In the comments on my apocalypse now(-ish) required reading article, many of you gave props to OG quadruple-threat Margaret Atwood. A poet, novelist, essayist, AND children's author, Atwood has written over 40 books. Her full bibliography is staggering, but not as staggering as say, the author referenced in this handy gif:
178 books is a lot of books (in reality, Danielle Steele is the author of about 117 books, but still). I, unlike Andre on The League, can't commit to one writer's voice for as long as it would take me to read 117 books. After all, I've only read six of Atwood's books and that feels like a lot.
But I like the idea of completing an author. There are bookshelves in my apartment dedicated solely to single authors — largely because my fiancé does complete authors and Samuel Beckett wrote A LOT of books — and how could would it be to grandly gesture towards a shelf and say, Yes, I've read all of Nabokov's work, haven't you? Care for another glass of chardonnay?
That would be awesome. So, I'm going to go for it. Even if I don't finish one of these authors complete works by the time the year is up, reading a book a week isn't an unsurmountable task. Without further ado, here are 16 authors — decidedly not in alphabetical order — worth digesting in full before the year is out.
Jenny Boully has been known to tug my heartstrings in all the right directions at precisely the right times. Mid-college "but he's my true love" breakup, [one love affair]* appeared on a course required reading list. In the midst of an obsessive rereading — and crying through — Peter Pan bender, Not Merely Because of the Unknown that was Stalking Toward Them was published. The variety in Boully's body of work takes away the fear of mononity that could accompany reading a single author's complete works and while I sometimes wish there was more of her writing available, her full bibliography isn't too daunting. Plus, I've got a great head start.
For a list of Jenny Boully's complete works, click here.
I met Christine Schutt at the Sewanee Writer's Conference and she is absolutely stunning. She read the first story from her collection, Nightwork, and by the end of it, the whole room crackled with something unnamable and dark and electric. The next day, I went to the campus bookstore and bought two more of her novels — Florida and All Souls.
I finished All Souls in an afternoon because I simply couldn't put it down, but Florida is still nestled on my "Authors I Admire" bookshelf. Christine Schutt has written A LOT, but her work varies so much — while still maintaining a signature veracity and the ability to surprise — that I could certainly see myself going all in.
For a list of Christine Schutt's complete works, click here.
Let's be real — this is an author most of us would happily devote our lives to, if only there was time. Atwood's work varies in subject matter and genre so significantly that I've never truly considered tackling all of it. Her poetry moves me, her short fiction is dazzling, but I've never picked up The Blind Assassin and I've never felt the urge to grab it off the shelf at a bookstore. Still, I can say with some conviction that I would be a better person having read all of Atwood's fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.
For a list of OG Margaret Atwood's complete works, click here.
Whenever I feel the urge to write a short story and the accompanying despair at executing it within less than 20 pages, I grab my well worn copy of Willful Creatures and get a lesson from Aimee Bender in how it's done. Her work toes the line between speculative and general fiction — yes, I think a story about people with kettles instead of heads is speculative and not fantasy, come at me — and you never know what the next story will offer.
For a list of Aimee Bender's complete works, click here.
I'll admit it — I haven't finished Hell. Lord, I have tried. I have gotten so close to the ending and then I get overwhelmed and start a different book only to return, months later like a sheepish father who "just went out to get a pack of smokes" and was gone for 20 years. Kathryn Davis writes multilayered, difficult fiction. But she also writes lines such as these:
And who — regardless of religion — hasn't felt exactly like that?
For a list of Kathryn Davis's complete works, click here.
Why even bother, you ask? Why set myself up for failure by attempting the impossible? Because Alice Munro, one of the most prolific short fictions writers of modern times, is astonishingly talented. Her depictions of the nuanced and varied lives of women is engrossing and her craft as a writer is impeccable. If I can get at least five of you to get on this with me, I would totally go for. Check out the list of her complete works below to understand why this isn't something to try and do alone.
For a list of Alice Munro's complete works — brace yourself — and click here.
Oscar Wilde is one of the few playwrights whose plays I will read. The play is just not a format that excites me. What can I say, setting up scenes in my head is more difficult with stage directions on the page and I can count on one hand the writers who've been worth that extra push. Wilde is one of them. I've loved his work since I was a wee one, flouncing around high school and quoting The Portrait of Dorian Gray to my teachers and on Facebook.
I was a brat, but I couldn't help it. Wilde begs you to quote him. I imagine a year spent in his plays, novels, and poetry would lead me — and anyone else — to start reclining on couches in the middle of the day and throwing shade and wisdom every which way.
For a list of Oscar Wilde's complete works, click here.
I have never been quick to pick up a Nabokov novel, but I have never started reading a Nabokov novel without finishing it and thoroughly enjoying myself along the way. His poetry isn't bad either and while Lolita rubs some readers the wrong way — which I completely understand — I think there's a pitch black humor in all of his work (I'm thinking of Laughter in the Dark) that puffs wind into the sails of even the bleakest storyline. That said, reading ALL of Nabokov's work could very possibly shove anyone into a deep nasty pit of depression from which he or she might never emerge.
Ugh, Russian novelists, you know?
For a list of Vladmir Nabokov's complete works, click here.
Block is one of those YA writers who has been writing for over a decade, but hasn't fallen prey to the trendy — and often soulless — young adult fads. Through the eras of supernatural romance, gritty sci-fi, and whatever the hell else we're cranking out to young people, Block's ethereal characters have maintained their witchy, dreamy realness. Weetzie Bat affirmed my teenage strangeness, The Hanged Man helped me come to terms with some personal demons, and I Was a Teenage Fairy gave me my very own Mab and pixie-dusted me into the writer I am today.
Reading Block's work — and she is still very much an active writer — is like going home again after being away for too long except the home isn't your childhood home but a treehouse in a desert spun in gauzy light. I could linger in a treehouse for a while. I could spend a year in her gilded prose, for sure.
For a list of Francesca Lia Block's complete works, click here.
I am so close to "completing" Clive Barker — I even have The Books of Blood, Volumes 1-3, which I had to order FROM ENGLAND — that I don't know why I haven't just done it already. My inability to crack open Everville and The Damnation Game brings up an interesting qualm with this whole "reading everything this writer has written" challenge, though. What do you once you've read it all? Do you feel empty or triumphant?
I don't have an answer to that, but I do know we have at least two more Abarat books on the way and I owe Barker so many of my writerly aspirations and nightmares that I should dig in my heels and finish him up already.
For a list of Clive Barker's complete works, click here.
One of the token guys on this list is a hermit who never appears in public yet managed to have his work plagiarized by one of the biggest "gritty and also critically acclaimed" TV shows of recent time. I was first introduced to Thomas Ligotti through Teatro Grottesco which shocked me a teenager because I didn't know fiction — let alone horror fiction — could do what he does with words.
Even now, having hunted down The Nightmare Factory, a complete collection of his short fiction, on eBay and committing whole paragraphs of it to memory, I can't really describe his writing style. It's unearthly. It's incredibly complex. The act of reading a 15-page Thomas Ligotti short story is a labor not because his work is dense per say, but because it's so elaborate. It's like looking at an intricate painting or trying to take in the whole beauty of a cathedral. There is simply so much packed into every sentence that experiencing it all takes time. But it's worth it because of how it turns your head and shocks your brain into a different way of thinking.
On second thought, I might actually go completely insane if I read all of Ligotti's work. Still thinking about it, though.
For a list of Thomas Ligotti's complete works, click here.
Rikki Ducornet is a goddess of the highest order. She writes beautifully crafted poetry, fiction, and nonfiction and is a painter who has exhibited her work in galleries around the globe. I don't know of another writer who can spin a world into existence in a single paragraph and make that world a frightening spectacle that stays with you for years, but Ducornet did it with "The Star Chamber" in The Complete Butcher's Tales — the first collection of hers I'd ever read that spawned a term paper, an obsession and a trip to a writer's conference where I almost died of joy while sitting beside her at a cafe.
Coincidentally, it was at that conference that she read from Netsuke which I've written about here at xoJane. Netsuke works in an entirely different way than "The Star Chamber," but Ducornet has the ability to make her speculative fiction human and touchable and her more mainstream fiction extraordinary and mythic. After a year reading her complete works, I'm pretty sure I would evolve into one of those people who can taste color. That's the sensation Ducornet's work leaves you with.
For a list of Rikki Ducornet's complete works, click here.
I'm rounding off this list with a historian whose work I very much admire. I like the idea of completing not just a single author's work but something broader like all the books on any given subject — the Tudors! Or big cats! Or ancient Egypt! — which is something I did as a child who spent as much time as she could in the public library.
I think I've read almost everything there is on the life of Anne Boleyn, but I never saw a clearer picture of her and the world she occupied in my mind as I did when reading Alison Wier's The Six Wives of Henry VIII. While I might not be as emotionally invested in the other historical figures Wier has chronicled, I'm certainly not opposed to expanding my horizons and there's no author I'd rather roam the dusty tomes of human civilization with than Wier.
For a list of Alison Weir's complete works, click here.
I've saved the very oldest, whitest, and least exciting for very last — the authors that are on every "read before you die list," that I'm not in a rush to finish, but I know are important parts of literary history. Ugh. Whatever.
14. Herman Melville
15. James Joyce
16. William Shakespeare
Are you equally enamored of any these authors? More importantly, are you up for the challenge of reading EVERYTHING by a single writer this year or ever or at all? What about 50% of an author or all of a one genre? Let's make a plan to be better readers together.
Oh, and please brag your ass off if you already have "completed an author." One more time with feeling: