“Lost Classics,” from the Hartford Advocate

July 11th, 2006

“Lost Classics: In a culture where people barely read, it would be an exaggeration to say that writers are overrated. Still, some writers get more credit than they deserve, most get less.”
by Alan Bisbort
Source:The Hartford Advocate, 15 April 2004

“For whatever reasons, many great writers like Gissing have largely been lost to us today. Most are ‘known’ in the sense that they occasionally show up on a syllabus. And yet, most people who consider themselves ‘cultured’ will go through life unbothered by the fact that they’ve never read anything by Ivan Turgenev, Emile Zola, Willa Cather, George Eliot, Nathaniel West (Day of the Locusts should be required reading), Stephen Crane (he wrote more than Red Badge of Courage ), Theodore Dreiser (read Jennie Gerhardt and weep), James Baldwin (rage keeps him timeless), Richard Yates (Revolutionary Road , set in Connecticut, is Cheever with a knockout punch), V.S. Pritchett (the best modern essayist on literature), Dwight Macdonald ( In the American Grain is one of the great works of criticism), Randall Jarrell (for his essays, like “Sad Heart at the Supermarket”), Joseph Mitchell ( Joe Gould’s Secret is a nonfiction Great Gatsby ), A.J. Liebling (food, wars, con men … what more could you want?), and Robert Graves (known for his Claudius novels, but Good-Bye to All That is among the great war memoirs).”

Bisboort goes on to write, “The following books and authors are those I’ve been most guilty over the years of obsessing over, purchasing extra copies for friends, on whom I force them”:

Jernigan, by David Gates

“… Gates’ Jernigan is one of the most fully realized ‘anti-heroes’ (remember them?) ever captured between covers. His life falling apart, his relationship with his son unraveling, Jernigan drives north into a New England winter. It’s the strangest pilgrimage since Kerouac…”

Cell 2455 Death Row, Caryl Chessman

“In the 12 years between his sentencing and his execution, Chessman lived and tirelessly labored on Death Row at San Quentin Prison, shaping one of the most remarkable bodies of work in American legal history…. Chessman was not just a good writer; he was a good thinker whose clarity of mind and ability to bring his thoughts directly to the page….”

Darkness at Noon, Arthur Koestler

“A masterful polemic disguised as a novel, whose theme was never more pertinent than now, with much of the world emulating the control tactics of the Soviet state that Koestler so intimately knew.”

Journey to Nowhere, Shiva Naipaul

“As a writer, Shiva was the equal of his Nobel Prize-winning older brother, V.S. In this riveting book, Shiva probes the Jim Jones “Guyana tragedy,” sparing no one, widening the target to include California consciousness-raising. He does it with a withering humor that is just this side of suppressed rage….”

Editor’s note

Carroll and Graf recently announced that it was reissuing Cell 2455 Death Row in Fall 2006, with a new introduction by Joseph Longseth.

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