Recent Recommendations

I’ve received more than the usual number of emails from other fans of neglected books in the last few weeks, which is a bit embarrassing as I’ve had almost no time to devote to the site recently. Among these were some recommendations worth passing along.

Cover of NY Review Books' reissue of Judges of the Secret CourtJohn Crowley, whose 1981 novel, Little, Big, has itself been called a “neglected masterpiece,” wrote to mention that New York Review Classics just published David Stacton’s The Judges of the Secret Court. Judges is considered by some to be the best of Stacton’s trim, elegantly-written historical novels. It recounts the story of John Wilkes Booth and his fellow conspirators in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Crowley’s introduction is unfortunately not available online, but you can find a short post and a lengthy series of comments about the book on Crowley’s LiveJournal site. When Stacton’s novel was first published, Robert Kirsch, reviewing it for the Los Angeles Times, called it “a superior historical fiction, accurate in detail, moving and compelling narrative and character. But it is something more than this as well, an exploration by a brilliant and thoughtful writer of the labyrinthine ways of good and evil.” I wrote about Stacton’s 1962 novel about Wendell Wilkie, Tom Fool, about four years ago, but put it in the “Justly Neglected?” category, comparing it to, “a cocktail party hosted by a brilliant but overbearing host — who drives his guests to the bar for another martini to tune out their host’s insufferable banter.”
Cover of Virago Modern Classics edition of Cullum
From Sweden, Bengt Broström wrote to recommend E. Arnot Robertson’s first novel, Cullum: “It caused a sensation with its sexual frankness.” was reissued as part of the Virago Modern Classics series back in 1990 but is out of print once again. At the time Cullum was first published, it received mixed reviews. The Saturday Review (UK, not US) said, “… it not only fails, it almost goes to pieces by the end.” Another reviewer found it showed “quiet dignity and well-restrained emotion,” while the Nation and Athenaeum found, “The whole love episode between Esther and Cullum is psychologically convincing.” Eighty-some years later, readers seem to find much to relate to in the story of the literature-mad Esther, who falls completely when she meets Cullum, her first real live writer.

Cover of Crest paperback edition of The Notion of SinFinally, Herschel Roth, catching up with my article on Mignon McLaughlin’s wonderful collection of original aphorisms, The Complete Neurotic’s Notebook, wrote to bring my attention to the work of her husband, Robert E. McLaughlin: “A minor Cheever, perhaps, but I’m surprised no one has brought back his novel, The Notion of Sin, to capitalize on the Mad Men craze.” Indeed, the Crest paperback edition of the novel makes the connection plain as day: “Madison Avenue, Sex & Success!” The book, which tells about a young Mad man torn between a sexy, sophisticated–and married–woman and his farm-fresh hometown girl–who turns out more comfortable with amorality than he–did get pretty positive reviews back in 1959. Time magazine gave it a feature notice, writing in a passage that can’t help but bring some of Mad Men’s characters to mind:

“His characters are the kind whose gay yet joyless lives make for gossip over countless canapes, but they have rarely been described with such quiet precision or understanding. Some of them are merely foolish, some merely mistake manners for morals, and some merely hurt themselves by being themselves. But the most interesting of them come close to having no self to hurt; they are hollow at heart, capable of sensation but not of feeling.”

8 thoughts on “Recent Recommendations

  1. Can Theodore Dreiser be seen as a neglected writer? His “American Tragedy” bowled me over when i first read it- i became interested in this novel when i read the (neglected and forgotten!) Martin Seymour Smith Encyclopedia of 20th Century World Literature. Dreiser is much more than a gloomy determinist/naturalist who has any easy solutions -he has affinities with Hardy and John Bunyan. His Clyde Griffiths is a particularly tormented Mr Badman and i have never been able to forget his fate.

  2. While I wouldn’t call Dreiser neglected–after all, “American Tragedy” and “Sister Carrie” have been in print continuously since their first publication and pop up on most lists of great American novels–but he certainly has some neglected books. The two Cowperwood novels–“The Financier” and “The Titan”–fade in and out of print; “Twelve Men,” probably my favorite book by Dreiser, is long out of print aside from the many direct-to-print publishers now clogging up Amazon. I just started “A Book about Myself” and am finding it shows a sense of humor that was, well, let’s say subdued in his other books.

  3. What about Jack Woodford? His cynical how-to book, “Trial and Error” (or “Writing and Selling”) is kind of a cult favorite. His novels are mostly smut, but his collection of short stories, “Evangelical Cockroach,” has some lively stuff in it.

  4. Thanks for the suggestions. I’ve ordered “Evangelical Cockroach” and will give it a try. It’s a mind-blower to think that there’s an 80+ year-old book with that title, and available in a first edition in pretty good shape for a reasonable price. I’m watching the mailbox already.

  5. I do like that title. For me, it’s up there with Bodenheim’s “Naked on Roller Skates” and Hecht’s “The Policewoman’s Love-Hungry Daughter.” I hope you enjoy it. Woodford is kind of a wiseass, but he’s not boring. Cheers!

  6. Nice to see Jack Woodford getting some attention again. I’m running a boutique imprint called Surinam Turtle Press, part of Ramble House, and we’re working on something of a Woodford Renaissance. Already in process — A PAIR OF JACKS (omnibus containing “Find the Motive” and “Loud Literary Lamas of New York”) and EVANGELICAL COCKROACH. We’ve got at least one more Woodford title in the pipeline and will consider others. BTW, his “smut” (so-called) was considered risque, even pornographic, in Woodford’s day. For the 21st Century reader, the novels are skillfully done romances with the most tepid, almost timid, of sexual content. Keep an eye out on our parent company’s website,, for information when the books are actually released.

  7. Thanks for the info. I remember sneaking into one of my friend’s parents bedroom and spending an hour reading out of a couple of books you’ve reissued. I might appreciate them more now … but enjoy them less!

  8. I would recommend “Etiquette and Espionage”. I loved this book, it’s one of a series. The author is Gail Carriger. She is a brilliant writer. The only thing that comes up when you look it up on the internet are amazon costumer reviews! :(

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