The Sunday Salon: The Canon

After I finished reading Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides, I realized I had, for the first time in my life, read the entire novels of a particular author. It was a weird feeling–I’d never done that before.

Obviously, I’m leaving out the short stories of Eugenides, which, to my knowledge, haven’t been released in a collection yet. But a novel, naturally, is different– while a short story can be just as devastating and freakish (I just read “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream”, can you tell?), I feel like a novel is more of a complete work. A short story can give us a window into a world–a novel can show us all the facets of that world.

So, what does reading an author’s entire oeuvre of novels mean to a reader?

I think, like any art form, it allows you to see how the author has grown. Eugenides’ writing has definitely grown between The Virgin Suicides and Middlesex. The Virgin Suicides pales in comparison to Middlesex. It’s actually interesting to see what improves between the books–Eugenides’ handle on a character, his descriptions, and such. It also shows how an author works up to a certain level of comfort. The Virgin Suicides focuses on a reflection on the youth of a group of men who grew up during the 1970s–like Eugenides. While Middlesex doesn’t waste that experience, it’s much bigger in scale, covering a family from the fateful union that produced the gene that produced Cal’s hermaphroditism.

While I haven’t read all of Neil Gaiman’s novels, I feel the same thing is mostly true. Neverwhere focuses on London, somewhere Gaiman is no doubt familiar with. American Gods, however, covers much bigger ground- not only America, but the occasional far-flung side story. I think if I’d read everything by Gaiman, I could produce a lot more patterns, but I haven’t. Watching an author’s writing grow is immensely satisfying to me, as a reader. I tell people to read Neverwhere first so they’ll give it a fighting chance against the magnificence of American Gods.

I’m still chugging away at King Hereafter. That’s my reading life right now, but I’m so, so close to the end. The Fellowship of the Ring is begging me to read it, and I will answer its siren call very soon.

What authors have you read everything by, and how has their work evolved?

7 thoughts on “The Sunday Salon: The Canon

  1. I’m reading my way through Helen Oyeyemi’s books – she’s only written three so far – but I’m enjoying seeing her evolve as a writer. I like it that I have learnt about her early in her writing career. I think it will be interesting to see what she does next.

    One of my current projects (on hold now because I really, really, really don’t want to read Taming of the Shrew) is to read all of Shakespeare’s plays in chronological order. I haven’t formed any conclusions about the evolution of his writing though (Henry VI wasn’t too good, then Richard III was fantastic, and then Comedy of Errors and Titus Andronicus were bloody awful). It’s fun though, and your post has kind of made me want to take one of my favorite authors – Diana Wynne Jones or Neil Gaiman or Mary Renault – and read their books in the order they wrote them, to get an idea of how they changed over time.

  2. Pingback: Review: The Opposite House, Helen Oyeyemi « Jenny's Books

  3. I read Middlesex first and loved it. Because of comments I’d read, I thought I’d better leave The Virgin Suicides alone. (Plus, the movie may have prejudiced me against it.)

  4. Hi! I just started reading your reviews.

    I’ve read most of Ray Bradbury and John Steinbeck, but there aren’t many other authors that I’ve read (almost) everything by. I’ve read about 30 Terry Pratchett books but I think I might have read most of the good ones by now and I’m not sure about reading more.

    • Hi! Welcome! Thanks for commenting!

      I think this becomes an interesting issue in speculative fiction, simply because a lot of the big texts are also enormous franchises. I just finished the original series of Star Trek, and I’ve barely made a dent in that franchise. I’m particularly sensitive to this because I am such a completionist; I had to talk myself into continuing to watch Elementary after I missed an episode.

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