The Completist

Dear readers, when I’m not busy being totally amped for the final season of the best thing I’ve ever seen on television (Breaking Bad),  or musing on how Louis C.K. is modeling himself as his generation’s Woody Allen, I’m generally thinking about the big issues. Like being a completist. (Full disclosure, I totally thought I was making up a word, but it’s real! Thanks, research databases.) Sounds fairly infinite and frightening, but I’m not referring to obsessive collection, instead the joy of comprehensiveness. I’m talking about books, friends. This post is about going the distance, in which your hero talks of completing an author’s entire bibliography.

That said, I don’t think there are not many authors for which I can claim this to be true, as the authors’ I enjoy most are prolific. I hadn’t even thought this concept as being possible until I picked up Glamorama, a seemingly random book by Bret Easton Ellis that I realized would complete my reading of him – he’s only written novels and been a prolific twitter presence, to my knowledge. Ellis is a strange author to be “complete” with, sometimes brilliant, sometimes grating, most times droll. What draws me back to him repeatedly is that his novels often exist within the same existing universe – jaded, desensitized, “LA” characters you can’t help but be fascinated by, if only for their removal from their surroundings. I never know if it’s satire or just how Ellis may really be, but it doesn’t stop me from turning the pages. Reading Glamorama did allow me to realize that keeping up with contemporary authors is easier than I had previously thought – with the days of letter writing unfortunately gone, the sheer amount available on authors has dwindled. I’m currently complete, and keeping up with the work of Franzen, Eugenides, Eggers, Hornby, Frey and Vlautin, to mention a few. As long as they don’t all drop books at the same time, I should be able to continue growing with them, without fear that they will start releasing their pen pal adventures, or too many collections of essays on birding (I’m looking at you, J Franz).

It’s the pesky older (i.e.: dead) authors that are difficult. How do Bukowski, Bolaño and Vonnegut keep releasing things from beyond the grave? My count is that I have read twenty-five by Buk (counting poetry collections and correspondences) and twenty by Kurt, and I don’t even know how many books keep getting found and translated by Bolaño in order to keep up. I have no sense of whether I am complete or not! Salinger, however, I have no qualms with. It’s easy when the guy stopped publishing for most of his life (on top of that I fully believe he did not leave anything behind – if there’s anyone who burned his work it’s him).  I will never be done reading Franny and Zooey, and revisiting the misadventures of the Glass family in any form. It feels complete.
So what say you, constant companion? Do you have any authors or artists you can’t get enough of? Is there a light at the end of the tunnel? Post below in comments for interactive fun!

– Tony


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8 responses to “The Completist

  1. Sheila

    Franny and Zooey and Perfect Day for Bananafish are among the few things I have reread over the years. I still have no idea what it all means but Seymour’s tale sad and haunting and such an unfathomable waste. Indeed, the whole fascinating Glass family remains a huge question mark in my memory…but remain they do.

  2. ” How do Bukowski, Bolaño and Vonnegut keep releasing things from beyond the grave?”

    Let’s not forget L. Ron Hubbard, whose output continues. On second thought, let’s do.

    Was there a thread on re-reading here some time ago (or was it somewhere else)? I remember reading about an English lit professor, who ever year (for years) assigned “Huckleberry Finn”. A friend asked him how many times he’d read it. He replied, “About 150 times”.

    The friend asked him which time was the best. He replied, “The next time”.

  3. Sarah Louise

    First time I heard the word “completist” was in Juliet, Naked by Nick Horby, who described one of his characters (a rock music fan) as a “completeist.” I love the concept, though I doubt I’ll get there. (Small budget, small apartment.)


  4. I had a copy of Glamorama when it was new. I’d brought it with me on holiday planning to read every word — far from being completist about it I thought the nicest possible thing to do at the time was look away and say nothing. I guess I’m not very completist or even very loyal to particular authors as a reader, I only want to read the stuff I love. My librarian recently encouraged me to be more picky. He said life is too short to struggle with books you’re not getting. (not saying which two books I then returned but they were by an author whose other work I really rate)
    …. Just remembered that I really – really! – loved John Berger’s HERE IS WHERE WE MEET. That’s one I’ll dip into again, when I find it.

  5. lectorconstans

    Another “-ist” title – I’ve been trying to pry it out of my subconscious for some days now – it finally popped out:

    The Preservationist (David Maine, 2005).

    It’s a retelling of the Noah story, from the viewpoints of most of the participants.

    It’s funny and gritty and in parts, irreverent, but it’s a great story.

  6. Don

    T: Just reread “Seymour: an Introduction” and “Teddy” and “Perfect Day for Bannafish” – the first two as I was looking into Salinger’s take on haiku and the last one because, well, you can’t read “Seymour” without reading “Perfect Day.” Amazing reads, even or maybe especially after 30 years.

  7. Pingback: Franny and Zooey and Vonnegut « Diary of a Teenage Reader

  8. Lemuel

    Bolaño, a posthumous world literature industry unto himself. I do like reading beyond-the-grave works of authors I admire, but in his case and probably a few others, it borders on graverobbing. Tupac, anyone?

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