19 November 2009

Trying not to finish an author's back catalog too quickly

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The reading room
Jayne Dyer, 2007

My recent read of another novel by Nevil Shute got me thinking about authors whose novels I like so much I worry about running out of their work. For those that have passed on already the dilemma is already clearly delineated. For those authors still among the living, there are wishes for a long, long life and speedy, speedy writing.

This is slightly different than favorite authors. For instance I love Hermann Hesse, but I doubt I will ever read The Glass Bead Game. I will, however, read every work of fiction by these authors (if I haven't already):

Margaret Atwood
Elizabeth Bowen
Anita Brookner
Willa Cather
Margaret Drabble
Timothy Findley
EM Forster
Ward Just
Sinclair Lewis
Penelope Lively
W. Somerset Maugham
Ian McEwan
Cheryl Mendelson
Iris Murdoch
Anne Patchett
Barbara Pym
Muriel Spark
Carol Shields
Nevil Shute
Anthony Trollope (I don't think I will live that long.)
Edith Wharton
I am sure I have forgotten some.

Thank god some of these authors wrote (or are still writing) a lot. I have sadly finished Forster and Shields and neither are around to write more. And there are others like Brookner and Atwood who I have almost caught up to their output. And then others whose work I am rationing so as not to finish too quickly.

Who are yours?


  1. I entirely agree with this - it is awful to read the last book by a dead author.

    Some of my authors who I would like to read everything by are in your list - Brookner, Drabble. And some that I have read everything of - Shields, and Pym.

    My list would also include:
    Daphne Du Maurier (only 2 to go)
    Monica Dickens (only 1 to go).

    Perhaps also Nina Bawden, Dorothy Whipple.

    Will be interested to see other responses!

  2. This made me smile, because I feel that way a lot. What if I run out of books by (fill in the blank)??? Even funnier is that I'm suddenly at a loss for any examples. :-) Recently I've taken a shine to Chuck Palaniuk, Philip Roth, Paul Auster, J.M Coetzee, Graham Greene, and Patrick McGrath, so I'll say those for now, but I know there are many others.

    I haven't heard of some of the ones on your list. I'll have to check them out!


  3. I definitely ration out my favourite authors and in no rush to finish their back catalogue (in many cases I own it); the authors that immediately spring to mind are Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Toni Morrison, Salman Rushdie, Colette and Virginia Woolf.

    Now notably the first three above are still alive so their catalogue isn't finite as yet whereas I've read the back catalogue of younger writers such as Sarah Waters, Jasper Fforde and Neil Gaiman as I feel positive about their productivity in the future.

    Slightly different again is Angela Carter. I intensely studied her fiction and read it all excluding two of the middle novels (which are out-of-print but I have copies) and I am rationing those because once they have been read -and her nonfiction- there is nothing left and I can't be bereft of that excitement, wonder and awe.

  4. Ah, I know how you feel. One of my favorite authors passed away just a few years ago- and I was so unhappy to realize there would never be another new book by him (I've read all but two).

  5. This is precisely why I am 'saving' Emma. Not sure how much longer I can hold out...

  6. Wonderful list fo authors Thomas. I have to say that if an author has died I find it harder and harder to race through their works if I love them (Daphne Du Maurier, Agatha Christie etc etc) and if they are alive I just hope they will produce lots and lots of books preferably every year or two frankly!

  7. Great List-
    on your Lit I recently read my first Atwood and my second Brookner-I will read much more by these authors-probably one more Atwood in 2009-Brookner I take slowly!

    of contemporary writers you might like based on your list that I have on my read all they write list are Penelope Fitzgerald, Jeanette Winterson, Muriel Barberry, and Marcus Zusak-I am currently very into the Japanese novel and have Kenzaburo Oe, Banana Yoshimoto and Junichiro Tanizaki on my read everything they have written list also-

    I am also in the very slow process of completing the personal challenge of reading all the novels of Henry James and Edith Wharton-about ten years ago I read all of Dickens fiction and his travel writings-

  8. Verity: I have never read Du Maurier. I think I probably better.

    Lezlie: I almost put Coetzee on my list. And frankly I had refer to my book spreadsheet to remind myself of half of my list.

    Paperback Reader: The finite-ness (finity?) of a long dead author is perhaps disappointing but doesn't really hit one emotionally. But when one of your favorites is in the prime of her career and is taken too early (Carol Shields) the sudden finity of their output takes on an emotional dimension much closer to grief--and not just for the books, for the person--the author. Very sad.

    Jeane: Oh, don't leave us hanging. Who was the author?

    JoAnn: The good thing about Austen is that for those who like her, they tend to love to re-read her. But I suppose there is nothing like the first time.

    Simon S: Two Du Maurier's in the same comment section is further impetus for me to read her for the first time. Suggestions for my virgin voyage? And I wish I liked Agatha Christie.

  9. Thomas, that's exactly how I feel about Angela Carter; she died at the age of fifty-one from lung cancer so her work does have an intense poignancy to it.

  10. Mel: One of the great things about Brookner is that she is prolific, having written 23 since she started with fiction in 1981 or so. Although I think she may be slowing down. I only have 2 of hers left.

    You Dickens, James, and Wharton reading is amazing. I recently gave James another chance and am much more tempted now to read more of him than I was previously.

  11. I also have Roberto Bolano on my list-I would advise first reading Savage Detectives then jumping into 2666-On James I would start with the Europeans then go on to the Bostonians then I would ponder how I like him-on Wharton start with the Age of Innocence-so beautifully written it is amazing in places-

  12. Mel: My James column only has two in it. I had to read Washington Square twice over my years of school. And then I read Portrait of a Lady this summer. Once I got into Portrait I began to understand how to approach his work. And Wharton, sheesh I think I have read 9 of her 22 novels, and still have all of her short stories.

  13. Great list of writers! I'm sure you'll be adding Dorothy Whipple to the list very soon. I just discovered her this year and it's been wonderful reading her books. Fortunately there's still a few more to go...

    I don't look forward to reading the last one but her books are the type you can just easily read again.

  14. I know exactly how you feel! I don't want to finish Dorothy Whipple but I am almost there - only three left to go, two of which I own and one which is coming to me from America. I also still haven't read Jane Austen's juvenilia/unfinished novels as I can't bear to finish reading new material from her. I feel the same about Carol Shields - I have loads of her books but have only read one or two - knowing that she is dead makes me so sad when I read her words and I don't want to finish hearing her voice afresh.

  15. Litstew and Rachel: I think my biggest lesson from this post is that Dorothy Whipple is a must read. Second biggest lesson is Du Maurier.

  16. Chaim Potok. I've lots of his novels, and hemming about whether or not to tackle the non-fiction (Jewish history). Well, I might have to take that back! I've read nine of his books- there's one short story collection I haven't gotten through yet, and ten more published works listed on wiki. I thought they were mostly history, but now I'm not so sure.

  17. Can't believe you haven't read DuMaurier. But it's never too late! I also started reading her books as an adult. Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel are my favouties!

  18. Jeane: Thanks for sharing the name. I haven't read any of his work. Now I have extra impetus to do so.

    Mrs B: Oh, I am convinced now. She is on the list.

  19. Thomas, I saw you said you really liked Hesse but did not plan to read Glass Bead Game-I love Hesse also and have read his two most popular works at least twice-it has been many years since I read the Glass Bead Game but it is his master work and as I recall an enjoyable read-

  20. Oh dear, am a bit late for this discussion, but I have also rationed / am rationing out books by favourite authors, e.g. Graham Greene, Henry James, Willa Cather, Edith Wharton, Elizabeth Gaskell. But my memory for books can be so poor, I'm ashamed to say I don't remember that much detail after a while, so can come to them almost fresh again. Also the rereading is different, because I have changed. A good book always has quite a few surprises and things that you don't notice the first time.

  21. Glad to know I'm not the only one who does this! Mine are Fyoder Dostoevsky, Charlotte Bronte, Daphne du Maurier, and Edna Ferber, who wrote about dying subcultures in the US. I highly recommend Showboat, Cimarron, and Big...but don't worry about seeing the movies. As is always true, they don't do the books justice.

  22. Mel: My favorite Hesse is Narcissus and Goldmund.

    bookheaper: I feel like there are too many books to read the first time to get around re-reads. Although I do sometime.

    Val: That is good information.

  23. Thomas-thanks for bringing to my attention Narcissus and Goldmund-I have not read it-I checked goodreads.com and it looks like something I would enjoy-I am sort of out of my Hesse reading era but I hope to read this work in 2010-


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