“Their Back Pages”: Forgotten books by famous authors, from the Village Voice

June 5th, 2007

In “Their Back Pages”, from the 26 September 2005 issue of the Village Voice, Paul Collins amusingly discusses forgotten books by famous writers. Among those mentioned:

Casing the Promised Land, by Caleb Carr

A first novel from the author of The Alienist, this rock-n-roll saga led Carr himself to post the following as an Amazon review:

I am the author of this book. It has a few good scenes, but is essentially “roman a clef” nonsense that every writer has to get out of his system early on. Do yourself a favor and read ANYTHING else I’ve written (you’ll be doing me a favor, too).

Franklin Evans: Or, The Inebriate, by Walt Whitman

As Collins puts it, Whitman “fortified himself with hooch while writing his tale of a country boy corrupted by the city and the demon dram.” Of this attempt to emulate the success of T.S. Arthur’s temperance best-seller, Ten Nights in a Bar Room, Whitman wrote, “It was damned rot — rot of the worst sort….”

Invasion of the Space Invaders, by Martin Amis

Nine years before his first Booker Prize nomination (but surprisingly after publishing three novels), Amis wrote this guide to the first generation of computer arcade games, subtitled, An Addict’s Guide to Battle Tactics, Big Scores and the Best Machines. Although copies fetch $130 and up on Amazon, Amis has preferred to omit it from his credits in subsequent books.

Len Deighton’s Action Cook Book, by Len Deighton

“A shockingly good cookbook,” writes Collins, despite the tongue-in-cheek cover showing a holstered Deighton scooping up spaghetti. This is actually a collection of “cookstrips” Deighton wrote for “The Observer” back at the time his first thrillers were being published. Also published as Cookstrip cook book and Ou est le garlic?, this is not only an introduction to cooking even complete novices can handle (historian Simon Schama recalled that it “showed the idiot novice male how to dice an onion without it falling apart”), but also something of an innovation, perhaps the first time comic art came to the aid of cuisine. Writer Matthew Christian salutes the quality of Deighton’s recipes and English graphic designer Richard Weston celebrates its graphic and design on his “Found Things” blog

Collins repeated the story on NPR’s Weekend Edition: you can hear the excerpt here.

Collins takes the punchline of his piece from Annie Proulx, writing on the task of examining used cider barrels in her early (but still in print) work, Cider: Making, Using & Enjoying Sweet & Hard Cider: “Don’t be shy. Put your nose right up to the bunghole.” Good advice for those willing to look beyond the best-seller lists for their reading material.

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