One time my sister said to me, “You are such a completist.”
I’m not sure if this is actually a word or not, but I think I know what she meant by it, and I think she’s right. I feel a certain satisfaction in having things finished with no loose ends left hanging.
It’s something that crops up mostly in my hobbies, I think you would call them. For example, once I’ve started a series of novels, I want to read all of them, preferably in the order the author intended them to be read. If I just read the first one and decide I don’t like it, then I can set it aside and not have to keep going, but usually when I start the second book that’s as good as saying I’m going to read all of them.
The need to read the whole series led me to finish not just the Harper Hall trilogy, which I first started with, and the Dragonriders trilogy after my cousin gave it to me for Christmas, but every Pern novel by Anne McCaffrey with the exception of the newest one. I’ve also tracked down the short stories and The Dragonlover’s Guide to Pern, which isn’t even by McCaffrey, and I’d probably have picked up The Atlas and People of Pern if they weren’t out of print.
Even though I’m now thoroughly sick of Pern, McCaffrey, and especially the characters, I hesitated in the bookstore yesterday when I saw The Skies of Pern in paperback simply because I haven’t read it yet. I know I really don’t want to read that one because of numerous things I’ve heard about it, not to mention I’m sure I’d be bitching about Tai the whole way. I knew the greenrider Tai on A Harper’s Tale MOO before McCaffrey stole her name, so it’s a personal thing. (And to separate her from Yshanth! Yshanth was such a beautiful dragon. I automatically fall in love with every green I see, but I’m especially partial to greens that I helped make through SearchCO, and Yshanth was one of those.)
I feel the same way when I see new Redwall books. I haven’t really enjoyed Redwall for a few years now. I read the first nine or so, and after the first four or five, they all start to sound the same and repeat each other, which is why I stopped reading them as new ones came out. But I haven’t read it yet.
What is the worst, though, is when I really fall in love with an author, and then just finishing the series (if there is one) isn’t enough. I have to read everything, and I usually end up owning at least most of the books, too.
To date, I’ve finished the complete works (in print; something called Water is coming out in June) of Robin McKinley, and own more than half of them. When I was younger I read all of Roald Dahl, L. M. Montgomery, and Louisa May Alcott (including her unpublished-while-she-was-alive first novel, The Inheritance, which shouldn’t have been published at all and was actually a little better as a movie; you know how rare that is), which were easier because none of those are still coming out with new things all the time. I’m also determined to own all of Ursula K. Le Guin’s works, including those I borrowed from the library before I was this into her, which is hard because she has a lot of short story collections, more than sixty novels I think, poetry compilations, children’s books (must have Catwings!), and random things like stuff she translated from Chinese and her book of creative writing exercises.
I haven’t managed to finish Shakespeare yet, either. I saw a giant volume of “complete works, including sonnets” in the bookstore the other day too, which is probably what I need to really get everything. The difficulty of tracking each play down individually was what stopped me in my big Shakespeare phase, which encompassed the end of elementary school and all of junior high. Then again, those were the days before Amazon.com and getting everything delivered to your door, when I had to roam from bookstore to library to used book sales and no one had the less-popular ones like Love’s Labour’s Lost which turned out to be less popular for a reason. (They’re boring.)
What got me in trouble as a child was trying to read those cheap paperback series that are mostly written by ghostwriters anyways. When I was six or seven, I got into The Babysitter’s Club and tried to read that whole series. I got through around a hundred of the regular series, and then there were all the “specials” like the mysteries and big babysitter vacations that were two or three times the regular length. The problem was tracking them down, of course; once I had a new one, I could sit down and read it in forty to sixty minutes. It was insane. I kept reading them even when I’d moved on to better things, like reading every single horse novel or short story I could get my hands on (Black Beauty and Misty weren’t enough for me). They were simple and reassuring, somehow, like a sitcom on TV: they aren’t going to surprise you in any big ways, they won’t bring up any unpleasant thoughts or feelings, and they solve all their problems in a cheesy happy ending that you can guess from a glance at the description on the back cover.
These days I don’t have as much time for reading, and so I end up discovering fewer new authors because when I do read, I want to work on reading up everything by an author I already know I like. I seem to have lost the knack of sorting through my options and picking out things that look interesting, so when I do venture forth into new territory, I tend to go for the stuff that other people have recommended to me. Maybe I need to work on being more widely read.
The need to finish things, to complete them, extends to other things for me, like music — at one point, I decided I wanted to own every album released by The Beatles, which was an expensive pursuit — and I could probably think of instances that go outside of just collectings things as well. But I’m running out of time to write now, so that’s a story for another day. I meant to write about something besides just books, but once I get started on them, it’s hard to stop!