Cover of 18 April 1934 issue of the New Republic

“Good Books That Almost Nobody Has Read” and “More About Neglected Books,” from The New Republic magazine, 1934

Malcolm Cowley, around 1940In early 1934, Malcolm Cowley, then literary editor of the New Republic magazine, sent out a series of letters to a number of America’s leading novelists and critics. “Each year,” he wrote,

… a few good books get lost in the shuffle. It may not be the fault of the publisher, the critic, the bookseller—it may not be anybody’s fault except that of the general system by which too many books are distributed with an enormous lot of ballyhoo to not enough readers. Most of the good books are favorably reviewed, yet the fact remains that many of them never reach the people who would like and profit by them, the people for whom they are written. Then, after a while, the publisher remainders them and they are forgotten.

Some week we should like to run a list of books like this, as a means of making amends to their authors—and perhaps also to the public that has so far missed the chance of reading them. Couldn’t you think of two or three or four and jot down their names, preferably with a few sentences identifying them?

About a dozen writers responded, and Cowley reprinted their lists and comments in two articles: “Good Books That Almost Nobody Has Read,” which appeared in the 18 April 1934 issue; and “More About Neglected Books,” which appeared on 23 May 1934. In addition, several readers responded to the first article with suggestions of their own, and their letters appeared in the 30 May 1934 issue. Although Cowley concluded the first article with an observation that, “American criticism ought to be given a chance, too, for sober second judgment of the books that deserve it,” the New Republic did not return to the subject until its brief series, “Lost and Found”, which is included among the Sources on this site.

Although a few titles, such as Nathanael West’s Miss Lonelyhearts and Kafka’s The Castle are now well-established classics, there are more titles that even I haven’t heard of than in perhaps any other of the Sources included on this site so far.


John Dos Passos

Dos Passos blasted the nature of professional criticism as the root of the problem of overlooked books: “The fact that most professional critics are over-worked and confused by the flood of books and ballyhoo about books that roars over their heads every week makes it impossible for them to get any perspective on their work. The result is that there is no actual critical weeding out another. Everything published goes down the same chute out of the overbright glare of publicity into oblivion. In their brief passage some of the books sop up more money for their authors and publishers, and others less, but unless they hit the reprints and the cheap editions, their fate is the sanie in the long run. It is important to establish a public memory for good or for usefully informative writing.”

He then named six titles as “… books I think should be kept out of the ash barrel.”:

Laugh and Lie Down, by Robert Cantwell

“A straight and skillful and original first novel dealing with the first impact of industrial life on a young man growing up in a Pacific Slope
town. Undoubtedly one of the best novels of the last ten years.”

Woman of Earth, by Agnes Smedley

“An uneven but impressive I suppose autobiographical narrative of a young woman’s life in a Western mining camp and in New York.”

Nobody Starves, by Catherine Brody

“A good local story about Detroit automobile workers.”

Forgotten Frontiers, by Dorothy Dudley

“A profound factual and atmospheric study of the origins of Dreiser’s work and the Chicago and Indiana background of our writing during the first
fifteen years of the century.”

The American Jitters, by Edmund Wilson

“Edmund Wilson’s compendium of a year’s reporting that has, besides a great deal of valuable information, some magnificent writing in it, the description of Hollywood architecture and the lyrical account of the Coronado Beach Hotel.”

The Disinherited, by Jack Conroy

“A springy lively narrative of the coming of age of a coal miner’s son—as absolutely out of the soil and roads and garages and backhouses of these United States as Jack London’s good early stuff.”

Sinclair Lewis

“All of the following,” Lewis wrote “have received more or less critical attention and had a certain amount of sale, but none of them anything like what they lave deserved.”

Karl and the Twentieth Century, by Rudolf Brunngraber

“A novel which symbolizes the whole collapse since 1914 in the person of the little man in the street.”

Dynamite!, by Louis Adamic

“That this should not have a huge sale is a disgrace to the entire country. No book has so well explained why the American labor movement has been so violent, why in so many ways it has been so futile, and why racketeering in general has arisen.”

Nobody Starves, by Catherine Brody

Lewis also named this novel, writing that it was, “A story of the depression without romance—because it is too authentic to need ‘romance.'”

The Child Manuela, by Christa Winsloe

“Upon one or two chapters of the original plan of this novel was based the famous film ‘Madchen in Uniform.’ For some mysterious reason, though it had fair acclaim, it did not, in America—though it did in England—begin to have the enormous success of that film.”

The Human Body, The Care and Feeding of Adults, and Behind the Doctor– all by Dr. Logan Clendenning

“The amazing combination of racy and amusing stories with profound experience and a good sense that refuses to yield to fads in all these books should have made them necessities for every household, and yet their sales have been only reasonably large.”

The Glastonbury Romance, by John Cowper Powys

“Like Mr. Powys’s Wolf Solent, this is an authentic drama of the human soul with a curiously detached observation of innumerable little details of the background against which that soul plays out its destiny.”

Night Over Fitch’s Pond, by Cora Jarrett

“A novel which contrives to combine the suspense of a good detective story with the dignity of a psychological novel.”

Edmund Wilson

Wilson had only one suggestion but ended up plugging a second:

The Five Seasons, by Phelps Putnam

“… [C]ertainly one of the best recent books of poems.”

The Shadow Before, by Bill Rollins

“By the way. Bill Rollins’ book, ‘The Shadow Before,’ seems to me the best American industrial novel I have ever read.”

Clara G. Stillman

Stillman, translator and biographer of the novelist Samuel Butler, named four titles but offered no additional comments about them:

Rebels and Renegades, by Max Nomad

The Old Man Dies, by Elizabeth Sprigge

Laugh and Lie Down, by Robert Cantwell

Dorothy Wordsworth, by Catherine Macdonald Maclean

John Chamberlain

Orange Valley, by Howard Baker

[Don Napoli reviewed Orange Valley several years ago on his “Reading Califonia Fiction” site and found it of limited interest to modern readers.–Ed.]

American Humor, by Constance Rourke

Isidor Schneider

Schneider was a long-time editor of the Marxist magazine, The New Masses.

The Jungle Tide, by John Sill

“A British naturalist describes the forests of Ceylon. Apart from the textural beauty of the writing, the quietly dramatic quality of the narrative made everything in it exciting, but for some reason the description of the road-making in the jungle by monkeys and other animals remains most vivid in my mind.”

A Brief History of Russia, by Pokrovsky

“As the most thoroughgoing application of the Marxian dialectic that has yet been made in the writing of a national history, Pokrovsky’s book is of great value. I am sure it will become a landmark.”

Imperialism, and The State and Revolution, by V. I. Lenin

“This profound piece of research and generalization incorporates Lenin’s development of Marxism to cover the imperialist stage of capitalism, and is a presentation of the greatest historymaking ideas of our time. It seems incredible that its circulation should be so small.”

Chaka, by Mofolo

“An African Negro of extraordinarily rich literary powers writes a fervid historical novel based on the career of Chaka, builder oi the Zulu empire. The book was scarcely even reviewed.” [Thomas Mokopu Mofolo was actually a Bashoto, born in South Africa, who lost his land under the Bantu Land Act and died poor and forgotten in Lesotho. He is now considered one of the region’s finest writers.

The History of Italian Literature, by Francesco De Sanctis

This book, written with passion as well as with patient scholarship, and in beautiful prose, deserves to be in the libraries of everybody interested in literature, rather than in the few academic libraries to which I am afraid it has been relegated.

In his A History of Modern Criticism, Raoul Wellek wrote that De Sanctis, “wrote what seems to me the finest history of any literature ever written. It successfully combines a broad historical scheme with close criticim, theory with practice, aesthetic generalisation with particular analysis.” The Cambridge Companion to the Italian Novel goes so far as to say it “can even be read as a novel, a Bildungsroman that has as its protagonis the rising national consciousness of Italian writers.”

The Cannery Boat, by Takiji Kobayasbi and others

“I am told that many readers are looking about for good examples of proletarian literature. Here is something they have missed.”

Schneider suggested four other books, but Cowley did not have space to include his comments on them:

Leninism, by Joseph Stalin

The Memoirs of Gluckel of Hameln

from Esther Nebenzahl’s review on Amazon.com: “‘The Memoirs of Gluckel of Hameln’ (1646 – 1724) is the only surviving written memoir by a Jewish woman before the nineteen century. Born in Germany, Gluckel was a dynamic, clever woman. Belonging to the rich stratus of Jewish Askenazi society, she married a merchant and had 14 children. Besides being responsible for the upbringing of her children, she was a partner to her husband’s business dealings. After his death she carried on with the business and refused a number of marriage proposals, determined to first marry-off all her children before settling herself into old-age retirement.”

The Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins

To Make My Bread, by Grace Lumpkin

from the University of Illinois Press, which has reissued this novel: “A story of the growth of the new South, To Make My Bread revolves around a family of Appalachian mountaineers—small farmers, hunters, and moonshiners—driven by economic conditions to the milltown and transformed into millhands, strikers, and rebels against the established order. Recognized as one of the major works on the Gastonia textile strike, Grace Lumpkin’s novel is also important for anyone interested in cultural or feminist history as it deals with early generations of women radicals committed to addressing the difficult connections of class and race.”

Suzanne La Follette

La Follette was a journalism and early advocate of a libertarian approach to women’s rights.

The Golden Calf, by Ilf and Petroff

“The only book I think of at the moment which seems to me to have been much too ligbtly dismissed—not by The New Republic, let me hasten to say—is ‘The Little Golden Calf,’ by Ilf and Petroff. I take this quite personally, because so few people even know about it that I rarely find anyone who can laugh over it with me. It is magnificent satire, and satire which leaves one feeling that Russia is a pretty swell place. Moreover it is more amusing from first to last than anything I’ve read in a decade.”

The first complete and uncensored translation of “The Golden Calf,” by Konstantin Gurevitch and Helen Middleton was issued last year by the Open Letter Press.–Ed.

Thornton Wilder

Meditations on South America, by Count Hermann Keyserling

Wilder wrote that running a list of neglected books “is a fine idea; but I can’t think of any more except the Keyserling ‘Meditations on South America,’ and I don’t even know whether that was published in the United States.” Keyserling believed that Latin America would ultimately prove the source of a renaissance of human civilization, but a recent writer has called “Meditations” a “strange book … in many passages of which Keyserling seems intent upon insulting Latin American womanhood in general because of his pique with Victoria Ocampo for having rejects his sexual overtures ….” A stone I think I will leave unturned.

Horace Gregory

Saturday Night at the Greyhound, by John Hampson

“A study of disintegration in English lower-middle-class society, tracing the decline of a family that ran a public house. It’s a book that should be read by young novelists who lack a sense of dramatic structure.”

Guardian Angel, by Margery Latimer

“An unusual book of short stories that was rapidly lost sight of largely because its author, like Hart Crane, died at the wrong moment.”

Latimer was a student of Zona Gale’s who was active in radical causes in the 1920s and whose marriage to the black novelist, Jean Toomer, was the subject of scandal at the time. Much of the content of Guardian Angel is available online through Google books.

The Black Boxer, by H. E. Bates

“A collection of stories written by a young Englishman who represents practically the same quality that Katherine Anne Porter displays. He has a good sense of form and utilizes it effectively.”

Ideals, by Evelyn Scott

“Ideals, by Evelyn Scott, is a bit older than the time limit you set, but I think it represents one of the high points in Mrs. Scott’s career. I’ve never forgotten her study of a small-town bank clerk whose daughter ran off with an Italian chauffeur.

Life of Byron, by Ethel Colburne Mayne

“… [N]ever reached the people who should read it.”

Wife of Rossetti, by Violet Hunt

“… [W]ild but original. In this case the book was overshadowed by Poor Splendid Wings [by Frances Winwar], a sensational but insensitive would-be history of the Rossetti circle.”

Gregory added, “Poetry, I think, is a rather special case. . . . I consider my No Retreat (Harcourt, 1933) a lost cause, for the book sold very, very badly—I think like two hundred copies—and I doubt if it will ever leave the publisher’s shelves until it’s dumped on the market. Allen Tate’s Poems: 1928-1931 never made its way. You know that I violently disagree with most of Tate’s opinions, but I hate to see good poetry neglected. . . . The same is true of [Raymond Ellsworth] Larsson’s O City Cities. Larsson has an ear, and is a lyric poet of limited but definite range.

F. Scott Fitzgerald

Fitzgerald named four books, two of which have survived fairly well–remaining in print and in critical discourse if not in heavy rotation, as they used to say in the record business.

Miss Lonelyhearts, by Nathanael West

I Thought of Daisy, by Edmund Wilson

Sing Before Breakfast, by Vincent McHugh

Through the Wheat, by Thomas Boyd

[Considered one of the better novels of the American combat experience in World War One, Through the Wheat was reissued by the Bison Press in 2000.–Ed.]

Fitzgerald added, “There are probably other neglected books,” Fitzgerald added, “but these occur to me especially. When the most violent emotional hysteria takes place over any rehash of Lenin’s ‘Imperialism,’ any story about a steel mill made out of the dry bones of Upton Sinclair and Jack London, or any version of Hamsun’s Growth of the Soil, I think the novels above certainly deserve a second reading. In each case they are the men who did it first and that means a lot to me in my valuation of people’s artistic merit.”

He also mentions “a book called The Spring Flight, by whom I’ve forgotten—he never appeared again,” and “the detective stories of Raoul Whitfield, who I think is as good as Hammett—in fact I once suspected he was Hammett under another name.”

“As for Raoul Whitfield’s detective stories, most of them are published by Knopf, and Danger Circus, which appeared last year, is the most recent,” Cowley added. [Several of Whitfield’s books are back in print from blackmask.com, but the one copy of Danger Circus posted on Amazon is priced at a whopping $2,250! (as of May 2010)]

Cowley wasn’t able to identify The Spring Flight’s author at the time of the first article, but added the following in the second piece:

But there was another and graver blunder among the original lists of “Good Books That Almost Nobody Has Read”—a blunder that I don’t greatly regret because it can be corrected now and because it was the occasion for a lot of interesting correspondence. F. Scott Fitzgerald mentioned “a book called The Spring Flight,’ by whom I’ve forgotten—he never appeared again.” To this, after some searching through catalogues, I added the comment that we could find no trace of The Spring Flightor its author—perhaps Fitzgerald remembered the wrong title.” At least fifteen people wrote in to supply the missing information; and their letters, when pieced together, give a fairly complete picture of a book, an author and a promising career in fiction that ended as soon as it began.

“The book Fitzgerald had in mind,” Hartley Grattan said, “was by Lee J. Smits and was published by Knopf in 1925. Smits was a great friend of my good friend G. D. Eaton, and it was Eaton who prodded him into writing this one novel. I never met Smits—I doubt that he ever visited New York—but I can recall Eaton saying that Smits was one of the laziest people mentally he ever knew. He vastly preferred the life of a beachcomber on the waterfront at Detroit—if you can imagine such a thing—to the labors of composition. Right now I cannot recall the reviews, but I know Eaton and myself were enthusiastic and hoped The Spring Flight‘ was the first of a series of novels from Smits’ pen. It runs in my mind that Mr. Knopf had the same idea and did everything possible to induce Smits to work.”

Mr. Knopf has volunteered the information that The Spring Flight had a sale of 3,244 copies—”not so bad, really, for a first novel,” but this comparative failure “so discouraged Smits that I don’t think he has attempted to publish a book since.” Another correspondent, H. C. Brown of The Detroit News, adds that Smits formerly worked for that paper and is now on the staff of the Hearst-owned Detroit Times. Still another correspondent, Foster Mohrhardt, of Colorado State Teachers College, says that a reading of Smits’ daily column in The Times would indicate that he doesn’t intend to write another book. Slowly the information about him piles up. Sol Sniderman, the editor of Point, a new literary magazine in Madison, Wisconsin, says he has heard that The Spring Flight is now so rare “the author himself is advertising for a copy.” Paul Munter, of Brooklyn, thinks that “Its neglect is a national crime…. Brilliantly it traces the evolution of a half-baked, half-enlightened character in a nation suffering from arrested development. The boy stumbles along, pert, cocky, minutely disillusioned, full of American nonchalance and gullibility (especially as regards women); he contracts disease, tries this and that enterprise and finally settles down in his groove with a wife somewhat his senior. The book cannot die. Some day it will be recognized as what it is—the American Pendennis.”—It seems to me that the author of an American Pendennis ought to change his mind and write another novel; it might be an American Vanity Fair.

T. S. Matthews

Matthews, the literary editor of Time, named nine books, none of which came up on any other list:

The Way of Sacrifice,by Fritz von Unruh

“The story of a storm troop before Verdun written by a Junker and suppressed by the General Staff. A wild and extraordinary book.”

The Devil, by Alfred Neumann

“Scott’s Quentin Durward retold. The most morbidly powerful historical novel I remember reading.”

[The Devil is a fictional account of the relationship between Olivier Necker, a barber of Ghent who became the confidant and advisor of King Louis XI of France and, at least in Neumann’s account, mutated from a honest soul into a scheming manipulator. I have to confess that I found the book a bit too overwrought to be worth discussing on this site.–Ed.]

Anarchism is Not Enough, by Laura Riding

“You’re quite wrong about L. R., and I hereby threaten to write a piece to prove it.”

War, by Ludwig Renn

More complete, more impersonal account of the German soldier’s side of the War than ‘All Quiet.'”

& Co., by Jean-Richard Bloch

“A novel on a grand scale of a Jewish industrial family in Alsace, late nineteenth century.” [Also one of the most difficult book titles to search for.–Ed.]

Sleeveless Errand, by Norah C. James

“A story of post-war London; one of the few convincing suicide stories I remember.”

The Martial Spirit, by Walter Millis

“The Spanish-American War as a case history.”

Greenbanks, by Dorothy Whipple

“A middle-class English novel so damn well done it reminds you of Chekhov.”

Solal, by Albert Cohen (Dutton, 1933).

“A novel by a French Jew about one of the same who ran the goy gamut and relapsed into Jewish sainthood. This is a wild melange of various kinds of writing, but either it’s a good book or I’m crazy.”

Newton Arvin

Arvin was an award-winning biographer of Whitman, Hawthorne, Melville, and others. He wrote Cowley, “Your query makes me realize how little ‘current literature’ I manage to get read, and how much of what I do read is either negligible (deserving the oblivion into which it falls) or so distinguished that it continues over several years to be recognized and discussed. I am sure that there is a third type, the type you speak of; but I imagine it is only the people who really keep up with things who are able to speak of it knowingly. However, I will make out a list of the books more or less of this sort that occur to me”

Tall Tales of the Southwest, by Franklin J. Meine

“A fine collection of passages from old humorists.”

The United States Since 18655, by Louis M. Hacker and B. B. Kendrick

“A history that seems to tell the truth about the era.”

Strike, by Mary Heaton Vorse

“Not a perfect novel, but one that surely deserves to be kept going.”

Spokesmen: Modern Writers and American Life, by T. C. Whipple

“Good essays on Dreiser, Anderson, Robinson and others.” [Available online at Google books.–Ed.]

John Calvin: The Man and His Ethics, by Georgia Harkness

“A biography very intelligently written in a spirit close to Marxism.”

Mary M. Colum

Colum was a frequent reviewer for The New York Times and was considered one of the best critics of her time.

She wrote Cowley that somewhere in the back of her mind are the names of other good books lost in the shuffle, but “the only two that I know much about are Hart Crane’s Collected Poems (Liveright, 1933) and Frank O’Connor’s The Saint and Mary Kate (Macmillan, 1932). I am staggered to hear from you that Hart Crane has been remaindered, but very few people understand poetry unless it is read aloud to them. . . .

The Saint and Mary Kate is one of the best Irish novels of recent years, and in addition is very amusing and humorous. I can’t understand why it has got lost, when all sorts of silly and trashy Irish novels have been boomed. It seems to me sometimes that the best books get the most ignorant reviews. The worst of it is that there are too many reviewers, where there ought to be just a few who know their business.”

Robert M. Coates

After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie, by Jean Rhys

“A novel not widely read but distinctly out of the ordinary.”

The Making of Americans, by Gertrude Stein

” [I]n spite of being Gertrude Stein’s finest and greatest work, doesn’t seem to be getting very far in this country.”

Life Among the Lowbrows, by Eleanor Rowland Wembridge

“A tremendously illuminating inquiry into the minds of the semi-moronic.”

Clifton Fadiman

An enthusiast for lesser-known books and writers throughout his life, Fadiman included a number of other neglected titles in his 1941 anthology, Reading I’ve Liked, which is already one of the Sources for this site.

The Last and First Men, by Olaf Stapledon

“A magnificent philosophical fantasy which the reviewers appreciated but the public missed.”

Karl and the Twentieth Century, Rudolph Brunngraber

“Probably the most intelligent piece of fiction out of Central Europe in the last few years.”

Beethoven: His Spiritual Development, by J. W. N. Sullivan

“A great book on Beethoven and a great book on music.”

Downstream, Sigfrid Siwertz

“This is the most remarkable study of family disintegration I have ever read. It did not deserve to die.” [Siwertz was a Swedish writer. Downstream, the English title of Selambs, is a powerful novel of the decline of a wealthy Stockholm family in the years around World War One.–Ed.]

Mary Lee, by Geoffrey Dennis

“Admirers of Dennis have been whooping him up for almost a decade here without making much of an impression on the public. He is a minor writer, but a remarkable minor writer.”

Harry Hansen

Harry Hansen, then book editor of The New York World-Telegram, reached back far before Cowley’s limit of the last few years and recalled what must have been favorites from his first decade as a book reviewer at the turn of the 20th century.

House of the Fighting Cock, by Henry Baerlein

[A novel about a breeder and cockfighter set in Mexico at the time of Maximillian.–Ed.]

The Adventures of a Supercargo, Louis Becke

The Cat and the Cherub and Other Tales, by Chester B. Fernald

[This book is available online from the Internet Archive at http://www.archive.org/details/catcherubotherst00fern.–Ed.]

The Fugitive Blacksmith, by Charles D. Stewart

[Available from Project Gutenberg at http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/15130.–Ed.]

The Master of the Inn, by Robert Herrick

The Autobiography of a Beggar, by Isaac K. Friedman

[From a quick scan through the online version available at Google books, this appears to be a blend of Bret Harte, early Mark Twain, and Finley Peter Dunne’s Mr. Dooley stories.–Ed.]

The Revolution in Tanner’s Lane, by Mark Rutherford

Robert Cantwell

Cantwell, whose first book, Laugh and Lie Down, was mentioned five times in the two articles, cited two books by Irish writers: Sean O’Faolain’s Midsummer Night Madnessand R. W. Postgate’s Dear Robert Emmet: “The first of these, a volume of short stories, received very little attention until O’Faolain’s novel, began to be praised so widely. The second is a biography [of the Irish nationalist Robert Emmetby an English Socialist and scholar who knows a tremendous lot about Irish history, the theory of revolutions and the activities in Ireland of British secret agents.

“Now let me think,” Cantwell continued. “Do you want to go back as far as 1922? There’s S. E. Morison’s Maritime History of Massachusetts which I’ve been reading. It’s a beauty. And there’s Bill Haywood’s Book if you want to get into valuable neglected documents. I also liked Edwin Muir’s The Three Brothers.”

Lewis Gannett

Gannett was a book critic of The New York Herald Tribune. He mentioned three books: John Evans’ Andrew’s Harvest, Steinbeck’s Pastures of Heaven, Agnes Smedley’s Daughter of Earth, and Boris Savinkov’s Memoirs of a Terrorist: “Three of these are first novels, a type of book quite likely to be overlooked by the public.”

Nathan Asch

Asch, whose first novel, The Office, was one of the first books featured on this site, replied with a lament perhaps to be expected from a writer already beginning to be forgotten: “Poets expect to be neglected, books on philosophy have a specialized audience, and translations are a by-product on which the author hardly ever counts. . . . But American novelists must live on the American public. These four must have been considerably discouraged, and they are so good that the development of the American novel may have been retarded by their failure to find more readers.” “Of these four writers, all true novelists,” he continued, “I know what three are doing: one writes synopses for the movies, one has become a subsistence farmer, and one has gone to Hollywood and writes scenarios there.”

Summer is Ended, by John Herrmann

“Love and the acquisitive instinct develop side by side, with damage to love.”

Prairie Women, Ivan Beede

“The effect of the Nebraska sun and storms and plains on the descendants of the pioneers.”

Call Home the Heart, Fielding Burke

“This is the best proletarian novel I have read in any language.”

The Laughing Pioneer, Paul Green

“This book is a phenomenon; it is a very beautifully written story of love today, shattered by the inequality of class.”

Responses to the articles

In the weeks after Cowley’s second article, TNR published several letters with further suggestions and comments on the topic:

• O. Olsen, New York City:

“Referring to your list of “Good Books That Almost Nobody Has Read,” in the issue of April 18, I should like to give a Jist of my own. I should like to mention Weeds, by Edith S. Kelley, a masterpiece, Upton Sinclair acclaims it and, even though to many of his swans are geese, it’s a real swan this time. Then there are Theodor Plivier’s two volumes, The Kaiser’s Coolies and The Kaiser Goes: The Generals Remain. There is Sawdust and Solitude, by Lucia Zora, and there are Thyra Samter Winslow’s four books, The People Round the Corner, Picture Frames, Show Business and Blueberry Pie. All of these books are very good, and almost all of them have appeared on the 17-cent counters in the corner drug stores. That means that even though people have read them, their authors haven’t received much in royalties.”

• William Saroyan, San Francisco, California:

“The forgotten-books idea was good. How about Grace Stone Coates’ Black Cherries. Finest prose you ever saw. Good wishes.” [Black Cherries is back in print from the University of Nebraska Press.–Ed.]

• And last of all, here is a rare perspective on the subject: the publisher’s, courtesy of the legendary Alfred A. Knopf:

“I think it was an awfully good idea of Mr. Cowley’s to Start that series of “Good Books That Almost Nobody Has Read.” And I feel sure that you will understand that it is only with a desire to help you and your readers to a knowledge of facts of the kind that people connected with the book business seem constitutionally reluctant to give out, that I am writing this letter concerning only the titles listed in your issue of April 18
which have been published by me.

“Of The Human Body, by Logan Clendenning, we have sold through March 31, 1934, 27,194 copies. Garden City Publishing company have sold approximately 139,833 copies of the one-dollar edition. You could hardly, therefore, with fairness, call that a book “that almost nobody has read.”

“Of Dr. Clendenning’s The Care and Feeding of Adults we have sold 4,123 copies, and of his Behind the Doctor, published only last October, 7,514 copies.

Saturday Night at the Greyhound was, in truth, a regrettable failure. Only 1,268 copies were sold at the original published price of $2 and 115 copies were remaindered.

“Scott Fitzgerald’s mind was by no means wandering when he referred to The Spring Flight. This novel by a Detroit newspaper man. Lee J. Smitts, we published in March, 1925, and its failure so discouraged Smitts that I don’t think he has attempted to publish a book since. The Spring Flight struck all of us in my organization at the time as an uncommonly brilliant first novel, but its sale only reached 3,244 (not so bad, really, for a first novel, and after a few years it passed out of print.

“Raoul Whitfield writes boys’ books as well as detective stories, and Danger Circus, which you described as his most recent in the latter category, is actually his latest story for boys. His last detective story was The Virgin Kills .

“Of von Unruh’s The Way of Sacrifice we sold only 1,760 copies and twenty-one copies of the one-dollar edition.

“Neumann’s The Devilsold 9,008 copies and was followed by a sale of 1,346 copies by Grosset and Dunlap in their reprint edition.

“Kafka’s The Castle is one of my really inglorious failures. It is, as Conrad Aiken says, a masterpiece. But in the original edition it sold only 715 copies, and since January 3, 1933, we nave been offering it at the reasonable price of $1 and only 120 copies have been purchased.”