Learn a Book! – 20[18 Authors]

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2018 is the year of the people… who wrote books.

Believe it or not, I came up with the idea for this year’s annual reading challenge back in early 2016… two whole years ago (hint: lean towards believe it because it is 100% true). At this point I think I’ve booked myself out on reading challenges until at least the year 2020 (are you having that??).

If you’ve been around here for a while, you know that I go through reading phases. Most times for a genre, some times for a style, but not so oftentimes for an author. This year, I picked out a handful of authors that I’ve been dying to get studious about… eighteen of them to be exact (Hello? Gimmick, is that you? How are the children?).

The name of the game is their first and last, or sometimes their first and most recent, works. Allow me to clarify immediately that some liberties were taken here. Works was a word chosen explicitly to allow for sometimes novellas over novels, sometimes first published over first written, etc., etc., and onward, and so forth. Hours more of research could have been dedicated to really get a definitive selection of first and last written novels, but you know what? This here life of mine is too lacking in a fellowship for that.

If you truly disagree over the following selections then please do reach out with suggested corrections and I will maybe possibly potentially be more than happy to oblige. I may also just tell you to get lost, so… choose wisely.

Here we go. 18 novelists in all. Well… with one exception. Spot the difference, and join in the adventure. Happy 2018!


1. Ernest Hemingway

First: The Sun Also Rises (1926) [251 pgs]
Last: The Old Man and the Sea (1952) [127 pgs]

Hem is my favorite male author and I look up to his technique and style more than I could ever articulate. I’ve read almost all of his works already, including these two, but I wanted to give myself a chance to get a little more studious about it.

Also, in case anyone cares to know, #TeamHadley.

2. Anne Brontë

First: Agnes Grey (1847) [193 pgs]
Last: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848)

The least loved of the Brontë sisters. I have a lot of thoughts about Anne, notably regarding her life and legacy, but I’ll save my dissertation for another time and place. In the meantime, let’s all just allow my imagination to submerge itself in the moors of her written words.

Ask me about Anne, I dare you.

3. Roald Dahl

First: James and the Giant Peach (1961)
Last: The Minpins (1991)

There isn’t much to say about Roald – except that he was positively instrumental to my childhood, as I’m sure he was to many of yours. Many moments in my life turn to early education reminiscence to remind me that I must never, ever, ever grow up. It felt right to take a look at some of the stories one of my earliest favorite authors put out there into the world, especially given I had never read these two.

I was a ‘Matilda’ kind of girl. Careful there! Roll your eyes any harder and they’ll get stuck like that.

4. Margaret Atwood

First: The Edible Woman (1969)
Last: Hag-Seed (2016)

I will be truly honest with you… Maggie here is an embarrassingly recent discovery of mine. I had never heard of her, never known of her works, never realized her significance as a woman writer until the hubbub around the television show and an article in The New Yorker.

I’m excited to finally introduce myself. Go ahead, feel those waves of disappointment in me. I’ll wait in the car.

6. Fyodor Dostoyevsky

First: Poor Folk (1846)
Last: The Brothers Karamatzov (1880)

Oh Fyodor, my Fyodor!

Affectionately referred to around the Cass household as my second favorite Russian. His style is positively beautiful and his collection of works is one that I hope to spend a lot of time poring over in years to come. The man survived Siberia, for Peter the Great’s sake!

6. George Eliot

First: Adam Bede (1859)
Last: Daniel Deronda (1876)

AKA Mary Anne Evans. AKA the woman the White Rabbit was searching for. Turns out she withheld the last chapter of ‘Middlemarch’ and he had to know how it ended.

If you couldn’t deduce it from the way her first and last sounds like the very same on her list of conquests, then allow me to tell you that this woman had quite the love life and I adore her for it. I hope that every last word of it was true and that throughout it all she found happiness.

7. Neil Gaiman

First: Stardust (1999)
Last: The Ocean at the End of the Lane (2013)

Neil here is hard to “officially” find a first and last for. Allow me to explain the logic behind my selection process for him: only works classified as standalone novels (not companion novels or short-fiction collections) and nothing with a co-authorship.

Also allow me to throw in that if you haven’t read ‘The Graveyard Book’ you should and then you should also allow yourself to cry and have a moment over it.

8. Virginia Woolf

First: The Voyage Out (1915)
Last: Between the Acts (1941)

The jury is still out on how I feel about Virginia Woolf, I’ll be honest. At one point I was radically anti, then recently flipped that switch for reasons unknown and consequently blacked out from my memory, but now I lean back towards I don’t think I really care for her as an existence? But should probably just start off with indifference? And that might be a really polarizing opinion?

I’ll get back to you all on this one when my soapbox here stops splintering.

9. Nathaniel Hawthorne

First: Fanshawe (1828)
Last: The Marble Faun (1860)

If you have not gone to Salem, Massachusetts and visited the House of Seven Gables then you are seriously missing out. I maintain to this day that I think I was the only person in my 11th grade English class to thoroughly enjoy reading that book. Years of begging for more 1800s literature yielded not much in the popularity of public school picks, let me tell you.

‘The Marble Faun’ appears to be the last fully finished published novel by Hawthorne, and as a fun fact: apparently he always hated all of his books when he finished writing them (according to dear Sophia). Typical.

10. Flannery O’Connor

First: Wise Blood (1952)
Last: The Violent Bear it Away (1960)

I know next to nothing about Flannery. I only know her name through googling “women authors” because as I was coming up with this list I was very disheartened in myself to find that the names that came easiest to mind were those of men. This is 2018, there’s no excuse for that, and I wholeheartedly apologize. I very much look forward to getting to know F O’C, and I’m intrigued that, like Anne, she only had 2 novels to her name.

Flannery had a self-described “you-leave-me-alone-or-I’ll-bite-you complex” which I very much identify with. Her first novel was published just before she was diagnosed with lupus and her last well into her living with the disease. Remarkable and amazing, just to name a few.

11. Ray Bradbury

First: The Martian Chronicles (1950)
Last: Farewell Summer (2006)

‘Fahrenheit 451’ is one of my coveted all-time favorite soul books – part of the handful that will hold a special place in my heart for making me fall deeply in love with literature. Really cool fact about his first and last: Bradbury’s intended first novel was to be titled ‘Summer Morning, Summer Night,’ composed of a bunch of stories and vignettes. Some of these were later extracted into what is now ‘Dandelion Wine’ and the originals that were left over were later pulled together into ‘Farewell Summer’ – his last novel. How freaking cool is that!?

Researching his works learned me that Ray is buried in Los Angeles and it’s only a matter of time before I make it that way to pay my respects. I don’t know if my heart can take the experience, but I owe him those tears at the very least.

12. Louisa May Alcott

First: The Inheritance (1849)
Last: Jo’s Boys (1886)

‘Little Women’ is one of the first big chapter books that I remember reading, and I have fond memories of reading it sort of, kind of with my mom. I think she had a free copy on her ereader when I was younger and we tried reading it together but I don’t think we ever officially finished it together. Regardless, I definitely watched the film with her (1994, Winona & Christian forever).

Let’s all just take a moment to also remember that Louisa grew up in the time of Emerson, Hawthorne, and Thoreau. And that she wrote her first novel by age 18.

13. Cormac McCarthy

First: The Orchard Keeper (1965)
Last: The Road (2006)

In the mood for a little more honesty? Cool, so, I rolled my eyes when we were forced to read ‘The Road’ in high school (see above – years of begging). It wasn’t until college, when I had to study the movie as part of my Apocalypticism in Film class that I developed any sort of interest in it. Which is disturbing on many levels given my newfound obsession with Pulitzer Winners, of which ‘The Road’ is one!

Which concludes another growing up life lesson for a young Cass. This is turning borderline confessional. I solemnly swear I will pay Cormac here more respect.

14. Edith Wharton

First: The Valley of Decision (1902)
Last: The Buccaneers (1938)

THE FIRST EVER WOMAN. TO WIN. THE PULITZER FOR LITERATURE. Please see aforementioned newfound obsession. Never read any of her works before, which feels like an American Woman crime of Lenny’s highest nature. Wharton was also nominated for the Nobel three separate times, no big deal. Her first novel wasn’t published until she was 40 so she gives me a lot of hope for the nothing that I am currently doing with my life. ‘The Buccaneers’ is technically an unfinished work, but what the heck. If it’s good enough for Gogol, right?

Fun fact: apparently Edith and her family used to spend their summers in my little ol’ hometown of Newport, Rhode Island. Shockingly very much unknown to me until this actual second when researching her bibliography?

15. Norman Mailer

First: The Naked and the Dead (1948)
Last: The Castle in the Forest (2007)

There’s something to do with a Gilmore Girl and Mr. Mailer Man and that’s really the main reason that I’m here. Another Pulitzer Winner. Three’s Company, and that company is up there with Thompson, Didion, and Capote.

Something about the distribution of when his works were published gives me the utmost confidence that his will be the best comparative study of this whole lot.

16. Gertrude Stein

First: Q.E.D. (1903)
Last: Ida: A Novel (1941)

The woman who taught Hemingway how to keep it simple. That’s likely not true, I like to think that Hem knew what he was doing all on his own, but I want to say that ‘A Moveable Feast’ is where he spoke about the influence that Stein had on his writing style. Either that or I picked it up in ‘The Paris Wife.’ Someone else can fact check me. I’m also just now realizing that I’ve always imagined Stein as a very Queen Victoria-esque person and that’s… pretty… not really… true at all. Her bibliography was the most difficult to research and I’m not at all confident that I got it right.

Also, apparently a woman named Gertrude Jekyll also existed around the same time, but as a horticulturalist. Which is pretty rad. Thanks, autocomplete!

17. Thomas Hardy

First: Desperate Remedies (1871)
Last: Jude the Obscure (1895)

Fun fact: Hardy’s first actual written novel was never published because he destroyed the manuscript. ‘The Poor Man and the Lady’ sounds so unlike anything else that he had ever done, too! Shame, Writing Cass. That is a historic work that we as a civilization lost, don’t poke fun. Apologies, Editing Cass, might also happen again though.

Fun Fact #687: apparently the term “cliffhanger” is attributed to people trying to follow serialised versions of some of Hardy’s works?! Which is… madness?! I’ll be the first to say that I don’t particularly like the stories this man has to tell. They don’t really turn out all that well for the heroines, but this is a hate to love scenario because his writing style is… admittedly formidable to me.

18. Robert Burns

The Completed Works of Robert Burns (Whenever, Wherever, We’re meant to be toge- I’ll stop)

Listen, this is my game, my rules.

Rabbie here is a poet, a bard if you will. The Bard, if you won’t. This little lass wants to get in touch with one of her heritigurgical noteworthies and this felt like a good place to put him so get over it and join in the merriment.

‘For auld lang syne, my Jo, for auld lang syne!’ Annotate it along with me, now!


As always, feel free to follow me on Goodreads. Reviews still not written but check out the shelvage. Let’s be friends over what we want to throw out of windows.

Additional Reads

  1. ‘A Darker Shade of Magic’ by V.E. Schwab [398 pgs]

Total Page Count: 776 pgs

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