In 2009, BBC Radio 4’s asked ten contemporary British novelists to recommend “the books that they felt most deserved to be re-read and reinstated onto our bookshelves.” Listeners were then asked to vote for the one they most wanted to hear dramatized on Radio 4. The winner was The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico, which was chosen by Michael Morpurgo. You can hear the writers explain their choices, and also hear excerpts from each book.
Lesley Hall’s site commemorating (in the words of Rupert Croft-Cooke), “that generation of women in literature who had earned for themselves the term woman novelist, or simply novelist, as distinct from ‘lady-novelist’ or ‘authoress'”: writers such as E.M. Delafield, Storm Jameson, Naomi Mitchison, and Rose Macaulay, many of whose names and titles appear on this site’s lists.
Author Brooks Peters has a knack for looking into the past and pulling out fascinating lives and stories, and regularly features well-written and illustrated pieces on neglected writers. Check his “Scribes” category in particular for hours of good reading on such characters as Beverley Nichols, George Baxt, and Theodora Keough.
Maintained by Paul Lyons, The Diary Junction is a wonderful resource, containing listings for over 500 diarists–from the famous (Anne Frank, Samuel Pepys) to the obscure (Kim Malthe-Bruun, a member of the Danish resistance in World War Two; Elizabeth Simcoe, wife of an 18th century Canadian administrator). Lyons also keeps up an active blog noting the publication of new diaries and other diary-related events.
Devoted to “Mainly the Obscure, and/or mainly ‘Outsider’ and/or Experimental Literature,” Dr. Tony Shaw’s blog brings to light a number of writers unfamiliar even to me–Lionel Britton, an innovative British playwright and novelist of the 1930s; Martha Haines Butt, a young Virginian ante bellum novelist; and Stanley Middleton (perhaps not entirely obscure, but certainly underappreciated).
The blog of the Faber Finds series of print-on-demand reissues–a series that easily holds second place in the race to bring neglected books back into print (the first being, of course, the amazing New York Review Classics series).
Spun off from an occasional column in Time Out (London) magazine, the Forgotten Classics blog, started in April 2006, is devoted to “books that seem to be undeservedly forgotten, from John Galsworthy to Rose Macaulay, from Amos Tutuola to DH Lawrence, from W. Somerset Maugham to Fanny Burney.”
There are lots of book blogs full of reviews of the blogger’s regular diet of reading, but few with as consistent and high a portion devoted to lesser-known and out of print books as Phillip Routh’s. He’s succinct, blunt and refreshingly candid–one of the few people who’ll publicly admit to putting down a book he finds unworthy of his time (and probably ours, too).
Conceived by SF and fantasy author Orson Scott Card, Terry Nolan, and D.D. Shade, Lost Books is devoted to speculative fiction: “An ‘official’ Lost Book is one that is out of print and forgotten or back in print and forgotten. It can be a book written for young adults that is relatively unknown in mainstream speculative fiction…. one that was overlooked by the Hugo and Nebula ballots…. Or ignored by the general readership.” The site features reviews of such titles as George Stewart’s Earth Abides, Keith Roberts’ Pavane, and Walter Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz.
A series started in June 2011. Each entry examines “one lost book and the story behind it.” Among the writers covered in the early entries are Stefan Zweig, Israel Zangwill, Elsa Morante, and Sam Astrachan. The essays so far have been well-written and revealing, and I look forward to many more.
Taking as its mission “To help preserve, introduce, and pass on to future generations, Americaâ€™s cultural heritage by making available to the public hard-to-find, unavailable, out-of-print, or otherwise forgotten cultural works, particularly literary works,” the Lost Books Club is an offshot of The Stone Reader, Mark Moskowitz’s 2002 documentary about his quest to find out what happened to Dow Mossman, whose 1972 novel, The Stones of Summer attracted Moskowitz’s interest 25 years after its first publication.
Advertising itself as a “Journal of Literary Archaeology,” the Lost Club’s website hasn’t been updated since 2003, but it’s still a valuable resource for its archive of articles on such neglected authors as Peter Vansittart, M.P. Shiel, Baron Corvo (Frederick Rolfe), and James Branch Cabell.
Devoted to “the world-wide literary novel since approximately the beginning of the twentieth century, arranged by nationality,” this site, maintained by an anonymous reader who vows, “I have no academic connections whatsoever and do not have nor ever have had any connection with the book industry, so I am not selling anything, and the only axe I have to grind is my own idiosyncratic taste.” And a prodigious knowledge of 20th century novels, everything from Abkhazia to Zimbabwe. Includes his own list of neglected books and authors. Like Michael Orthofer of the Complete Review, this is a reader to put the rest of us to shame. We are not worthy … but we are fortunate.
Since late 2004, Laila Lalami, author of Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, has been “asking readers, writers, editors, critics, librarians, or booksellers to weigh in on a book they loved, but which has remained underappreciated.” Almost every week, contributors ranging from veteran best-sellers (Scott Turow) to simple reading enthusiasts recommend and comment upon one of their favorite neglected books.
Founded in early 2007, Open Letters Monthly is an online magazine of book reviews and criticism that consistently presents some of the most interesting and thoughtful writing on the web. Among its regular features is “Absent Friends,” a series of essays on neglected writers and books from the near and distant past. Written by Steve Donoghue, whose own SteveReads blog covers everything from Marvel Comics to Tudor poetry, “Absent Friends” is equally eclectic: from Gerald of Wales, a 12th century cleric, to the fine Civil War historian, Bruce Catton.
One of several literary sites created by Ted Gioia, Postmodern Mystery is devoted to those “literary daredevils have found endless satisfaction in tinkering with the time-honored formulas of detective fiction. Their efforts transform populist fiction into high art.” Most of the writers and books covered here are well-known (Eco, Pynchon, Borges), but there are a few that will be new to almost everyone: Philip MacDonald’s The Rynox Murder, for example, and Norman N. Holland’s Death in a Delphi Seminar.
Don Napoli has created a wonderful site devoted to his admirable quest of reading his way through the archives of fiction set in California. He shares his rediscovery of some undeservedly neglected books such as Robert Carson’s The Revels are Ended and some other books you’ll be glad Don read … so that you never have to.
Started in 2007, this blog focuses on long-forgotten popular novels and children’s books from such authors as Ruth Fielding, Mary Roberts Rinehart, Mary Johnston–the Danielle Steel and Meg Cabots of their days. “… [T]here are a lot of books that have been forgotten,” the blog’s author, Melody, notes. “And most of them probably weren’t very good, but I bet a lot of them were fun.” If you’re a fan of the lesser-known contents of Project Gutenberg, Melody’s an excellent guide to help you sift the wheat from the chaff.
Started in early 2009, the Second Pass is a laudable review that recognizes that sometimes critical views are better formed a few months after the ink on the publisher’s press release has dried. One of its features, The Backlist looks back quite a bit farther and focuses on “older, sometimes unfairly neglected books.”
Eclectic, elegant and entertaining, Slightly Foxed unearths books of lasting interest, old and new, all of them in print. Each issue contains 96 pages of personal recommendations from contributors who write with passion and wit.
In fact, forty OOSFCs, with lists and comments each by the great English SF and fantasy author Michael Moorcock and fans Scott Cupp, Rick Klaw, and Eric Walker. Their selections include everything from Longfellow’s much-belittled “The Song of Hiawatha,” which Moorcock lauds as a work of “high-class imaginative fiction,” to Don Webb’s Uncle Ovid’s Exercise Book. Few of the titles fit with conventional notions about science fiction, and each list will undoubtedly introduce readers to some books and authors they’ve never heard of before.
Steven K. Baum’s collection of titles and links to other book lists he categorizes as “unusual literature,” which he defines as “stuff I like that’s a little or a lot different than most of the stuff you’ll find down at the local Books’R’Us.”
August West’s blog focuses on thrillers, mysteries, westerns, and other tough guy novels, mostly in paperbacks with lurid covers, mostly from the late 1940s through the early 1970s. Like Don Napoli’s Reading California Fiction, it’s a well-presented, well-written site whose entries manage to treat each book intelligently with a concision I envy.
This site is run by Kate Macdonald, an English lecturer at Ghent University and “a lifelong browser in second-hand bookshops.” “Each week,” she writes, “I post a new podcast on a forgotten book that I think deserves new readers. The podcasts last for about 10 minutes, and appear in the feed first thing on a Friday.” The podcasts so far have covered such books as Vern Sneider’s Tea House of the August Moon and an obscure 1941 novella by Colette, Julie de Carneilhan.
The collective effort of three Tumblr members, this blog regularly brings back from obscurity writers from the near and distant past, with a definite emphasis on European novelists, and notes that “No one reads” them. One hopes that this blog will help prove its own statements untrue.
Bob Rosenberg, the owner of Zeno’s Books, an online shop specializing in first editions and rare books, is an inveterate reader who’s as likely to reach back decades for an obscure title as to cover something still in print. Although not all his posts are about neglected books, I’d say that at least two in five are, which isn’t too bad an average by my standards.