Isabel Paterson on Four Neglected Books by Women

In this year of reading the work of women writers, I should take a moment to note the remarks of Isabel Paterson, whose 1933 novel, Never Ask the End, was one of the earliest neglected masterpieces I came across after starting this site, on four of her contemporaries whose own work has long gone unread. These come from some of the book reviews Paterson wrote for The Bookman magazine before and after it was bought by her mentor, Burton Rascoe.

Entranced, by Grace Flandrau (1924)

There is much more sting and sharpness to the work of Grace Flandrau in Entranced. It is like the difference between the American and English air. And Mrs. Flandrau’s special quality, which is brought to perfection in this book, is her ability to render atmosphere; not mere local color, nor even a personal background, but the tension and temperature, the shading and tone, of a certain group of persons involved in a given relation to each other at a definite place and time.

The action of Entranced passes in St. Paul, and it really is St. Paul, not even Minneapolis, or perhaps anything but Minneapolis, since unplumbed spiritual abysses separate the Twin Cities. So this is no vague, delocalized ‘midwestern metropolis,’ but St. Paul. The Robinsons belong in it, are rooted there. Richard and Rita Malory, marrying into the Robinson family, attempt to amalgamate themselves with it. They fail.

That is the story. Richard and Rita are not of the same stuff as the Robinsons; there is a difference in texture, in density and specific gravity. The Robinsons are solids and the Malorys are fluids. They are cursed with the curse of Reuben: “unstable as water, thou shalt not excel.” Richard Malory is a dilution of Lucien de Rubempre, a man lacking in that inner integrity which is essential to success. Rita does not lend herself to glib definition. I should like to read more of her — what happened to her and Ives and Gordon, afterward. There is, by the way, an especially delicious chapter — what a woman thinks about when she is annoyed at her husband. Don’t miss this.

From “Drawing Room Fiction,” The Bookman, December 1924

Entranced is so rare now that there appear to be only two copies for sale at the moment, both priced over $100. It was Flandrau’s second novel. Of her first, Being Respectable (1923), F. Scott Fitzgerald said it was “better than Babbitt” and reported that Edith Wharton liked the book “better than any American novel in years.” Joel Van Valin published a long article on Flandrau’s life and work in his Whistling Shade literary magazine in 2008.

The Matriarch, by G. B. Stern (1925)

In The Matriarch Miss Stern accepts the universe. She presents a panorama stretching over almost a century, but focused on the figure of a gorgeous, eccentric, autocratic old lady. To get so much into one volume requires a perilous process of foreshortening. All the same, it is a fine rich jumbled hamper Miss Stern has packed.

One is willingly subjugated by old Madame Anastasia Rakonitz, chieftainess of a far spreading Jewish clan noted for its masterful womenkind and its straight Greek noses. Disraeli sprang from just such a brilliant, mercurial strain as this. I believe he had a grandmother very like Anastasia. They are the kind of Jews who form a yeasty element in the countries of their adoption, who make an adventure of business, a business of art, and an art of living. Their essential stability consists in their strong family feeling; they rise and fall and rise again together, so tightly interlocked that an outsider pitchforked among them comes near to suffocation. One could pick flaws, but the main point is that The Matriarch is a decidedly likable book.

From “Deuces Wild in the Spring Fiction,” The Bookman, March 1925

G(ladys) B(ronwen) Stern, who was one of most successful and prolific of that generation of successful and prolific British women “middlebrow” writers that included Ethel Mannin, Storm Jameson, and Phyllis Bottome that collectively published thousands of novels over of course of fifty-some years between 1920 and 1970. From The Matriarch alone, Stern produced as much as some writers do in an entire career, turning it into a play that was a hit in both London and New York, and following it up with three more novels about the Rakonitz family–A Deputy was King (1926), Mosaic (1930), and Shining and Free (1935)–that were then combined in a massive 1400-page tome titled, The Matriarch Chronicles, in 1936. The Matriarch was reissued several times in paperback, most recently in the mid-1980s as a The Matriarch“>Virago Modern Classic. It was originally published in England as Tents of Israel (1924).

Orphan Island, Rose Macaulay (1925)

We may as well swallow the bitter pill first, reserving the jam for consolation. But since Miss Macaulay’s tonic is sugared with tolerant amusement, it goes down most easily. It is an antidote to Victorianism, containing a salutary reminder that we may have achieved a distinction without a difference in our Georgian emancipation. If the Victorians were self righteous, aren’t we a little smug in our superiority to those benighted creatures? The plot belongs to the great universal stock; Miss Macaulay helps herself to it gracefully. She premises that in 1855 there sailed from England a shipload of some forty orphan children of tender years, London waifs philanthropically destined for San Francisco under the aegis of a virtuous maiden lady of the Anglican persuasion, a clergyman’s daughter. Miss Charlotte Smith had all the prejudices proper to her social status. A decent Scotswoman had been brought as a nurse. The ship’s doctor was Irish, bibulous. Rabelaisian, and a Roman Catholic.

The ship was wrecked in the lee of a fertile and uninhabited South Sea Island. Seventy years later a rescue party arrived. They found that the orphans had thrived and multiplied, preserving in their island home an undiluted mid-Victorian atmosphere. Miss Smith, aged ninety eight, was a reduced but still majestic replica of the late dear Queen. The social, political, and economic problems of the tight little island had reproduced themselves with the same grotesque fidelity. If the microcosm is funny, the author implies, what of the original? And if they were funny, what of ourselves? How shall we look to our grandchildren?

It is all done in good humor, with a touch of broad comedy for a high light in the distressing circumstances of Miss Smith’s marriage. She had been deceived by the doctor; he had a wife in Ireland. Miss Smith never knew it until she had borne ten children in this bigamous union; and she kept the secret thereafter, reacting to her hidden shame by a more rigid respectability in law making. Illegitimacy she would not tolerate. On principle she was also a teetotaler, though she fuddled herself on palm wine with great dignity, calling it fruit juice prescribed for her health. It is excellent satire, and if to youthful readers it seems inapposite, that is because they can’t visualize the object. Their elders will enjoy it.”

From “Deuces Wild in the Spring Fiction,” The Bookman, March 1925

Orphan Island is among the hundreds of books by fine mid-century British men and women writers that have been reissued in e-Book format by Bloomsbury Press in the last couple of years. You can find a Kindle version on Amazon.

The Crystal Cup, Gertrude Atherton

For me to assume an attitude of impartial criticism of ” The Crystal Cup, or any other of Gertrude Atherton’s novels, would be sheer pretence. I am biased, if not totally disqualified, by my enthusiastic admiration of the author, which cannot be set aside, even hypothetically, for the consideration of her work “on its merits”, because her books are charged with her personality. Not that they are intimate confessions nor factual autobiography; it is self-evident that they are very far from being anything of the kind; but the dynamic quality with which she was so greatly and fortunately dowered by nature flows through the point of her pen; and her attitude toward life, which she has not only accepted but welcomed and enjoyed, determines her choice and treatment of material.

Always her characters are positive. Confronted by the dilemma which is prerequisite to a story, they arrive at definite decisions and act upon them with energy and even ruthlessness. And, though in some instances the power which moves them is felt as directly owing to the writer rather than to the fictive characters in their own right — which is the final achievement of creative art — nevertheless it is genuine, and it serves its purpose: to rivet the reader’s attention. The degree of illusion she creates varies considerably. In The Crystal Cup, the problem is the main thing, rather than the subtleties of character analysis, although the story hinges on character. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that it is a question of a certain type breaking through fortuitous and adverse circumstance to find a normal channel of expression.

Gita Carteret, inheriting the beauty and charm which made the women of her family successively the reigning belles of their period, was warped by the unhappy experiences of her girlhood into a fierce antagonism toward men. Her father was a rake, a spendthrift, and a drunken brute. Besides reducing his wife and child to poverty, he exposed them to the insulting gallantries of his raffish associates. Gita grew up hating her own femininity, wishing herself a man; and in self defense she dressed and acted as much like a boy as possible. But at twenty-two, already an orphan, she found herself an heiress in a small way, through the death of her grandmother. The singular expedient to which she resorted to secure her share of life while excluding men from her personal scheme of things, and the unexpected result of it all, provides a very brisk plot, enlivened with a touch of melodrama and one scene (at least) of fine tense drama. It is safe to say The Crystal Cup will be among the best sellers. It marches.”

From “Men, Women, and Manikins,” The Bookman, September 1925

Not all reviewers shared Isabel Paterson’s enthusiasm for Atherton’s work. In the Saturday Review, H. W. Boynton wrote, “Again Mrs. Atherton has made an elaborate gesture and produced a stuffed rabbit out of the hat. Its skin is real but its eyes are glass, and its little insides are cotton and excelsior.” The Crystal Cup is available in a ridiculously over-priced direct-to-print paperback–or you can get an original edition for just $2.99.

Thanks to her canonization* as a Libertarian saint, Paterson’s own works, including Never Ask the End, are in print now in Kindle format. You can get one for $9 from Laissez Faire Books, or without an introduction for $0.99. Or you can just get the PDF version for free from the Mises Institute and convert it (also for free) using Calibre. Which option would a good Libertarian choose?

*I do have to say that I fear this embrace of Paterson by Libertarians has put the kibosh on her chances of getting accepted by academia and published by any mainstream reissue press (e.g., New York Review Books) anytime soon.

Lost Writers of the Plains, from Nebraska Educational Telecommunications


A new series of radio shows, along with a free accompanying ebook, featuring the lives and works of eight neglected writers of the American Plains, has just been released by Nebraska Educational Telecommunications. This series, organized by Professor Wendy Katz from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is a little multimedia treasure trove. For each of the eight men and women featured on the site, you can find a radio essay, one or more video clips, photos and illustrations, and links to some of their articles or stories. You can also find an accompanying book, written by Claire Harlan-Orsi, available free on iTunes (link). Among the writers covered are:

Burton Rascoe on Neglected Books, from The American Mercury, August 1940


California conservative and entrepeneur Ron Unz has set up a website,, with PDF versions of articles from over 100 American periodicals from the 20th century, ranging from The Abolitionist, a mimeographed newsheet from the Rutgers Libertarian Alliance, to Yank, the U. S. Army’s magazine from World War Two. Of particular interest to book fans are complete records of magazines such as The American Mercury, The Literary Digest, and The Saturday Review, which are rich in reviews, articles and ads about books from the past. Although the site’s interface is very HTML 1.0-ish and pages can only be downloaded and printed individually, a stroll through almost any issue will produce at least one long-forgotten title worth investigating.

One article that caught my eye, naturally, was “Neglected Books,” written by Burton Rascoe, an influential editor and critic of the first half of the century, published in the August 1940 issue of H. L. Mencken’s magazine, The American Mercury. Rascoe’s intention was “to call attention to a few books published within the last eighteen months which are literary works of outstanding merit and deserving of a wide and appreciative audience, but which, because of the many imponderables of book publishing, not only failed to catch on with the wide reading public but reached such a small number of book buyers, in some instances, as to be downright calamities to both author and publisher.” In other words, these are books that went straight from press to neglect without passing “Go.”

Of the eight titles discussed, half are back in print now. The Rockville, Maryland-based Wildside Press, which has brought almost all of James Branch Cabell’s books, including Hamlet Had an Uncle, back into circulation. Thanks to the strong support of university presses for the works of regional writer of the past, the novels of James Still, including River Of Earth, are available from the University Press of Kentucky . As is E. C. Abbott’s cattle-drive memoir, We Pointed Them North, which the University of Oklahoma Press has kept in print since 1976. And the University of Ohio’s Swallow Press offers not only Frank Waters’ The Dust Within the Rock but twenty others, including his best-known novel, The Man Who Killed The Deer.

Cover of first U.S. edition of "Hamlet Had an Uncle"

Hamlet Had an Uncle, by James Branch Cabell

“Urbane, brilliant and beautiful treatment of the Hamlet legend, in which Cabell adheres more closely to the earliest historical account, the Danish history of Saxo-Grammaticus, than did Shakespeare. As with all of Cabell’s novels, it is an analogue of happenings in our own time–in this instance, it is an analogue of the rise of Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini.”

Sun and Storm, by Unto Seppänen

“A Finnish peer of Knut Hamsun’s Nobel Prize-winning novel, Growth of the Soil. One of the most powerful, realistic novels in modern literature.” Kirkus Reviews described it as a historical novel that recounts “the emergence of Finland from vassal statehood to independence, the growth of the peasantry to power” as experienced by one family. In The Saturday Review, Agnes Rothery–a prolific travel writer of the time–wrote, “This is a book of exceptional merit. It possesses every ingredient required to make a first-class novel: a romantic setting of a remote and little known country, a powerful theme of an ambition peasant dominating successive generations of the family he founded, and a plot which is concerned with the century-long struggle of Finland against her tyrant, Russia.” Seppänen’s work has been so utterly forgotten that he doesn’t even rate a Wikipedia listing in any language but his own.

River Of Earth, by James Still

“This young novelist has such a mature and original style, such an acute sense of character and effective dialogue that he bids fair to become one of our most widely read and highly praised creators of imaginative literature.” Still, who lived most of his life in a cabin in the hills of eastern Kentucky in which this and his other books were set. A documentary on the book and Still’s life produced by Kentucky Educational Television can be viewed online at You can also read an appreciative essay on the book, written by Jerry Salyer in 2009, on the Front Porch Republic website.

Cover of first U. S. edition of "The Last Hunt"

The Last Hunt, by Maurice Genevoix

“This is a delicately beautiful woodland story of the understanding and affection between a huntsman and a deer, which somehow makes the reader recall W. H. Hudson, Felix Salten and the legends of St. Francis of Assisi.” Rascoe also compares it to the works of a frequent American Mercury contributor, Alan Devoe. Devoe published a half-dozen or so books on animals, birding, and country life and is remembered now by the Alan Devoe Bird Club of Columbia County, New York.

We Pointed Them North: Recollections of a Cowpuncher, by E. C. Abbott and Helen Huntington Smith

“The recollections of ‘Teddy Blue’ Abbott, a Texas and Montana cowpuncher of the seventies and eighties, who rode here up the Long Trail four times, knew Buffalo Bill and Calamity Jane, gamblers, cattle thieves, Indians, dead-shots, man-hunting marshals, and, above all, the plains and mountains, peoples and customs, songs and legends of the country. It is inconceivable that this book shouldn’t delight the millions who read cowboy fiction and love the Hollywood ‘horse-operas’….”

O Canaan!, by Waters E. Turpin

“Here is the intensely moving and significant story of the migration North of a group of Negro farm-hands in response to the industrial demand for labor in 1916 (a year in which rains and the boll weevil devastated the cotton crop of the South), and of their several maladjustments to the new environment, a new way of living, a new kind of social antagonism and, worse perhaps, a sudden (if not long-lived) acquaintance with wealth in the form of daily wages in excess of what they would earn in a month in the South.” O Canaan! is now so rare that Amazon has no listings and the only copy I could find available for sale online has a price tag of $295.

Dust Within the Rock, by Frank Waters

“The third volume of a notable trilogy of three generations in the mining regions of Cripple Creek and during the rise of Denver and Colorado Springs; but a novel complete in itself.” A more skeptical critic, writing for Kirkus Reviews, concluded that, “As a picture of a family gone to seed, keeping the surface veneer of aristocracy, and of March Cable, symbolizing his generation as a sort of rebirth of the frontier spirit, it does not quite come off.” The preceding novels in the trilogy are Wild Earth’s Nobility and Below Grass Roots. In 1971, Waters compiled the novels into a single volume, Pikes Peak: A Mining Saga.

Cover of first U. S. edition of "Jubal Troop"

Jubal Troop, by Paul Wellman

“A thrilling, well-documented and deeply felt novel of the trans-Mississippi immigration into Texas and Oklahoma when the prairies were first attracting settlers and the cattle industry of the plains was just developing.” Ironically, of all these books, Jubal Troop fared the best for its first thirty-some years, staying in print through four or five paperback editions, and being made into a film (Jubal) starring Glenn Ford, Ernest Borgnine and a remarkable supporting cast (Rod Steiger, Charles Bronson, Jack Elam, Felicia Farr). The director, Delmer Daves, recast the story into a Western version of “Othello”–which earned it a reputation as one of the first “adult” Westerns.

“In each case no doubt,” Rascoe concludes after a consideration of the rationale behind the failure of Cabell’s novel, “there are good and plausible explanations for undeserved neglect. Which is no consolation to author and publisher. Worse than that, the neglect is a real loss to the reading public.”

Amen, brother!

Michael Dirda on “Out of Print” books

Michael DirdaPatrick Kurp brought my attention to a posting in Michael Dirda’s column/blog on the website for The American Scholar, the magazine of Phi Beta Kappa. In “Out of Print,” posted in early August, Dirda writes, “These days I gravitate increasingly to books almost no one else has heard of, let alone is interested in, books that are odd and quirky and usually out of print.” He also remarks that, “I’ve also come to feel that if I don’t write about a book—in a review or essay—then I haven’t actually read it”–a feeling I have come to share since starting this site. I encourage any fan of lost books to check out the post: mentions over 25 different titles, most of them obscure and hard to find, a few darned near impossible to find. Personally, I’m now on permanent lookout for the novels of Claude Farrère.

Dirda–like his former Washington Post colleague Jonathan Yardley–has long been an enthusiast for odd and little-known books. You can find more than a few overlooked gems in each of his collections of essays, particularly in Readings: Essays and Literary Entertainments, first published in 2000 and still in print. But, he notes, “Most literary publications don’t publish essays—no matter how enthusiastic—about fiction or nonfiction that is out of print or otherwise unavailable.” “What can you do?,” he asks?

Well, Mr. Dirda, you have a standing offer here. The pay is poor, the audience tiny, but the karma boost is to die for.

“The 10 Best Neglected Literary Classics,” from the Guardian

Source: Rachel Cooke, “The 10 best Neglected literary classics – in pictures,”, The Observer, Sunday 27 February 2011

The always-watchful Robert Nedelkoff passed along this link from last month. Noting the BBC’s dramatisation of Winifred Holtby’s long-neglected novel, South Riding, Rachel Cooke proposes ten more titles worth rediscovering. Fortunately for interested readers, all are in print–at least in the U.K.–thanks to Virago Press, Persephone Books, Capuchin Classics, NYRB Classics, and others.

Here is the full list of titles:

• The Real Charlotte, by Somerville and Ross (1894)

• The Vet’s Daughter, by Barbara Comyns (1959)

“The Vet’s Daughter tells the story of 17-year-old Alice, who lives with her savage veterinary father (a “terrible genie” in a waxed moustache and yellow gloves) in a horrible south London suburb. When she escapes his tyranny – she moves to the country, where she discovers a peculiar talent – Alice’s life seems to be improving. But it can’t last. A return to Daddy and his new wife and things grow nastier than ever. Nightmarish.”

• The Rector’s Daughter, by F. M. Mayor (1924)

• School for Love, by Olivia Manning (1951)

“School for Love tells the story of Felix Latimer, a young orphan who is marooned in wartime Jerusalem, alongside other flotsam and jetsam, in lodgings belonging to the repulsive Miss Bohun. A tremendous book about the way in which war makes adults of children – and avarice monsters of us all.”

• The Wife: A Novel, Meg Wolitzer (2003)

• A Way of Life, Like Any Other, Darcy O’Brien (1977)

“A Way of Life, Like Any Other is a coming-of-age story like no other. Set in 50s Hollywood, the novel is narrated by a teenager called Salty, whose father once starred in westerns and whose mother was a goddess of the silver screen. In the old days, they enjoyed the high life, but now their careers have crashed, their marriage is broken, and the only way is down.”

• The Odd Women, George Gissing (1893)

• The Blank Wall,Elisabeth Sanxay Holding (1947)

“The Blank Wall has been filmed twice – as The Reckless Moment in 1949, and as The Deep End in 2001 – and its author was admired by Raymond Chandler. But does it hold up today? Oh, yes. Lucia Holley is a suburban housewife coping alone while her husband serves in the Pacific. Then, one morning, she finds the body of her teenage daughter’s dubious lover and, desperate to protect her family, rapidly becomes implicated in his murder. Will she keep her cool? Atmospheric and difficult to put down, Sanxay Holding is as clinical and as clever as Patricia Highsmith.”

• Ann Veronica, by H. G. Wells (1909)

• [The Victorian Chaise-longue, Marghanita Laski (1953)

“Melanie Langdon, spoilt and sickly and recovering from TB, lies down on her antique chaise-longue one afternoon in 1953 and wakes up trapped inside the body of a young Victorian woman called Milly. Is she dreaming? No. Melanie really is marooned in a claustrophobic world that stinks of stale clothes, rancid butter and hypocrisy (judging by the whispers of the servants, Milly has been involved in some kind of scandal). More terrifyingly, the body Melanie inhabits is far frailer than her own. A book that will cure you for ever of your secret longing to live in Barsetshire.”

The Art of Slow Reading, from The Guardian

Patrick Kingsley, “The art of slow reading,” The Guardian, Thursday, 15 July 2010

I missed my weekly late Friday afternoon ritual of scanning through Arts and Letters Daily and printing off 6-8 of its featured articles for weekend reading while I was on vacation, so I didn’t get to read Patrick Kingsley’s piece from mid-July until a few days ago. I wanted to take a moment to steer slightly off topic and offer my own response, because Kingsley touches on a couple of themes I find myself often thinking about:

      • The Internet’s impact on reading

      • The benefits of deep and narrow reading versus those of broad and shallow reading–or slow reading vs. skimming

If you’re reading this article in print, chances are you’ll only get through half of what I’ve written. And if you’re reading this online, you might not even finish a fifth. At least, those are the two verdicts from a pair of recent research projects – respectively, the Poynter Institute’s Eyetrack survey, and analysis by Jakob Nielsen – which both suggest that many of us no longer have the concentration to read articles through to their conclusion.

I can add my own experience as both consumer and producer to this evidence. This is the second website I’ve created: the first, which has nothing at all to do with books, went online in late 1996. And the data from both shows exactly the same trends. Setting aside robots, spiders, links to images incorporated in other sites’ pages and everything thing else that represents automated traffic rather than real people making real mouse clicks, 95 per cent or more of visitor spend a minute or less on the site. Of the rest, most click around a page or three, and a tiny but persistent number spend ten to thirty minutes perusing its contents in depth.

It makes perfect sense. Both sites deal with an esoteric subject and are intended to as an alternative resource, filling a few gaps in material otherwise substantially covered elsewhere. It doesn’t take much looking to find plenty of material aboutThe Red Badge of Courage, just to take an example–nearly as much as there is about the works of William Gaddis and Thomas Pynchon. But for the foreseeable future, I’ve got the corner on stuff about the works Herbert Clyde Lewis or Isabel Paterson (aside from her libertarian tracts).

Which is something about one in a million people have the slightest interest in–and the emphasis is on slightest. But I’m a firm believer that a little thing done well serves, if nothing else, as grit in the machinery of our inevitable descent into entropy. And so I’m not surprised that a tiny, tiny, tiny speck of the trillions of link clicks in the Internet land on my sites, or that most flit off to another page in a heartbeat or two. It’s the one person every week or so who spends twenty minutes truly reading and discovering the sites who tells me this more than the world’s 12th largest ball of lint.

Nor am I surprised that these studies find reading of material on the Internet is more a matter of hopping quickly from lilypad to lilypad than of focused, patient concentration. Now that most of us have speedy connections, the marginal cost of clicking along to the next link is just a moment’s delay. And if the material proves unworthy of the click, just click on. It’s the world’s biggest and best salad bar and you don’t even have to waste the time to chew and swallow what you sample. Just spit it out and click on. There’s a new page, with new colors and different pictures and adifferent arrangement of material on screen. It appeals so directly to the wiring of our minds, bound as they are to sight as our primary sense, that the wonder is not that so much traffic merely skitters across the tops of pages, but that anyone manages the self-control to stop and resist the urge to click on.

So are we getting stupider? Is that what this is about? Sort of. According to The Shallows, a new book by technology sage Nicholas Carr, our hyperactive online habits are damaging the mental faculties we need to process and understand lengthy textual information. Round-the-clock news feeds leave us hyperlinking from one article to the next – without necessarily engaging fully with any of the content; our reading is frequently interrupted by the ping of the latest email; and we are now absorbing short bursts of words on Twitter and Facebook more regularly than longer texts.

I refuse to see this trend as a matter of “getting stupider.” Any father who’s been thoroughly humiliated on a video game by his ten year old son understands that it’s not a matter of smarter or dumber but of a shift from one type of intelligence to another. One could as easily argue that those of us who grew up in a low-speed analog world are the ones getting stupider. Twitter still baffles me, for example. Oh, I fully understand how it works. I just fail to understand why on God’s Earth anyone would use it.

Which means, of course, that I am out of the loop–out of the intelligence loop–when it comes to Twitter’s content, to its function as an element of a nervous system, if you will. I haven’t even got a ticket for that Cluetrain.


While I side with Darwin and believe that adaptation to its environment is a species’ greatest survival skill, I also believe that we have a tendency, at least in the U. S., to think that momentum carries us further than is the case. As Timothy Wilson shows in Strangers to Ourselves, when it comes to self-knowledge, we don’t know what we don’t know–but we’re finding out that it’s a whole bunch. So while some of us are Twittering into the future, we are still only a few steps from the cave in much of our unconsciously-driven behavior.

And our environment is not changing that quickly, either. Our culture still has strong roots going back thousands of years. Our institutions go back decades and centuries. And our knowledge is still deeply bound to materials, practices, and skills that cannot be mastered in a few clicks. I wouldn’t be too happy to learn that my surgeon earned his license by surfing through “Cardiology for Dummies.” There is a vast amount of information relevant to our world that offers almost nothing of value to a skimmer. I well remember highlighting sentences in my calculus of variations text in college that were grammatically correct and mathematically valid and utterly incomprehensible to a non-mathematician. I’m not sure I could even understand them now, thirty years later. There is no way to unlock material such as this aside from time and close attention.

What Malcolm Gladwell calls “the 10,000 hour rule” is just the latest rediscovery of something my mother, who grew up caring for ten brothers on a Kansas farm in the Depression used to say: “There’s no substitute for hard work.” Sticking to material that can be read quickly and lightly leaves merely proves the saying that a little learning is a dangerous thing. I heard a defense company executive recount recently that a senior NATO official had complained that a two-page paper the executive had written was “too long.” Relying exclusively on skimming as one’s way of acquiring knowledge is the intellectual equivalent of eating baby food–which is, essentially, pre-chewed food.

Real men chew their own food and real readers roll up their sleeves and dig in. As John Waters put in his recent book, Role Models, “You should never read just for ‘enjoyment.’ Read to make yourself smarter! Less judgmental. More apt to understand your friends’ insane behavior, or better yet, your own. Pick ‘hard books.’ Ones you have to concentrate on while reading.” Or, as Charles Ives one retorted to an audience member who booed a difficult piece of modernist music by Carl Ruggles, “Why can’t you stand up before fine strong music like this and use your ears like a man?”

I actually think we’re remarkably fortunate to be living in a time when both types of knowledge are accessible and relevant. In 1985, if I wanted to do something as simple as book an airline flight to another city, arrange for a rental car, and book a hotel room, I had two choices: ferret out copies of the OAG, a hotel register, Yellow Pages for the town, or some other rare and expensive information source–or turn the problem over to a travel agent. Travel agents had access to these vital resources and the specialist knowledge of how to use them. I probably traveled twenty times on business in 1985: I know just how time consuming and unpredictable this process was. Now, I can complete the same transaction myself in a few minutes and a couple dozen clicks. We are living in a time when both skimming and mining have their uses.

[Henry] Hitchings does agree that the internet is part of the problem. “It accustoms us to new ways of reading and looking and consuming,” Hitchings says, “and it fragments our attention span in a way that’s not ideal if you want to read, for instance, Clarissa.”

I mention this quote just to tell a little anecdote from my undergraduate days. One of the first English literature courses I took was some oddly-titled invention of the professor who taught it, in which the class–all ten of us, I think–worked through just two books in the course of a quarter: Bleak House and Ulysses. We spent over two weeks just parsing our way through one chapter–‘Nausicaa,’ I think. I came away in awe of Joyce’s ability to weave meaning and symbolism into every word of every sentence–and of the professor’s skill in revealing how many layers there were to Joyce’s text. It was one the most intellectually stimulating experiences I’ve ever enjoyed.

About a year later, I mentioned how much I enjoyed the course to Prof. Thomas Lockwood, whose survey course on the 18th century English novel I was taking. “Perhaps we should take a similar approach,” he joked. “I can see it now: ‘Attention, everyone! Let’s turn now to Volume 7, Letter XLIV. “My Dear Mrs. Norton: Had I not fallen into fresh troubles, which disabled me for several days from holding a pen ….” Only two volumes and 248 letters left to go, folks!'”

Yes, I confess I skimmed Clarissa. It was about a guy trying to get into a girl’s pants, as I recall.

“Classics lost and found,” from the Independent

Source: “Classics lost and found: Authors pick the modern classic they would like to revive,” The Independent (UK), 30 July 2010

“According to the poet Ezra Pound, literature is the news that stays news. This spring and summer have seen that old saw cut deep,” writes Boyd Tonkin in the Independent last week. Tonkin cites the remarkable success of Alone in Berlin, a masterpiece about resistance to Nazism written shortly after the end of the war by the German writer Hans Fallada but never before translated into English. Alone in Berlin was an unexpected bestseller, making the UK Top 50 list in the spring of this year. When I was in London this April, copies of the book were stacked on tables at the entry of most of the Waterstones and other bookstores I visited.

Alone in Berlin is the title selected by Penguin for their UK edition of the book. Here in the U. S., it’s published as Every Man Dies Alone by Melville House, and culminates a series begun in 2009 that includes three other novels by Fallada (Little Man, What Now?, The Drinker, and Wolf Among Wolves) and a reissue of Jenny Williams’ 2001 biography, More Lives than One.

“To celebrate the second lives of titles from the past,” The Independent asked about a dozen writers to nominate “a work from the first six decades of this [sic] century (1900-1960) that they would like to see in the bestseller limelight again.” Not all the responses qualify as neglected by any stretch of the imagination. The first item on the list, in fact, nominated by Bernardine Evaristo, Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God has achieved the most telling sign of having been accepted as a mainstream classic: it has its own Cliffs Notes. Paul Bailey nominates The Collected Stories of Isaac Babel, but unless my eyes deceive me, those words “National Bestseller” across the top of the Norton paperback edition tells me he already got his wish. Likewise, suggestions that works by Nabokov, Wallace Stevens, or even Henry Green–all of which are in print, readily available, and selling respectably, if Amazon’s numbers are any indication–are holding their own.

I do have to take the mention of Green to veer off topic for a moment and link to one of the neatest things I’ve stumbled across in the last month. Sometime in the last six months, the entire contents of LIFE magazine from 1935 to 1972 have been digitized and archived in Google Book. Among the surprising treats to be found in this goldmine of visual material: “The Double Life of Henry Green,” a nine-page profile of written by Nigel Dennis (himself a fully qualified neglected novelist based on the intermittently-reissued Cards of Identity). The article makes significant use (and fun) of Green’s desire to avoid having his face photographed, and Dennis’ text is lengthy, detailed, and revealing. It’s hard to imagine a major American magazine today devoting so much space to a non-American writer with no significant U. S. sales.

Back to the main topic, though.

Most of the titles proposed, in fact, are in print–not bestsellers, certainly, but still strongly supported by publishers. Thanks to Virago, F. M. Mayor’s The Rector’s Daughter and Elizabeth von Arnim’s Vera are available, as is Josephine Johnston’s 1934 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of Midwestern farm life, Now in November, thanks to the Feminist Press. (I recommend taking a stroll through the “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” display for this last title–it’s like a gallery of a midcentury American middlebrow classics.)

Cover of 'The Authentic Death of Hendry Jones'The only genuinely neglected book on the list–out of print in both U.S. and U.K.–is Charles Neider’s 1956 western novel, The Authentic Death of Hendry Jones, nominated by Clive Sinclair. “You’ve probably never heard of The Authentic Death of Hendry Jones, or its author either,” says Sinclair.

But I suspect you’re more familiar with both than you know. Especially if you’ve seen Marlon Brando’s One-Eyed Jacks, which is Neider’s novel renamed. Among the scriptwriters Brando employed was Sam Peckinpah, who picked Neider’s brains, knowing that Hendry Jones was Billy the Kid in mufti. His version of Billy’s brief life is hailed as his masterpiece. But Neider’s book is better, better than any other book on the subject of men, horses and death, except Isaac Babel’s Red Cavalry. Not a far-fetched comparison when you consider that Neider — though American-raised — was Odessa-born.

And, in a short review on Amazon, record producer Russ Titelman writes of the novel,

As far as I’m concerned, it is one of the great unsung American masterpieces on a par with A Death in the Family and So Long, See You Tomorrow. It is spare, poetic and honest. The story is a fictional eye witness account based loosely on the myth of Billy the Kid told by his sidekick. Neider uses language the way a photographer uses light. His descriptions of nature and the way the characters speak are so startlingly truthful that it makes you feel as though you had actually been there. I am haunted by this novel.

In a interview years after One-Eyed Jacks came out, Peckinpah called the movie “a piece of shit.” “You see, Marlon has a big penchant for becoming a ….” He went on to say,

Charles Neider, you know, spent two and a half years in New Mexico to get the true story of Billy the Kid. And finally he gave it up, went to Monterey and in six weeks wrote what he called The Authentic Death of Hendry Jones. It’s a great book. It should be read, and someday the picture should be made. So I was lucky enough at least to write a screenplay of it.

Neider (1915-2001) was a prolific editor, best known for his many collections of works by Mark Twain, particularly the release of The Autobiography of Mark Twain in 1959. He also wrote a number of his own works of nonfiction and fiction in addition to The Authentic Death of Hendry Jones. His last book, about his own struggle with prostate cancer, Adam’s Burden, was published just after his death from the disease.

Graham Greene’s “The Century Library”: Neglected English Fiction Classics

In scanning through W. J. West’s The Quest for Graham Greene, I came across a reference to the Century Library, one of Greene’s initiatives while he was an editor with Eyre and Spottiswoode in the late 1940s. West describes it as “a series reprinting neglected literary masterpieces of the none too distant past; even then literary reputation was evanescent.”

A notice in British Book News from early 1946 set expectations high:

The Century Library, a new series announced by Eyre & Spottiswoode, is planned to do for English fiction of the twentieth century what the World’s Classics and the Everyman Library has done for the classics in general. Each volume will appear in an attractive format and will contain a critical appreciation by a well-known critic or novelist and a full bibliography.

The books were to be listed at a bargain price of five shillings each. The item went on to mention over a dozen prospective titles:

West reproduces an ad from the Spectator that lists two further titles: The Nebuly Coat, by J. Meade Falkner, and The Fifth Queen Trilogy, by Ford Madox Ford. From what I can determine, fifteen books were actually published in the series between 1946 and 1950:

  1. The History of Mr. Polly, by H. G. Wells
  2. The Hole in the Wall, by Arthur Morrison
  3. Dialstone Lane, by W. W. Jacobs
  4. The Green Child, by Herbert Read
  5. The Unbearable Bassington, by “Saki”
  6. Widecombe Fair, by Eden Phillpott
  7. The Wings of the Dove, by Henry James
  8. The First Men in the Moon, by H. G. Wells
  9. Frost in May, by Antonia White
  10. The Hampenshire Wonder, by J. D. Beresford
  11. Israel Rank, by Roy Horniman
  12. The Lost World and The Poison Belt, by Arthur Conan Doyle
  13. If there was a #13 in the series, I have been unable to identify it.
  14. Raffles, The Amateur Cracksman, by E. W. Hornung
  15. The Thief in the Night and Other Stories, by E. W. Hornung
  16. Saturday Night at the Greyhound, by John Hampson

It appears that the venture ended in 1950 due to a combination of factors: poor sales, problems with the supply of paper, and Greene’s departure from the firm.

While a number of books in the series–The Wings of the Dove and H. G. Wells’–are now solidly fixed in the literary canon, there are a fair number of titles likely to pique the interest of fans of neglected books:

The Century Library edition of 'Dialstone Lane,' by W. W. Jacobs
The Century Library edition of 'Dialstone Lane,' by W. W. Jacobs

Dialstone Lane, by W. W. Jacobs

Jacobs is best known for that mainstay of middle school English, “The Monkey’s Paw,” but his many stories of sailing and London dockside life have long been highly regarded as works of craft, if not art. Luckily, the text of Dialstone Lane is available free online from Project Gutenberg. Henry Reed’s introduction is also available at The Naming of Parts, a website devoted to Reed’s poetry and other writings.

Widecombe Fair, by Eden Phillpott

In his introduction, L. A. G. Strong (himself a writer whose works are now neglected) wrote, “I am delighted to see Widecombe Fair once more reprinted. It is an important book in the history of the English country novel, for it proves that one can be unsentimental and true to sight and sound….”

The Hampenshire Wonder, by J. D. Beresford

Greene cited Beresford as one of his earliest influences and considered this novel, a fantasy about a superman figure, one of the unjustly neglected classics of the Edwardian era. In his survey of science fiction, critic E. F. Bleiler called it, “The first important novel about a superman, and in many respects still the best.”

Israel Rank, by Roy Horniman

This satire is best known as the source for Alec Guinness’ tour de force comedy, “Kind Hearts and Coronets.” Long out of print, it’s now easily available thank to John Seaton’s terrific Faber Finds series of reprints.

Antigua, Penny, Puce, by Robert Graves

A comic novel of sibling rivalry over a rare stamp referred to in the title. Now back in print, packaged with Graves’ 1957 novel based on the trial of Doctor William Harper, They Hanged My Saintly Billy, thanks to Carcanet Press.

The Position of Peggy Harper, by Leonard Merrick

As far back as 1928, one critic wrote of Merrick, “For twenty-five years, Merrick has continued in the anomalous position of finding himself lauded for every eminent quality that builds the writer’s craft into an art, without attaining popularity. While planning the Century Library series, Greene asked George Orwell to write an introduction to one of Merrick’s works. Orwell reportedly replied, “I’d jump at it,” and suggested The Position of Peggy Harper. Although the book was never published, a victim of the series’ troubles, Orwell’s introduction can be found in In Front of Your Nose, 1945-1950 (Collected Essays Journalism and Letters of George Orwell).

A Waif’s Progress, by Rhoda Broughton

A novelist and short story writer now seen as a pioneering feminist, Broughton’s work still awaits serious rediscovery. As her entry in Wikipedia puts it, “Today most of her works are out of print and even the original ones are very hard to come by. Especially those published after 1900 are very hard to procure.” A Waif’s Progress tells the story of Camilla Tancred, who manages to make the most for herself despite an inheritance of “drink on both sides, immorality on both sides, selfishness on both sides, extravagance and folly on both sides.”

The Case of Bevan Yorke, by W. B. Maxwell

Bevan Yorke is a story about the break-up of an Egyptologist’s marriage over his love for a younger woman. One contemporary wrote when the book was first published in 1927, “Captain Maxwell’s work is extremely well written. He has that happy quality of making his reader feel just what he wants him to feel and he accomplishes this without every becoming loquacious. He does not employ a legion of adjectives to describe an emotion. One well selected word suffices.” Compared to more than a few novels from the period, when the lean prose of Hemingway was just starting to take hold, this is a pretty high compliment. Another contemporary critic, Patrick Braybrooke, said of Maxwell, “It has often been said that simplicity is akin to greatness, not that they are interchangeable. Maxwell is both simple and great and the combinaiton have produced a novelist who is a brilliant artist and a sincere realist. Although he’s managed to earn a mention in Wikipedia, virtually his entire oeuvre is long out of print.

A Dozen Neglected Titles from Mencken’s reviews for “The American Mercury”

I came across a synopsis of H. L. Mencken’s literary criticism from the ten years he wrote and edited The American Mercury with George Jean Nathan. Mencken was one of the magazine’s regular book reviewers, publishing at least one review in each issue. In total, he reviewed eighty-nine works by fifty-eight different authors. Many of the authors–Sherwood Anderson, Theodore Dreiser, Ernest Hemingway–are still familiar and widely read today. But at least a dozen that received his enthusiastic praise have slipped away into obscurity:

The White Robe, by James Branch Cabell

Cabell “… has never done a better piece of work.” Mencken went on to write that, “No man writing in America today has a more strongly individualized, or, on the whole, a more charming style.”

Stuffed Peacocks, by Emily Clark

Mencken wrote that Clark displayed “… plain signs of a fine talent,” and that her characters had “brilliant color, fine insight, and a sort of hard, scientific mercilessness.”

Harvest in Poland, by Geoffrey Dennis

He called Dennis, “[A] story-teller of unusual talent, with a great deal of originality.” The novel was an “… impossible story told in terms of the most meticulous realism.” Mencken praised Dennis’ style with an adjective that probably says less to today’s readers than to his: “His prose has a Carlylean thunder in it; he knows how to roll up gorgeous sentences.”

Backfurrow, by G. D. Eaton

Mencken felt, “There is not much finesse in the story, but it is moving.” But he went on to say that, “Few first novels show so much seriousness or so much skill.”

The Keen Desire, by Frank B. Elser

Mencken found it, “…immensely better than any of its predecessors,” and that Elser had a “sensitive feeling for character,” depicting his protagonist “… with great insight and unfailing skill.”

Wolf Song, by Harvey Fergusson

“[An] extraordinarily brilliant and charming story,” he wrote.”The Old South-west is made to palpitate with such light and heat that they are felt almost physically, and the people that gallop across the scene are full of the juices of life.”

Roundabout, by Nancy Hoyt

“It is a tale of calf love—-not done with superior snickers, but seriously and even a bit tragically.”

A Hind Let Loose, by C. E. Montague

Mencken declared it “satire in the grand manner,” satire managed “superbly.” The work was a “charming and uproarious piece of buffoonery, carried on with the utmost dexterity from start to finish.”

Pig Iron, by Charles G. Norris

Mencken read it, “… with immense interest, and enjoyed it … unflaggingly.” He argued that Norris’s novels “have received a great deal less critical attention than they deserve.”

Rainbow Round My Shoulder, by Howard W. Odum

A “… work of art that lives and glows,” a “story of extraordinary fascination,” and one “managed with the utmost skill.” The book inspired him to summon up the names of the two finest American writers of the 19th century: “Walt Whitman would have wallowed in it, and I suspect that Mark Twain would have been deeply stirred by it too.”

Spring Flight, by Lee J. Smits

Mencken wrote that he could not “recall a first novel of more workmanlike dignity. There is absolutely no touch of amateurishness in it — It would be absurd to say that it shows merely promise.” The writer had handled his “machinery … in an extremely dexterous manner” in producing “an extraordinarily sound and competent piece of work.”

Iowa Interiors, by Ruth Suckow

“Who has ever published a better first book of short stories than this one? Of its sixteen, not one is bad–and among the best there are at least five masterpieces.” The characters were “overwhelmingly real, and not a word can be spared.”

Jo Walton Stirs Up a Hefty List of Neglected SF/Fantasy Authors and Books

Source: “Neglected Books: the list,” at

SF novelist Jo Walton put out a call for recommendations of “authors that should be getting the sales and the attention and yet remain obscure” on the SF/fantasy website, Tor. It generated a tremendous number of responses, which she’s compiled into a list organized into four categories:

  • Books and authors Jo’s reviewed elsewhere on Tor (with links to her reviews)
  • Books and authors she’s read but not reviewed
  • Books and authors she hasn’t read
  • Books and authors that are well known and shouldn’t be on this list

Cover of early U.S. paperback edition of 'Children of the Atom'The last shows that Walton’s kept a discriminating filter on her list. Of Steig Larson’s novels, which someone nominated, she writes, “These are a stupendously successful non-genre best sellers. The opposite of obscure.” I’ve seen them on the end caps of airport bookstores in Belgium, Spain, the U.K., and the U.S. in the last two months: definitely NOT neglected.

On the other hand, she notes, “Other times I was surprised to find an author I’d never even vaguely heard of who published several books. I read a lot, and I’ve spent a lot of time online and in conventions hanging out talking about books.” Two authors in particular she cites are Wilmar Shiras and Wilhemina Baird.

Shiras’ short story, “In Hiding,” is considered one of the best SF short stories of the 20th century. She later incorporated it into her 1953 novel, Children of the Atom. Children, which was something of a precursor to the X-Men series, is back in print in a fine facsimile edition from Red Jacket Press, although cheaper copies of several different paperback editions can be found on Amazon.

Baird is the pen name of Joyce Carstairs Hutchinson, a Scottish woman who quickly turned out four “cyberpunk” novels in the mid-1990s and then stopped–at least for the moment–publishing. Her first book, Crashcourse anticipated the rise of reality TV.

“The Best Books You Haven’t Read,” from The American Conservative

Source: “The Best Books You Haven’t Read,” from The American Conservative, 1 December 2009 issue (

Kevin Michael Derby passed along the link to this article, in which 15 conservative writers, critics, and academics offer their nominations of worthy books their readers have probably overlooked. As seems to be typical of such efforts, there are intriguingly novel titles–and a few that leave any true fan of neglected books wondering if the nominator’s sole criterion is that the book’s not currently on an end cap display at Waldenbooks. How else could Jeffrey Hart suggest that Winesburg, Ohio is underappreciated?

Some of the more interesting titles and comments from the article:

Nemesis of Power: The German Army in Politics 1918-1945, 2nd Edition, by John Wheeler-Bennett

Nominated by Jacob Heilbrunn, author of They Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Neocons and a senior editor at The National Interest: “No doubt it’s been superseded in many areas by the latest scholarship. But what Wheeler-Bennett possesses, in contrast to many of his successors, is the ability to transform the corruption of the army by the Nazis into a beautifully written, tense drama, complete with majestic and convincing judgments about the individuals who speeded or tried to resist Germany’s descent into totalitarianism… Once opened, Wheeler-Bennett’s massive history is almost impossible to put down.”

Roger’s Profanisaurus, from the pages of Viz magazine

Nominated by Alexander Waugh, grandson of Evelyn and author of Fathers and Sons: The Autobiography of a Family and The House of Wittgenstein: A Family at War. “The Profanisaurus is essentially a dictionary of filthy words and idioms compiled with so much cleverness, wit, and complicated cross-referencing that the reader who consults it for one definition finds himself browsing indefinitely. Profanisaurus brings tears to my eyes and is honestly the funniest, most enlightening, and most enlightened book I know.” Viz, which makes Mad magazine look prim, is the most successful humor magazine in the U. K. (a sample from a recent issue: “A Kettering Man’s Appeal to Space Aliens: ‘Please Leave My Arse Alone!'”). Which is one reason why this volume is probably most often found in the one-seater library. U. K. readers may be happy to learn that a paperback version of the book has recently been released with the title, Magna Farta.

The American Beaver and His Works, by Lewis Henry Morgan

Nominated by Peter W. Wood, author of A Bee in the Mouth: Anger in America Now. “It is what it sounds like: detailed observations on a bucktoothed rodent that devotes itself to hydraulic engineering. The writing is anything but fanciful. Morgan was a serious man with a scientific purpose. But his book grows and grows from mere external characteristics of beavers to a fugue on beaver dams and lodges, culminating in a chapter on ‘manifestations of the animal mind.’ He ultimately sees the beaver not just as a creature of instinct but as a ‘reasoning’ animal.” You can purchase this book from several print-on-demand houses, but why not just download it yourself from the Internet Archive?

The London Dialogues, by David Hirst

Nominated by Sir Peregrine Worsthorne, former editor of the Sunday Telegraph. Easily the rarest title on the list–unavailable from anyone but the author (David Hirst, 24 Kidmore Road, Caversham, Reading, Berkshire, RG4 7LU, England). “About 30 years ago, I gave a rave review to a book called The London Dialogues, which, in spite of most profoundly and originally addressing all the important issues of this or any other age—love, property, beauty, art, science, sex, equality, populism, race—has scarcely been read at all. The trouble is that the author, David Hirst, did not so much contradict all the current intellectual fashions as rise above them, or rather look down upon them. The effect on me was like breathing fresh air—immensely bracing and refreshing if shockingly politically incorrect.” I’m assuming this is the same David Hirst who once wrote for the Guardian and published one of the best-regarded books on the politics of the Middle East, The Gun and the Olive Branch: The Roots of Violence in the Middle East.

A few unusual items on John Cowper Powys’ List of 100 Best Novels

Obooki’s Obloquy recently published the list of titles from a 1916 book, One Hundred Best Books by the sometimes-neglected British novelist, John Cowper Powys. While many of the titles are tried and true standards of the canon–Pride and Prejudice, Faust, Leaves of Grass–there are a number that reflect the tendency of some works to get buried under the shifting sands of taste. So here, for those who might be interested in rediscovering them, are a few notes on the lesser-known items in Powys’ list.

• Sanine [also published as Sanin], by Mikhail Artsybashev

Sanin is a thoroughly uncomfortable book, but it has a fierce energy which has carried it in a very short space of time into almost every country in Europe,” wrote Gilbert Cannan in his preface to the English translation of this book. “In Vladimir Sanine,” he continues, “Artsybashev has imagined, postulated, a man who has escaped the tyranny of society, is content to take his living where he finds it, and determined to accept whatever life has to offer of joy or sorrow.” In other words, a turn-of-the-century Russian take on the old hippy motto, “If it feels good, do it.” A new English translation by Michael Katz was published in 2001 by the Cornell University Press, which wrote that Artsybashev’s novels are “suffused with themes of sex, suicide, and murder.” Also available free from Project Gutenberg.

The Disciple, by Paul Bourget

The Disciple is narrated by Robert Greslou, a private tutor and disciple of the renowned philosopher, Sixte. Based on a true story involving a young disciple of Bourget’s, it centers around an aborted double suicide–aborted by Greslou, after his lover has already taken the plunge. Greslou claims it was all inspired by Sixte’s theories. Contrary to prevailing attitudes today about the teacher-student relationship, Bourget lays most of the blame with Greslou rather than the influence of his mentor.

Round the Corner, by Gilbert Cannan

Subtitled, “Being the Life and Death of Francis Christopher Folyat, Bachelor of Divinity, and Father of a Large Family,” this novel is, in the words of one contemporary review, “The story of the depressing fortunes of an English clergyman and his eight children, for whom happiness seems ‘just round the corner’ and out of reach.” It was also banned by the London censor, mainly for showing the clergy in such grim light. Canan’s first novel had the intriguing title of Peter Homunculus. It can be read online or downloaded in PDF format at the Internet Archive.

The Flame of Life and The Triumph of Death, by Gabriele D’Annunzio

D’Annunzio’s literary reputation has taken a nose dive since Powys’ time. His becoming best buddy and court poet to Mussolini had a little to do with it. That and D’Annunzio’s own super-sized ego. His estate and mausoleum on the hillside above Lake Garda, Il Vittoriale, is a treasure trove of Art Deco and self-glorification, not to be missed if you’re in the area. The Encyclopedia Britannica (1911) describes one of his protagonists as “viciously self-seeking and wholly amoral Nietzschean,” but this could just as easily describe D’Annunzio himself. Like is too short for dreck like this. Probably justly neglected. I quoted a long and funny passage from “Lust and Leprosy,” Rudolph Altrocchi’s essay on one of D’Annunzio’s plays, elsewhere on this site.

A Night in The Luxembourg, by Remy de Gourmont

When Night was first issued in English translation in 1912, the New York Times called de Gourmont “one of the most extraordinary and significant minds putting thought into print in the world to-day.” This short novel, full of atmosphere and symbolism, is said to have been a major influence on Lawrence Durrell when he started planning his Alexandria Quartet.

The Song of Songs, by Hermann Sudermann

Another tale of a cad letting down a lover–this time, for the comfort and prestige of a marriage to a member of Berlin high society. It was made into a film in 1933, one of Marlene Dietrich’s early American films. In his time, Sudermann was better known as a playwright, but now he isn’t known at all. Thomas Hardy had little enthusiasm for the book’s first English translation: “… unfortunately, rendered into the rawest American, the claims that the original no doubt had to be considered literature, are largely reduced, so that I question if there is value enough left in this particular translation to make a stand for.”’s Most Wanted Out-of-Print Books of the Last Year


From’s annual report of their most-requested titles from searches made from July 2008 to June 2009. A real mix of the obscure, the intriguing, and the utterly uninteresting (Mailer’s “Marilyn”–gimme a break!).

A couple of the more interesting samples:

And I’d Do It Again, by Aimee Crocker

The memoir of an heiress to the San Francisco Crocker fortune, published in 1936. Written–according to Time magazine’s review–“with a lurid, Sunday-supplement archness,” it takes the reader to Asia, India, Germany, and Spain, with love affairs at each stop. ‘The impressionable young lady then returned to San Francisco, married, was almost killed in a train wreck on her honeymoon, got a divorce, hired a 70-ft. schooner and set out for the South Seas, scandalizing the missionaries in Hawaii on the way by taking part in an “orgy,” the precise details of which she does not disclose,’ Time’s reviewer continued. And that’s just the first decade or so!

Ticket to Ride, by Dennis Potter

A critically acclaimed novel from 1987. I was astonished to find it out of print in both the U. S. and the U. K., given Potter’s reputation and popular success for The Singing Detective, but even more astonished to find that–at least at first glance–ALL of Potter’s titles are out of print in the U. S. and less than a handful in print in the U. K.!

The King Ranch, by Tom Lea

Lea, a fine novelist, painter, and illustrator, wrote this official history of the legendary Texas ranch in 1957. Issued in a two-volume boxed set illustrated by Lea himself, this is a fine piece of book publishing. But it turns out that it’s not out of print–you can purchase a commemorative reissue published on the book’s 50th anniversary from the King Ranch Saddle Shop.

On the other hand, I will pass on the Associated Press’ hagiographic tribute to JFK, A Torch is Passed: my Grammy sent me a copy back in 1964.

Robert Birnbaum Picks Some Recent Under-Appreciated Novels

Source: “Under-Appreciated Novels,”, 11 August 2009

Robert Birnbaum, The Morning News’ book blogger, recently decided to engage in some of “the anguished hand-wringing that accompanies intoning the cruelty and myopia of the rest of the barbarous world in failing to recognize the brilliance of that which we (meaning I) deem to be genius.” His list of works deserving more recognition and respect than they’ve earned so far has only one unifying criterion: “[T]hey were all read in this century.”

Birnbaum’s list leans heavily to products of this century, too: Don Winslow’s rich novel of drugs and crime, The Power of the Dog, from 2005; Tim Gautreaux’s bayou novel, The Clearing from 2003; Joseph O’Connor’s multi-faceted story of the post-Civil War West, Redemption Falls, from 2007.

But a few fall to the far side of the bell curve: Philip Kerr’s futuristic A Philosophical Investigation dates from 1993, and The Criminalist, the last work published by Eugene Izzi, a Chicago crime novelist, before his suicide, from 1999.

For me, the most intriguing item on the list is Michael Doane’s 1994 novel, Bullet Heart. Chris Goodrich of the L. A. Times had some pretty enthusiastic things to say when the book first came out:

Truth is better captured by fiction, we’re often told, than by purely factual accounts; tied not to external events but to feelings and impressions and ineluctable human character, fiction supposedly brings to life what nonfiction paints by number. Well, here’s one case where the analogy actually works, for in Bullet Heart, Michael Doane Cover of first U.S. edition of 'Bullet Heart'tells the story of a confrontation between whites and Native Americans to which neither journalism nor scholarship could possibly do justice. The novel takes place in South Dakota in the 1970s, when local developers start the short-lived Bones War while building a golf course on an ancient burial ground. The American Indian Movement is at its height, government authorities feel under constant siege, the U.S. appears on the verge of living up to its ideals or of falling flat on its face; Michael Doane uses this real-life civil strife to illuminate the individual troubles, and principles, such rebelliousness brings to the fore…. Bullet Heart, Doane’s fifth novel, may be too thoughtful and too well-written to make headlines, but in its own quiet way it’s a literary milestone.

A couple of Doane’s books are still in print–sort of. In the Path of the Whirlwind is print but “out of stock’. His 1990 novel, Six Miles To Roadside Business is available now–until Amazon sells the one copy they have left. Several of Doane’s works, including Bullet Heart, Six Miles, and The Surprise of Burning garnered 5-star reviews from Amazon readers, so there’s got to be something there worth a look.

Isabel Paterson on “If It Prove Fair Weather”, from September 1939

Cover of the 7 September 1940 issue of 'The Saturday Review'Thumbing through issues of The Saturday Review while in the U.S. this summer, I came across an interesting item. A review by George Dangerfield of Isabel Paterson’s last novel, If It Prove Fair Weather, which I featured here a few months ago, was juxtapositioned with a piece about the book by Paterson herself: “As the Author Sees It.”

In my continuing interest in advancing the cause of Paterson’s fiction, I’m taking the liberty of ignoring whatever copyright may or may not still apply and reprint the piece here in its entirety:

What this country needs is a good stiff course in ethics and moral theology. Why I think so is because I have written a novel–If It Prove Fair Weather. To understand the question fully you might have to read the book; but that does not worry me. The main point is, those who have done so, with advance copies, are almost unanimously severe on the man in the story (his name is Wishart). It is a love story. Especially the men readers seem to feel–well, I don’t know what. He makes them mad. There is an unmistakable implication that they would have behaved far otherwise, in his position.

Portrait of Isabel Paterson from 1939Possibly so; and it may be my fault that they don’t seem to notice there was no way for him to behave well. He had only a choice of behaving badly in different ways. What I mean is that like is like that. Many of the most admired moral examples really will not stand close and logical examination. It is so in the nature of things. Human beings are inevitably in an appalling predicament between their emotions and their obligations; the two elements are not even conveniently distinct, but inextricably snarled in a cat’s-cradle. And the more you try to untable it the worse it becomes.

I admit, of course, that Wishart is not wholly admirable. He is a man. He is an upright citizen, with a business and a family; and he becomes interested in a woman not his wife. This is ethically reprehensible, if you allow any ethical standards whatever. I speak seriously. What is more, you’ve got to have ethics. (At present, some countries are saying that you don’t have to, but the results are not entirely satisfactory). Then ethics apparently tell you that you must, if necessary, be completely insensible, incapable of being interested or of wanting personal satisfactions. That is a very hard saying, surely. Shade it a bit, and say rather that it is your duty to repress and restrain such feelings if they go beyond the boundaries of previously established obligation. That sounds very lofty; but it may still be at the expense of another person, or even two other persons. It is not so nice to be the recipient of duty either.

This is extremely obvious, and twenty years ago was thought to be a complete answer. It was then affirmed to be a higher duty to discard the inconvenient obligations and go ahead on the new path. Now one may see what comes of that. A trail of wreckage. It doesn’t work even as well as sticking to the old line.

But let us imagine duty as the constant lodestar from the beginning. All of us have favorite characters; one of mine is Sir Thomas More. He took and held a straight course. Deeply religious, with a strong intellect and character, and scholarly tastes, as a young man he thought of entering a monastic order. But as he was also robust and of an affectionate nature, he feared he had not the authentic vocation, and decided it was better to be a good layman than a sinful cleric. So he married and was a faithful and kind husband and father, all his days.

Cover of first U.S. edition of 'If It Prove Fair Weather'He married twice. The first time, he was undecided between two sisters. His personal preference was for the younger and prettier of the two; one may assume he was in love with her. But out of sheer altruism, he felt it would be invidious to leave the elder and plainer sister slighted. So he married the elder. It is not known whether the younger was in love with him. She might have been. He was a man of charm, wit, and general attractiveness. And if the younger girl was in love with him, I can’t make up my mind–I am very fond of him–which of the two girls had the best right to murder him on the spot. Both of them, in my opinion, had every right to do so. He had injured the girl he loved and insulted the one he married.

Nobody but me has ever noticed that, so far as I know. He is always held up as a model of masculine virtue. I guess he was. That’s what I’m talking about…. In later life, he became a widower, and married again, a woman he didn’t like much, to be a mother to his orphaned children. She should have killed him too, if she cared for him. Otherwise, I suppose it was all right. He was one of the best men that ever lived, so he only needed to be murdered three times by justly infuriated females, if he had got his desserts. He is highly praised by men. Though of course a less worthy man would have married the pretty sister, and then maybe fallen for a more attractive woman later.

Women are annoyed at Wishart. They have reason. Still, women also might examine the premises. That masculine line, “loved I not honor more,” has always filled women with silent rage. Because they can’t answer it. A woman friend of mine says that, reading the book, she hated every hair of Wishart’s head. She ought to. She is married to a delightful and honorable man, a sea-captain. I can’t think what she would answer if compelled to decide whether her husband, in the course of his vocation, ought to go down on the bridge as the rules prescribe, and never mind about her; or should he leap into the first lifeboat and save himself for her sweet sake. The fact is, in such contingency, when a woman might have to think whether her husband must put his duty or herself first, she really believes he ought to do both, and could if he put his mind to it. That’s where there is no other woman in question at all. In case another woman deflects his thoughts from her, she isn’t going to debate the matter for a moment. She will merely scalp him and boil him in oil, and see how he likes it.

[Published in The Saturday Review, September 7, 1940.–Ed.]

Now, if that isn’t one of the most astute and amusing things ever written on the subject of men and women, I’ll eat my hat. The world is long overdue for a Portable Isabel Paterson with a collection of her Herald Tribune columns, Never Ask the End, and excerpts from The Golden Vanity and Fair Weather. Her libertarian tracts can fend for themselves.

Cheever’s Neglected Friends and Neighbors

I recently finished listening to the audio book of Blake Bailey’s Cheever: A Life. Although I can’t imagine anyone finishing it and then thinking, “You know, I want to know even more about John Cheever,” it’s a remarkable work.

While Cheever often thought himself an unjustly neglected writer, he now stands in the pantheon compared with others he met, befriended, lived near, and/or slept with.

Ivan Gold

Ivan Gold, 1963Gold lived in the same apartment building during one of the worst periods of Cheever’s life, when he was drinking himself to death during a teaching gig at Boston University. Gold, whose drinking problems were slightly more manageable than Cheever’s, had released a short story collection, Nickel Miseries back in 1963. Lionel Trilling praised it as “a masterly collection” and predicted that Gold would become “one of the commanding writers of our time.” Instead, he became overwhelmed by such expectations. He wrote one novel, Sick Friends, that did get published in 1969, but then struggled with alcoholism until he joined AA in 1976. Sobriety did not solve his writer’s block, though, and Gold only published one more book, Sams in a Dry Season, in 1992. Sams picked up the protagonist of Sick Friends, a writer named Jason Sams, and took him and the reader through the slow, difficult process of drying out and learning to live without booze–a process very much based on Gold’s own experiences. Philip Roth praised it as, “a brave, open book, harsh, dogged, and relentless, a confession bursting through the contours of a novel, convincingly truthful and inventively written.” Gold died in early 2008.

Calvin Kentfield

Cover of paperback edition of 'All Men Are Mariners'Cheever met Kentfield during a stay in Hollywood in 1959 and the two men had a brief, intense affair that left Cheever paranoid about his homosexual feelings. Kentfield was a former Merchant Marine sailor whose most successful novel, All Men are Mariners, was published to strong reviews (“… [A] brilliant story told by a first-rate storyteller”) a few years later. But he also had his problems with drink, as well with money and a stormy-tempered wife. He managed to publish a few more stories in the New Yorker after that, but aside from a coffee table book about the Pacific Coast, his only other serious work after All Men are Mariners was his 1974 memoir of life as a merchant seaman, The Great Green. I tried reading it about a year ago but gave up after 50-some pages of self-indulgent, meandering prose. Kentfield died under suspicious circumstances in 1975. It was ruled a suicide, but Cheever claimed that Kentfield’s wife was responsible.

Edward Newhouse

First U.S. editon of 'Many Are Called'Newhouse, who was born in Hungary, started out as a radical novelist whose 1934 novel about the down-and-out, You Can’t Sleep Here, earned him the label, “the proletarian Hemingway.” But Newhouse quickly developed a much subtler sense of things and by the time he and Cheever met and their families shared an apartment house during World War Two, he was on a par with Cheever as one of the New Yorker’s most prolific short story writers. Although out of print for over 50 years now, Newhouse’s 1951 collection, Many Are Called, was considered at the time to be as good as Cheever’s breakthrough collection, The Enormous Radio. Cheever, however, considered Newhouse a sell-out, particularly for his 1954 novel, The Temptation of Roger Herriott, which he thought written expressly for the purpose of selling the story to Hollywood. Other critics had a much different opinion, calling it “one of the really good books of this or any other year” and “a novel of quiet and great distinction.” Newhouse did, in fact, sell a number of stories to Hollywood studios, but he had the wisdom and luck to invest the proceeds in a series of stock purchases that left him very comfortable, probably one of Cheever’s wealthiest friends. He stopped writing and lived off his investments until he died at the ripe age of 91 in 2002, once again illustrating the saying that living well is the best revenge.

Head Butler Serves Up Michael J. Arlen’s Exiles

Cover of U.S. paperback edition of 'Exiles'Head Butler, AKA New York City writer and editor Jesse Kornbluth, took a moment from featuring books, movies, music, and other products of today to recognize the merits of Michael J. Arlen’s 1970 memoir of his parents, Exiles: “a book so astonishingly well-written you won’t believe it’s out of print and can be bought, used, for as little as a penny.”

Arlen’s father, Michael Arlen, was one of the most famous and best-selling authors of the 1920s–as well known or better than Fitzgerald back then. Arlen’s most popular novels, The Green Hat
(now reissued by Capuchin Classics). As Mark Valentine summarizes the book in a fine article on the Lost Book Club website,

The novel was quite simply the novel of the year, seized upon as the poetically true testament to a brilliant, daring and doomed generation. The owner of the green hat is Iris Storm, whose wild pursuit of pleasure in the parties, masquerades, night clubs and restaurants of London and Paris has led to her reputation as a ‘shameless, shameful’ woman: but paradoxically there is some calm reserve in her which seems to imply a secret inner grace. The melodramatic narrative, written in what one critic called an ‘opium dream style’, sonorous with exotic and cosmic images, may only draw a wry smile today. The heroine’s first husband, clean-cut ‘Boy’ Fenwick, commits suicide on their wedding night by throwing himself out of their bedroom window. She allows it to be assumed he did this because of something he learned about her, and her reckless career serves to support this view. But an ardent admirer reveals at last the truth to her friends and Fenwick’s family: that her husband had syphilis and she has sacrificed her reputation to protect his good name. Furious at this betrayal of the ‘one fine thing’ in her life, Iris rushes off in her sleek yellow Hispano-Suiza car and is killed in a collision with a great ancient tree, her rakish green hat floating free beyond the flames.

But Michael Arlen the successful novelist, hob-nobber with the likes of Maugham, Churchill, Nancy Astor, and Sam Goldwyn, was something of a chameleon. Born Dikran Kouyoumdjian, he was one of hundreds of thousands of exiles from the Turkish campaigns against Armenians at the end of World War One, the story Franz Werfel tells in his epic, Forty Days of Musa Dagh (also out of print). After his bright successes of the 1920s, however, Arlen quickly fell in the eyes of both the reading public and the critics. By the end of the 1930s, he was completely blocked, and he spent much of the remaining thirty years of his life depressed and isolated.

Exiles was the first of two books Michael J. Arlen wrote about the Armenian genocide. His 1976 travel book/memoir, Passage to Ararat won the National Book Award for that year and is still in print.

Arlen (the son) worked for the New Yorker as a television critic for many years, and two collections of his articles, Living Room War, which was, in part, about news coverage of the Vietnam War, and The View from Highway 1, are back in print from the Syracuse University Press. Thirty Seconds, a 1981 book-length expansion of an article about the making of an AT&T long distance ad, is one of the best and funniest pieces of television criticism ever written and well worth seeking out for a quick evening’s read.

In looking into the works of Arlen (fis), I learned that he had made a stab at novel-writing in 1984, Goodbye to Sam. Although most reviews dismissed the book as “slight” and “less than fully successful,” Time‘s reviewer did comment, “… with much of its detail is so close to Arlen’s life that it is tempting to read the book as therapy or revenge. But it works, elegiacally and sometimes forcefully, as fiction.”

Joseph Epstein on I. J. Singer’s The Brothers Ashkenazi

Cover of first U.S. Edition of 'The Brothers Ashkenazi'The Wall Street Journal published one of the very few, I’m sure, pieces in its history devoted to an out-of-print and neglected book recently. Titled “A Yiddish Novel With Tolstoyan Sweep,” the piece, by Joseph Epstein, describes the novel by the brother of the more famous Isaac Bashevis Singer, as “the best Russian novel ever written in Yiddish.” Epstein, former editor of the American Scholar and one of the best essayists of the last forty years, calls The Brothers Ashkenazi I. J. Singer’s best-known work–which tells you how well the rest of his oeuvre is faring these days. Depicting the contrasting careers of two Jewish brothers attempting to get ahead in the Russian Pale of Settlement before the First World War. It ends with a horrific pogrom that leaves the city of Lodz, in Singer’s words, “like a limb torn from a body that no longer sustained it. It quivered momentarily in its death throes as maggots crawled over it, draining its remaining juices.” Such, he leads us to believe, is the fate of a city that “knew that with money you could buy anything.”

Although Singer’s characters do not find the same solace in religion as many in his brother’s works do, the novel is not all bleakness and despair. Still, Epstein credits I. J. Singer for foregoing “a happy ending to render instead a just one.” One hopes this long-out-of-print novel finds some interest among today’s publishers through this rare mention of a neglected book in such a prominent outlet as the Wall Street Journal.

A much earlier piece from Commentary magazine by Dorothy Rabinowitz, about Singer’s 1943 novel, The Family Carnovsky, can be found on the Featured Books section of this site.

Tributes to Two Neglected Gay Writers: George Baxt and Irving Rosenthal

George Baxt

Brooks Peters, who writes some of the most interesting and thoughtful pieces on literary, celebrity, and cultural figures of the past, recently posted a a href=”″>long review of the diverse career and works of George Baxt. Although Baxt worked in theater, film, television, magazines, and just about every other medium requiring written words, he will probably be best remembered as the creator of a pioneering series of mysteries featuring the first openly gay detective, Pharoah Love, starting with A Queer Kind of Death in 1966. Baxt also wrote a popular series of mysteries based on celebrities from the 1930s, including The Dorothy Parker Murder Case and The Mae West Murder Case, in the 1980s and early 1990s. Brooks quotes from Wendy Werris’ memoir, An Alphabetical Life, who recalls Baxt as,

If you can imagine a swish, fey and girlish Phil Silvers, you’ll have a picture of George Baxt. He was hilarious and irreverent. He batted his eyelashes to make a point when telling a dirty joke. His Brooklyn accent was delicious, and he had stories to tell about every great star from the Golden Age of Hollywood and beyond. You never heard dirt dished until you heard it from the mouth of George Baxt.

Irving Rosenthal

Earlier this year, Dennis Cooper reposted an article from a previous blog on Irving Rosenthal, whose 1967 novel/memoir/cut-up assemblage, Sheeper, was one of the most outrageous and unashamed celebrations of gay life to emerge from the Sixties’ wave of sexual liberation. Although Sheeper is currently out of print, its name often pops up in discussions of favorite forgotten books.

Afterwords on a few neglected books, from BookSlut


Michael Antman passed along links to a short series of articles he wrote for back in 2006. Titled “Afterwords,” the series focussed on “… some unfairly neglected books of the past century that may not survive much longer in this one.”

Unfortunately, only 5 articles were posted, and even these can only be located by searching for Antman’s contributions to the site. But the essays are eloquent, personal, and insightful, and well worth savoring.

The titles he covered were:

· All the Little Live Things, by Wallace Stegner

“… one of those novels that, from the standpoint of the official arbiters of culture, has very little to recommend it except for its near perfection.”

· The Collected Poems of Conrad Aiken

“But it is sometimes hard to remember that not very long ago, poetry was, if nothing else (and, admittedly, sometimes there was nothing else) a pleasure to read in an almost physical, sensuous way, in the rush and the rhythm of its words. And there were few poets in the twentieth century more purely pleasurable to read in this regard than Conrad Aiken, who possessed a quality of musicality not only greater than any current poets but greater, I think, than nearly any of his contemporaries.”

· The Log from the Sea of Cortez, by John Steinbeck

“… Steinbeck took the world on its own terms then, as he would do if he were alive and writing today…. And it is this clear-eyed view of the world in both its fecundity and its ongoing destruction that makes Steinbeck’s worksuch an absorbing account of a time long past. In an age when ocean-dwelling, and for that matter, land-dwelling, creatures are being depleted at an ever-increasing rate, Log from the Sea of Cortez remains an enriching and indelible document.”

· The Night Country, by Loren Eiseley

“Read The Night Country for its beautiful prose and its scientist’s eye. But read it, as well, for its calm assurance that we are part of something much bigger than us, that we cannot know the future with absolute certainty, and that we should proceed with a little less dread of what unknown or self-created terrors may some day desecrate “the very heart of the human kingdom,” and with a little more open-mindedness and, perhaps, playfulness even as we walk into the uncertain dark.”

· The Power of the Dog, by Thomas Savage

“… when a novel succeeds (as Anna Karenina of course does) in creating a character that at least begins to approach the unfathomable complexity of an actual flesh-and-blood human, we consider it to be at least in some degree a great work….

By that measure, Thomas Savage’s 1967 novel The Power of the Dog, set on a Montana ranch some time in the 1920s, is a great, and greatly neglected, work of art, because it contains one of the most complex and fully realized, if utterly loathsome, characters I have ever encountered in a work of fiction.”

[Editor’s note: The Power of the Dog was also cited as an unfairly neglected book by Roger Sale way back in 1979 in his American Scholar article on “Neglected Recent American Novels”.]