are Better Than Unquestioned Answers” — due out next summer. The passage that threw me off starts out, “Thinking of Cronshaw, Philip remembered the Persian rug which he had given him, telling him that it offered an answer to his question upon the meaning of life. . .”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Interesting, Bill, because I reached a point in the novel this morning where Philip feels he’s an atheist. There’s definitely a large religious element (pro and con) in the book so far. “Of Human Bondage” is a rather challenging novel for high schoolers (not to mention a LONG novel for high schoolers).

      “Faith and Doubt: Why Unanswered Questions Are Better Than Unquestioned Answers” — GREAT title for a book!


  12. I hope so,too,on short stories being read in high school. A shout out to Mr. Gale, my Hs teacher. He gave me an understanding of interpretation of short stories,how they can be very meaningful,make one want to delve deeper into words,characters. Regardless of how short the story may be,there can be strata, alot of discussion and dissecting. In college, Hemmingway ‘s “Hills Like White Elephants” which led me,albeit it many years later to “Moveable Feast.” Although not classic,more so contemporary,would be Joyce Carol Oates. Started in high school reading an excellent book “Because Its Bitter, Because Its My Heart.” Boxing was a recurring theme,I was hooked,pun intended. In my younger years read many of her novels,she has a substantial catalogue as I’m sure you know. I have “Black Water” based on Ted Kennedy and the infamous bridge in which his passenger died and other books on my shelf. I read Gatsby like so many others but didn’t need or want to read other works. It just stands alone. Kinda like watching Citizen Kane, Welles masterpiece and having no need to watch his other films.
    Speaking of films, wasn’t Of Human Bondage Bette Davis’ first film in the states?

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s so great, Michele, when we have fond memories of our teachers! Mr. Gale sounds like a terrific educator. My favorite literature teacher, in college, was a Dr. Qualls. He was VERY enthusiastic about Charles Dickens and other writers, and helped make his students enthusiastic as well. Of course, the fact that the authors were great didn’t hurt, either. 🙂

      Thanks for your thoughts on Hemingway, Joyce Carol Oates, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. I did read several other Fitzgerald works; my favorite other than “The Great Gatsby” is “Tender Is the Night,” which is uneven but excellent when it’s excellent!

      You may very well be right about Bette Davis and “Of Human Bondage,” but my movie knowledge is only so-so.


  13. I hope high school English classes still introduce students to literature through the short story. I developed the habit of reading short fiction there, especially science fiction. I cannot remember the titles but my introduction to Somerset Maugham came through his short fiction. What struck me was the exotic locations.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I hope so, too, Almost Iowa. And I’m glad you mentioned that the short story can be an excellent gateway to longer fiction and an author’s masterpiece(s). Among the authors I “segued” into via their short stories were Jhumpa Lahiri (with her “Interpreter of Maladies” collection before reading her novels “The Namesake” and “The Lowland”) and Graham Greene.

      Maugham traveled a lot, and lived in various places, and it’s definitely reflected in his fiction — with one example being the English couple in “The Painted Veil” moving to China.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Hi Dave … I’m thrilled that you’re reading “Of Human Bondage”. I love that book so much.

    I absolutely agree with lulabelle: the answer to this one is John Steinbeck. 🙂 I first read “Of Mice and Men” in the early 70s when it was assigned in a college class, and then went on to read “The Grapes of Wrath” on my own. It wasn’t until about 10 years later, after finally watching the movie “East of Eden” that I decided to read that wonderful book. I still want to read “Cannery Row”. It is hard for me to think of Steinbeck as whimsical or downright funny, but everything I’ve read and/or been told about “Cannery Row” suggests exactly that.

    Reading “Washington Square” led me to read “The Turn of the Screw”, two very different works by Henry James.

    Of course, the whole thing can work in reverse, too. My first encounter with William Faulkner was “As I Lay Dying”, and I’ve pretty much avoided Faulkner ever since. I do not recommend that book as a starter. I might thoroughly enjoy it at this stage of my life, and I’ve actually thought about giving it another shot, but reading that book in my very early 20s just left me shaking my head in confusion.
    “The Great Gatsby” created a reverse effect, as well. By the time I had read that last line, I knew for a fact this was going to be one of my most beloved books for the rest of my life, and I was 19 at the time. I did try to read “Tender is the Night” but I couldn’t get into it. This is going to sound utterly silly, but it was almost as if reading anything else by F. Scott Fitzgerald constituted disloyalty to “The Great Gatsby”. Of course, I don’t think that way now because, fortunately or unfortunately, I’m no longer a hopeless romantic. These days it’s simply a matter of not having the time, or the quiet, to just get lost in a book. I definitely need to read more; just as reading is a habit, not reading can become one, also. I don’t ever want that to happen — that would be quite awful.

    Have a great week, Dave 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • I agree about “Of Human Bondage,” Pat! So absorbing, and sprinkled with great lines. I just read this one (after Philip decides he’s an atheist): “From old habit, unconsciously he thanked God that he no longer believed in Him.” How good is that? 🙂 As much as I love Maugham’s other work, this is definitely his deepest novel. Perhaps partly because there are some autobiographical elements in it.

      Interesting Steinbeck progression for you! That author is indeed hugely entertaining in “Cannery Row” — and in its sequel “Sweet Thursday,” and in “Tortilla Flat.” I think one of the dog scenes in “Tortilla Flat” is among the funniest things I’ve ever read in a novel.

      “Washington Square” is an excellent short Henry James novel!

      Faulkner is certainly not an easy author at times, though I haven’t read enough of him to have much expertise. I did like the fairly straightforward “Light in August” a LOT.

      Loved your interesting/philosophical/sobering thoughts about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s work.

      Have a great week, too — and thanks for the wide-ranging comment!


        • LOL, lulabelle! 🙂 I’d be happy to help if I had a copy of that novel, but I read it via the library. Also, I had no luck with Amazon’s “Look Inside” tool when I just tried it. All I’m remembering are five dogs having a hilariously solemn “meeting” with their person.

          Liked by 1 person

          • I guess I didn’t get that far or I would remember THAT, for sure! All I remember is them staying drunk, stealing chickens, romancing some man’s wife and accidentally burning down a house.

            Liked by 1 person

                • That was probably me. I do recall that part from TF. Danny, Pablo, Pirate, and Pilon planned on attending a service at Father Ramon’s church. Pirate wanted the dogs to attend the service, but his friends wouldn’t allow it; Pablo felt that allowing dogs into the church would be a sacrilege. Pirate was upset, but he relented. The dogs were upset too because they began to howl and bark when the guys left the house to go to the church.

                  The dogs eventually broke out the house, ran to the church, broke through the door, and interrupted the sermon. Father Ramon was a good-natured guy and told Pirate to take the dogs outside until service was over.

                  Father Ramon told stories about man’s admirable relationships with dogs. He did not want Pirate to be ashamed/embarrassed about his dogs’ actions in the church. After service, Pirate gathered his dogs into the woods and arranged them in seating positions. He would not allow the dogs to lie down, wag their tails, bark, etc. The way the dogs were assembled and the authoritative way Pirate spoke to the dogs, it looked like he was trying to replicate a church service. Pirate told them stories of St. Francis and repeated everything from Father Ramon’s service.

                  After Pirate’s sermon, he believed the dogs experienced some kind of spiritual moment. The wind made the trees rustle more than usual, sunlight moved erratically around the woods, so Pirate took that to mean that his dogs saw a “vision.”

                  Liked by 1 person

                    • Steinbeck was never shy about working biblical references into his writing. East of Eden is a perfect example.

                      The dog scene from Tortilla Flat seems to reference the story of Noah’s Ark, where the animals were humanised and treated as man by being rescued from the flood waters.

                      Was Steinbeck attempting to do the same (humanising) with Pirate’s dogs? Who knows. But the way Pirate recreated a church service using his own dogs as parishioners sort of reminded me of the Noah story.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Very true about Steinbeck and religion, Ana. I don’t think he was that religious himself, but he definitely included faith-related content in some of his novels.

                      And thanks for your eloquent “Tortilla Flat” thoughts. I think you have something there. 🙂


                • I do know how you feel about dogs, lulabelle — your own, and the many other dogs you help with your tireless rescue work.

                  If you do search for that “Tortilla Flat” scene, I hope you find it quickly! (I built the scene up so much that it might not quite live up to the hype… 🙂 )


  15. Well, I’m obviously going to talk about John Steinbeck. I have yet to read his masterpiece(s) “The Grapes of Wrath” and “East of Eden”. I read the short story “Flight” in high school and that depressing read warned me off of Steinbeck forever. Then, in desperation for something to read, I read “Of Mice and Men” at a heartbreaking time of my life, and that warned me off Steinbeck again. It took my oldest brother and YOU, Dave Astor, to get me to try Steinbeck again. I read “Cannery Row” and “Sweet Thursday” back to back and ADORED the fact that Steinbeck could be so whimsical and funny, a fact that I did not know. I do plan to eventually read the literature for which he is famous.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your really interesting comment, lulabelle. As you note, there is definitely a serious Steinbeck and a whimsical Steinbeck, which makes him a wider-ranging author than some readers and critics give him credit for.

      I first read “The Grapes of Wrath” as a teen, and I think it really increased my awareness of social injustice (in addition to being a riveting read). I didn’t get to “East of Eden” until three or so years ago, and found it to be a compelling multi-generational epic. Partly autobiographical, too, with a cameo appearance by Steinbeck himself!

      Liked by 1 person

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