Have 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.