Very Talkative and Very Quiet Characters in Literature

Marx BrothersIn Marx Brothers movies, we have the talkative Groucho and Chico and the mute Harpo. “So it goes” with novels — there are some loquacious characters as well those who say little or nothing, though of course most are somewhere in between on the speaking scale.

When I think of chatty characters, the first one who comes to mind is the young Anne Shirley in L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables. Her long, brainy, funny, descriptive, free-associative monologues are very endearing and memorable. Interestingly, Anne becomes less talkative as she grows older in that novel and in the various sequels; part of the reason is that she gains some confidence and is less insecure.

Also quite talkative is another young protagonist, Holden Caulfield of J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, though I would not call him endearing. Rather annoying, actually.

Some of literature’s loquacious adult characters?

In Charles Dickens’ Nicholas Nickleby, there’s the rarely-stops-talking Mrs. Nickleby — a well-meaning but silly person said to be partly based on the author’s mother. Also, Theo’s charismatic/kind-of-dangerous friend Boris in Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, the loyal/admirable Samwise Gamgee in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, and the “religious” titular character in Sinclair Lewis’ Elmer Gantry (con men are usually big talkers). Many others, too.

Quieter characters? Among them are Matthew Cuthbert of the aforementioned Anne of Green Gables (making for quite a contrast between him and adopted daughter Anne) and the titular orphan character of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre (though the oft-beleaguered Jane can definitely say her piece at times, showing that shy characters are not always shy). Also, the gentle Beth March of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, the reclusive Boo Radley of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and the at first socially awkward Ireland-to-U.S. immigrant Eilis Lacey of Colm Toibin’s Brooklyn, to name just a few more.

Then there are characters who are nearly or completely mute, usually after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. For instance, the boy Ricky in John Grisham’s The Client becomes catatonic after seeing a suicide, and the boy Bernardo in Isabel Allende’s Zorro stops talking after witnessing his mother’s rape and murder. Also, in Maya Angelou’s novel-like autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, she becomes mostly mute after being raped as a girl. Those kinds of characters clearly draw our sympathy for what they’ve been through.

Your favorite talkative or not-talkative people in fiction?

Here’s a clip with Groucho, Chico, and Harpo from the 1932 movie Horse Feathers. (A screen shot I took from the clip is above this blog post.)

I’ll be skipping a post next Sunday, November 24. Back on December 1!

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 covers out-of-control development and rent control — is here.

Formulaic vs. Non-Formulaic Authors

Lee ChildSome fiction authors are rather formulaic while others vary their approach with almost every novel — and I like both kinds of writers.

Formulaic positives? There’s comfort in knowing (approximately) what to expect. Non-formulaic positives? The delicious element of surprise. If the authors are good, satisfaction is guaranteed either way.

Plus formulaic authors often offer enough differences in each of their books to satisfy a reader’s yen for variety, and non-formulaic authors frequently have recurring elements in their works. So there’s some blurring between the two “camps.”

I recently finished my third Lisa Genova novel, Left Neglected. As with her also-great Still Alice and Inside the O’Briens, a character faces a major neurological challenge — with the story told from the perspective of that character and Genova covering all the medical and emotional bases. But there are variations: A different kind of neurological challenge in each of the three novels, whether ultimately fatal or not. Female protagonists in Still Alice and Left Neglected, a male protagonist in Inside the O’Briens. Affluent families in Still Alice and Left Neglected, a less-affluent family in Inside the O’Briens. Adult children in Still Alice and Inside the O’Briens, younger kids in Left Neglected. Etc.

Lee Child of Jack Reacher series fame also has his formula: The roaming Jack goes to a new place, trouble arises, Reacher deals with that trouble, Jack leaves town. But then there’s the variety: a new locale in almost every book, different kinds of trouble in almost every book, new supporting characters in almost every book, and so on. The 24th Reacher novel, Blue Moon, was released late last month, and I have no doubt it will be another Child page-turner when I get to it.

Excellent authors of thriller, detective, or mystery series frequently fit into the formulaic but not totally formulaic camp. Agatha Christie, Janet Evanovich, Sue Grafton, Tony Hillerman, Martin Cruz Smith, and many others.

In each of his 20 Rougon-Macquart novels published between 1871 and 1893, Emile Zola featured one or more members of those R-M families and usually offered an overarching theme: alcoholism in The Drinking Den, retailing in The Ladies’ Delight, mining in Germinal, art in The Masterpiece, rail travel in The Beast in Man, etc. So, those compelling Zola books were similar in a way, yet the characters of course had varied personalities and fates, and the aforementioned themes were also quite varied.

Some authors who often avoid a formula from novel to novel?

Margaret Atwood is certainly one. She’s expertly handled contemporary fiction (such as Cat’s Eye), historical fiction (Alias Grace), and of course “speculative” fiction (including The Handmaid’s Tale and its recent sequel The Testaments). But there are certain commonalities amid Atwood’s genre-jumping, most notably a feminist sensibility and other kinds of social awareness.

We also have J.K. Rowling. After she finished her seven blockbuster Harry Potter books, she wrote the decidedly non-magical/very sobering novel The Casual Vacancy. Then Rowling switched things up again with a crime series (four so far) starring private investigator Cormoran Strike. She skillfully nailed each of the three genres — and, while her approach in each is different, there are common elements such as deep sympathy for the underdog and a keen awareness of evil in the world.

Aldous Huxley is best known for his dystopian sci-fi classic Brave New World, but he also penned un-BNW-like novels such as Point Counter Point — a societal chronicle reminiscent of some 19th-century British literary fiction. Huxley displayed enough versatility to almost seem like different writers.

Authors you feel fit into either the formulaic or non-formulaic categories?

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 covers overly aggressive driving and many other topics — is here.

Some Alarming Characters You Didn’t Want Trick-or-Treating at Your Door

Daniel Deronda

With Halloween only a few days in the rearview mirror, who are some scary characters in literature? Overtly scary, subtly scary, Richard Scarry…oops, he’s the children’s book author, and I rarely discuss children’s books.

Anyway, I’ll name 26 (13 + 13) scary characters, going back in time by the novel’s publication date. Some are scary in the horror-movie sense, while others are physically or emotionally abusive — or just generally villainous.

Perry of Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies (2014) is a wealthy banker with a hidden-from-society side of being a domestic abuser and sexual-predator sicko.

Lord Voldemort of J.K. Rowling’s seven Harry Potter books (2007 going back to 1997) is a no-brainer (though he was more lacking a nose than brain). The (hor)crux of the matter: LV is pathologically evil and menacing, as Harry well knows.

Anton Chigurh of Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men (2005) is a psychopathic murderer who even has one potential victim flip a coin to “decide” whether he’ll kill her or not.

Martin Vanger, a disturbed corporate CEO and serial killer in Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2005).

Francine Whiting of Richard Russo’s Empire Falls (2001) is an ultra-wealthy widow who basically controls a Maine town with meanness and manipulation.

Baby Kochamma of Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things (1997) — an adult despite her name — is so spiteful that she ruins the lives of several family members.

Real-life dictator Rafael Trujillo, a murderer, torturer, and rapist from Julia Alvarez’s historical novel In the Time of the Butterflies (1994).

Zenia of Margaret Atwood’s The Robber Bride (1993) wreaks havoc on the lives of three women who (initially) considered her a friend.

Nathan Locke of John Grisham’s The Firm (1991) is a thug who’s second in command at the novel’s titular law firm — a white-collar front for the mob.

Frank Bennett of Fannie Flagg’s Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe (1987) is a scarily abusive husband to Ruth.

Annie Wilkes of Stephen King’s Misery (1987) puts a captive writer through a mental wringer while also physically assaulting him in gut-wrenching ways. She has a history as a serial killer, too.

Esteban Trueba of Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits (1982) becomes wealthy as well as violent and right-wing, though he has some redeeming qualities.

Colton Wolf of Tony Hillerman’s People of Darkness (1980) is a chillingly methodical killer for hire — with one person doing the hiring another criminal: ultra-wealthy mining magnate B.J. Vines, who began amassing his fortune via mass murder.

Rufus Weylin of Octavia E. Butler’s Kindred (1979) is a despicable slaveowner and rapist — a two-strikes-you’re-out lack of humanity.

Nurse Ratched of Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1962) holds sadistic sway over a psychiatric ward, and is not afraid to use lobotomy as revenge.

Cathy of John Steinbeck’s East of Eden (1952) is cold and amoral enough to set a fire that kills her parents and shoot her husband, among other ghoulish deeds.

Undine Spragg of Edith Wharton’s The Custom of the Country (1913) is so consumed with climbing the social ladder that she treats many people like dirt, even driving her second husband to suicide.

Gilbert Osmond of Henry James’ The Portrait of a Lady (1881) is the cruel, narcissistic husband of protagonist Isabel Archer — and has a hidden unsavory past.

Fyodor Karamazov of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov (1880) is a bad husband, bad father, and all-round bad dude.

Henleigh Grandcourt of George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda (1876) is a wealthy, sadistic man who makes wife Gwendolen miserable. (They’re pictured above in a screen adaptation of the novel.)

Count Fosco of Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White (1859) is a charming but chilling man who concocts a clever, dastardly scheme to make a financial killing.

Rigaud (aka Lagnier) of Charles Dickens’ Little Dorrit (1857) is a murderer and blackmailer.

Simon Legree of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852) is another slaveholder — a cruel, brutish, heartless man.

Roger Chillingworth of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter (1850) is Hester Prynne’s nasty husband who returns after seemingly being lost at sea and acts fiendishly toward Hester and the man he suspects is the father of Hester’s born-out-of-wedlock daughter Pearl.

Henri of Alexandre Dumas’ Georges (1843) is a spoiled, scary racist. (One interesting fact about that lesser-known Dumas novel is that it’s the only one in which the part-black author of The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers heavily focused on issues of color.)

Brian de Bois-Guilbert of Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe (1820) is a power-hungry, violent, and arrogant 12th-century military man who — like the aforementioned Esteban Trueba — has some redeeming qualities.

I’ve obviously just scratched the surface here. What fictional characters have you found to be alarming?

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 features a parade of weird trick-or-treaters — is here.

Characters Who Lose Their Reputations, Giuliani-Style

RudyOne of the many jaw-dropping spectacles offered by the dumpster fire of the corrupt and incompetent Trump administration is seeing how low Rudy Giuliani (pictured above) can go.

Trump’s personal lawyer — like the president himself — is greedy, erratic, a liar, and a crook. What a comedown for someone lauded as “America’s Mayor” when he headed New York City at the time of 9/11.

Of course, Giuliani was overrated back then — and a stone-cold racist to boot. But, still, his reputation has fallen so precipitously since 2001 that calling him a clown in 2019 would be an insult to clowns.

Anyway, all that’s an introduction to the theme of this week’s blog post: fictional characters whose reputations sharply or somewhat decrease in a novel — whether deservedly so, a la the real-life Rudy G.; or wrongly so, like the protagonist in a book I read last week.

That was John Grisham’s page-turner The Racketeer, whose Malcolm Bannister attorney character is serving 10 years in prison for helping a client he didn’t know was taking part in criminal activity. Malcolm loses his freedom, his law license, his professional reputation, his wife and son, the regard of his retired state trooper father, and more. But Malcolm (who is African American) has some information that can get him out of jail, and we watch how that scenario plays out — a scenario that includes a really clever plot twist.

Hester Prynne of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter also loses her reputation in her 17th-century Puritan community — despite being a good, admirable person. Her “crime”? Having a child out of wedlock. Of course, that was a bigger thing back then than it is now, but the unkindness and hypocrisy of her not-without-sin neighbors is still pretty breathtaking. Plus the male in the sexual equation doesn’t face any public infamy, though he is wracked with guilt.

Now for a few fictional characters, like the real-life Giuliani, who deservedly lost their good names — with some deserving of a little sympathy and others not.

In Liane Moriarty’s The Husband’s Secret, the titular character has a sterling reputation in his household and the world before the (awful) titular secret is discovered.

Willie Stark is an idealistic lawyer early in Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men — but he becomes thoroughly corrupt after being elected governor. So Stark’s ethical reputation takes a big hit, though his part-real/part-fake populism keeps him relatively popular among some constituents.

Janine of Richard Russo’s Empire Falls divorces decent guy Miles to take up with local jerk Walt — and also becomes very conceited after losing a lot of weight. She’s doesn’t really become a bad person, but many in town (including the teen daughter of Janine and Miles) certainly lose some regard for her.

Gervaise of Emile Zola’s The Drinking Den is initially a hardworking woman who manages to open her own Paris laundry and also marries fellow teetotaler Coupeau. He’s a decent man, but goes downhill after being injured in an accident — becoming a lazy alcoholic and dragging Gervaise into that same lifestyle. Both lose their good names.

In the realm of less-realistic fiction, Quirinus Quirrell of J.K. Rowling’s first Harry Potter book has enough wizard-world standing to become a professor at Hogwarts. But he rashly put himself in a position to be controlled by Lord Voldemort for nefarious purposes, so QQ’s status — not to mention his chances of staying alive — hit rock bottom.

Can you name some characters who fit this post’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 award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com. The latest weekly piece — which takes a funny and admiring look at rec sports for kids in my town — is here.

We Know What’s Gonna Happen But That’s Fine With Us

Lisa GenovaIn the case of many novels, readers basically know the general parameters of what will happen. In the case of many other novels, the plot destination is a complete or near-complete unknown (unless a review or too-talkative friend gives things away 🙂 ). Either type of novel has the potential to be compelling.

But can a novel be truly compelling if you kind of know what will happen? The obvious answer is “yes,” because lots of the appeal is in the journey: how the author gets to the expected conclusion, how characters deal with things, the quality of writing, and so on. Also, there are still usually some unexpected moments.

For instance, I read Lisa Genova’s excellent Inside the O’Briens last week, and — as in that author’s earlier novel Still Alice — a character is stricken with a devastating incurable disease early on (Huntington’s in the O’Briens and Alzheimer’s in Alice). But even though we know bad things are in store for the protagonist — Boston police officer Joe O’Brien — we are drawn to how he realizes he’s sick, how he and his family react to the Huntington’s diagnosis, and so on. Plus there’s still plenty of suspense, because Joe and his wife Rosie’s four adult children (a firefighter, a dancer, a yoga instructor, and a bartender) each have a 50-50 chance of possessing the death sentence of the Huntington’s gene. Do they want to take the blood test?

The very title of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold informs readers that a character will be murdered, but the author maintains lots of interest through such means as Santiago not being warned of his fate even though many people knew about the threat he was under.

Harper Lee’s classic To Kill a Mockingbird definitely contains some surprises, but we unfortunately know for certain — as the book’s iconic trial begins — that innocent, falsely accused black man Tom Robinson will be convicted by a racist all-white jury in the 1930s U.S. South.

Of course, historical fiction has all kinds of elements we know are coming, but those novels can still be gripping — including their humanizing of the past. One of many examples is Mark Twain’s Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc. Most readers are aware of the heroic story of Joan, her rigged trial, and her gruesome early-in-life death by burning, but Twain takes us on a fascinating journey along the way.

Another historical-fiction example is Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent — whose protagonist is Dinah, a minor character in the Bible. But her parents are Leah and Jacob, and her grandparents are Rebecca and Isaac, so people versed in the Old Testament know what happens in the lives of those four famous personages.

Novels whose outcomes are almost a complete mystery to people reading them for the first time? Some of my favorites include Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre (will Jane and Rochester’s romance ultimately work out?), Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment (will murderer Raskolnikov be caught?), Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence (will Newland Archer and Ellen Olenska reunite?), W. Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage (will Philip Carey stop acting like a lovestruck idiot?), Octavia E. Butler’s Kindred (will 20th-century African-American writer Dana become stuck in her ancestral Antebellum South after getting yanked back in time?), Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch (what will happen to a priceless painting?), Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies (will the rich banker guilty of severe sexual misconduct get his just desserts?), Andy Weir’s The Martian (will stranded-alone-on-Mars Mark Watney escape the planet?), etc.

Then there are mystery novels themselves. Most of the time we don’t know “who done it” until near the end of the book. There won’t be much mystery if that wasn’t the case, though there are some novels in that genre that reveal the culprit relatively early even as we still wonder how, when, or if that wrongdoer will be caught.

Your favorite novels that fit both sides of this 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 satirizes overdevelopment by focusing on the fictional Variances family — is here.

Native-American Characters in Literature

Louise Erdrich 2The first residents of what’s now the United States were Native Americans, but they haven’t often been first in the casts of novels. Still, there are a number of such characters, including more in recent years.

Their depictions, of course, have been all over the map — from stereotypical to fully three-dimensional. We might see the virulent discrimination against, and the poverty faced by, many Native Americans, or see some of them doing quite well. There are set-in-the-past depictions (including the genocide and otherwise horrific treatment at the hands of whites) and present-day portrayals. It helps when the author is partly or 100% Native American, but some authors with no such ancestry have done a reasonably good job with Native-American characters.

One Native-American author is Sherman Alexie, who I read for the first time last week with Reservation Blues. That novel chronicles the ups and downs of a Native-American rock band — with content also including a romance, mystical elements, interactions between Native Americans and whites, the effects of Christianity on the characters, struggles with alcoholism, and more.

Another (partly) Native-American author is Louise Erdrich (pictured above). I read her novel The Painted Drum a few months ago, and it’s an absorbing tale of an important Ojibwe artifact and the impact it has on various characters.

Some novels with partly or 100% Native-American characters by authors who are not Native American? One famous example is One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest‘s Chief Bromden, who ends up in the book’s Oregon psychiatric hospital after descending into clinical depression partly caused by his father being humiliated at the hands of whites. He is one of the Ken Kesey novel’s three stars, along with Randle McMurphy and Nurse Ratched.

Then there’s The Charlestown Connection and other crime novels by Tom MacDonald featuring partly Native-American private sleuth Dermot Sparhawk.

The above books are basically set during the time they were written, but there are also a number of books by modern-day authors set in the long-ago past.

For instance, the star of Isabel Allende’s compelling Zorro — which takes place in the late 1700s and early 1800s — is of mixed Native-American and Spanish descent. Among that novel’s most interesting supporting characters are Native Americans: Zorro’s mother Toypurnia, his grandmother White Owl, and his lifelong best friend Bernardo — all well-drawn and non-stereotypical.

Two in the Field — the sequel to Darryl Brock’s riveting time-travel/baseball novel If I Never Get Back — takes 20th-century-protagonist Sam Fowler to the 1870s to search for his lost love Caitlin with the help of a Sioux guide. Sam even meets General Custer, against whom Native Americans won their famous (and rare) victory against the always-encroaching white menace.

They didn’t fare as well in Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, in which the vicious Glanton gang massacred many Native Americans and others during an 1849-50 rampage in the Southwest.

Literature fitting this topic written during the 1800s? Many Native Americans appear in James Fenimore Cooper’s five “Leatherstocking” novels — the most famous of which is The Last of the Mohicans. None of them are as prominently featured as white guy Natty Bumppo, but Natty’s friend Chingachgook is an important secondary character and several other Native Americans have noticeable supporting roles. While Cooper gets somewhat stereotypical at times, he was fairly enlightened for a white author of his era in decently depicting Native Americans.

“Injun Joe” of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is more problematic. That half-Native American is portrayed as quite villainous, although Twain does offer some sense that one motive for the character’s actions is a desire to avenge the discrimination and ostracism he faced throughout his life.

Of course, some novels set in other countries also have indigenous characters — including the Eskimos of northern Canada in James Houston’s White Dawn and Mordecai Richler’s Solomon Gursky Was Here, Aboriginal Australians in novels such as Thomas Keneally’s The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, and so on.

I realized I’ve only touched the surface here. Your favorite novels that include Native-American or other indigenous characters?

Many of you know “Kat Lit,” a great/frequent/long-time poster here who hasn’t commented for a while. She tells me she has been dealing with a move and some health issues, says hello to everyone, misses everyone, and plans to return here when she can.

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 compares the way my town coddles powerful developers with a neighboring town’s more community-minded approach — is here.

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.