Do We Need to Read or Reread Every Book by Our Favorite Authors?

Do we need to read or reread every book by our favorite authors? What happens when we read (or reread) all of Dickens, Trollope, and the Brontes?

First, on rereading Dickens. I was doing well until I got to Hard Times.

hard times dickens cover.jpg.rendition.460.707Mind you, I loved Hard Times when I first read it, and it would be a masterpiece if anyone else had written it.  But Dickens’s best novels (Bleak House, Our Mutual Friend) are so exciting, vigorous,  unpredictable  and wildly comic that this reads like Dickens “lite.” Dickens does better when he writes long than when he writes short.

The plot is entertaining, if messy, but some of the objects of his satire–education, for instance–he has done better elsewhere (Nicholas Nickleby, David Copperfield).  But I am fond of the characters:    Louisa  Gradgrind, a young woman educated to care only about facts and then married off in a state of emotional shock to a dishonest factory owner, Josiah Bounderby;  Sissy Jupe, the abandoned daughter of an aging clownand is a failure of the Gradgrind educational system ; and Merrylegs, the circus dog who saves Louisa’s brother, Thomas.

Hard Times is amusing, it is stylishly written, and it is socially pertinent, yes.  Set in a factory town, it is partially an exposé of the exploitation of factory workers.  Dickens also satirizes education:  Mr. Gradgrind raises the intelligent Louisa and her dissolute brother Thomas on facts, and oversees a school educating children only in facts.  The moral:  If you’re raised on facts and have no education, you are a psychological mess.

Dickens always makes brilliant use of rhetoric.  In the first paragraph, the opening speech of Mr. Gradgrind,  he repeats “Facts”  five times and “principle”  twice.

‘Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, sir!’

Hard Times seems more suited to, dare I say it, high school classrooms.  The same with Tale of Two Cities, which we read in ninth grade.  Have you noticed how teachers so often pick the shortest books?

What is your favorite Dickens?

Golden lion of Granpere trollope 6Should I read all of Trollope?  Well, I am a Trollope fan.  I love his long novels, especially Can You Forgive Her? and He Knew He Was Right.  But I have not enjoyed his short novels.

Well, I recently embarked on  The Golden Lion of Granpere, set in France.  What kind of Victorian novel is set in France?  I wondered.  Not one I want to read, I decided.  There’s an innkeeper, and he doesn’t want his son to marry his niece.  But somehow this plot works much better in England!

It’s only 260 pages, and somebody will like it, but since Trollope lacks Dickens’s rhetorical brilliance and also needs space to develop his leisurely plots, his short novels seem blank to me!

Does this mean I like only long books?  No.

anne bronte tenant of wildfell hall 51Sp7PW34wL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Anne Bronte is a master of the short novel.  I recently reread The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. You will be relieved to know that I enjoyed it.

Although her style is not as poetic or striking as that of Charlotte or Emily, I love The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Anne’s feminist novel about the perils of romantic love. The frame construction reminds me of Wuthering Heights. We get to know the heroine, Helen Graham, through the narrator’s intense letters to a friend, and then through the diary she gives him to read, and then back to his letter. Helen, who says she is a widow, is actually one of the first “battered women” in literature: she has escaped from her violent husband and lives  in a secluded house with her four-year-old son, supporting herself by art.  And she is so passionate and wedded to her isolation that she reminds me very slightly of a female Heathcliff.

So it’s worth it to reread all the Brontes again and again!

Do you feel it’s necessary to read every book by a favorite author?

12 thoughts on “Do We Need to Read or Reread Every Book by Our Favorite Authors?

  1. When I was younger if I discovered an author I *had* to read everything they wrote – and there are still some authors I feel like that about. For example, a few years back pre-blog I re-read everything by Richard Brautigan in order. But I think nowadays I would tend to be more picky and if I didn’t like a book I would abandon it. And if an author was a prolific as someone like Dickens or Trollope I might not make the attempt. However, if it comes to someone like Calvino…. 😉

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  2. It’s a lot easier to read and reread all the Brontes than all of Trollope! When an author has more than a dozen books I tend not to be a completist, but under that, yes, I do usually end up bingeing on a favorite author. Besides just wanting more of something I like, it can be fascinating to have an overview of a whole body of work. And rereading can give even more insights — like yours about Hard Times. To me it’s not necessarily a bad thing to revise our original opinions, even downwards; it makes our viewpoint more complex.

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  3. Do I feel it’s necessary to read every book by my favourite author? Not at all, though my younger self would have disagreed. Less to do with maturity than awareness of the September of my years, I think. But what of writers who didn’t want you to read all their books? I’m thinking here of writers like Brian Moore. He penned seven noirish paperbacks to support his more literary endeavours, disowned every one, and made sure they remained out of print. The most I ever heard him say was something along the lines that without them he could not have written Judith Hearne. Another novel, The Revolution Script, was considered a mistake, and dropped from bibliographies included in later books. I’ve read them all and am glad I did.

    Loved Hard Times when I was in school, but hadn’t felt the urge to reread until now.

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    • Yes, reading the complete works can be too much, especially when some are better than others. Fascinating about Brian Moore! An online friend sent me a copy of Judith Hearne and I must read it.

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  4. This is such a potentially interesting theme: what author do we reread? we don’t reread all authors we decide are truly great. And if we decide to reread, why do we reread this author and which of his or her books do we favor?

    Trollope is to me endlessly rereadable. I am ever finding something new, especially if I let a few years go by. That means that far from obsolete his book “update” themselves naturally. I surmise Tolstoy’s two famous novels update themselves. Richardson’s Clarissa does. Does Austen’s or is it she’s hollowed out to allow investment of anything in her six books (so few). So we need to ask different kinds of questions.

    You cite Dickens. I am not one who loves Dickens’s novels as such at all so it’s a few of his novels and/or stories that i do (and I do) return to.

    A side issue: which novels really lend themselves to re-adaptation?

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    • Oh, I love Trollope, but not all of him! Austen holds up always. Both Trollope and Dickens wrote so much that they’re uneven, some better than others. Yes, the re-adaptation thing is an interesting question. You know what I think would be interesting: a miniseries of Lewis’s Main Street. Americans so seldom mkae this kind of film.

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    • David Copperfield is one of my favorites. I do agree about Cather. One day I want to go to Red Cloud, her hometown, again. This is one of the highlights of the midewest1

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