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) [383 pgs]

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) [146 pgs]
Last: The Minpins (1991) [48 pgs]

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) [310 pgs]
Last: Hag-Seed (2016) [297 pgs]

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) [118 pgs]
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. Alice Walker

First: The Third Life of Grange Copeland (1970)
Last: Now Is the Time to Open Your Heart (2004)

Someway, somehow, I ended up never reading ‘The Color Purple’ in all my years of public schooling. Likely because I was too busy complaining about the lack of Victorian-era fiction and the surplus of Shakespeare. Don’t get me started again. That’s your first warning.

I am truly ashamed to have realized post-original publishing of this list that I have seriously neglected African American authors. When I was originally looking for authors to include I was trying my hardest just to alternate between men and women, let alone minorities within that. Women authors were a challenge to find in and of themselves but there is no excuse for my lack of diversity in this list and I humbly apologize. There is a promise in here for me to do better. More cultures, more perspectives, more outside of my Victorian-era comfort zone. Please send recommendations for non-white male works of note.

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]
  2. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin [174 pgs]
  3. ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ by Madeleine L’Engle [232 pgs]
  4. ‘The Raven King’ by Maggie Stiefvater [438 pgs]
  5. ‘Ready Player One’ by Ernest Cline [372 pgs]
  6. ‘Winter’ by Marissa Meyer [823 pgs]
  7. ‘Between You and Me’ by Mary Norris [200 pgs]
  8. ‘The Jane Austen Project’ by Kathleen Flynn [373 pgs]
  9. ‘Meet Me at the Museum’ by Anne Youngson [268 pgs]
  10. ‘The Price Guide to the Occult’ by Leslye Walton [272 pgs]
  11. ‘Stardust’ by Neil Gaiman [248 pgs]
  12. ‘A Secret History of Witches’ by Louisa Morgan [484 pgs]
  13. ‘The Haunting of Hill House’ by Shirley Jackson [233 pgs]
  14. ‘Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe’ by Melissa de la Cruz [225 pgs]

Total Page Count: 6,613 pgs


6/1/18 Edit: Due to difficulty in finding her earliest work, Gertrude Stein has been replaced with Alice Walker. Sorry, y’all! See what I originally had to say below:

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!

Books I Brought Abroad [@WestCorkIRL]

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Travel Tip: figure out if your hosts used to own a bookshop in London and therefore have MASSES of reading options available for your perusal before you travel…

Packing to go anywhere is a struggle for me, as it is for most others as well. Some agonize over shoes, some over makeup, some over sweatshirts. I happen to agonize most extremely over books. Depending on how far out from the trip I am, I can spend weeks planning what reads to take with me. They get stockpiled in a corner of my room until the dreaded day when I have to see what fits. This year, I almost had to leave behind two whole paperbacks but I made the game time decision to kick out a pair of nicer boots in order to fit them in my case and let me tell you, I don’t regret a thing.

Since reading is such a huge part of my life and experiences, I wanted to give a quick list and a little note on each of the books I took with me to Ireland. I’m not huge on reviews, but some thoughts and nice quotes never hurt anyone. Maybe you’ll see something that sparks your interest.

Note before going further: none of these books are contemporary so be advised that if you’re looking for the latest Stephen King novel you won’t find it here.

Okay, continue.


JANE EYRE | CHARLOTTE BRONTË

“I should have appealed to your nobleness and magnanimity at first, as I do now – opened to you plainly my life of agony – described to you my hunger and thirst after a higher and worthier existence – shown to you, not my resolution (that word is weak), but my resistless bent to love faithfully and well, where I am faithfully and well loved in return.”

This has been a long time pushed off book and to be honest, a huge motivation to read it recently has been all thanks to Netflix. Every time I logged in to my profile I would get the recent Jane Eyre movie as a recommendation and I swore never to watch it until I read it. Impatience got the best of me and here we are. One thing genuinely surprising about this book is its captivation. I adore Austen, don’t get me wrong, but her style is the first that comes to mind when thinking of 18th-19th century novels and how authors take a few pages to go off on descriptive tangents where they almost forget about the reader and write for themselves. Charlotte Brontë masters maintaining that connection and it genuinely turned this book into a hard to put down read for me. Not to mention it’s written as a memoir so there is a huge interest in following Jane’s life from early development to older (but still pretty young) adulthood. Not a crazy big fan of the ending, but all in all worth the weight.

THE TRIAL | FRANZ KAFKA

“He now decided to make better use of all his future Sunday mornings.”

We all know those people who use words like “Kafkaesque” and dolly garn I wanted to be one of them! Kafka, like Proust, is one of those authors I always assumed you needed a PhD to be able to read and a Masters to even consider reading. Now that I’ve read it, I can’t say that I agree. I also can’t say that I was 100% into this one because, well, I wasn’t. The day I began reading The Trial was the day I stopped by The Time Traveller’s Bookshop and while there I noticed a work titled “A Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory” by J.A. Cuddon. Forget the fact that it looked to weigh a million pounds and yet I still spent serious time considering whether or not to purchase it (I did), I was curious to see if it had a definition of “Kafkaesque” somewhere in its many pages. It did. And The Trial is cited as a top example of all that the term implies. So while I didn’t necessarily like this book, or Kafka’s style at all to be quite honest, at least I know that I’m semi-qualified to use his literary namesake as a reference in the future.

DUBLINERS | JAMES JOYCE

“That takes the solitary, unique, and, if I may so call it, recherché biscuit!”

A friend gifted this to me a few years ago with a note explaining how it’s one of his favorites and I, being the terrible person that I am, put off reading it for soooo long. However, I couldn’t think of a better opportunity to start it than on a quick trip over to the homeland so it found its way into the stash. Dubliners is a collection of short stories about the lives and trials of middle class people from, you guessed it, Dublin in the early 1900s. The key word here is collection, as in not to be taken separately. At first, I felt that every story seemed to end too quickly, and very few actually provided a concrete resolution to the problem or issue presented. Worse, I couldn’t find any sort of lesson/message in them. However, that’s because I was reading the whole book incorrectly. The short stories are not meant to be taken as themselves individually but rather altogether as a compendium of life in Dublin. After looking back at the title, I feel like that’s probably obvious to everyone else but me? Anyways, just keep it in mind if you pick up a copy. My favorite of the collection was “A Little Cloud” though I’ve seen a lot of people suggest “Eveline” as the most noteworthy – both make you seriously consider the concept of alternatives, both I highly recommend.

TESS OF THE D’URBERVILLES | THOMAS HARDY

“A very easy way to feel [souls] go is to lie on the grass at night and look straight up at some big bright star; and, by fixing your mind upon it, you will soon find that you are hundreds and hundreds o’ miles away from your body, which you don’t seem to want at all.”

God love Thomas Hardy. Also God love the edition of this novel I brought with me. It’s beautifully designed; I found it at Brookline Booksmith in Massachusetts so if you’re going to order a copy I highly recommend getting it from there. Support the independent sellers, y’all.

Anyways, back to Thomas Hardy. What a freaking writer! The style of that man is something else. I would say A but I’m inclined to say My Perfect Contrast with the king of simplification himself, Ernest Hemingway (my favorite male author, just a FYI). For every 1 word that’s needed, Hardy gives you 4. I love how descriptive he is and I would love to be able to emulate writing like that. However, that’s about all the love I can give for this book because to be completely honest I was not at all a fan of the story. I can absolutely see why this novel received so much criticism in its time of initial publication – but all I’ll say further on that matter is that those people were Wrong, with a capital W. The best example of a character you’re genuinely rooting for, despite all the malefactions that come her way.

WUTHERING HEIGHTS | EMILY BRONTË

“Be with me always – take any form – drive me mad! only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you! Oh, God! it is unutterable! I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul!”

It wasn’t until I sat down to write this post that I realized I probably should have also brought one of dear Anne’s novels along with me to make it a real trilogy experience but alas. Wuthering Heights is one of my favorite rereadable books of all time and it is genuinely deserving of the habitual attention. I clarify rereadable because Anna Karenina is also a favorite but that puppy can only be tackled so many times, you know? And by so many I mean once for the very far off foreseeable future. I digress – for all intents and purposes I name this as my favorite book and this particular copy happens to go pretty much everywhere with me. It’s my safety novel. No matter where I am, I’ll always be able to turn to it in times of literary need. The story is unconventional to say the least. It’s chock-full of characters I love to hate because I hate to love them. It simultaneously invokes pity and indifference while conveying what it means to truly love someone, in all the ardent extremes. It’s also not everyone’s cup of tea, so if you’re looking for a sweet 19th century love affair allow me to direct you to the Austen shelf.

THE IDIOT | FYODOR DOSTOYEVSKY

“And what’s more, flourishes are permitted, and a flourish is a most dangerous thing! A flourish calls for extraordinary taste; but if it succeeds, if the right proportion is found, a script like this is incomparable, you can even fall in love with it.”

This goes back to my November sudden obsession with Russian literature. I packed this without actually skimming through the publishing style and what a doozie! If the look of Kafka was frustrating to get through (it was, it really pilcrowing was) then bringing The Idiot along was borderline masochistic. I saved this book for last for a good reason: plane reading. I can read just about anything on a plane, including all safety procedural guides (which everyone really should be reading anyway!), and at the time of packing this seemed like a nice fallback for when I inevitably did what I did and suffered from War & Peace flashbacks within the first 20 pages. It’s taking a little bit longer for me to get into the mood for The Idiot.

At the time of publishing this post, I am approximately not very far through this book and therefore I’m unable to offer any sort of thoughts on it. I’d say so far, so good but in case you were wondering Goodreads says “In the end, Myshkin’s (the main character’s) honesty, goodness, and integrity are shown to be unequal to the moral emptiness of those around him.” So… make of that what you will!


Please do reach out with thoughts and suggestions of your own for what books you absolutely refuse to travel without. Also, check out how these bad boys helped me in my 20[16k] challenge!