Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Writers with consistency

Tyler Cowen answers the question: "Whose entire body of work is worth reading?"

You can read his list at the link, here is mine:

1. Vladimir Nabokov. I have still not read all of his novels, but I've read many of them over a period of decades. All of them have been good.

2. Robert Anton Wilson. You saw that one coming, didn't you? But I think all of the novels are worth reading -- in fact, all are very good except for Nature's God. The collections are also consistently good. Chaos and Beyond has been out of print for years but it's quite good.

3. Neal Stephenson.

4. Tom Perrotta.

5. Jack Vance.

6. Jane Austen.

It's surprisingly hard to come up with a long list; most major writers, after they have succeeded, manage to get lesser works into print. Also, many of the writers I am familiar with are science fiction writers, and most of those guys have to write quickly to keep the wolf at the door and inevitably turn out some minor works (e.g., Roger Zelazny.) I considered Gene Wolfe, but The Book of the New Sun seems much better to me than most of his other work.


Eric Wagner said...

Interesting post. Where does one draw the line at completeness? I've read all of Bob Wilson's published books, but I certainly haven't watched all the youtube videos of him or listened to all the recordings or him. I've read all of Joyce's completed novels, but I haven't read all of his letters or his abandoned first novel. Many of Ezra Pound's letters haven't gotten published yet, but more come out all the tim.

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

I would draw it at published books, arguing that it's unfair to extend the consideration to letters, YouTube videos, etc. At least, that's the rule I understood Tyler was following, and that's the rule I followed.

Eric Wagner said...

Joseph Kerman made a comment in The Beethoven Quartets about studying Beethoven's notebooks that with some composers (he names Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert) one wants to study every note they made.

One area of the Joyce industry studies the Finnegans Wake notebooks. I don't find that type of scholarship that interesting, but God bless them for their work.

Some writers I used to read all of their books, and then I stopped: Spider Robinson, Robert Heinlein, Tom Robbins, Edgar Pangborn, Neil Gaiman, Tim Leary, etc.

I've found it very useful to have read all the books by Shakespeare, Robert Anton Wilson, James Joyce, Rafi Zabor, Thomas Pynchon, Charles Rosen and Joseph Kerman.

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...


Do you think that from switching from (mostly) SF writers to (mostly) great writers you "raised your game," or was it an evolution of your tastes?

I have a tendency also once I've found a writer I really like to intensively read through the person's work. Examples for me would be Jane Austen, Jack Vance, Neal Stephenson, Iain Banks (still have a lot of him to read, I came to him late), Tom Perrotta, Richard Powers, R.A. Lafferty, Gene Wolfe, Martin Amis, Kim Stanley Robinson (I've fallen behind on his stuff), Elinor Lipman, Vladimir Nabokov (I treat myself to one of his every 2-3 years, I'm due for another one.)

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

Forgot to say "Robert Anton Wilson", but I guess that's obvious. Should have put Philip Jose Farmer on the list, although I quit staying current with him years ago.

Eric Wagner said...

I started reading Robert Anton Wilson in 1982 and read all of his books I could get a hold of. When I attended the World Con in Baltimore in 1983 I felt disconnected from the science fiction world, and that feeling increased at the few conventions I attended after that. Bob Wilson replaced Robert Heinlein as my favorite author, and my worldview changed. The worldviews I encountered in the sf world didn't appeal to me as much. Wilson got me heavily into Pound, and that led me to change my college major from math to English. However, science fiction fandom reminds me of the IRA: Once in, never out. I have never fully entered the university English department worldviews because they tend to look down on the Heinlein/SF worldviews which have shaped me and still seem to me to have some validity.

I have think my tastes have evolved. I like to revisit science fiction worldviews from time to time.