Not-Terrific Novels Can Still Be Quite Good

Margaret Atwood (photo by Chris Boland/Flickr

If you really like a writer, even their “lesser” novels can be appealing.

I recently experienced that with The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood — a 2015 novel, by one of my favorite living authors, that I had somehow failed to read before. Far from her best book, but it’s still a fairly engrossing, socially conscious, and at times funny work of speculative fiction about people escaping a U.S. turned dystopian for a closed U.S. community where they all alternate between a house and a prison. A community that, not surprisingly, turns out to be rather dystopian, too. The weirdly humorous parts? Well, for one thing, prepare to meet multiple Elvis Presleys and Marilyn Monroes.

Willa Cather, whose authorial career ended a year after Atwood was born, is best known for My Antonia and Death Comes for the Archbishop. But she also wrote a number of other novels ranging from good to very good — including The Song of the Lark (about an opera singer), One of Ours (a World War I novel), and Shadows on the Rock (historical fiction set in Quebec City).

James Hilton is also best known for two novels — the moving Goodbye, Mr. Chips and the eye-opening Lost Horizon — but some of his not-as-scintillating works, including So Well Remembered, are rather nice, too.

Maugham is most famous for Of Human Bondage, and also pretty famous for The Painted Veil, The Razor’s Edge, and The Moon and Sixpence. But there’s a pretty good sleeper amid the Maugham canon: Cakes and Ale, which is more compelling than its title might indicate.

Aldous Huxley? The iconic Brave New World is practically synonymous with his name, but he wrote several not-iconic novels that are quite readable — including the not-dystopian Point Counter Point.

Getting back to favorite living authors, I give many of Liane Moriarty’s novels an A or A+. But even the one I liked least — Truly Madly Guilty, focusing on a fateful barbecue — more than held my interest.

Good but not terrific Jane Austen? Northanger Abbey. Charles Dickens? Hard Times. Herman Melville? Omoo. Anne Bronte? Agnes Grey. Mark Twain? Pudd’nhead Wilson. John Steinbeck? The Wayward Bus. Isabel Allende? The Japanese Lover. Donna Tartt? The Little Friend. Etc.

Anything you’d like to say 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 every Thursday. The latest piece — about a time machine, a bridge, and a $1,000 (!) dessert — is here.

105 thoughts on “Not-Terrific Novels Can Still Be Quite Good

    • Thank you, Resa! The “Emily” trilogy is indeed terrific! As I also mentioned to Robbie, I like that trilogy better than all the “Anne of Green Gables” sequels (though some of those sequels are excellent). But I like “AoGG” itself more than the “Emily” books.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Agree!
        You know, after I commented I thought (again, Joy) , but one of her early novels (the first one I read) “Kiss Mommy Goodbye” is definitely a lesser novel from her.
        It’s a shorter book about a parental kidnapping. Her forte is just developing here. Still, it’s a good read.

        I hope you don’t mind that I use Joy a lot. She is the one contemporary writer whose books I’ve read, and I have read most of them.
        I can hardly wait to read “Cul-de-Sac”!

        Liked by 1 person

  1. What about fiction versus non-fiction from the same author? I read “Cat’s Cradle” by Kurt Vonnegut and thought it was okay, but I did not like “Galapagos.” However, I got hold of “Palm Sunday,” a collection of Vonnegut’s essays and lectures, and loved it. It’s the same with G. K. Chesterton. I thought his Father Brown mysteries were okay, didn’t care for “The Ball and The Cross”, but loved his non-fiction work “Heretics.”

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, vanaltman! Some novelists definitely also wrote/write great or at least very good nonfiction. You offered excellent examples, and there’s also Mark Twain, Elizabeth Gaskell, John Steinbeck, Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Barbara Kingsolver, and various others.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. A thought-provoking post! I really enjoyed it. “Good”, but not “brilliant” novels by some authors are under-read and severely underappreciated, but then again who is the judge of whether something is merely good, but not brilliant, and vice versa, critics, the public, time? Is some “lesser” novel simply the one which is “less popular? Brilliance is often equated with popularity, especially when viewing an author’s bibliography as a whole, but the two concepts may not always coincide. Some people are glued to two or three “brilliant” books by one author and don’t even realise the kind of treasures they would find if they dig dipper into that author’s biography. That happened to me with Eca de Queiroz. Then there are also Victor Hugo and Charles Dickens. I read a lot by these two authors, but I truly believe I am still to discover my favourite books by these authors lol

    You mentioned Tartt’s The Little Friend. Well. I rate it very high indeed. I don’t consider it “lesser” at all. To be fair, I would rank it at least as good as The Secret History, maybe even higher, actually. What is “lesser” for one author, may be some unreachable “Nobel Prize” level for another. Willa Cather. I think she is precisely the author whose work is a bit hard to judge because simplicity and unpretentiousness are at the core of her literary style, at least in my opinion. I wonder if she has a truly weak novel, since none are “in one’s face”, so to speak. A Lost Lady is one great novel of hers, in my opinion, but it is certainly far from being among those people will mention first.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Diana! Excellent comment! Many great and interesting general points about the topic in your first paragraph.

      I agree that Donna Tartt’s “The Little Friend” is very good and perhaps a little better than that author’s “The Secret History.” I guess the ending of “The Little Friend” disappointed me to some extent. For me, “The Goldfinch” is Tartt’s masterpiece. Loved it!

      As for Cather, I’ve read all her novels and liked or loved each and every one except for her last, “Sapphira and the Slavegirl,” which I thought was meant well but which I also thought was awful.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. ” To Kill a Mockingbird ” is a novel by the American author Harper Lee.
    It became an instant best seller , even with serious issues of rape and racial inequality,the book has the warmth of Atticus Finch for his honesty and integrity for lawyers.
    She wrote the Novel in 1960

    “Go set a watchman ” was the next Novel published in 2014 , actually Lee wrote the Novel before TKAM.
    Lee`s lawyer found the manuscript .After contacting Lee and reading the manuscript, she passed it on to Lee’s agent Andrew Nurnberg.
    By that time Ms.Lee was old and not capable of making any decisions, so when the novel was published, it became very controversial.

    I regret reading it, I know Dave you never read the book. Atticus Finch was portrayed more as a racial character.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Hi Dave, as mentioned in my comment to Rebecca, I don’t read every book by an author, I often only read the most famous of their books. Having said that, I did not love The Sun Also Rises by Hemmingway, much preferring A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and The Old Man and the Sea. I didn’t like Shirley by Charlotte Bronte nearly as much as I liked Jane Eyre. I didn’t like any of Anne Bronte’s books. I preferred L.M. Montgomery’s Emily series to her Anne series which seems different from most people and I preferred An Old Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott to Little Women.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Robbie! Everyone has their individual tastes in literature, which is a very good thing! 🙂

      I was also not a big fan of “The Sun Also Rises,” and thought “Shirley” was okay but not a lot more. I did like Anne Bronte’s “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall” a lot, for its “early” feminism and other reasons. Like you, I loved L.M. Montgomery’s “Emily” trilogy; the only one of the “Anne” books I liked more was “Anne of Green Gables” — by a large margin.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I absolutely agree that it is a good thing everyone has different taste and that there are so many different genres and innovations of literature and poetry available. I just never liked Anne’s style of writing, but there are lots of other books so it doesn’t really matter. I’m not an Austin fan either.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Yes, Robbie, so many books that we don’t have to like them all. 🙂 Jane Austen is not one of my favorite authors, either, but I did enjoy reading her six novels (especially “Persuasion” and “Pride and Prejudice”).

          Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you very much, Dave, for this thought-provoking post! I must admit that I had to inform myself a little bit and found out, like the writer above me, that “Elefants Can Remember”, was Agatha Christie’s biggest failure and that she was probably already suffering of Alzheimer’s syndrom when she was writing it.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. The most able are nearly always good but not always at their best, which most often comes to light in the first third of their professional lives, though not always. This applies to writers, painters, pitchers, actors, running backs, dancers, guitarists and acrobats.

    There are of course some who can perform at a high level for longer, and more often, so well even that they make a series of episodic triumphs look like a lifetime profession. Most on my list cannot continue to produce at their best for nearly so long.

    Writers have the advantage of minimal exertion, as compared to ballplayers, which allows them to stay in the game longer, and even sometimes, as in the case of 60ish Lampedusa, to go straight out of nowhere to the top of the heap like Roy Hobbes. Sometimes writers stay at their writing desk too long. Agatha Christie’s last, published in the 1970’s, was used by an expert in gerontological function to illustrate the terrible falling off of intellectual capacity in old age.

    But as the most able are nearly always good, it pays, after reading their best, to read most of their books, since most writers are nearly always not as good. Which is also why it pays to listen often to the most able musicians. Most of the rest are nearly always not as good.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, jhNY! A VERY impressive comment, containing a lot of wisdom. I’m amazed when an author — Charles Dickens is one example — writes many excellent novels over a period of several decades. It ain’t easy. Heck, it ain’t easy to write one classic, so hats off to such novelists as Emily Bronte, Harper Lee, and “The Leopard” author Lampedusa, who you referenced.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I was 40 years old, after decades working in various backroom jobs in the music industry before I saw something I’d missed– always available and obvious, had I but looked. The scene was a major record industry label’s tape library, where everything recorded since the founding, more or less, was stored, and more or less in received order, so you’d literally be looking down an aisle that covered a year, etc.

        A slow walk through pop music time proved to me that what I had always classed as a profession, recording artist, was actually an ambition uniformly unrealized except by the most able to produce commercially viable material– for the longest time. Everybody else, very much including names once famous, had made maybe 3 lp’s before being dropped from the label, and nearly none had gone on to greater fame, though some had found a way to make music after on an oldies circuit or in the area from which they’d started out to try for the brass ring.

        The necessities of the industrial model require output of original material on an industrial scale, to be created under nearly unlivable conditions– bouncing around in the back of a van. But it must also be irresistibly attractive to its audience too, who must be attended to by promotional performances by the music creators as they bounce from town to town. It’s also essential that promotional and a&r folk at the label get behind what you’ve made. Doesn’t always happen, and if it does, doesn’t always last even the length of a tour

        Early and sustained success at the highest level gets you a bus, better road food, and better company, but it’s an awful grind, and only a very few can keep it all going. And that’s only because they have maintained their hold on an audience which changes tastes faster than the roadies change shirts.

        The second record of a songwriter or a band is whatever was made in the back of that touring van, plus whatever wasn’t quite right for the first lp. For most pop musicians, it’s also the beginning of the end.

        Which makes the lives of those who make their ambitions realized and then sustain them, at least slightly miraculous. Luckily for us, the paying public, their work sustains our interest, and the best in every generation really do tend to be the best at what they do. Like Dilsey, they endure.

        The winnowing process is cruel and quick, and never stops. Under these conditions, those of us who are fans should expect there might be good stuff out of the best most of the time, and expect that some stuff will be better than others, even by the very best.

        Liked by 1 person

        • The authorial equivalent: Tom Wolfe in white suits, enjoying the income that several best-sellers produce, and the fame and attention, while most fiction writers, even those with a few good books out, are teaching somewhere, and writing their next on their own time. Even more often, an author gets his moment in the publishing sun, or even three, and then, tempi cambi, can’t get another word into print.

          These activities– writing, music-making, etc.– are not actual professions for most– more like seasonal or occasional work.

          In the context of the marketplace, I am grateful for everything good I come across, mindful of the conditions under which most are produced.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Thank you, jhNY! Much to contemplate, and feel melancholy about, in your two top-notch comments. Yes, there are many more good than great creators out there — whether in literature, music, or another art.

            Of course, there is also the matter of mediocre creators who happen to catch the public’s fancy and become more popular than more-talented creators. And they’re sometimes not just “one-hit wonders.” 😦


            • De gustibus is always in play. What has sold has much to do with what is presumed will sell, often correctly.

              I would never have given myself to music if the business, and its product, was what it is today, but I don’t doubt the business moved always toward profitability, if but seldom in the direction of taste or art, unless those attributes were deemed marketable.

              Liked by 1 person

              • Yes, the music biz is SO different than it was decades ago. But indeed always profit-oriented, of course, though obviously many of the artists did and do it for love — while hopefully making some money with their music, or relying on their day jobs. And I agree that once in a while profit and talent go together when that talent is marketable.


  7. A very interesting subject – I haven’t even heard of the John Steinbeck novel you mentioned, but now you’ve got me curious, and he is one of my favorite authors. I might have to give it a read sometime. I think my best fit for this is “Mansfield Park” by Jane Austen. I LOVE most of her books, but this one I just didn’t connect with as much when I read it. However, it still has a spot on my bookshelf along with all the other Austen novels, because as you said, even though it’s not my favorite, I’m still glad I gave it a read.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, M.B.! Steinbeck’s “The Wayward Bus” is not bad — and the title is literal, not figurative. 🙂

      I share your feelings about “Mansfield Park.” My fourth favorite of Austen’s six novels. Very good, but not great. Maybe partly because the protagonist (Fanny Price) is not very charismatic. Likable, though.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Rusty! Sometimes (not always), late-career novels leave something to be desired, which is not that surprising. I noticed this also with Richard Russo and Martin Cruz Smith, to name just two other authors. Like you, I love much of Cormac McCarthy’s earlier work — “Suttree,” “Blood Meridian,” The Border Trilogy, etc.!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. This is an interesting way to consider an author, Dave. I think it is influenced by where we started. There aren’t many prolific authors where I’ve read everything, but Kurt Vonnegut illustrates this point, for me. I read Breakfast of Champions, first. Then I started from the beginning with Player Piano. I’m not sure I read them in order, but I read several before getting to Slaughterhouse Five. I tend to stick with an author that I like. If forced to, I suppose I could rank the books, but as you say, even the lesser ones are good.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thank you, Dan! You’re right — which book by an author we started with can have an effect. I suppose that if we by chance read an excellent author’s worst book first, we might not even make an attempt get to other, better ones by that writer, which would be a shame. I need to read more Vonnegut at some point. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • I think I’ve said it before, but I discovered Vonnegut at the perfect time for binge reading. College kid, only three TV channels, riding a bus a lot – all good reasons to read, and he already had a dozen books out 😉

        Liked by 1 person

            • Ha! 🙂 True. Countless channels doesn’t necessarily mean countless good channels. I’m actually clueless about the current TV landscape because I don’t watch any shows anymore, though I do watch some short YouTube clips from shows here and there. As for reading and mass transit, sorry you didn’t have a chance to do that much. I was fortunate to take a train every day during most of the years I worked full time.

              Liked by 1 person

                  • I lived in Queens in 1977-78, but I worked in New Jersey. That was one of the times I could take the train(s). For a while, I drove to NJ on Monday. I’d drive to work and leave my car in Edison. I took the E train to Penn Station and the train to NJ until Friday, when I drove home. It was great, as I got to avoid the alternate side of the street parking, too.

                    Liked by 1 person

                    • Wow — I didn’t realize you had a NYC and NJ history! Sounds like you had a great/clever commuting system, though a Queens to NJ commute is not easy no matter how it’s done. 😦 I lived in Sunnyside, Queens, from 1984 to 1993.


  9. The book that immediately comes to mind is Texasville by Larry McMurtry. I loved The Last Picture Show, but the sequel left me cold. What was particularly interesting was the Texasville was a more technically proficient novel than The Last Picture Show, but it had no heart.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. I agree with you, Dave. Once I find an author I truly like, I’m prepared to read all their books, and one or two not-so-good ones aren’t going to put me off. I’m not sure how many bad ones in a row I’d have to read to say, “Okay, sorry, formerly beloved author, but that’s it. I can’t take another one!”

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Kim! Ha! 🙂 I like the way you phrased your comment — including the quote at the end. 🙂 Yes, when one likes an author, one can weather a couple of not-great books.

      I recently read Herman Melville’s “Mardi,” which started off well before making my eyes glaze over. But that didn’t sour me on all the compelling Melville works I had read before.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Some of Tolstoy’s shorter works such as “Family Happiness”, “The Death of Ivan Ilyich”, “Master and Man”, and “How Much Land Does a Man Need?” were very well written despite being somewhat didactic. Some of Dickens’ shorter fiction, especially “A Christmas Carol” and “The Signalman” rank among his best works.

    Liked by 4 people

  12. Salinger’s Catcher In The Rye was great, though I didn’t care so much For Esme With Love And Squalor–probably because both the book and their themes are so different as well as the time element and/or post WWII vs pre WWII. McCullers The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter and Reflections In A Golden Eye I liked better than The Ballad Of The Sad Cafe. And of course, Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird compared to her second novel, Go Set A Watchman; however, I think Capote’s input on To Kill A Mockingbird made a lot of difference. I still believe he wrote some of the parts of it, just saying. BTW, if any of your followers have read Tim Blake Nelson’s new book City Of Blows, I’d welcome their review. Love that guy. Great post Dave. Thanks, Susi

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Susi, for the various interesting mentions!

      I agree that “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter” and “Reflections in a Golden Eye” are better than “The Ballad of the Sad Cafe” — and “The Member of the Wedding,” for that matter, though the last two had their moments.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Thérèse! That sounds like a great approach to deciding what to read! (An approach I’ve also often used. 🙂 ) If one really loves a particular novel by a particular author, there’s a good chance one becomes quite loyal to that author’s other books, even if they’re not quite as good. But sometimes they are. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Maggie! I’m not a fan of “Emma,” either, though I like it a bit more than “Northanger Abbey” despite Emma’s really annoying/busybody personality. I love Austen’s “Persuasion” and “Pride and Prejudice” and really like/not quite love her “Sense and Sensibility” and “Mansfield Park.”


      • From the science fiction classics:
        Asimov: Everyone knows the “Foundation Trilogy” but I like the Baley-and-Daneel detective novels better. Wasn’t necessary, I think, for the Good Doctor to attempt to weave those, the Empire novels and the Foundation stories into one universe, but it made some fans happy, so …
        Clarke: Everyone talks about “Childhood’s End” but “Imperial Earth” has always been a favorite of mine. A sometimes-silly, perhaps deliberately so, travelogue of Earth in the 23rd Century, in which our hero decides to finally stop cloning around.
        Heinlein: Everyone talks about “Stranger in a Strange Land” but give me one of his “Juvenile” stories any day. There’s just something about a young person up and deciding to grow up and take responsibility — even it it took until “Podkayne of Mars” for a girl to be something other than an accessory to the hero.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thank you, Don! Those are some great examples of lesser-known sci-fi novels. Your vivid mention/description of “Imperial Earth” makes me want to read that book, and it’s now on my list.


  13. I have come to a point in my life that I have decided to read one book/author so I am going back in time to discuss Leon Uris. First off, Leon Uris is best known for his book “Exodus,” which was published in 1958. The novel tells the story of the founding of the state of Israel and the struggles of the Jewish people to establish a homeland. It became a bestseller and was later adapted into a successful film. I enjoyed the book – lots of history embedded in a storyline.

    However, I found that his book, Mila 18 was more engaging and memorable. The book is set in the city of Warsaw, Poland during World War II and revolves around the Jewish resistance movement in the Warsaw Ghetto, which was established by Nazi Germany in 1940.

    The novel follows the lives of several characters, including Andrei Androfski, a Polish Jew who becomes a leader in the resistance movement, and Chris de Monti, a journalist who documents the events taking place in the ghetto. The book is named after the address of the headquarters of the resistance movement, which was located at Mila 18.

    Fast forward to now, I am now ready to take on “Trinity” a historical novel set in Ireland during the 19th century. I was unable to finish the book before. Sometimes a book needs to be read at the right time.

    Another great post, Dave. I will be back for the follow-up conversation.

    Liked by 7 people

    • I had totally forgotten about Exodus. The moment I read your post, I even recalled what the book looked like when I read it as a young girl. Thank you for reviving my recollection of this impressive novel! I guess I will follow up, after all this time, with Mila 18.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Thank you, Rebecca! Like Dingenom, I have “Mila 18” on my to-read list. You described it VERY well. Interesting how an author’s somewhat-lesser-known novels can sometimes be more compelling reads than their more-famous novels. For instance, I liked Sir Walter Scott’s “Old Mortality” and “The Heart of Midlothian” slightly more than his more famous/also great “Ivanhoe” and “Rob Roy.”

        Liked by 1 person

    • Greetings, Rebecca!

      Entries for the commonplace book:

      In my reading lately, I found two quotes which I thought applied to topics that were not on the authors’ minds when they wrote them, yet seem applicable.

      “…how deeply was engraved the belief that the evil conceal their dangerous predilections for violence and domination. When they wear them like bangles for all to see, the gullible populace laughs, calls it a pose or finds it strangely attractive.”–Robert Galbraith, “Career of Evil”(2015)

      An accurate, if unintended description of Donald Trump.

      “Then, it being nightfall, a gloomy sense of unreality depresses my spirits,and impels me to venture out, before the clock shall strike bedtime to satisfy myself that the world is not entirely made up of such shadowy materials as have busied me throughout the day. A dreamer may dwell so long among fantasies, that the things without him will seem as unreal as those within.”– Nathaniel Hawthorne, “Beneath An Umbrella”(1838)

      Modern social media addicts and gamers have a phrase they employ on each other when they’ve been on the virtual world too long, and need a taste of actual reality: ‘Touch grass.’ The Hawthorne quote seems to anticipate ‘Touch grass’ by 185 years!

      “The artist is the antenna of the race.”– Ezra Pound

      Liked by 2 people

      • jhNY – many many thanks for these quotes which I have added to my “quote book”

        I came across this quote by Aeschylus (Agamemnon 1) this past week in connection to learning, experience and wisdom. To learn deeply is complex, difficult.

        “He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.”

        Learning is not an easy process – “He who learns must suffer.” Even in our moments of rest, pain lingers in our hearts, dropping by drop. However, it is through these moments of despair that we gain wisdom, often against our own will, through the grace of God.

        I believe that Dave’s posts and follow-up conversations are a place to learn without too much suffering.

        Thank you again jhNY and Dave!

        Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Rebecca, I have the same attitude i.e. one book/ one author as you do so I tend to read the most famous book. I do make exceptions, of course, and have read most of Dickens works and most of Hemmingway’s too. I also preferred Mila 18 to Exodus, I never forgot Mila 18 which I read as a teen.

      Liked by 2 people

  14. Dear Dave, a courageous theme. Many will say poor, not so good, good, very good, etc. is a matter of taste. But it isn’t, not in that generality. Not all books by good writers are literature. I found Ann Patchett’s “The Dutch House” disappointing, a wet squib. It really isn’t about anything. It’s just a well written book that might just as well have remained unwritten.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Dingenom! Interesting comment! There’s definitely a question about whether novels that readers consider so-so or worse are in fact so-so or worse or whether those books are pretty good but just not some readers’ “cup of tea.” That said, I’ve also sometimes read (and given up on) novels by favorite authors that just seemed bad. Sometimes a debut novel, sometimes a late-career novel, less often a mid-career novel.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. A relevant theme for avid readers, Dave. It’s especially true with prolific novelists; bound to be some lesser liked ones. I find this true of Atwood and also Louise Erdrich, whose “The Night Watchmen” was less engrossing for me but good nevertheless. Her “Future Home of the Living God” was not that good compared with “LaRose” and her “Love Medicine” series.

    Liked by 6 people

    • Thank you, Mary Jo! Yes, avid readers are often going to run into this situation, especially when they want to read all or most of a favorite prolific author’s canon. I’ve only read one Louise Erdrich book; it sounds like there are some “B’s” among the “A’s,” which is the case with almost every excellent novelist.

      Liked by 2 people

  16. Interesting column, Dave. Most people know Robert Crichton for “The Secret of Santa Vittoria” and “The Great Impostor” but my favorite book of his is “The Camerons” which I read numerous times…to the point I had to buy a second copy of the book! While I’ve read many of Dickens’ works I have NOT read “Hard Times” and I probably should.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Thank you, Susan! I checked my to-read list and see that “The Camerons” is still there, waiting to be crossed off. 🙂 I appreciate your enthusiastic recommendation! As for “Hard Times,” it’s certainly one of Dickens’ shorter novels — and not bad. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      • I read the Camerons years ago. My da dhad acopy pout the library and it was sitting there one day so I picked it up. I didn’t realise that Robert Crichton had written it. I just remember really enjoying it and now I know he wrote it, I preferred it to his better known Santa Vittoria. I sometimes wonder if the reasons a book appeals and I think the Socttish bit appealed to me, obviously, means we can sometimes find aless known book, more appealing. It’s Maughan’s dry wit and portrayal of a first clss bitch, in Theatre that makes it my fav book of his. I also found Huxley’s Antic Hay more appealing than his far betterknwon Brave New World because I really like the writing style on taht one. Great post Dave. I really enjoyed reading it and seeing all the book titles.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Thank you, Shehanne!

          Interesting to hear your thoughts about, and your history with, “The Camerons.”

          I definitely want to read another Maugham book, and will look for “Theatre” after hearing how highly you regard it.

          And, like you, I enjoyed the seriocomic “Antic Hay” — great mention! I also enjoyed Huxley’s late-career utopian novel “Island,” though it lost some steam in its second half.

          Liked by 3 people

            • “Island” is quite interesting, Shehanne. Published in 1962 — a year before Huxley died. One wonders if he wanted to write a utopian novel before he passed to sort of counterbalance his dystopian “Brave New World” of decades earlier. As I mentioned, “Island” started great and then lost something, but it was still worth the read.


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