Authors Who Save Their Best (Or Their Near Best) for Last

Late-career novels! They can be tired, not that original, or other negative things — even if they’re written by great authors. There are only so many ideas in novelists’ brains, and their energy might flag as they grow older.

Yet, over the centuries, some authors have penned exceptional books decades after their debut novels were published — after spending many years honing their craft and gaining (frequently bitter) life experience. In some cases, those books may have taken longer to write than those authors’ earlier efforts, but they were worth the wait.

I thought about this last week while reading the novella Hadji Murat, which Leo Tolstoy started in 1896 and finished in 1904 (when in his mid-70s) before it was released posthumously in 1912. (Tolstoy’s best-known works — War and Peace and Anna Karenina — were published much earlier, in 1867 and 1877, respectively.) Hadji Murat, about a brave and adept Chechen rebel, is a gripping piece of fiction — with the added bonus of a scathingly satirical look at the loathsome Tsar Nicholas I, who appears in one chapter.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s final work was none other than his amazing The Brothers Karamazov, published in 1880 — the year before Dostoyevsky died at age 59. Many literature lovers debate whether Karamazov or 1866’s Crime and Punishment were better (I prefer the latter), but they’re both masterpieces. Dostoyevsky’s first novel came out in 1846.

Herman Melville’s first novel, Typee, also appeared in 1846. Forty-two years later — when Melville was in his late 60s and hadn’t authored a book for many years — he began the riveting Billy Budd that ended up being published posthumously.

Many novelists with successful late-career books come out with fewer fictional works in their later years for a variety of reasons — other things to do, the aforementioned fewer ideas and lower energy levels, etc. In Melville’s case, he had fallen into obscurity after poor sales and negative critical reaction to works such as Moby-Dick and Pierre.

I’m not sure why George Eliot wrote fewer novels after a rapid burst at the start of her fiction-writing career, but the last two — Middlemarch and Daniel Deronda in the 1870s — are incredible. Maybe it had to take several years to create such long, rich works.

But Henry James annually churned out three admired, complex novels in 1902 (The Wings of the Dove), 1903 (The Ambassadors), and 1904 (The Golden Bowl) in the latter part of a fiction-writing career that began in the 1860s.

Also at the start of the 20th century, we have a young Colette bursting onto the literary scene with 1900’s Claudine at School. But perhaps her best-known work is 1944’s Gigi — published when the author was in her early 70s.

Agatha Christie, whose first novel was published in 1920, continued to churn out mysteries into the 1960s and 1970s. They might not have been her best work, but were still considered quite good.

John Steinbeck’s debut novel Cup of Gold came out in 1929. His last full-length fiction book — 1961’s The Winter of Our Discontent — was a very solid effort.

Margaret Atwood, whose first novel The Edible Woman arrived in 1969, was still writing with the best of them in her mid-70s when the excellent third-in-a-trilogy MaddAddam appeared in 2013.

Toni Morrison recently wrote two well-reviewed novels — Home and God Help the Child — in her 80s. Her first novel appeared back in 1970.

And going way back, Voltaire was in his mid-60s with a large canon of writing when his masterpiece Candide came out in 1759.

Late-career duds or near-duds? There are many, but I’ll name just three: Willa Cather’s Sapphira and the Slave Girl, Erich Maria Remarque’s Shadows in Paradise, and Jack Finney’s From Time to Time.

Your favorite late-career novels? Any misfires you’d like to mention that were published near the end of authors’ lives? (And for those of you who are rooting against the New England Patriots in tonight’s Super Bowl, the still-great-at-40 quarterback Tom Brady will be late in his career one of these decades…  🙂  )

My 2017 literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com. The latest weekly piece — my 700th! — is here.

88 thoughts on “Authors Who Save Their Best (Or Their Near Best) for Last

  1. Dave, this column was very interesting and thought-provoking, as all of them are, but especially this one. For one thing, it got me to spend a few hours last night to put together an Excel spreadsheet with books to be read, by category, and dates when I started them and completed them — I still have a lot to fill in the blanks as to what I want to put on my list. I’ve been thinking that I miss the discipline of a syllabus that I used to have in college, or even high school, because my reading the past year or so has been so erratic. Mixed in with that is playing the piano, as well as adult coloring to relieve stress. So my categories are: Children’s/YA, Modern Fiction, Mystery/Thrillers, Science Fiction, Non-Fiction, Classics, Comics/Comedy, and Poetry/Plays. I think that covers most that I’d be interested in, or especially those I already have in my home, because I don’t want to have an outlay of a lot of cash when I have a great number of books already in my home. I hope this doesn’t sound too bizarre, but I’m trying to find a way to get back into the flow of reading just about every day!

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    • Thank you for the kind words, Kat Lib, and very glad you liked the column!

      Sounds like you worked very hard on that Excel spreadsheet. Any method a person uses to try to read more amid a busy life is fine by me! In my case, I usually take out four or five novels a month from my local library, and use the due date as a spur to try to read all four or five. Sometimes I have to renew one or two… 🙂

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  2. I will mention him and his book, because you have not, though, I can see how I am, once again gettin’ tangential on ya:

    Lampedusa’s The Leopard, was written late in the author’s life. He did not live to see it in print.

    But it’s also the only novel he ever wrote, so it cannot suffer comparison to anything else in the Lampedusa ouevre, which is slim indeed– a few scenes unexpanded, a couple of short stories and an essay or two, and that’s all, folks.

    Amazing that The Leopard has often been named the most important written in Italy in the 20th century, by those who make such pronouncements.

    I hardly know enough Italian 20th literature to comment, but Elsa Morante’s History: A Novel, written also late in life, seems to me to be a formidable challenger to the title.

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    • Great mentions of “The Leopard” and “History,” jhNY! I read both in recent years on your recommendation (I think another person suggested “History” as well) and they are both magnificent/exquisitely written novels filled with pathos.

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  3. Hi Dave — I have seen references here so many times, in posts and comments, to “The Brothers Karamazov”. I am so curious to read it. There was a time — when brain cells were proliferate — when I would have welcomed a complex read. However, I now must ask: is this book interesting in a way that one can get into it fairly easily, or is it — well — intellectually challenging? Once upon a time, I read “The Gulag Archipelago” and did so with a considerable degree of comprehension. I’m pretty sure if I tried to read that book again at this point in the game, my brain would bleed. Just sayin’. 😉 I would be genuinely interested in your perspective, and those of the dear readers herein who also appreciate “The Brothers Karamazov” as well as “Crime and Punishment”. Thanks, Dave!

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    • Howdy, PatD!

      — I would be genuinely interested in your perspective, and those of the dear readers herein who also appreciate “The Brothers Karamazov” as well as “Crime and Punishment” —

      As a member of the DAOLiterati who has Fyodor Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment” on my Top 10 List of All-Time Favorite Novels and his “The Brothers Karamazov” on my Top 10 List of Novels to Consume After I Devour the Six Bookcase-Feet of Volumes Now on My Shelves, I believe the author is a masterly storyteller whose work generally avoids the experiments in expression typified (happily) by James Joyce in “Ulysses” and (unhappily) by Joyce in “Finnegans Wake.” Accordingly, I anticipate the degree of difficulty in my comprehension of “The Brothers Karamazov” will be comparable to my comprehension of a number of Dostoevsky’s also-terrific short novels, such as “Notes From the Underground,” “The Double” and “The Eternal Husband,” which I would describe as negligible.

      Because of my slovenly pronunciation of Slavic names, I expect the only real issue I will have in reading “The Brothers Karamazov” will center on them, so, every time I come across one, I may mentally substitute “Alex” for “Alexey Fyodorovitch Karamazov,” “Ted” for “Fyodor Pavlovitch Karamazov” and “Addie” for “Adelaida Ivanovna Miusov.” (And to hell with all those umlauts!)

      J.J. McGrath (Alias MugRuith1)

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      • Hey PatD! My perspective may be a bit skewed since reading Russian is kind of what I do, but I consider Dostoevsky (like Solzhenitsyn) to be a pretty easy read. His books tend to be long, especially The Brothers K, and absolutely packed with dramatic, soap-opera style events AND philosophical musings on the nature of good and evil, but they are not structurally or stylistically experimental in the style of slightly earlier or later authors. They’re 19th-century Russian Realist (more or less) novels, so they will have Russian names and a Russian cultural context, not to mention some long paragraphs, but for the most part he isn’t trying to trick you or shock you with the difficulty of his prose. He has a message and he wants the reader to get it. I think “Notes from Underground,” which is much shorter, is actually harder to read, but even that is relatively accessible compared to a lot of early 20th-century prose works.

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        • Thank you, Elena! You make “The Brothers Karamazov” sound absolutely fascinating. I certainly don’t mind long paragraphs, or long books, if the story is absorbing and basically relatable. I have no idea when, or if, I’ll get around to reading this book but, based on the responses to my question, it’s now prominently on my list.

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    • Thank you for the comment, Pat! I really enjoyed the way you wrote it, and I hear you — it can be daunting to dive into some classics, especially as we get older.

      “The Brothers Karamazov” IS a challenging/intellectual novel in a number of ways. Long (about 800 pages), philosophical, psychologically complex. But, while there are some parts on the boring side, there are many more parts that are riveting and even entertaining. (Dostoyevsky can be really funny when he wants to be.) Ultimately very satisfying to read, but I can totally understand if people want to avoid it.

      I’m not sure if you’re saying near the end of your comment that you also haven’t read “Crime and Punishment.” If not, I highly recommend it. It’s a somewhat shorter/more accessible Dostoyevsky novel, though of course still very deep. Not a dull moment. One of my five favorite novels ever, while “The Brothers Karamazov” is more a top-20 favorite. But the devil scene in “TBK” is among the best scenes ever written. 🙂

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      • Thank you, J.J., for your great and entertaining perspective on Dostoyevsky! Yes, though that author can be challenging, he is almost always VERY readable. Never nearly incomprehensible like “Finnegans Wake” (from what I’ve heard) and Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury” (from my trying to read it).

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        • I appreciate your expert thoughts on Dostoyevsky, Elena! I’m glad you emphasized how readable he is, even as his wonderful writing is the very opposite of simple. Long novels like “The Brothers Karamazov” can be challenging for their length alone even while they’re also page-turners — just a lot more pages to turn. 🙂 Except for its daunting length, “War and Peace” is very readable, too, as you know.

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          • Yes, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky’s work can seem intimidating because of the length and the Russian names, but their great novels are absolutely cracking reads. You just have to be willing to turn a lot of pages, as you said, Dave! Americans tend to think of “the Russians” as somehow being unusually challenging, but I don’t think they’re that much harder than English family novels. They can be pretty racy though 🙂

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            • VERY well said, Elena!

              Yes, those Russian names/nicknames can also be a bit intimidating to the non-Russian eye and ear, but well worth slogging through — as was also the case with the confusing Spanish names/nicknames in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s amazing “One Hundred Years of Solitude.”

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      • — [T]he devil scene in “TBK” is among the best scenes ever written. —

        I look forward to it. (If I were writing it, then I would have Satan torture some poor soul by forcing him or her to attempt reading “Finnegans Wake.”)

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          • Well, while this very erudite conversation about Dostoevsky has been going on, I was looking at Pogo (Volume 3) which has been released as the next book for me to buy with my upcoming gift card, so I’m wondering if I will be kicked off this blog! 🙂 Ha! But I do know I have very eclectic tastes when it comes to most everything, whether books, artwork, music, etc.

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              • I’ve enjoyed reading comments by you, J.J. and jhNY, but I wanted to add that Volume 3 encompasses the McCarthy years of 1953-1954, in which Kelly introduced the character of Simple J. Malarkey. An amusing comment on the B&N overview notes that: “The subject was sensitive enough that by the following year a Providence, Rhode Island newspaper threatened to drop the strip if Malarkey’s face were to appear in it again. Kelly’s response? He had Malarkey appear again but put a bag over the character’s head for his next appearance.” How great is that!

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                • Love that bag-over-the-head “solution”!

                  It definitely took guts for Walt Kelly to criticize McCarthy back then, but McCarthy sure deserved to be criticized. 😦

                  Unfortunately, then and now, some newspapers are way too timid about running so-called “controversial” comics.

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                  • I suppose I’ve never quite recovered from the end of “Calvin and Hobbes,” though I have all the books published with the comics. My latest thing is having contributed to the World Wildlife Fund to get a tiger grocery bag tote, as well as a plush tiger, which will be a gift for my new dog Lilyan and called Hobbes.

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                    • Kat Lib, I greatly miss seeing new “Calvin and Hobbes” comics, too.

                      That’s a nice “tribute” to Bill Watterson’s cartoon character you described! Watterson never allowed licensing of his comic himself, but a different-looking plush tiger can definitely be called Hobbes! 🙂

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                    • I just reread this and realized that I said World Wide Fund, not the proper World Wildlife Fund. I’m beginning to think Trump’s poor language skills are starting to rub off on me!

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      • Hey Dave! — Wow, I really appreciate the feedback from everyone. Thank you all so much! Dave, I haven’t read “Crime and Punishment”, although I vaguely recall trying to do so when I was in my early 20s. I think that may have been one that didn’t make it past the third chapter, lol! Some books require life experience to really appreciate. Maybe I tried to read it at the wrong time in my life. From the comments here, I think “The Brothers Karamazov” is probably a book I would enjoy, especially if it has a sense of humor, which you indicate is the case. It’s worth a shot, anyway. If I ever get around to it, I will be happy to share my experience. 🙂

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        • I agree, Pat — great/generous/interesting/fascinating feedback from everyone!

          You’re right that some novels are better read when we have more life experience. That helps explain why I liked “Moby-Dick” and “The Scarlet Letter” a lot better when I read them the second time, two or three decades after the first time. 🙂

          Definitely let us know what you think of “The Brothers Karamazov,” if you read it!

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    • Hi Pat,

      I’m not sure if this will add to what has already been said, but you said Dostoevsky, so I felt compelled to comment 🙂

      I’m one of the few people here who really struggled with Tolstoy. There’s something about his style that just zones me out. And that’s a lot of pages to be zoned out by! So I went into “Crime and Punishment” with some reluctance. And I’ll admit it took a few goes to get into. The names were confusing, and like with Tolstoy, I just started zoning out. But when I zoned back in, I really liked what was happening, so one day, I went and bought a coffee, and took my book to the beach and started again and forced myself to just really focus for an hour or two. Well, I was hooked! Best Book Ever! And I do EXACTLY what J.J. does with the names. My eyes see a 28 letter name, or the just as long nickname version, but my brain reads Alex. And once I got into that rhythm, it was easy to forget that I was reading this big, daunting, Russian classic.

      The amount of reluctance that I’d had at the start of “C&P” was the same amount of excitement that I took into “The Brothers Karamazov”. It’s been great reading Dave’s blog this week as I didn’t realise that the two novels bookended Dostoevsky’s career. I don’t think “TBK” has the brilliance of “C&P” (though that could be because I went in with such expectation), but Fyodor did seem to have a lot more fun with the latter.

      I’d love to know what you think if you do give “C&P” or “TBK” a go 🙂

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      • Dave, could you please change the first sentence in my second paragraph to ‘one of the few people’? The way it currently reads suggests that we all struggled with Tolstoy which is not fair to Leo, and clearly not true. Thanks!

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        • Changed!

          Thanks, Sue, for the great comment — interesting and enjoyable. (“And that’s a lot of pages to be zoned out by” — ha! 🙂 ) As we’ve discussed, I’m more a fan of Dostoyevsky but like Tolstoy a lot, too — and the latter’s shorter fiction is often wonderful. And I was struck by your line about Dostoyevsky having more fun with “The Brothers Karamazov” than with “Crime and Punishment.” So true! “TBK” has some incredibly entertaining moments as it focuses on its rogues and smaller number of admirable characters.

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      • Thank you, Sue. Your description of how you finally got into that book reminded me of something: when I was in 9th grade, I noticed our school library had bookshelves designated for specific grade levels. I was almost clinically shy — if there had been such a thing back then — but also quietly rebellious (growing up in a dysfunctional Southern family can do that) :-). Anyway, I went straight to the 12th grade level books, which were, of course, challenging. I devised a system of making myself read — really read with concentrated focus — the first three chapters of the book, no matter how cumbersome/boring/intimidating. If I wasn’t interested by the end of the 3rd chapter, I returned the book and found something else. Most of the time, however, I became involved in the story and read the whole book. There are often wonderful things ahead if you can just push through those first few chapters, aren’t there? I taught this to my kids from the time they started reading; it worked for them, too. Thanks again, Sue. I found your comment really helpful. 🙂

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        • Hey Pat! I remember having reading classes in 7th or 8th grade junior high school, and our teacher asked us who our favorite authors were. I had read “Gone With the Wind ” over the summer, as well as spending most of my time swimming competitively and doing water ballet (synchronized swimming). My teacher replied that Mitchell had written only one book, so therefore she didn’t count. This was similar to a 9th grade teacher who berated me for having bought a Mary Stewart romantic suspense novel when the library truck came around. These were both embarrassments to me, but fortunately I got over them (but perhaps not, as I’m still talking about them) .

          Dave, this is aimed at you as well, but I did have a teacher who said that she didn’t care what I read, as long as I read something! I think that was the best advice I ever got when it came to reading! I’ve read classics and serious non-fiction and memoirs, and while not all have enriched my life, many have!

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  4. One more example are the novels of Jane Austen. Although I love them all, it’s interesting to note that her two last books, published posthumously, were her worst (“Northanger Abbey” and best “Persuasion,” at least in my estimation. I think you’ll agree with me on those, because I’m pretty sure we’ve had this conversation before!

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    • Also a huge Austen fan here, and I totally agree that “Northanger Abbey” is her weakest and “Persuasion” probably her strongest. I believe NA was actually the first novel she wrote (along with “Lady Susan”) but it was not published until after her death. Persuasion was in fact the last novel she managed to complete and it really shows how her talent was maturing. I have a theory that novelists don’t normally start to get good at all until the mid 30s at the earliest and often only really hit their stride in their 40s and 50s.

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      • I agree with you both, Kat Lib and Elena, about “Northanger Abbey” being the weakest Jane Austen novel and “Persuasion” the strongest (with “Pride and Prejudice” a fairly close second). We did have this discussion before, Kat Lib — 🙂 — and I also agree that all six Austen novels are great or nearly great.

        Elena, I think you’re right that most novelists don’t write their best work until their 30s or older, but of course there are always some wunderkind exceptions — Mary Shelley, Carson McCullers, Donna Tartt, and Zadie Smith, to name just four.

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        • Dave, I agree with you completely. My timeline was going completely by the publication date, so my ranking still stands based on that. But there is nothing to say to me that any one book is innately superior to any other. In fact, it is the excellence of all of the novels that makes them stand out so far from anything else written at the time. I remember getting into a discussion with my best friend’s brother way back when, he had written a thesis or graduate paper on why “Emma” was the best Austen book of all — at the same time he was getting his M.D. from Harvard. He was quite the over-achiever, and ended up being one of the most renown dermatologists, especially when it came to skin cancer. But as he was like another brother to me, I never felt that he was superior to me, especially when it came to Jane Austen!

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          • Makes sense to go by the publication date, Kat Lib! And, yes, everyone has their Austen favorites — though I imagine few choose “Northanger Abbey” as the best unless they’re really into the satirizing of 18th-century Gothic fiction. 🙂

            I agree that, for her time, the great Austen was probably as good as it got when it came to novels. The very different writer Sir Walter Scott had switched from poetry to novels while Austen was still alive, but Austen was better. And many of the 18th-century icons (Voltaire, Swift, Fielding, Defoe, etc.) were gone by then. Fanny Burney was still alive during Austen’s time, but had done her best fiction work before 1800.

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  5. I might pitch U.S. Grant’s memoirs as food for thought here. He wrote them as he was dying of cancer and as a means to provide for his widow and family after he was gone. He died about a week after finishing them. They are amazing. I haven’t made it through all of them yet (it’s two long volumes) but it is amazing that he refused to write his memoirs all those years because he wasn’t seeking glory from the war. Then, when he finally did it, it wasn’t for glory or honor, and they are some of the finest memoirs from a general.

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    • I like that pitch, M.B.! Heck, some memoirs are as compelling as excellent novels.

      I’ve always wanted to read Grant’s memoirs, but have been a bit intimidated by the length. Glad you haven’t been! I’ve heard that Mark Twain helped Grant with the memoirs, though I forget what form that help took.

      Sounds like Grant was a really decent sort of person in terms of not wanting to seek glory from his hugely major role in America’s Civil War. A somewhat ineffectual president, according to historians, but certainly a great general.

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      • Mark Twain did assist with the memoirs, in publication and encouraging Grant to undertake them in the first place. Some historical sources suggest that Twain might have ghost written some of it, but I’m not sure I buy that. Grant is actually one of my favorite persons in history. If you ever want to learn more (and read only one big volume instead of two) I would check out the new book “Grant” by Ron Chernow, the same guy who wrote the book that the musical “Hamilton” is based off. This book is an excellent look at the man that was Grant!

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        • Thanks for that Grant-Twain information, M.B.! I think I read a Grant biography years ago; it sounds like the newer Chernow one is much better. A favorite novel of mine — Darryl Brock’s page-turner “If I Never Back” — includes a cameo by Grant. 🙂

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        • M.B., Thanks for the good words about “Grant” by Ron Chernow. I’ll try to put it on my to-be-read shelves the next time I get a Gift Card from Barnes & Noble. I almost did after seeing it when it appeared on their website. But perhaps I’ll try to find it at the library. I’m under strict instructions (actually just nice suggestions) to winnow down my collections of books, CDs and DVDs (ha! — as if anyone can tell me what to buy or keep!). 🙂 But I do realize that my home is on overload with such things, and I do need to get some of them to the Senior Center or Goodwill.

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          • I hope you can get your hands on a copy because it really is very good. The library should definitely have it (unless it’s checked out!) I know what you mean, I should probably reign it in a little with books too. My bookshelves are taking over the entire apartment and my collection is only growing! Your local library is also a great place to donate books and CDs, if you do decide you want to shed some.

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            • Yes, I’ll keep that in mind about donating to the library, not just books but DVDs as well. Bill just was able to rent the new Vietnam series there, surprisingly enough, and thought it well done. I, on the other hand, had to buy a complete series of “China Beach” as my special treat, mainly because I loved it when it first appeared, and my best friend works with counseling vets, but many of those who served in Vietnam, which I found astounding, though I don’t know why.

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      • President Grant’s stalwart upholding of rights for Black Americans has been undervalued, and his association, however tenuous, with those actually busy with self-dealing and corruption during his administration, have been, for most of the time since, over-emphasized, I think.

        Also– Twain’s contributions to the autobiography, whatever they were, have likewise been depicted as large or small depending on who was championing who.

        Twain was its publisher and made a fortune on the autobiography– and it nearly ruined him. He was inspired to publish more of such works, and most of them lost him money, if I remember right.

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        • jhNY, nice to hear that Grant was not the racist so many other white men were back then. And, from what I’ve heard, you’re right that Grant was not corrupt himself despite the corruption in his administration.

          Also, thanks for the Mark Twain information! Twain seemed adept at both making money and losing money. He certainly sank a huge amount into his gorgeous home in Hartford, Conn., and, in addition to his publishing losses, he lost a ton of $$ investing in a printing press that didn’t pan out. As you know, it took a years-long world lecture tour to put Twain and his family in better financial shape again.

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  6. A side comment here, Dave. If you write more than one book, as I have, you open yourself up to people who are not shy about telling you why they liked your latest one over a previous one. Not sure why they think authors find such comparisons helpful.

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    • Thank you, Bill! Yes, that’s awkward. Given that the books we write are sort of like our children in a way, that’s akin to someone saying they prefer a younger sibling over an older one. But I suppose, getting back to books, that it would be worse if someone liked the previous one more than the newer one — implying the author was going downhill!

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  7. Thanks for mentioning Hadji Murat! It doesn’t get enough attention.

    I don’t know if this counts as exactly late career, but Tolkien was not at all young when The Lord if the Rings was published, and GRRM had been writing for quite a while when ASOIF hit the big time. Dick Francis started writing mystery novels once he could no longer race, and his best novels in my opinion were written when he was in his 60s and 70s.

    Back to the Russian stuff, Anna Akhmatova produced the complex cycle Requiem, about her experience with Stalinist era repression and her son’s arrest, quite late in her life, after she’d been publishing for decades, and Vladimir Makanin, who recently passed away, produced a couple of excellent pieces, unfortunately not yet translated into English, about the Chechen wars right st the end of his career. Something that has been translated into English is Monumental Propaganda by Vladimir Voinovich, also written quite late in his career and highly recommended if you want a hilariously dark look at the late Soviet and post Soviet period.

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    • You’re welcome, Elena! And thanks for the interesting comment!

      Very true that “Hadji Murat” doesn’t get enough attention. Compelling historical fiction that still resonates today on many levels, including having a (mostly sympathetic) Muslim protagonist.

      You’re right that “The Lord of the Rings” was published relatively late in Tolkien’s life, in the 1950s. I guess he was in his 60s, though he had worked on “TLOTR” for many years and “The Hobbit” had come out in the 1930s.

      I still have Dick Francis on my to-read list. 🙂

      And thank you for your last paragraph, which definitely reminds me/inspires me to widen my reading of Russian literature!

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      • “Monumental Propaganda” is a complete hoot and I recommend it to everyone, although it probably only makes sense if you’re familiar with Soviet/Russian history and with Solzhenitsyn, with whom Voinovich had a long-running frenemy sort of feud. Interestingly it features a female protagonist who was a war hero from WWII and then an important political actor. This tends to come as a shock to my American students who are not used to encountering female war heroes and political leaders just thrown into their fiction just as characters and not specifically as girl power figures.

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        • That book DOES sound great! (Love the title, too!) Excellent description/summary of it. Having a female war heroine is indeed unusual, and a major plus. Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels, to their credit, do have some secondary characters of women who served bravely in the military.

          I have some knowledge of Soviet/Russian history from reading and from my one visit there, so that might help. 🙂 I was in St. Petersburg (then Leningrad), Moscow, and Tbilisi way back in 1982.

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      • I think Tolkien’s late book was The Silmarillion, a tome of esoteric density and detail, which describes the early world of Middle Earth in the mythic ages before the mythic time of The Lord of the Rings. It was actually written, most of it, earlier than TLOTR, but was not published until after his death, with some expansions inserted by his son, out of other of his father’s writings.

        I received it as a gift the year it came out, but I was in my mid-twenties by then, and could not bring myself to pore over such complicated fantasy. After all, I’d yet to read Ulysses! (and even now, I have yet to read it all…)

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  8. I’d nominate Sick Heart River by John Buchan. It was his last novel and actually published posthumously. It’s nothing like The Thirty-Nine Steps or his other adventure stories although of course he wrote a great many other books: historical fiction, biography, short stories, poetry, history. Sick Heart River has an elegiac quality that seems fitting for a writer nearing the end of his life. It is set in Canada where he was living at the time whilst serving as Governor-General. It is my favourite of his works along with Mr Standfast, written twenty years or so earlier.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, whatcathyreadnext! VERY well said.

      I’ve never read John Buchan (though I’ve seen Hitchcock’s memorable movie version of “The Thirty-Nine Steps”), but will give him a try! “Sick Heart River” sounds excellent and moving.

      Like

  9. Dave, I’ll go with Dorothy L. Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey novels. I think that they kept getting better and better every book. When the series started with “Whose Body,” Lord Peter was more of a Bertie Wooster type character, although much smarter, and he had his Jeeves in Bunter. As time went on, starting with “Strong Poison,” and the first appearance of Harriet Vane, the series got stronger and stronger (so to speak), with “Have His Carcase,” and my personal favorite “Gaudy Night.” Interspersed in the Harriet Vane novels was one that was very enjoyable, about Wimsey going incognito as working in an advertising agency (something Sayers herself used to be part of), “Murder Must Advertise,” and finally “Busman’s Honeymoon,” which to me was notable for I think the first time that Wimsey actually showed remorse for sending a murderer to the gallows and how it affected him.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Excellent example, Kat Lib!

      When it comes to Dorothy L. Sayers, I’ve read only “Strong Poison” and “Gaudy Night.” Both great books, but I could see that the later “Gaudy Night” was a more “mature” work.

      Nice wordplay with “Strong” and “stronger.” 🙂

      Like

      • Continuing on to my mystery writer theme, one of my other favorite authors was Josephine Tey (pseudonym of Elizabeth MacKintosh), who wrote back in the 30’s, 40’s and early 50’s. She had a Scotland Yard Detective, Alan Grant, for some of her mystery novels, but also had standalones, such as “Miss Pym Disposes,” and “Brat Farrar” that were both well-done. However, the book she will probably be most known for is “The Daughter of Time,” published in 1951, which does feature Alan Grant prominently, in which he tries to “solve the case” of the two princes in the Tower, supposedly killed by Richard III. It was voted greatest mystery novel of all time by the Crime Writers’ Association in 1990. I love this book so much, perhaps partly because of my love of history.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thanks, Kat Lib! “The Daughter of Time” voted greatest mystery novel ever? Talk about high praise! Will try to read that book in the not-too-distant future. Nice that it comes with a history angle.

          Like

          • So, the Eagles just won he Super Bowl! Not that I care much about football these days, but I do have to say that the city seems so much happier than it was two weeks ago. I can even hear fireworks going off now. So, I’ll take whatever it is that makes people happier these days, even if it’s a football game, as opposed to the very sad state of affairs that Trump has left us in. He’s probably working right now about how he can take credit — though we know he’s a Tom Brady fan.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Yes, a 41-33 win. As you know, Philadelphia teams don’t win a lot of championships in the four major sports, so this is particularly welcome for Philly-area fans (some of whom have a reputation for being over-the-top when things aren’t going well). Fireworks — nice! As long as they don’t go on too long…

              Tom Brady, Pats coach Belichick, and owner Robert Kraft have indeed cozied up to Trump — disgusting. And Trump does like to take credit for almost everything. Maybe he’ll falsely feel his narrow 2016 win in Pennsylvania somehow inspired the Eagles.

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      • Wodehouse, as I recall, kept churning them out till he was very near the end of his life. Haven’t read his late stuff, but I’ll bet it’s good, as I can’t imagine he knew how to be bad.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Shallow Reflections! It IS inspiring — to other writers, and to non-writers — when authors continue to create on a high level. 🙂

      I look forward to your second book, whenever it’s out and whatever it’s about.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Outstanding piece of history! You never cease to amaze me…I sit here and wonder how you gathered the info and dates for all those authors. Excellent.
    I watched Anna Karenina, the movie, not so long ago. I had no idea it was written in my favourite period. I was also shocked, as, I had thought it was based on one of the world wars.
    Maybe that was a big change from book to movie.
    😀 David.
    Haley

    Liked by 1 person

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