Completists' Club discussion

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Reading Widely vs Reading Deeply?

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message 1: by Jimmy (new)

Jimmy (jimmylorunning) | 5 comments What are your thoughts on this? Just to satisfy my curiosity, I went through all the authors listed in this group to see which ones I've read at least one book of, and here are the results:

Authors I've not read: 65
Authors I've read at least one book of: 30

I wonder how we fair in the widely read category, and do we even care? Is it important to read outside one's zone? Among the ones I haven't read are authors I really have no interest in... Philip Roth, Joyce Carol Oates, as well as authors I plan to one day read: BS Johnson, Gilbert Sorrentino, Roubaud.

And then there are ones I've never even heard of: Henryk Sienkiewicz, D. Keith Mano, Mark Leyner, Quim Monzo.

I briefly entertained the idea of making it a goal to read at least one book by these 65 authors who I've not yet read. It would be an interesting experiment at least.


message 2: by Geoff (last edited Dec 18, 2012 07:26AM) (new)

Geoff | 53 comments When I find an author that really does it for me, where things *click* and resonate really strongly with me, I have a strong desire to read everything they've written. So I spend great amounts of time reading a handful of authors. This year it was Roubaud, Queneau, Sorrentino, now I'm going through all of Flann O'Brien's stuff, etc. The problem with this is that I'm salivating to read Gass, revisit Shakespeare, get on to some Vollmann, read maybe some more history and philosophy, but I keep returning to the thought that if I read like everything Queneau wrote I can then set him aside with satisfaction (and don't get me started on Sorrentino, because the amount of stuff by him out there is a bit staggering). Then my mind and would be free of him, or more free of him. Reading widely is important, and I think I certainly do not read widely enough. But there is something that nags at me to read deeply rather than widely, and I usually follow that instinct. I also read slowly, and I don't have copious amounts of just free time to read, so it is even more of a painful choice for me, because a 400 page book I usually will not finish in days but week or maybe weeks. With me, it also comes down to time management. And if something is really doing it for me on the right levels, I will spend my time doing that rather than branching out to things possibly not as personally rewarding. I don't know if this is a better or worse kind of approach to reading, but it is the one I generally take.


Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (joshuanomenmutatio) | 18 comments Geoff, you're operatically singing my tune. Bellowed to the convex rooftops, stinging my ears...


message 4: by Geoff (new)

Geoff | 53 comments It is a lovely melody Joshua, thanks for composing and notating it.


message 5: by Jessica (last edited Dec 18, 2012 07:58AM) (new)

Jessica (jesstrea) | 296 comments Like Geoff, when I fall in love with an author's works (Coetzee, Ishiguro, Graham Greene, Duras, Du Maurier, for ex,), I tend to read just about every thing by them. I like the depth of knowledge one gets this way, not to mention the landscape, characters, worldview, literary imagination one gets to inhabit as a result. So that is how I read, for the most part.


Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (joshuanomenmutatio) | 18 comments I'm generally the same way: loyal and lap-dogging to a fault.


message 7: by Jessica (new)

Jessica (jesstrea) | 296 comments yep. (Chinese zodiac sign is dog).


message 8: by Geoff (new)

Geoff | 53 comments Jessica wrote: "when I fall in love with an author's works (Coetzee, Ishiguro, Graham Greene, Duras, Du Maurier, for ex,), I tend to read just about every thing by them. I like the depth of knowledge one gets this way, not to mention the landscape, characters, worldview, literary imagination one gets to inhabit as a result."

yup. that there.


message 9: by Jessica (new)

Jessica (jesstrea) | 296 comments Jessica wrote: "yep. (Chinese zodiac sign is dog)."

not that I give any credence to that stuff.

but only because the world is coming to an end on 12.21.12 (or 21.12.12 if you are in Europe)


message 10: by Jimmy (new)

Jimmy (jimmylorunning) | 5 comments I am not a very good completist in terms of reading, which is weird because I am in other things like films and directors. There are several writers that I am that way about too. But usually, even if I feel like reading all of a writer's work, I will say "Yes, I will get to it eventually... meanwhile, this book (from author I've never heard of) looks really good..." Maybe I have reader's ADD


message 11: by Jimmy (new)

Jimmy (jimmylorunning) | 5 comments Also, that is not to imply that I am a very good wide-reader either, because I somehow end up not reading a lot of the stuff I'm supposed to read to be a "widely read" person...


message 12: by Lobstergirl (new)

Lobstergirl | 123 comments I'm much more of a wide than a deep reader. When I look at some of my friends' most-read-authors, they've read 65 books by somebody, and 50 books by someone else, etc., and the most I've read by any single author is 16. I can't help it, when I go to the buffet I like to sample some of everything too. (Okay, obviously that's overstating it, there are plenty of authors I don't want to sample.)

I do think it's important to read outside of your zone, to at least sample. I made myself read a classic work of fantasy (pre-Tolkien) and it was a bit of a trudge but it wasn't the end of the world.

I do fall in love with some authors, like Ishiguro, but that still doesn't mean I want to read every Ishiguro novel back to back. In fact, I don't, at all. I need air between each one.


message 13: by Jessica (last edited Dec 20, 2012 08:30PM) (new)

Jessica (jesstrea) | 296 comments I don't necessarily read the novels by a single author back to back. I usually read them within the same chunk of time, but that time period might be anywhere from a year or--as with Coetzee, for ex--something like 5-7. In any case, I do read something else in between. For instance, now I'm on a Du Maurier kick, but I've also read 3-4 mysteries as well as collections of stories and essays by other authors in between her novels.
But I get what you're saying and it is a different approach all the same.


message 14: by Cecily (new)

Cecily | 31 comments Many of my favourite authors died without writing many books (Peake, Kafka, McCullers), so I've completed them.

Others wrote a small, but slightly larger number, so I ration those (Richard Yates).

For authors who've written large numbers of books, I lean more towards variety, so, despite my membership of this group, don't try to read everything they've written.


Elizabeth (Alaska) | 57 comments From another thread, Nathan says: And for the interested person, I've started a Young reading group ...

The idea of author specific groups is interesting to me. I am not a scholar of anything, let alone any specific author - but I *am* an enthusiast of a few. Is anyone interested in a group dedicated specifically to Balzac, Zola, or Trollope? What would most interest me would not be "group reads", but topics for specific titles where one could post and discuss when one reads it, but the group would develop according to the interest of its members.


message 16: by Nate D (new)

Nate D (rockhyrax) | 120 comments I also think I tend to favor wide-reading over completion. But once I hit upon (through wide-reading) an author who intrigues me, I very much like the idea of reading the entirety of their work, even the less essential bits for the insight it provides (ie Anna Kavan's pre-experimental material). But I think I've yet to complete any single author, as I'm still attempting to gather in too many different directions for that level of focus.


message 17: by Nate D (new)

Nate D (rockhyrax) | 120 comments I think I favor the idea of reading to completion over the practice.


message 18: by Nathan "N.R." (last edited Dec 15, 2013 11:04AM) (new)

Nathan "N.R." Gaddis (nathannrgaddis) | 258 comments Elizabeth (Alaska) wrote: "Is anyone interested in a group dedicated specifically to Balzac, Zola, or Trollope?"

: ) I just read a comment from John Barth about these three and similar such -; as having written essentially a single mega=meganovel ;; which is the way I approach the completionism thing, the totality of a given author's work constitutes a single work, what Zappa calls a "conceptual continuity." So I have a tendency to organize my reading in my head according to authoriship -- and very much like the idea of Balzac, Zola, Trollope, or etc groups ; although they are not the thing I am specifically interested in at the moment. My Author groups I created out of my own feeling that goodreads lacked a manner of organizing books the way I organize books -- I'd say go ahead and start up the groups for your own purposes and see who flocks. I have little doubt that your spark will turn into a little more than a little something.


message 19: by Nate D (new)

Nate D (rockhyrax) | 120 comments Not actually me back there, but Elizabeth!


Elizabeth (Alaska) | 57 comments And thanks for the encouragement!


message 21: by Nathan "N.R." (new)

Nathan "N.R." Gaddis (nathannrgaddis) | 258 comments Nate D wrote: "Not actually me back there, but Elizabeth!"

Fix'd and thanks.


message 22: by Nathan "N.R." (new)

Nathan "N.R." Gaddis (nathannrgaddis) | 258 comments Elizabeth (Alaska) wrote: "And thanks for the encouragement!"

I could see myself stuck in the nineteenth century just as I'm stuck now in the postmodern century. Would love to sign-up when that particular bug starts to bite!


message 23: by Aubrey (new)

Aubrey (korrick) Jimmy wrote: "What are your thoughts on this? Just to satisfy my curiosity, I went through all the authors listed in this group to see which ones I've read at least one book of, and here are the results:

Author..."


You made me curious as well, Jimmy. So far, my tally is 48/137 in terms of authors read at least once. There are a quite a few unread ones I plan to get around to, so ways to go yet.


message 24: by David (new)

David Postle | 50 comments I try to do both.
I concentrate on one major author at a time and try to read as much as much as I can by that particular author, but I intersperse that with other reading, for variety. I average two other books for each book by the author who is my major project at the time.
Some of the other books I read are in themselves long term projects. I realise that this approach won't work for everybody, but it works well for me as it allows completion, while keeping my reading interesting and varied, even though it does take me longer to complete this way.


message 25: by Carla (new)

Carla (cjsarett) | 83 comments I also like to focus on one author, in spurts, although I intersperse fiction with history and science, etc. but I find immersion in an author's world is exciting.


message 26: by Jim (new)

Jim In the spirit of reading widely, here's a list of what we'll be reading for the remainder of the year over in the Brain Pain group:

Sontag's Death Kit begins June 16th

McElroy's A Smuggler's Bible begins July 7th

Gaddis' J R begins August 11th

Vollmann's Europe Central begins September 15th

Back-to-back reading of Renata Adler's Speedboat and Pitch Dark beginning September 22nd and October 6th, respectively

Coover's The Public Burning begins October 20th

Gass' Middle C begins December 1st


If any of these advance your completist goals, please join the discussions...


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