The Many-Decade Spans of Some Sequels and Series

After reading last week that Margaret Atwood is writing a follow-up to The Handmaid’s Tale, I thought about which sequels — and series — spanned the most time.

Atwood’s famous, feminist, dystopian novel came out in 1985, and The Testaments will be published in 2019 — making for a gap of 34 years. Not quite the 36-year-period between Stephen King’s The Shining (1977) and its sequel Doctor Sleep (2013), but plenty long.

Why gaps like that? Authors such as King and Atwood (pictured above) are of course busy writing many other books, and may not want to revisit the same characters — at least until several decades go by. In Atwood’s case, one spur for the coming sequel is the high popularity of the current The Handmaid’s Tale television series. Also, the Republican Party’s current far-right/misogynist politics make her 1985 novel prescient and very relevant to today.

The Testaments will reportedly begin 15 years after The Handmaid’s Tale ends. Other sequels can of course be set closer or farther away in time from the original novel.

Can many-years-later sequels be better? Sometimes. Heck, the authors have often become more mature writers. But they might also be past their prime, a bit tired, and not have as many new ideas. Still, numerous fans don’t mind if a sequel isn’t as good; they’re just happy it exists. Plus there’s money to be made for the authors — not that superstar writers like Atwood and King need it. πŸ™‚

Other one-sequel, multiple-sequel, or series scenarios spanning many a decade?

P.G. Wodehouse wrote his Jeeves novels and stories over a stunning period of nearly 60 years — 1915 to 1974!

Agatha Christie featured Hercule Poirot in 40-plus novels and short-story collections for more than a half-century — from 1920’s The Mysterious Affair at Styles into the 1970s. And Christie’s Miss Marple character starred in more than 10 books from 1930 (The Murder at the Vicarage) into the ’70s.

John Updike’s four Rabbit novels were published over a period of 30 years (1960, 1971, 1981, 1990) — with a novella added to the mix in 2001. So, 41 years total.

Other large spans include 35 years between Sue Grafton’s first and 25th “alphabet mysteries” starring Kinsey Millhone (“A” Is for Alibi, 1982/“Y” Is for Yesterday, 2017); 32 years between Martin Cruz Smith’s first and eighth Arkady Renko novels (Gorky Park, 1981/Tatiana, 2013); 26 years between Walter Mosley’s first and 14th Easy Rawlins novels (Devil in a Blue Dress, 1990/Charcoal Joe, 2016); 25 years between Jack Finney’s Time and Again (1970) and From Time to Time (1995); 24 years between Janet Evanovich’s first and 25th Stephanie Plum novels (One for the Money, 1994/Look Alive Twenty-Five, 2018); and 23 years between Richard Russo’s Nobody’s Fool (1993) and Everybody’s Fool (2016).

Then there are Honore de Balzac’s and Emile Zola’s many-book sagas containing stand-alone but interlinked novels featuring characters who pop in and out, sometimes as lead protagonists and sometimes as supporting players. Balzac wrote his La Comedie Humaine works from 1830 to the late 1840s — not that long a period because of his relatively early death, but an extraordinarily prolific period that produced a whopping 90-plus novels (such as Old Goriot and Cousin Bette) and stories! Zola penned his 20 Rougon-Macquart novels (The Drinking Den, Germinal, etc.) from 1871 to 1893.

Other sequels and series you can name with many-year publishing spans? And/or any comments about the ones I mentioned?

I will not be posting columns on December 9 and 16 (because of another trip to Florida to deal with my late mother’s estate and some other reasons). Back on December 23! I’ll still reply to comments under already-published columns. πŸ™‚

My 2017 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 — written by my cat! — is here.

Non-Living Things Can Offer Literary Zings

Sometimes the main or almost-main character in a novel or short story is an inanimate object. And sometimes that object can seem almost as alive as characters who are actually alive (albeit fictionally).

My latest object of (literary) desire is the painted drum in Louise Erdrich’s absorbing novel The Painted Drum, which I’m in the middle of reading. As is often the case with fiction’s noteworthy objects, the non-living thing is named in the title. And this Native-American artifact has a personality of sorts, crafted beauty, and a major impact on the plot. (Ms. Erdrich is pictured above.)

Other prominent objects in literature of course include houses, cars, art, jewelry, statues, and more.

When a house is the title “character,” there’s frequently something about it that makes the human protagonists uneasy. For instance, Jane Austen’s part-spoof-of-Gothic-fiction Northanger Abbey features a character (Catherine Morland) whose overactive imagination gets a bit out of hand when she visits the titular dwelling. The house in Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House is legitimately scary, the one in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The House of the Seven Gables is not exactly a happy place, and the abode in Daphne du Maurier’s The House on the Strand is the jumping-off point for some weird time travel.

More positive is the house in L.M. Montgomery’s The Blue Castle. It’s not literally a blue castle, but it’s the dream home Valancy Stirling has always wished for but never thought she’d have — and Valancy ends up living there with a man she loves through a very improbable set of circumstances.

Speaking of time travel a la du Maurier, there’s also H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine — with that titular device a vehicle of sorts.

Cars? The automobile “character” I first thought of is the one in Stephen King’s From a Buick 8 that’s a portal to a spooky place.

Art? Donna Tartt’s set-in-recent-times novel The Goldfinch is built around Carel Fabritius’ 1654 painting “The Goldfinch,” which is taken from a museum by protagonist Theo Decker amid the chaos of a terrorist attack that kills his mother and others. The priceless painting subsequently has a giant effect on Theo’s life.

Jewelry, gems, and such? Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone — an early novel in the detective genre — “stars” a huge diamond. The also-huge, very valuable pearl in John Steinbeck’s novella The Pearl is not the positive find Kino and his family hope it will be; it turns out to be a disaster — as does the article of jewelry in Guy de Maupassant’s devastating short story “The Necklace.”

Then there’s of course J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, in which the trilogy’s most-powerful ring is as consequential (to the plot and the future of Middle-earth) as it gets.

Statues? There’s the stone pillar in Erich Maria Remarque’s The Black Obelisk that can be seen as a symbol of the nascent Nazi movement in 1920s Germany. And there’s the famous statuette that’s the title of Dashiell Hammett’s novel The Maltese Falcon, starring detective Sam Spade.

Another sleuthing work focusing on an object is Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Purloined Letter,” featuring detective C. Auguste Dupin. Poe also put inanimate things in the titles of several other tales — including “The Cask of Amontillado,” “The Oblong Box,” and “The Oval Portrait,” among others.

Oh, and there are the fateful overpasses in The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder and Alexander’s Bridge by Willa Cather.

Novels and stories you remember that prominently feature objects?

My 2017 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 — about a disruptive snowstorm and more — is here.

Crime: All the Time or Some of the Time

The ever-popular category of crime fiction — which can include detective novels, mysteries, thrillers, etc. — has different categories of authors.

There are those writers — such as Raymond Chandler, Lee Child, Agatha Christie, Michael Connelly, Arthur Conan Doyle, Janet Evanovich, Sue Grafton, Dashiell Hammett, Patricia Highsmith, P.D. James, Walter Mosley, Louise Penny, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Lisa Scottoline — known mostly for their crime fiction, even as they occasionally roam/roamed outside that genre. Then there are authors known more for their non-crime-fiction work, even as they produce/produced some strong offerings in the detective/mystery/thriller realm. This blog post will be about the latter group — which includes people like Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens, Edgar Allan Poe, J.K. Rowling, and Mark Twain.

I’ll first discuss Rowling, who, as “Robert Galbraith,” writes the series starring fascinating private investigator Cormoran Strike. I read the debut installment, The Cuckoo’s Calling, this week — and was bowled over by how smoothly Rowling moved into crime fiction after conquering the young-adult/magical-fiction world with her iconic Harry Potter series and then writing the compelling general-adult-fiction book The Casual Vacancy. Rowling will always be associated more with Harry Potter than anything else, but her versatility is off-the-charts.

Collins is best known for The Woman in White, an ultra-suspenseful mystery; and The Moonstone, an early example of detective fiction. But most of his novels were in the realm of general fiction.

Poe is of course almost synonymous with horror fiction, but he wrote several earlier-than-The Moonstone detective stories starring C. Auguste Dupin — the most famous of which were “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” and “The Purloined Letter.”

Twain’s late-career novel Pudd’nhead Wilson, with its important plot-solving element of fingerprint analysis, placed that author somewhat in the crime-solving genre. Two years later, Twain came out with Tom Sawyer, Detective — one of his lesser novels.

Dickens turned to the mystery genre with his last, unfinished book — The Mystery of Edwin Drood — after more than 30 years of penning more general literary works.

Obviously, authors who write crime fiction most of the time can really master that genre, but the potential drawback can be a certain sameness in some of their work. Those pros and cons can of course flip for writers who turn to crime fiction only occasionally.

Any thoughts on the two categories of crime-fiction authors discussed in this blog post? Your favorite works in each category?

(BTW, one reason Jim Grant took the name Lee Child was because that alias alphabetically placed his Jack Reacher novels in libraries and bookstores between the works of crime-fiction greats Raymond Chandler and Agatha Christie — just like Child ended up between Chandler and Christie in this blog post’s second paragraph.)

My 2017 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 — about overdevelopment run amok in my town — is here.

This Literature Post Contains a Secret Supreme Court Message

Today’s column will be sort of random. What pulls it together is the first letter of every fiction title I’ll mention, because together those boldfaced letters spell out a message by the time you reach the end of this post. Here goes:

Beloved by Toni Morrison. A novel, about the psychological toll of slavery and more, chosen by The New York Times in 2006 as the best American fiction work of the previous 25 years.

Redburn by Herman Melville. The lesser-known but excellent Melville work, published in 1849, about a sea voyage to Liverpool that predated The Beatles.

Evelina by Fanny Burney. A novel about the adventures (romantic and otherwise) of a young woman that’s one of the most readable books of the 18th century.

Three Junes by Julia Glass. An interestingly structured novel with three separate but interconnected parts set in 1989, 1995, and 1999.

Tales of the South Pacific by James Michener. The famous stories-sewn-together-as-a-novel that feels more modern than a 21st-century reader would expect.

Kindred by Octavia Butler. Part science-fiction, part sobering social commentary as a 20th-century African-American woman is repeatedly pulled back in time to the Antebellum South.

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery. The best YA novel ever? Could be. About a brainy, spirited orphan girl in 19th-century Canada.

Villette by Charlotte Bronte. Uneven and not as riveting as the author’s Jane Eyre, but still pretty darn good.

Arch of Triumph by Erich Maria Remarque. This memorable novel, set in late-1930s Paris, features a German surgeon refugee who becomes romantically involved.

Native Son by Richard Wright. This riveting novel is a sort of 20th-century version of Crime and Punishment, with the added theme of American racism.

A Is for Alibi by Sue Grafton. The first of the engaging “alphabet mysteries” that star very human private investigator Kinsey Millhone. Sadly, the friendly Grafton (I spoke with her twice on Facebook) died before writing the 26th book.

Underworld by Don DeLillo. A long, sprawling novel that says a lot about the United States in the second half of the 20th century.

Gerald’s Game by Stephen King. I’m in the middle of reading this ultra-suspenseful book — which, though published in 1992, evokes the current Republican “war on women.” Gerald’s bad behavior toward his wife Jessie (and the sexual misconduct of other males in the novel) would make many a vile Republican politician proud.

Hollywood by Charles Bukowski. A hilarious fictionalization of the author’s experience writing the screenplay for the movie Barfly.

Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott. The great, justly famous historical novel. But while it’s Scott’s best-known work, it’s not his best work.

Silas Marner by George Eliot. Many high-schoolers supposedly dislike this novel, but I think it’s compelling and moving. And quite short for an Eliot book!

Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift. Fascinating satirical novel that can be enjoyed on different levels by kids and adults.

Ulysses by James Joyce. Oops — never read it.

Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri. So masterful that it became one of the few short-story collections to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

Life of Pi by Yann Martel. A boy warily co-exists with an unfriendly tiger when they’re cast away at sea.

Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck. The author’s first really successful novel is hilarious and socially astute.

Yet he still was confirmed. 😦

My 2017 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 puts a local spin on the repugnant Brett Kavanaugh — is here.

‘The Magnificent Seven’ Continents: a Reading Tale

Many literature lovers have reading goals: Try a particular author for the first time. Finally pick up a classic that’s been on your list forever. Polish off 50 novels a year. Etc.

Me? I recently reached a goal I didn’t even know I was aiming for — just realizing that, since mid-2017, I’ve read fictional works set or partly set on all seven continents. That and a dollar will buy me something at Dollar Tree…

I completed my double-trifecta-and-a-half a couple weeks ago with Ha Jin’s Waiting, which is set in Asia — China to be exact. That absorbing novel is about a doctor, stuck in an unhappy arranged marriage to a traditional woman, who falls in love with a more modern woman — after which things get quite complicated, emotionally and logistically. The author lives in the U.S., but spent his childhood and young adulthood in China, so he knows his native country well.

Obviously, a major appeal of reading literature not set in one’s home nation is learning about other cultures, even while realizing that human emotions are usually not that different from place to place. Of course, one can learn even more about other countries by visiting them (I did get to France for a couple of weeks this spring), but reading certainly costs less — and living-room chairs are roomier than airline seats in coach. πŸ™‚

I also “traveled” to Africa this past year via Buchi Emecheta’s Second Class Citizen, a compelling novel partly set in Nigeria. Ambitious/resilient protagonist Adah strives for an education and a better life despite sexism, racism, a problematic husband, and other obstacles.

Australia? I’ve recently read several novels by Liane Moriarty, one of my very favorite contemporary authors. Books such as Big Little Lies and The Husband’s Secret expertly mix three-dimensional characters, mystery, social issues, humor, and other elements to create a page-turning brew.

There was a South America “sojourn,” too, when I read Jorge Amado’s Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands. That Brazil-set novel stars the smart and congenial Dona Flor, her charismatic but irresponsible first hubby, her responsible but rather boring second hubby, and a sort of ghost of that deceased first spouse. Quite a threesome, or foursome.

The vast majority of fictional works I read are set in North America or Europe, so I’ll mention just four of my recently perused ones among the dozens I’ve gotten to since mid-2017.

I just finished Rosamunde Pilcher’s Winter Solstice, which unfolds in England and Scotland (both of which sound like Europe to me πŸ™‚ ). That novel — which is almost as good as Pilcher’s fabulous The Shell Seekers — features related and unrelated people, ranging in age from 14 to 67, who come together around Christmas time amid tragedy and hope. (On top of this blog, my cat Misty poses with the novel.)

This past week, I also read Nikolai Gogol’s short story “The Viy,” set in the Ukraine. A masterful horror tale with a lot to say about religion and more.

North America? My favorites of recent months include Lee Child’s latest Jack Reacher novel, The Midnight Line, which addresses matters such as drugs amid interesting character depictions and visceral action sequences; and the always-reliable Fannie Flagg’s touching novel The Whole Town’s Talking. Both books are set in the U.S.

You’re probably wondering how I managed to read a fictional work set in Antarctica. Well, part of Maria Semple’s quirky seriocomic novel Where’d You Go, Bernadette takes us to that icy continent — and memorably so.

Have you ever done the seven-continent reading thing? Do you have other reading goals you’ve knowingly or unknowingly achieved?

My 2017 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 offers a fake history of my town in this era of alleged “fake news” — is here.

Unfairness in Literature

I have unfairness on my mind these days. The unfairness of Trump — almost exactly a year ago — defeating the flawed but infinitely more qualified Hillary Clinton because of sexism, racism, the Electoral College, Russian interference, Republican voter-suppression efforts, etc. The unfairness of Democratic National Committee shenanigans helping to give Clinton an advantage in the 2016 primaries over the more progressive/less-corporate-tied Bernie Sanders — shenanigans again confirmed this monthΒ in a book by DNC insider Donna Brazile. And there are other unfair things, in and out of politics, too numerous to mention here.

That got me thinking about the many depictions of unfairness in literature — depictions that evoke all kinds of reader emotions: sorrow, anger, frustration, “I can relate to that in real life,” or “glad it wasn’t me in real life.” Sometimes things end well in those fictional works, and we’re happy in a wish-fulfillment sort of way. Other times things end badly, which is upsetting but perhaps more believable. Here are just a few examples:

In George Eliot’s Silas Marner, the title character is betrayed by his best friend — who not only falsely frames Silas of a crime but also ends up marrying Mr. Marner’s fiancee. Silas is devastated by those horribly unfair blows, and only an unexpected event helps him recover.

Octavia E. Butler’s Kindred shows African-American protagonist Dana living a pretty good life in 1970s California before she’s yanked back to a plantation in pre-Civil War years. As terribly unfair a destination as there is for someone involuntarily traveling in time.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin includes the slaveowner character Augustine St. Clare, who pledges to free Tom but never does the necessary paperwork before he (Augustine) unexpectedly dies. The results are tragic for Tom, who’s then sold to vicious plantation owner Simon Legree in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel. Unfair is a gross understatement here.

The two main characters in John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars have nothing but unfair lives as they each deal with ultra-serious medical conditions. But they meet and develop a wonderful relationship, until the unfairness escalates to another level…

In W. Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage, Philip Carey is unfairly born with a club foot that’s one of the things that takes a toll on his self-esteem. So, even though he’s a smart guy with good prospects, he ends up pathetically enamored with an unlikable woman spectacularly unsuited for him.

But, more often than not, female characters in literature experience more unfairness than male ones — whether it’s beleaguered welfare recipient Connie Ramos in Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time, several women in Alice Walker’s The Color Purple,Β or the basically enslaved women in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, to name just three examples.

Then there’s the unfair way so many gay characters are treated by other characters in literature, as is the case with Molly Bolt of Rita Mae Brown’s Rubyfruit Jungle.

In Peter Straub’s “Blue Rose” short story, which I read last month, a young boy is part of an extremely dysfunctional family. That unfair accident of birth is bad enough, but then his older brother begins manipulating him through hypnosis — leading to a shocking fate for the poor kid.

An example of the very ultimate in unfairness? In Nevil Shute’s On the Beach, Australia’s residents await certain death from a wave of radiation set off by a nuclear war their country had nothing to do with.

What are some memorable fictional works that fit this topic for you?

(Also, debate about my first paragraph is welcome. πŸ™‚ I know there are some Hillary Clinton supporters who regularly comment here, while I preferred Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primaries. It would have been nice if Donna Brazile had waited until after the November 7 election to release her book, but it didn’t seem to hurt the Democrats last Tuesday.)

My 2017 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 looks at Election Day results, is here.

‘No Book Panic Syndrome’ Is a Novel Problem

Do you occasionally suffer from NBPS? Yes, I’m talking about No Book Panic Syndrome.

Let me explain. You’re a literature lover, and you’ve finished all the not-read novels in your home. You need to go to the library or bookstore, but you can’t get there quite yet — maybe the next day. Or you’ve ordered a title or two online, and it won’t be arriving in the mail until, say, the weekend. And (this is important!) you read books the old-fashioned way, not on a Kindle.

What to do? You can of course click on some free short stories online, and read them there. But you crave print.

I suffered from NBPS this past week. On Tuesday, I finished Louise Penny’s excellent mystery How the Light Gets In — mostly set in a small Canadian town filled with memorable characters. Two other library books I borrowed in August — Octavia Butler’s sci-fi novel Parable of the Sower and Lee Child’s Jack Reacher adventure Night School — had already been read, admired, and put aside. But I couldn’t get to the library until Thursday because of chores and car availability.

(Yes, Car Availability would make a great name for a rock band.)

Why not go a couple days without reading, I asked myself? Yeah, right, I answered — ain’t happening.

Perusing the back of cereal boxes was not a tempting option, and I had already read too much about Hurricane Irma and What a Pain Donald Trump in the print and online New York Times. So, although I’ve promised myself the past few years not to reread books I own (too many never-tried novels and authors out there), I was desperate enough to start scanning my living-room shelves. There I spotted Ray Bradbury’s R Is For Rocket, a yellowing paperback collection of 17 short stories I hadn’t read since I was a teen. Just 184 pages — the perfect length for a bridge to that Thursday library visit.

And what evocative, exquisitely written tales — about kids (as well as adults) longing to travel in space, and the occasional pitfalls of doing so; about a huge, ancient sea creature falling in love with a lighthouse and foghorn; and the classic “A Sound of Thunder” that depicts how the killing of a tiny butterfly during a trip back in time revises the present the travelers return to just enough to have a nightmarish result.

After Bradbury filled that two-day gap, I found reinforcements on Thursday when my library visit got me Fannie Flagg’s The Whole Town’s Talking, Isak Dinesen’s Seven Gothic Tales, Larry McMurtry’s The Last Kind Words Saloon, and John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. I’ll undoubtedly mention all those fictional works in future posts.

What do you do when you temporarily have no book you want to read? Do you reread something? Do extra non-reading things? Sob uncontrollably?Β  πŸ™‚

Or maybe the crying will happen when I get to the above-mentioned John Green novel…

I’ll end today’s post with this video of a 2017 U2 song called “The Little Things That Give You Away.” Such as suffering from No Book Panic Syndrome…Β  πŸ™‚

My 2017 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, about a way-way-too-big project that became way too big, is here.