2018 ~ The Year of the Back-Catalogue

100345897916916239_K9VLdzu9_fInevitably, during the course of any reader’s life we will encounter for the first time authors who are already in the mid-point of their careers. We will, for example, come across a writer, new to us, whose third/fourth/fifth novel has been shortlisted for an award, read that and then, our attention having been caught, go on to automatically acquire new publications as they appear.  But, what about those authors’ back lists?  With so much out there, with so many new books waiting to be read, how do we ever find time to go back and read the early works of writers who have become firm favourites?  This is a dilemma that I have been conscious of for some time now and 2018 is the year I am going to do something, however small, about it.

The perfect example for me is Maggie O’Farrell.  The first novel of hers which I read was in fact her fifth, the Costa Award winning The Hand That First Held Mine. I was bowled over by it and have read every subsequent publication as soon as I possibly could. But what about those four previous books?  Well, last year I did read two of those. The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox was selected for the Summer School and I then picked up a copy of her first novel, After You’d Gone, as a result of the initial inkling of disquiet about ignoring writers’ back catalogues at my peril which Esme Lennox provoked. However, amidst the pelthora of new publications and the works which needed reading for book groups, I failed to take the idea any further, even though my disquiet continued to grow.

As I said in my previous post, I don’t like making New Year’s resolutions.  They just beg to be broken.  But, one of the guidelines I have proposed for myself in an attempt to break the stranglehold that crime fiction and re-reads took on the last weeks of 2017 is to schedule at least one book from a favourite author’s back list each month.  To be honest about this, when I look at the number of authors involved, one a month isn’t going to get me very far.  But it’s a start.  Maybe some months I’ll manage two.

But where to begin?  Well, a list of authors might be a good place.  In no way is this meant to be comprehensive but the one’s who come immediately to mind include the aforementioned

  • Maggie O’Farrell
  • David Mitchell
  • Julian Barnes
  • A S Byatt
  • Penelope Lively
  • Jim Crace
  • Patrick Gale
  • Simon Mawer
  • William Boyd
  • Kazuo Ishiguro
  • Elizabeth Strout
  • Richard Russo
  • Linda Grant
  • Colm Toibin
  • Kate Atkinson
  • Curtis Sittenfeld
  • Emily St John Mandel

and that, as I say, is just those at the forefront of my mind this morning.  There will be many others.

Starting as I mean to go on (always a good idea!) I have already begun David Mitchell’s first novel, Ghostwritten.  However, that very choice throws up another dilemma.  Should my next choice be Number9Dream or am I better off trying a book by a different writer?  The question is particularly pertinent to Mitchell’s writing as my feeling is that there is a strong link between all of his books and it would be interesting to follow that through.  If I leave too long between his novels how easy will that be?  Perhaps visiting his back list every other month might be a solution and gradually bringing myself up-to-date over the course of the whole year.  Yes, I quite like that idea.  I’ll stow it away at the back of my mind and see how it plays out as the months progress.

In the meantime, I am going to transfer my putative list to a separate page on the blog, where I can add to it as other writer’s come to mind and record what progress I make.  And, if anyone else has author’s who would fit into this category for them, please do mention them in the comments.  It may be that they are writers I should be including too.

 

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34 thoughts on “2018 ~ The Year of the Back-Catalogue

  1. I highly recommend this – I’m a great one for backlists and have had many happy hours exploring Rose Tremain, William Boyd and others (including Elizabeth Strout, whose Olive Kitteridge I recently read). I’ve found Audible very good for this – I have an account anyway and often use it to plunge back into the past. Look forward to hearing how you get on

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    • Rose Tremain, there’s another one. I think choosing Ghostwritten as a starting point may have been a mistake. While I am enjoying it, I am definitely suffering from post viral fatigue and I’m not sure that my little grey cells are up to the very deep and serious discussion that is going on there. And yes, yeah for Audible. My subscription renewed last week and I have a whole 24 credits to play with!

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  2. I’m in much the same stage with reading back lists and this month I’ll be reading After You’d Gone. Many of the authors on your list are also ones I’d like to read their back lists – so I don’t think I can suggest any more, although I’m currently working my way through Peter Robinson’s Banks books I’ve missed and Colin Dexter’s Morse book. But they’re crime fiction so I don’t think that’s what you want to know.

    Oh, there is Dickens, but I expect you’ve read all of his – I haven’t. And there are some of Hardy’s books I haven’t read and Hilary Mantel, Somerset Maugham, Trollope, Iris Murdoch – I’d better stop, this is getting too much thinking about all the books I haven’t read … 😦

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    • Iris Murdoch is definitely someone I should add to the list. I ought to check out her dates of publication first though as it’s possible that some of her works might also fit into my Years of My Life project. Banks and Morse would all be re-reads for me. That’s part of the problem😉

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  3. There are some good solid names on your list. I’m sure you’ll enjoy mining their backlists and Maggie O’Farrell is a great place to start. She’s the mistress of the dual narrative, for me. I have to say that while I loved Ghostwritten, I gave up number9dream. Looking forward to seeing how you get on with your project.

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    • I’ve just finished Ghostwritten and am now wondering how I’m going to write about it. There are so many ideas pulsating through it and I have a feeling that it would be perfectly possible to miss the main one and completely misunderstand the whole novel.

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  4. I have been doing this, as well, but not with any organized approach! I stumbled across The Bone Clock and that sent me to Slade House and now I am waiting for others at the library. Happy New Year and better health to you. I know I just pop in from time to time, but you are a great source of reading reccomendations for me. Thank you!

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    • Thanks Mary Lou, you know you’re always a welcome guest here. I’ve just finished Ghostwritten and there are so many ideas in it that it is almost overwhelming. I think The Bone Clocks was a better written book, but then you’d hope that would be the case given that it is so much later.

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  5. That’s a terrific list of authors! I’ve always meant to go back to Ian McEwan’s older work, and also to try more from Crace and Boyd. I’ve read most of Julian Barnes and David Lodge by now. In some cases I get down to just one remaining book by an author (e.g. A.S. Byatt) and then I’m reluctant to read it in case they don’t publish another. So I’m saving those up for an unspecified rainy day. Enjoy your backlist adventures!

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    • Yes, it’s awful when you realise that you’ve read everything by a favourite author, especially when it is someone like Byatt who seems to have given up on fiction. Barnes, Crace and Boyd all have new books out this year and I shan’t give those time to become neglected backlisters. I’ve mostly read Lodge as the books came out; he was one of my Masters tutors.

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  6. It’s lovely to discover a new author, and then realize she has a backlist to explore as well! Several of the authors on your list are new to me, and others are names I recognize but haven’t read yet.

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  7. I think this is a great idea – good luck with it. There are some authors on your list whose work I want to explore further too, particularly AS Byatt and Penelope Lively, as well as some I’ve never read at all and would like to.

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    • The trouble is that there are just so many, Helen. I haven’t checked just how many novels I have unread from these particular writers but I wouldn’t mind betting that there are five or six years worth.

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  8. I have thought about this also. I am currently reading George Orwell’s back list. All I ever seem to hear about him are his books Animal Farm and 1984 (his only book I didn’t like). But having just read Down & Out in Paris and London (loved it) and now have bought The Road to Wigan Pier I am looking forward to more of his stuff. I read Burmese Days years ago but would like to revisit that too. For myself I like to read several of the author’s books before moving on. Just to get a feel for the overall writing of that person but then I’ll get burned out and need to move on. Such dilemmas we have.

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    • I find that I can get too tied up with one author if I’m not careful which is why when I first thought about this I didn’t intend to read straight through anyone’s back list. It is only writer’s like Mitchell and Strout, where there are clear links from one novel to another that has made me reconsider. And, I am no fan of 1984 either.

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  9. Great idea! Funnily enough I’ve been thinking along the same lines but haven’t been able to convince myself I’ll be able to fit back copy books in with all the other challenges I’ve set myself. I did think I might pick just one or two authors though, and William Boyd would be one of them. I read a couple of his early ones and most of the last several, but missed a big chunk in the middle. There are also authors like Ann Cleeves whom I’ve read nothing of, but have meant to for years. The old cliché – so many books, so little time… Good luck with this – I look forward to seeing how you get along.

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  10. Fortunately – or unfortunately – writers take much longer to write a good book than readers to gobble it in one sitting, so you can spread your largesse wide, and still have time to look for new authors.

    We can’t read everything, but that isn’t necessary – there is a lot of chaff mixed in with the wheat. Enjoy!

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  11. I feel like the only time I look into an author’s backlog I discover that person is already prolific and has dozens of titles to his or her name. And I didn’t know. Kind of like the time my little cousin thought Aerosmith was a hot new band because she discovered them in the early 2000s.

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  12. I love this idea! I have never read any of Emily St. John Mandel’s other books besides Station Eleven, which is one of my all-time favorites. I don’t know why I haven’t, but it’s getting to me! Your project may inspire me to tackle that this year.

    Penelope Lively is marvelous, although I’ve only read a few of her books. She’s so prolific! Another prolific author who I am slowly working on is Anita Brookner. Good luck on this project!

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  13. I love this resolution! I think resolving to read one a month is a very sensible way to go about it — you’re not giving yourself a lofty goal, just something small and achievable that’ll move you in the direction you want to go. A-plus goal making, my friend.

    As someone who went back and read Emily St. John Mandel’s full back catalogue, I specifically would recommend The Singer’s Gun. It’s by far my favorite of her backlist.

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  14. Pingback: 2017 in Retrospect | Smithereens

    • I definitely want to read the Byatt quintet which starts with The Virgin in the Garden. I have read that but not any of the others so I shall probably go back and re-read that first one so that the rest then make sense.

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  15. What about Peter Carey for your list? With one exception, he’s never disappointed and his writing and themes are so varied that you could read him back to back. Last year I had a massive John Le Carre readathon after reading ‘The Spy Who Came in from the Cold’. It was a huge pleasure with the exception of ‘The Tailor of Panama’.

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    • I pretty much read Carey as he comes out; I already have the new one on reservation from the library, but you’re right about Le Carre. After one of my book groups read ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’ last summer I made a mental note to read all the Smiley books in order and I should definitely make that part of my project.

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