Prolific Authors: Who Are the Ones Worth Reading “Everything”?

Extollager

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I decided to start this thread. The idea is to focus on non-genre authors (so not Tolkien etc.) who are established as multi-generational standard, canonical authors, and who were copious. Here are examples of authors who, I’d say, qualify, and ones who don’t. I’m just trying to get a discussion started. We’re probably dealing with writers of prose fiction, and drama.

Copious standard authors: Dickens, Shakespeare, Scott, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Balzac, Hugo, Trollope, Twain, Henry James,Melville, Kipling, Conrad...These wrote a LOT. I suppose they all had impressive uniform editions of their works.

That notion of “copious” might be too demanding, but could we stick with it at first?

Not copious enough: Kafka, Emily Bronte, Poe, Gogol

Debatable as to whether they qualify as copious enough: Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Robert Louis Stevenson

Too recent: anyone still alive within the past 50 years or so; I personally would disqualify Waugh on this account, but would allow Hemingway


Any thoughts?

Once we get a handle on what qualifies, then the discussion can move on....

Which are the ones “all” of whose works (not counting apprentice works, journalism, letters, and so on) are, you suppose, worthy of becoming a goal for your reading?
 
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tegeus-Cromis

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Of the ones you mentioned, definitely Shakespeare, probably Conrad and Dostoevsky. Balzac, forget it. You'll never get through his, what, 130 or so novels? Judiciousness seems to be called for in his case. Hugo wrote a lot, but really only seven novels, of which four are crucial, and two of the remaining three are pretty short. So that shouldn't be too hard.

Kipling wrote something like ten metric tons of short stories, but they're incredibly good. (I've read several collections.) Still, I couldn't see myself getting through all of them. There must be some stinkers in there, right? Henry James -- I've yet to get through one of his books...

Of the debatable ones, Charlotte Bronte only published three novels in her lifetime, with a fourth, early one published posthumously. I've read the three main ones and, what can I say? She's one of my favorite writers ever. Jane Austen is pretty easy to read fully (I binge-read her once, until I couldn't get through Emma -- I think I'd reached a saturation point -- and never got to Northanger Abbey; but other than that I've read everything else).

I can name a number of more recent non-genre authors that I've read in full, but not that many earlier ones. Wait, let's see. I've read a lot of Diderot, and I think he's amazing. So, him. Flaubert, absolutely -- but parts of Salammbo and The Temptation of St. Anthony can be a slog. Thackeray is a really good writer, so he might be worth it. Stendhal... But even in those cases, there's always juvenilia. I think you'd be excused from Stendhal's Armance, say.
 

Vince W

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I would add G. K. Chesterton to your list. He wrote on many topics and is eminently readable. He also has the distinction of creating the resurgence of interest in Charles Dickens with his 1906 book Charles Dickens. I would say James Joyce, but he was hardly copious. Of course, there is P. G. Wodehouse. I know he lived until 1975, but we should overlook that.
 

tegeus-Cromis

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Ahem... Homer, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Virgil, Ovid, Horace, Catullus, and Propertius. Might as well throw in Plato as well, while we're at it.

Rabelais. Montaigne. Goethe.

Oh, and I can't believe I almost forgot him. E.T.A. Hoffmann. Of whom I *have* read almost everything. He's extraordinary.
 

Extollager

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Ahem... Homer, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Virgil, Ovid, Horace, Catullus, and Propertius. Might as well throw in Plato as well, while we're at it.

Rabelais. Montaigne. Goethe.

Oh, and I can't believe I almost forgot him. E.T.A. Hoffmann. Of whom I *have* read almost everything. He's extraordinary.
I thought of some of these, but none of them seemed to be copious like Dickens, Shakespeare, &c -- or were some of them*? I thought Rabelais wrote one big book, for example, which by my lights wouldn't at all qualify him for being "copious" in the sense of Twain and Hugo &c.

I realize I didn't define "copious." I'm trying to get at author who wrote so much that it would probably be the work of many months to read "everything." Now I realize that if you had the free time you could, theoretically, read one Shakespeare play a day, and knock off the sonnets on a weekend, but who on earth would be capable of that? I'm assuming good-quality reading (though not necessarily "scholarly" reading).

Again, for Homer we have two long poems. Granted they take a while to read well, but I don't see the quantity as justifying a description of Homer as "copious." (I'm assuming, btw, that the "Homeric hymns" are not by Homer.) One of the main things I have in mind for this discussion is the question of which authors are they who wrote a lot of books and we would say they're all or mostly worth reading. I don't suppose anybody would say the Odyssey is worth reading but the Iliad is for completists. But one might say that as regards, say, Trollope. I've read a bunch of his novels but I have no intention of reading all of them, and I suppose very few people have done so.

To get a sense of what I'm driving at with "copious," perhaps it would be helpful to imagine a set of quite a few books, for The Works of Kipling, The Works of Balzac, and so on. If all of the poems and novels of the Bronte sisters were by one person, as the old "Shakespeare Head Bronte" almost let you think, then this person would be "copious."

But this is my take, within the original post's parameters....

*I'm not familiar enough with Goethe and Hoffmann to say. Both did occur to me, but I left them out because I doubted they were "copious" enough. Were they?
 

tegeus-Cromis

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Rabelais wrote five books. (Albeit usually printed in one big fat volume these days, especially in English.) That's more than Charlotte Bronte, whom you listed as "debatable."

Goethe, definitely, but that includes novels, plays, poems, essays, travel writing...

Hoffmann: two proper novels, four collections of novellas and short stories, of which one, "The Serapion Brethren," is very long (it appeared originally in four volumes; and it has a framing narrative too, bringing it closer to a novel). Also a lot of music criticism.

Ovid is pretty copious, actually. The Metamorphoses, the Amores, the Ars Amatoria, the Heroides, the Fasti, the Tristia, the Epistulae ex Ponto, etc etc. Nineteen of Euripides' plays survive, so I think he qualifies too.
 

Extollager

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Btw -- for me, probably only Dickens and Shakespeare make it as copious authors whom I want to read nearly in their entirety -- although I can imagine the point coming at which I'd say to myself, "I've read so much of Kipling and Conrad that I might as well read it 'all.'"

I've read almost all of Tolstoy's fiction more than once. There remain a few plays. But he wrote a lot of moral-social prose that I expect I will just sample.

Of all these authors, Dostoevsky wrote the two novels that mean the very most to me -- Demons and The Brothers Karamazov. But it seems I just can't get far into even the one of his major novels I have left (The Adolescent/A Raw Youth), and I doubt I will ever read The Village of Stepanchikovo, Netochka Nezvanova, Poor Folk, all of A Writer's Diary, and maybe even The Insulted and Injured, though I believe I have a copy.

I've read all of Jane Austen except some unfinished work and juvenilia, most of it more than once.

We haven't yet discussed whether or not to include an author's published letters. If you do count published letters, then Stevenson is for sure a copious writer. The university library here has his letters in about ten thick volumes in green cloth.

Vince W, I welcome mention of Chesterton, but my hesitation with him would be on the score of whether or not he gets in as a "standard" and "canonical" author. I don't think he has ever been included in typical lists thereof in the way that Austen, Conrad, Shakespeare, &c have been -- which is not to say he didn't write some things that do; I'd be among those who would say that The Man Who was Thursday is a 20th-century literary masterpiece. But what else ranks with that as literature? But yes, he remains a wonderful author.
 

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I suppose it comes down to the division between those with a constant and vigorous supply of new ideas to stimulate the minds of the reader and those who slipped into churning out formula, which I think is a problem as old as the printing press, or at least the novel.
Personally I read, even fiction, to grow from it and gain new perspectives, strategies and philosophies. I seldom re read because life is too short, and become irritated when I find I have just bought the same story with a different title and character names. They can dress it up well but I still spot it. A modern manifestation:
So, for me at least, I would ask, regardless of number, "Is each book different?"
 

Vince W

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Vince W, I welcome mention of Chesterton, but my hesitation with him would be on the score of whether or not he gets in as a "standard" and "canonical" author. I don't think he has ever been included in typical lists thereof in the way that Austen, Conrad, Shakespeare, &c have been -- which is not to say he didn't write some things that do; I'd be among those who would say that The Man Who was Thursday is a 20th-century literary masterpiece. But what else ranks with that as literature? But yes, he remains a wonderful author.
Fair point. Chesterton does rather skirt the edges of literature, merely dipping a toe in here or there.
 

tegeus-Cromis

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You did say in the OP "not counting apprentice works, journalism, letters, and so on" and I think that's a good standard. Otherwise NO author would be worth reading in full. I adore Flaubert, but I've never made it through the "first" Sentimental Education. It reads like a teenager wrote it, and for good reason. (His letters, on the other hand, are amazing.)

I can see myself reading all of Samuel Johnson. Maybe all of Fielding. Walter Pater.

Modern copious(ish) writers I've read (almost) all of: Raymond Queneau, Georges Perec, David Markson, Penelope Fitzgerald, M. John Harrison (he transcends genre). I can see myself finishing all of Muriel Spark someday. I'm pretty sure I'm blanking out on some.
 

ginny

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I would suggest that if you are including Twain and Kipling...
Why not include Poe? Perhaps you could explain.
And what about O'henry?

I have the complete works of Poe.
Copious can be both abundance of words and Ideas.
The volume I have is chock full of both.
 

Extollager

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t-C, Samuel Johnson's a good one to mention for discussion. The discussion so far has emphasized novelists, short story writers*, and a playwright. Johnson wrote a short romance (Rasselas) and a play (I think it was called Irene and was a flop with audiences), but aside from that is known as a critic, lexicographer, writer of a travelogue, poet, and conversationalist. He was copious. I'm a bit uneasy about putting him in with the novelists plus Shakespeare. But for sure I could see him as a copious author whom one might decide to read in his "entirety" (I don't suppose anyone but old-fashioned, pre-Theory scholars, and completists, would read his Dictionary cover to cover) -- counting Boswell's Life.
 

Extollager

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I would suggest that if you are including Twain and Kipling...
Why not include Poe?
I ruled out Poe, as far as my own thinking is concerned, because I think you can get all or nearly all of his works into one volume -- though I might be wrong about that -- and because my sense is that some of it is journalism, etc. that is basically just for scholars and completists.

But Twain wrote a bunch of novels, travel books, biography and autobiography, etc. He has to be a multi-volume author. Kipling wrote something like a dozen volumes of short stories, an autobiography, a history, a novel or two -- again, a multi-volume author. And I can imagine someone saying he or she is going to read "all" of it.

In any event, if we do include Poe as a "copious" author, does anyone (other than scholars and completists) ever set himself or herself to read it all? If one has read a generous bunch of the short stories, the well-known poems, Arthur Gordon Pym, a few essays -- won't that suffice?

Further comments?
 

Extollager

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Following are some illustrations. The Complete Works of Joseph Conrad:

1587391412451.png
 

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Post removed because Extollager took down the related picture for some reason :(
 
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