Have you ever read many or most of an author’s works, then moved on to other authors, and then years later returned to read one of the few works you missed in the canon of that first author?
(Also, did you ever start a blog post with an overly long question? 🙂 )
I’ve done the return-to-canon thing for various reasons. Often, I binge-read a certain author only to stop when I realized my local library didn’t have the rest of her or his books…until it did. Or I didn’t want to read an author’s so-called “lesser” efforts but later changed my mind. Or, as much as I might have liked an author, I wanted some variety, so I moved on to other authors rather than complete the first author’s canon…until I decided otherwise. Or I returned to an author for a newer work that had yet to be published at the time of my original reading binge.
It can be very interesting doing the return thing — enjoying a favorite writer’s novel or story you never read before, perhaps being disappointed, seeing the similarities and differences in the newly read vs. previously read work, etc. And of course reading an author when one is older can affect our reaction to a book.
Anyway, I just returned to Herman Melville. Years ago I read most of his novels, novellas, and short stories: Moby-Dick, Billy Budd, Pierre, Typee, Omoo, Redburn, White-Jacket, Benito Cereno, “Bartleby, the Scrivener,” and so on. Then, when I was at the library last month, I saw Mardi on the shelves when it hadn’t been there before. Hmm…
I’m in the middle of that 1849 novel now, and it’s quite a tale of the sea — where most but not all of Melville’s writing was set. We follow the sometimes-bizarre adventures and meet-ups of two sailors who abandon ship far from any shore, and watch the story line move from realistic to allegorical. It’s also interesting to see how the author’s rich prose, memorable characterizations, fascinating philosophical ruminations, and detailed ocean-life descriptions were maturing two years before everything came together with Moby-Dick — the 1851 classic that unfortunately did not sell well or get much critical love until decades after Melville’s 1891 death. So far I’m not finding Mardi to be one of Melville’s best works — it’s over-long, eventually rambles, and there’s a disturbingly sexist depiction of a Samoan woman — but the first part at least is worth the time.
George Eliot? I read four of her five most famous novels — Middlemarch, Silas Marner, The Mill on the Floss, and Adam Bede — almost consecutively a decade ago before turning my attention again to other authors. Left in the lurch until a couple years later was Eliot’s final novel, Daniel Deronda, which turned out to be as good or better than her stellar earlier efforts.
For whatever reason, it took me many a moon to get to Charlotte Bronte’s Villette after reading the author’s other work — including at least five rereads of her exceptional Jane Eyre. I found the semi-autobiographical Villette to be very good but often missing the powerful emotional impact of Bronte’s more famous novel.
I loved reading War and Peace and Anna Karenina as a young man, but didn’t get back to Leo Tolstoy for many years. I finally read a number of Tolstoy’s novellas and short stories not long ago — Hadji Murat, The Kreutzer Sonata, The Death of Ivan Ilyich, “Master and Man,” etc. — and they were all outstanding, too.
Edith Wharton? I read her four best-known novels — Ethan Frome, The House of Mirth, The Age of Innocence, and The Custom of the Country — nearly in a row, along with two of her earliest books not at the level of that compelling quartet. Then, much later, I was urged to read her ghost stories — which turned out to be as good as that genre gets.
It was the opposite format scenario with Edgar Allan Poe. I read most of his riveting short stories as a kid and teen — decades before trying his only novel: The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, which was not bad at all.
There’s also the case of reading all or most of an author’s work and then, years later, returning when she or he writes something new. I did that with The Handmaid’s Tale sequel The Testaments (excellent) after reading a dozen of Margaret Atwood’s great novels years earlier, and with J.K. Rowling’s addictive Cormoran Strike/Robin Ellacott crime series penned well after the seven Harry Potter books. I slipped Rowling’s absorbing standalone novel The Casual Vacancy in there, too.
Your reading experiences related to this week’s theme?
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 2003-started/award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com every Thursday. The latest piece — about the overwhelming approval of a bond referendum to fund much-needed upgrades to my town’s aging school buildings — is here.