From One to More: Widening Our Reading of Certain Authors

Isabel AllendeHave you ever read just one novel by an author — her or his most famous work — but then waited years to read some of their other, lesser-known books?

I’ve done that, and am not always sure why. Perhaps part of it involves wondering if a different novel by that author would be as good, or not finding other books by that writer in my local library, or a desire to keep reading a variety of writers for the first time, or…

The author who is my most recent example of “one and done (for a while)” is Isabel Allende (pictured above). I read her masterful The House of the Spirits quite a few years ago…and loved it. It’s really almost as good as Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s groundbreaking One Hundred Years of Solitude — which partly inspired The House of the Spirits — and Allende’s debut novel is actually more “readable.” Anyway, this week I finally started another Allende novel — Zorro, a fictional work about the younger years of the fictional vigilante — and am very engrossed in what is an excellent book.

Which led me to look back at other authors whose most famous novels I read years before trying some of their other work.

Margaret Atwood is one. I was impressed with The Handmaid’s Tale when I read it not long after its 1985 release, but for whatever reason I didn’t move on to other Atwood works until around 2010. I’m glad I did — thoroughly enjoying Alias Grace, The Robber Bride, The Blind Assassin, Cat’s Eye, Oryx and Crake, and more.

Moving back in time, there’s John Steinbeck. I first read his magnificent The Grapes of Wrath in high school, but didn’t dive deeply into his canon until decades later. Worth the wait: East of Eden, The Winter of Our Discontent, Cannery Row, Tortilla Flat, The Moon Is Down, etc.

Herman Melville? I tackled Moby-Dick in college, and then waited years before trying several of his other novels. None quite at the level of M-D, but still excellent: Billy Budd, Pierre, Redburn, White-Jacket, Typee, etc.

Melville contemporary Nathaniel Hawthorne is of course best known for The Scarlet Letter, which I read in high school. Decades later I got to the rest of his relatively small novel canon: The House of the Seven Gables, The Blithedale Romance, and The Marble Faun. All good, but more A- or B+ compared to The Scarlet Letter‘s A. (Couldn’t resist that.)

My experiences with George Eliot’s work have been a bit more complicated. I tried Middlemarch in college, and gave up on it relatively early. Then it was many a year before I returned to Eliot — reading Silas Marner, which I loved; followed by The Mill on the Floss and Adam Bede, both of which I also thought were terrific. At that point, I figured it was time to try Middlemarch again — and was bowled over by its psychological depth and expert dissection of two marriages, among other things. Finally, I capped things off with Eliot’s riveting Daniel Deronda.

Then there are novelists best known for TWO novels who also wrote plenty of others. Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov are clearly his masterpieces, but works of his such as The Insulted and Injured that I read much later are well worth the time. And we have War and Peace and Anna Karenina from Leo Tolstoy, who also penned some exceptional novellas I finally got to within the past couple of years: The Death of Ivan Ilyich, The Kreutzer Sonata, Hadji Murat

Which authors have you read who fit this “one and done (for a while)” topic?

My 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 — which includes more on my school district’s “SalaryGate” — is here.

43 thoughts on “From One to More: Widening Our Reading of Certain Authors

  1. Dave!

    *I might only be able to make half a comment. Why? Because I broke my glasses earlier–it’s the right and proper thing to do.

    There are famous works then there are famous works of an author. I think I may have mentioned a slight partiality for Mr.Samuel Langhorne Clemens scribblings before and can ask, can there be any greater scribbling than The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn?

    After reading it as a kid, just taking it as a manifesto for mischief, hard book to digest 🙂 then again as a teen taking it as a manifesto for social in/justice it would be many years until my mid-twenties that I read another obscure work, that I doubt even you heard of, called Pudd’nhead Wilson…come on we’re talking Twain here!

    I think the richness in reading an author’s lesser-known work is that it rips us away from iconic characters we all love, yet can revisit the central issues of the times/previous works as Twain does with his Tom Sawyer/Huck Finn Adventure series and Pudd’nhead Wilson.

    Of course, as always, mischaracterizations, grammatical and or any other mistakes are for all to enjoy.

    *Something about half a dog but you’ll have to read Pudd’nhead Wilson if you want to know the joke.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Jack — and ha! 🙂 Excellent comment!

      I did read “Pudd’nhead Wilson” and thought it was really good. Not Twain’s top work — kind of uneven — but funny, contains a strong anti-racism theme, and even has an early detective-genre flourish (fingerprinting).

      And “Huckleberry Finn” IS an amazing novel. I feel the appearance of Tom Sawyer is a flaw in the book’s final third, but, until then, it really is an incredible classic.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Read a number of Ross MacDonald’s later Lew Archer books in the 1970’s, and like them, though at the time I was spelling MacDonald with Raymond Chandler, and found Chandler to be an original, and MacDonald to be a stylist who mostly improved on what was imitable in Chandler.

    Last year, I bought seven MacDonalds from one of my bookselling pals on Broadway, and read them all, one after another.MacDonald got better! Or, having read so much more detective fiction over the intervening 40 years, I could appreciate him for himself this time around, especially for his back stories and old crimes coming to light in the solving of new ones. Gives Archer’s cases more dimension and of course, a longer timeline. I believe Lee Child is a borrower of this MacDonald device, and an appreciator of MacDonald’s well-honed, well-paced idiomatic American English.

    Most of the time, when I become interested in other books or other music or other paintings by authors or artists who have impressed me with a particular work, I jump in with both feet, and immerse myself. In the last decade, I have read novels and short stories and journalism by Joseph Roth, after having first read his novel The Radetsky March. Read all of Bruno Schulz, after reading one of his short story collections– but that was easy, as he wrote only one more collection. Read The Red and the Black by Stendahl, then went on to The Charterhouse of Parma, Lucien Lueven,The Life of Henri Brulard and On Love.

    I spent hours backstage with Muddy Waters when I was 28, and found him to be one of the most impressive and charismatic people I have ever encountered up close. I had of course, heard some of his music by then, but like I had with MacDonald above, I considered him to more of a stylist than an original, purveying a simplified, louder version of Robert Johnson music. About ten years later, I heard some music coming from the apartment below, and got so excited I ran downstairs to hear it better. When I got close to the door, I knew who it was: Muddy Waters! Next day, I bought an album of his 1950’s material. For the next year or so, I listened to nearly nothing else but Mr. Waters, every minute time well spent.

    From time to time, timing is everything.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, jhNY! Glad that Ross MacDonald aged well for you. As you note, even writers who are not quite as good and original as other writers can be quite riveting. I may have asked you this before, but are there a couple of MacDonald’s Lew Archer novels you would particularly recommend? I should finally give that author a try.

      Though there are certainly cases where I read a great novel by an author and then move on to other authors for a long time (the theme of this week’s blog post, of course), I have also, like you for Joseph Roth and others, gone on binges for certain authors. In my case, Lee Child (who you mentioned), Dickens, Willa Cather, Erich Maria Remarque, Edith Wharton, Colette, Zola, Balzac, Sir Walter Scott, Martin Cruz Smith, and some others.

      Loved your Muddy Waters paragraph and, yes, timing can be crucial in terms of which novels, music, and other creations grab us.

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      • “The Moving Target” is the first of the Lew Archer novels and a good place to start. I liked “The Galton Case” perhaps the most of all. I would make the sweeping statement that there are no bad ones among those I’ve read, so probably he wrote none– in case you can’t find either of my recommendations.

        His beat is Chandler’s– LA and southern CA, and as the series goes along (1949-76), the places and its inhabitants change to match the changing times.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thank you, jhNY, for the recommendations! Will look for one of those two, or others, during my next library trip.

          Thanks, also, for the info on the novels’ setting. That area of California was and is certainly a prime setting for mysteries and crime thrillers — as you know, writers such as Sue Grafton and Walter Mosley have tilled that ground more recently.

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        • Also, re my time with Mr. Waters, had I understood then the importance of the man in blues history, and the importance of his original contributions to the genre, I probably couldn’t have presumed to have spent any time in his presence. As it was, I was overwhelmed by the man as a man, and how he handled a difficult situation– with compassion and a Buddha-like, loving composure. But that’s another story.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Ooooooh this is definitely a topic that fits with me. I’m afraid I am very guilty of one-and-doneing many, many authors. Not because I’m not interested to read more of the works, but because there’s always SO MANY books I want to read at any given time. An author has to REALLY wow me to make me want to pick up more of their works. Granted, many have accomplished this, a lot of them being the authors you’ve named here. Steinbeck is up there in my top three authors. I’ve also ventured into many Hemingway works (just read “the Sun Also Rises last week!). Stephen King got many reads out of me when I was in high school, although I don’t really read his stuff anymore. I must admit I have yet to tackle the big MD or any other Melville works… shame on me. I’ll get to it someday 🙂 As for modern-day authors, some who have scored repeats out of me are Kate Quinn (the Alice Network, the Huntress, and I eagerly await her new one) and also Martha Hall Kelly (the Lilac Girls, the Lost Roses, and she has another in that series to be released down the line). Also Ruta Sepetys (Between Shades of Gray, Salt to the Sea, and she just dropped a new one I hope to get a copy of). Always enjoy talking book shop on your posts, Dave! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, M.B.! I love that “one-and-doneing” phrase of yours. 🙂

      Yes, with so many novels to read, there’s a real pull to keep moving on to different authors. But you definitely mentioned several writers highly worthy of a reader going deeply into their canons. It’s nice to have a “one and done” and “one and many more” mix.

      I haven’t read any of the three modern-day authors you mentioned, so more for my list… 🙂

      Have you read Steinbeck’s “The Moon Is Down”? His one heavily World War II-themed novel (unless I’m forgetting something) and really good.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh yes I absolutely love that book. I run a small book club here in Los Angeles, and we covered that book a few months ago. I’ve long been a fan and I thought it would provoke some interesting discussion, as it surely did! 🙂 I’d say one of my favorite Steinbeck books for sure, although Grapes of Wrath reigns supreme.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Dave,

    I’m checking in from my laptop this morning as I finally managed to get away for a few days, unlike the last time I was on holidays, which was mostly spent in bed!

    As you know, I LOVED Neil Gaiman’s American Gods but am yet to get to anything else. I will definitely be rectifying that over Christmas when I read Good Omens.

    Crime and Punishment is my favourite book of all time, and yet until recently, it was the only Dostoevsky I’d read. Last year I read The Brothers Karamazov but I really want to get to anything else that Fyodor wrote. If there was a shopping list published, I want it on my TBR!

    Does it count if we’ve deliberately only read one novel of a particular author? One of the ladies at book club is insistent on me reading all of the Anne books, and I tried, I really did. I poured a glass of wine, and picked up the second novel, fully intending on opening it up, but instead I flipped it over and Anne is now grown up, and a teacher, and I just couldn’t do it. I have such fond memories of young Anne at Green Gables and I don’t want them tarnished.

    Sorry, this is supposed to be about authors where we did finally get around to reading other things, isn’t it? Well, I did that with Tolstoy. I read War and Peace many years ago and didn’t understand the big fuss. But I really liked Master and Man which I read on your recommendation last year or the year before.

    Will sign off for now and continue watching the sun come up. Oh, how I wish I could do this every day!

    Liked by 2 people

    • “Good Omens” is one of my all-time favorites and for the longest time that was the only Neil Gaiman I’d read (I did have pretty much the complete Terry Pratchett collection, though). I recently read “Anansi Boys” and enjoyed the heck out of that, too, though.

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      • Thank you, Sue and Elena! I know which novel I’ll read when I get to Neil Gaiman again (“Good Omens”). 🙂

        Yes, Sue, even lesser Dostoevsky is well worth reading — including a shopping list! Too bad Raskolnikov didn’t have an alibi on HIS shopping list.

        Tolstoy’s “Master and Man” is indeed excellent!

        I hear you about the “Anne of Green Gables” sequels. Anne is indeed older, and the books aren’t as good. But some of the sequels are still very nice reads.

        Sue, glad this holiday is going better than your previous one — and a nice touch to temporarily change your screen name!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Oh, I love when other people like the same books as me 🙂 When I say American Gods is the only Gaiman that I’ve read, I guess that’s not strictly accurate as I also enjoyed the heck out of Anansi Boys. If you haven’t read American Gods, I highly recommend it. It’s a much, much stronger book than Anansi Boys.

        I’ve read a Terry Pratchett novella, and wasn’t blown away by the writing. Despite that, I was still tempted to put him on my TBR, just because he’s so loved by people who I generally agree with. I figured Good Omens is a great workaround. I know I’ll love it, because it’s Gaiman, but if it does something for me that Gods didn’t, then I’ll assume that’s Pratchett’s doing, and put Discworld on my TBR.

        Dave – in the old days, WordPress would remember who I was, and so I would have to enter a new name on a new device so that I wasn’t anonymous. But for some reason, I have to enter my name each time I comment now, so there’s probably not a lot of point of having a different name for each device. It is nice to share that this holiday has gone better than the last one though!

        Liked by 2 people

        • Sue, I didn’t know there had been a change with the WordPress sign-in. WP still remembers who I am when I write a reply on my laptop, but I have to identify myself each time I write a reply on my phone. Whatever… 🙂

          Like

          • Yes, definitely whatever 🙂 As long as I can come here and rave about the books I like (and rant about the other kind) and listen to other people do the same, then I’m happy. Unfortunately, I’m unable to ‘like’ comments, which sometimes bothers me, but again, the content of this site is much more important than any thumbs up or stars or other attention seeking counter 🙂 I’m glad that WP mostly remembers who you are…

            Kind of on topic, in the past I’ve read both Tess of the d’Urbervilles and Far From the Madding Crowd, both of which have female main characters. So I was kind of shocked when I learnt that Obscure Jude is not a young woman, but actually a young boy! I have no idea why I think of Jude as a girl’s name, but it’s also made me rethink that Beatles song!

            Liked by 1 person

            • Sorry you can’t “like” comments, Sue. I also can’t “like” comments here on my phone, while being able to do so on my laptop. But, yes, the technical stuff isn’t super important when we can all discuss books. 🙂 (And other topics!)

              It’s to his credit that Thomas Hardy had a number of female lead characters. In “The Hand of Ethelberta” as well. The Jude in “Hey Jude” might indeed be the most famous Jude of all! I always thought the Beatles were referring to a woman in that song, but who knows?

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              • Oh, I know! Not only have I listened to that song about twelve times in the last few days, but I also googled it. It was written for John’s son Julien, so definitely a boy. And we have male footy players here named Jude. In fact, I’ve never known a female Jude so I have no idea why I assumed the Obscure one was a woman, unless maybe I thought it was short for Judy? Or as you said, maybe just because Hardy is known for writing female lead characters.

                Considering I do have to enter my name each time I comment (a tiny price to pay to be part of such a wonderful blog), I think I’ll go back to being plain old Susan. After I’ve gotten over having to come back to work 😦

                Liked by 1 person

                • Thank you, Sue! I didn’t know “Hey Jude” was written for John Lennon’s son!

                  And “Sue no longer on holidays and not happy about it” wins “Best Screen Name Ever” in this blog!!! 🙂

                  Like

  5. I read Mishima’s short story Patriotism in high school, and while much impressed with it, didn’t tackle any of his longer novels for a couple of decades. In the past 15 years, however, I’ve read all of his novels and short stories, all disturbing and beautiful.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I read “Confessions of a Mask” decades ago, but returned to Mishima when I bought “Death in Midsummer”, a short story collection, two summers ago.
      The short stories reminded me of Paul Bowles’ early short fiction, before he had settled on his North African locale.

      I would appreciate any recommendation of Mishima’s fiction you might care to convey.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. This makes me want to go reread “Middlemarch”! I also read it pretty early, didn’t really get it, but was very impressed by “Adam Bede” and “The Mill on the Floss” when I read them later.

    I read Vasily Grossman’s “Life and Fate” several years ago and was completely blown away. Didn’t read any of his other stuff, much of which was censored during his lifetime, until a translation of “Stalingrad” based on the uncensored manuscript came out this summer. Was blown away once again.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Elena! Sounds like you’ve had a similar experience with George Eliot’s work. “Middlemarch” is definitely a “slow” novel in some ways, but the cumulative impact is eventually pretty profound.

      Interesting that in the case of Vasily Grossman’s work the gap between reading was basically dependent on availability. Glad you were able to finally read a translation/uncensored version of “Stalingrad”!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Mr. Astor,

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading your mail, which was lying unattended in my inbox for sometime now.

    Your comments on books and authors leave me hungry and eager to try and read some of them. I will start with George Eliot, I guess, and move on to Tolstoy.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Good to know I’m not the only one who does this! As novels read for library book club last year, I loved “The Rules of Magic” by Alice Hoffman, “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union” by Michael Chabon, and “The Secret Life of Bees” by Sue Monk Kidd, vowing to soon read more by each author. That hasn’t happened…yet. However, November’s club selection is “Faithful,” by Alice Hoffman, so it won’t be long.

    Liked by 2 people

    • LOL, Bill! 🙂 And I was born in Latemarch… (Really.)

      But, seriously, I guess I was indeed not quite ready for a novel as mature as “Middlemarch” when I was a teen. An amazing book.

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  9. I read “War and Peace” decades ago, in the 1950s, but read Tolstoy’s “The Kreutzer Sonata” very recently, partly out of curiosity because I used the Beethoven sonata in my book “Jamie’s Children.” Of more interest to my readers was the difficult time Beethoven was enduring when he wrote the sonata. I read Judith Guest’s first novel, “Ordinary People,” which may not qualify as a “great” book but due to the film, it’s certainly well known. Some twenty years later I read “Second Heaven” and thought it was excellent, though Guest never received much recognition for her work following the first novel, which was awarded a prize for best new novel of 1976. I find that a sad commentary, since I think her works are well crafted and well worth reading. Maybe they never caught on because they are about “ordinary people” and the struggles we all deal with.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Susan!

      Twenty years or so is definitely a healthy time gap. 🙂 I’ve certainly had gaps like that with some of the authors I mentioned in the post. I thought the “Ordinary People” movie was great, but I’ve never read the book. A shame Judith Guest didn’t receive more recognition after her first novel — and if it’s because she focused on “ordinary people,” that’s a double shame.

      A good reason for you to read “The Kreutzer Sonata”! A riveting novella.

      Like

  10. “White Teeth” by Zadie Smith. Also I read a Jodi Picoult book a few years ago called,”My Sister’s Keeper ” Was very good,about bone marrow transplant between sisters. I see,on my library book shelf that Picoult has many titles,yet I haven’t read any others.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Michele, for mentioning those two authors and those two novels! I’ve read both books, and have also read Zadie Smith’s very good “On Beauty” but nothing else by Jodi Picoult. I thought “White Teeth” was terrific, and also liked “My Sister’s Keeper” a lot except for the ending.

      Like

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