If one has read a whole lot of books, as I have, one eventually gets to the point of filling in the minor works that are not highly regarded by the critics. In William Faulkner’s case, that includes his first two novels, Soldiers’ Pay (1926) and Mosquitoes (1927). It was only when he began setting his stories in his mythical Yoknapatawpha County that Faulkner’s reputation began its steady ascent. And even then, he was not frequently read until he received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1949 that Americans decided to start reading his work. Since that point, his work has remained in print.
What is to be gained from reading an author’s minor works, especially at the beginning of his career? I enjoyed Soldiers’ Pay only because I love Faulkner. I better understand the steps he took to be able to write The Sound and the Fury (1929), As I Lay Dying (1930), Light in August (1932), Absalom! Absalom! (1936), The Hamlet (1940), and Go Down Moses (1942).
I will continue to “fill in the gaps” in my reading of Faulkner’s work. In the next year or so, I plan to read Mosquitoes, Pylon (1935), and A Fable (1954). At the same time, I’ll re-read one of the great novels just to remind myself what I am trying to do.
I am doing the same thing with the opus of Fyodor Dostoyevsky, but in a slightly different way. I am midway through Joseph Frank’s five-volume biography of the writer and am reading or re-reading his work in tandem with the biography. I am about to re-read Notes from the Underground (1864).