I will probably put this very poorly, so bear with me.
I am an Agatha Christie fan. I am also, you may have noticed, a fan of John Dickson Carr, and of Edmund Crispin, Leo Bruce, Rupert Penny, Kelley Roos, and Constance & Gwenyth Little. What these detective fiction writers have in common is two-fold: firstly they are all dead, so their output is now a fixed and known quantity, and secondly it is my express intention to read everything they ever published in the crime fiction sphere. In some cases this may not be achievable – though with the recent increase in GA reprints it’s to be hoped that these will be picked up before too long – but I intend to give it my best shot nonetheless.
I am aware that these authors wrote some books that are commonly regarded as absolute duffers – Christie’s Passenger to Frankfurt, for instance, or Carr’s Papa La-Bas – but I still want to read them. It’s not the satisfaction of completing every published word someone has laid down – this actually won’t be the case if I don’t also read Christie’s Mary Westmacott novels, two archaeology memoirs and autobiography – so much as that for some indefinable reason I simply want to. My question is this: why?
It’s true that I’ve got a lot of joy out of the books I’ve read by those authors, but I have experience of some of those duds: I’ve actually read Papa La-Bas, and didn’t love Crispin’s Buried for Pleasure, among others (it’s also true for Arthur C. Clarke, and I’ve recently been bored stupid by his A Fall of Moondust). So it’s not like I’m in denial, and it’s not like I want to read everything by every author I’ve enjoyed. Take Ellery Queen; I have hugely enjoyed the five or six Queens I’ve read – I’d go so far as to say I’ve loved two of them – but I know I’ve got about three more in me and then I’m done. Diff’rent storks for diff’rent forks and all that, but it intrigues me all the same, not least because of recent Carr- and Christie-based discussions that I’ve seen on various blogs wherein people seemed quite happy to read 78 of Christie’s novels and leave out the two that common consensus deemed they should avoid.
Now, I’m not knocking either common consensus or these people’s choices, it just got me thinking about my own criteria for completing an author’s oeuvre, and I realised I have no idea what they are. Why am I committed to Carr given his unavailability and universally-agreed tailing-off in form but happy to let some potentially marvellous Queens pass me by? Equally, there are about three Robert Ludlum novels left that I’d like to read, and then a smattering of his that I’m happy to never pick up (and I refer here to the books he actually wrote himself, of course). It’s probably something dreadfully dull like the personal preference of simply enjoying one author’s style more than another’s, but I didn’t know if there was some mileage in this. Though I am, it must be acknowledged, prone to overthinking some things that are actually quite simple.
So I throw it out to the interwebs: do you have certain authors whose output you will complete come what may? Or, conversely, are there authors who you’re happy to read but whose output you have no interest in fully covering ? And why, dammit?