In his email tipping me off to Paul Dry Books, Will Schofield mentioned that Mr. Dry asked him to do three things to prove he was qualified for an internship with Dry’s publishing house. One of these was to prepare a list of twenty out-of-print books. Well, Will not only got the job but has now worked there for over seven years. I asked him if he’d be willing to share his list, and he kindly forwarded it, along with updates on each book’s status today.
As Will writes,
When you read these paragraphs, remember that they are the enthusiasms of a nervous and dorky 23-year-old college drop-out who was frittering his life away: living in the cultural wasteland of Northeast Philadelphia, catering, selling tambourines, drinking, and going into massive debt buying rare books and records. I still stand by the list. Most of the works mentioned remain (and probably will remain) neglected.
Perhaps this post will help gently nudge one or two titles back into the limelight.
- • Products of the Perfected Civilization by Chamfort, translated & introduced by W. S. Merwin.
- Published by North Point Press in 1984. French aphorist and philosopher with no works currently available in English.
[2007 update: the Merwin book seems to still be out of print, but Douglas Parmeeâ€™s selection and translation is available from Short Books: Chamfort: Relections on Life, Love and Society Together with Anecdotes and Little Philosophical Dialogues.]
- • Locus Solus by Raymond Roussel (1877-1933, France).
- Eccentric genius millionaire who composed the majority of his works using a strict system of word associations and puns (as detailed in How I Wrote Certain of My Books). This particular book is incredibly scarce, the few copies that occasionally surface going for at least $50. Itâ€™s considered his best book (and the translation is very respected). Published by John Calder and University of California in the seventies. Rousselâ€™s admirers include John Ashbery, Foucault (who wrote his first book on Roussel, titled Death and the Labyrinth, now out of print), Duchamp, Apollinaire, Blanchot, Calvino, Gide, Proust, Cortazar, and Queneau.
[2007 update: Still out of print.]
- • Difficult Death by Rene Crevel (1900-1935, France).
- A beautiful autobiographical novel by one of the original surrealists, Rene Crevel (he was gay and they were generally a homophobic bunch), written in 1926. Ezra Pound has said of Crevel: â€œHe will be read more and more as the wind carries away the ashes of the â€˜great namesâ€™ that preceded him.â€ Iâ€™m inclined to agree. It was last published by North Point Press in 1986. Iâ€™ve come across only one copy on all out of print book searches in the past six months!
[2007 update: this is still out of print, but you can now easily find the book on Addall.com. The excellent press Archipelago Books recently published Crevelâ€™s My Body & I.]
- • Mood Indigo (Grove 1968, tran. John Sturrock) or Froth on the Daydream (Quartet, trans. by Stanley Chapman) by Boris Vian (died in 1959).
- Vian is a cult figure in France and should be in America. Also out of print is his collection of jazz writings, Round About Close to Midnight. Never in paperback, the excellent Blues for a Black Cat: The Selected writings of Boris Vian was published in the early 90s by University of Nebraska. He is an amazing, idiosyncratic writer. Raymond Queneau even called Mood Indigo, â€œThe greatest love novel of our time.â€
[2007 update: Tam Tam Books is bringing out translations of Vianâ€™s books. They published Brian Harperâ€™s new translation of Lâ€™ecume des Jours as Foam of the Daze (great title), as well as translations of I Spit on Your Graves, Autumn in Peking, and The Dead All Have the Same Skin (forthcoming). Dalkey Archive reprinted Heartsnatcher recently. Nebraska did publish a paperback version of Blues for a Black Cat.]
- • Killachter Meadow — six stories by Aidan Higgins (Grove Press 1960).
- I just came across this very scarce book by Irish writer Higgins. It seems that many of his books are out of print. From the back cover: â€œIn the title story, he tells of a macabre family of sisters living a desolate life on a ruined estate in South Africa, spilling their melancholy and venom on one another, until the eldest slips matter-of-factly into the river to die.â€ Sounds good to me.
[2007 update: Still out of print]
- • Journals by Denton Welch (published by Allison and Busby in the 1980s).
- An incredible British writer. Exact Change books has recently reprinted his first novel . Welch was paralyzed in a motorcycle accident at the age of 18. He started writing after the accident and didnâ€™t stop until his death at 31. He was apparently an amazing and prolific poet as well, but the poems have only been published in an out of print volume called Dumb Instrument (Enitharmon Press, edition of 1000) which was a mere 58 pages long.
[2007 update: still out of print.]
- • Film as a Subversive Art by Amos Vogel.
- The absolute bible for followers of international avant-garde/interesting cinema. Should be used in every college film course, but remains inexplicably scarce. My copy seems to be inscribed to Martin Scorcese.
[2007 update: D.A.P./C.T. Editions brought this back into print in 2005]
- • Gathering Evidence by Thomas Bernhard.
- The Austrian writerâ€™s autobiography is currently unavailable, I have no idea why. Also, it seems that his very first novel, Frost, has never been translated into English. A huge gap therefore exists between the very early work On the Mountain (published only much later when Bernhard was famous, I think) and his Gargoyles. Bernhard also wrote a couple of novellas around this time (1965-70) for which he was awarded numerous prizes. It looks like University of Chicago will be publishing these soon.
[2007 update: Random House seems to keep this sporadically in print with their â€œvalue publishingâ€ imprint. It deserves better. Knopf brought out Frost in a translation by Michael Hoffman. Chicago did indeed release Bernhardâ€™s Three Novellas, but not until 2003, and it seems to have not made it into paperback.]
- • The Ship by Hans Henny Jahnn (1894-1959).
- Considered by many scholars to be one of the greatest German writers of the century, Jahnn has been completely overlooked by America and Britain. His novel, Das Holzschiff, was translated by Catherine Hutter as The Ship and published by Charles Scribnerâ€™s Sons in 1961. It is the first, and only translated, part of a trilogy. The book is bleak, beautiful, and incredibly strange. More people should at least know it exists. There is one other volume in English called Thirteen Uncanny Stories, from about 1984, which might still be available. This book contains extracts from his longer works. I shall spend my life trying to raise the profile of this forgotten writer.
[2007 update: I havenâ€™t done a very good job raising his profile. At least there is now one critical work available in English, Thomas Freemanâ€™s The Case of Hans Henny Jahnn: Criticism and the Literary Outsider. The French have rediscovered him already. I should also mention that Jahnn was gay; that fact, coupled with his violent imagery, seems to have scared the hell out of critics for years.]
- • Juan de Mairena by Antonio Machado (trans. Ben Belitt, Univ. of California 1963).
- The book is subtitled â€œEpigrams, Maxims, Memoranda and Memoirs of an Apocryphal Professor. With an Appendix of Poems from the Apocryphal Songbooks.â€ All of the prose works by Machado, â€œSpainâ€™s finest modern poet,â€ are long gone or untranslated.
[2007 update: still Out of print]
- • Villy Sorenson
- Considered one of Denmarkâ€™s greatest contemporary writers. He writes short stories exclusively. The few Iâ€™ve read are fragmented, disturbing, and often hilarious. His first collection of stories — translated as Strange Stories and also as Tiger in the Kitchen — has been out of print since 1957. His other collections in English, Harmless Tales (Norvik Press Series, 1991) and Tutelary Tales (Nebraska 1988), are out of print also.
[2007 update: still nothing in print]
- • Building Poe Biography by John Carl Miller.
- From a book review by Marguerite Young, 1977: â€œJohn Henry Ingram, a clerk in the savings bank department of the London General Post Office, spent a lifetime saving Poe from the slanders of Griswold (Reverend, shabby poet and author of a malicious Poe biography). Working in his after hours when the bank was closed, Ingram authored biographies of this long-neglected genius as well as literary biographies of Oliver Madox Brown, Elizabeth Browning, Robert Burns, Christopher Marlowe and Thomas Chatterton. Each of these biographies was magnetized, almost without exception (as John Carl Miller points out), by an author who had associated with Poe or had been a child-prodigy poet or had died at an early age or had left a reputation that needed redemption from slander. Miller did his work at the University of Virginia in the Ingramâ€™s Poe Collection, which contains enough material for two additional volumes. The present fascinating work of literary detection contains letters that, along with Millerâ€™s analytical comments, are here published for the first time. They bring into sharper focus many of the mysteries surrounding the poetâ€™s life and death.â€ I have not tracked down a copy of this yet. I donâ€™t know if these letters have been published again elsewhere, or to what extent the author comments on them.
[2007 update: I still donâ€™t know if these letters are published elsewhere. Young wrote about this book and the Feikema book below in her collection Inviting the Muses, published by Dalkey Archive.]
- • A Night of Serious Drinking by RenÃ© Daumal.
- Ex-surrealist, Sanskrit scholar, poet, philosopher, and a pupil of Gurdjieff, Daumal is best known to English-speaking readers as the author of the short novel Mount Analogue, which has been reprinted many times. Roger Shattuck has called the book â€œ… a rare and mysterious account, superbly translated, of what today would be called a â€˜trip.â€™ Daumal mixes satire, fantasy, and allegory (plus a subject index!) into a fiction that runs a mere 130 pages instead of the 700 a contemporary American novelist would need.â€ Someone named Gerard Joulie wrote: â€œBasing its inspiration on the Rabelesian metamorphosis of drink, A Night of Serious Drinking has no other project than to engage its readers in conversation… Daumal presents an oasis, an instrument for distinguishing the essential quality of research, a manual on how to think…â€
[2007 update: back in print from Tusk Overlook. They have also reprinted his Mount Analogue (reportedly a big inspiration for Jodorowskyâ€™s movie “Holy Mountain”) and Le Contre Ciel. Nebraska Press brought out his Youâ€™ve Always Been Wrong (Exact Change cancelled a planned paperback edition due to a low number of preorders). It looks like his City Lights collection, The Powers of the Word, may be out-of-print at the moment, hopefully not for long.]
- • The Death of Lysanda by Yitzhak Orpaz (trans. from the Hebrew by Richard Flint (Cape Editions, 1970).
- â€œNaphtali Noi, publishersâ€™ proofreader, scholar and recluse, lives in a rooftop room absorbed in his stuffed animals and his vision of the calm and beautiful Lysanda. With the appearance of Batia, the corpulent motherly figure who infiltrates his monastic seclusion, Noiâ€™s image is banished, his peace destroyed. Written in taut and vivid prose, this story contains within its compact framework a volume of ideas, images and implications.â€ Havenâ€™t read this one either, but this is from the first page: â€œUnderneath this advertisement was a news item about a man who killed his wife and told his interrogators: â€˜I had a headache and couldnâ€™t sleep all night. I got up in the morning and wandered around the yard. I saw a big rock. I picked it up and dropped it on my wifeâ€™s head.â€™ The wifeâ€™s name was Eve. I was taken by the clear, restrained, almost classical style of the paragraph.â€
[2007 update: Still out of print.]
- • A Dark Stranger (and others) by Julien Gracq (New Directions, 1951).
- Great French writer, whose four novels were all translated at some point. Two are still available from Columbia University Press. His first novel, The Castle of Argol, was last printed in a huge hardcover edition by Lapis Press (now defunct). This novel is stunning and unavailable at the moment. I have never seen a copy of A Dark Stranger (and others), and there is only one listed on Addall.
[2007 update: still out of print, but Turtle Point is bringing out translations of his non-fiction works, and Pushkin Press brought out a beautiful compact edition of Chateau D’Argol. A Dark Stranger is still very hard to find. See my post at ajourneyroundmyskull.blogspot.com for a scan of the amazing cover image.]
- • O the Chimneys by Nelly Sachs (1967, FSG).
- A good friend of Paul Celan (their correspondence was recently published) and an incredible poet herself. She won the Nobel Peace Prize. Her poetry has remained unavailable for too long. I think FSG did two volumes.
- • The Golden Bowl by Feike Feikema (aka Frederick Manfred).
- Published by Grosset Dunlap/St. Paul Webb in 1944. It may be the only edition. Marguerite Young wrote: â€œanother lyric performance, a dexterous biography of the elemental forces which threaten a various pioneering population, among them, an albino. Much of the novel reads like a folk ballad, the meditative passages being underscored like the refrains of a song.â€ A description by an online bookseller: â€œSet in the dust bowl in the dark years of the 30s. Story of Maury Grant, wanderer, hobo, pilgrim in search of a faith, and of his contempt for a land which brought him to bitterness and confusion.â€ Iâ€™ve never seen or read the book.
[2007, nothing in print. I think Larry McMurtry has written about Manfred.][Editor’s note: as Frederick Manfred, he wrote a number of novels about life on the Plains before and after contact with white men. Of these “Buckskin Man Tales”, Conquering Horse is in print from the University of Nebraska Press.]
- • The Quest by Elisabeth Langgasser (1899-1950, Germany).
I recently found out about this book and tracked down a copy. This womenâ€™s literary career was cut short by the Nazis, who banned the publication of her work for 10 years, from 1936 to 1946 (she was half Jewish). From 1946 until her death five years later, she published seven books of prose and poetry, most of them considered her major works. The Quest, her last novel, is the only one translated into English (Knopf, 1953). The jacket says it delves into the spiritual devastation of the Germans after the war.
[2007 update: nothing in print]
- • The Devil to Pay in the Backlands by Joao Guimaraes Rosa (1956, 1963 Knopf).
- Jorge Amado says in his preface, â€œThe English-reading public will make the acquaintance of one of the greatest books our literature has produced, brutal, tender, cordial, savage, vast as Brazil itself.â€ This books goes for $100 to $200 these days and, again, for inexplicable reasons, has never been reprinted. The same goes for Rosaâ€™s other books. Iâ€™ve heard it towers over Marquez from at least one person.
[2007 update: There must be serious rights issues with this book, because it has a cult following, and now sells for $300 online, but has never been reprinted.]
- • A Life Full of Holes by Driss ben Hamad Charhadi (1964, Grove).
- This book was dictated to and translated by Paul Bowles. Charhadi, aka Larbi Layachi, could not read or write, but possesses an extraordinary gift for telling stories. This cycle of stories tells of the authorâ€™s teenage years, spent living on the streets of Morocco, working crappy jobs, trying to sell pot, and sometimes stealing to survive. An intense and wonderful book which has been out of print for years.
[2007, still no reprint. Rain Taxi wrote about it back in 2001 as a great lost book. Again, there must be serious rights issues, because the book is way too good to have stayed out of print for so many years. Thank you to Ian Nagoski for handing the book to me at the exact right moment, when my own life was obviously full of holes.]