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Under-appreciated Authors

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This week’s question: Who’s your favorite author that other people are NOT reading? The one you want to evangelize for, the one you would run popularity campaigns for? The author that, so far as you’re concerned, everyone should be reading–but that nobody seems to have heard of.

This is a tough call. After reading some of your very loquacious responses, it occurs to me that I am always stuck at a question that everybody embraces with ready solicitude. One efficient method to tackle the problem is to go through the entire list of book reviews and seek out the authors who are generally overlooked or under-appreciated.

1I cannot help the coincidence: some the authors I’ll name are gay writers. Alan Hollinghurst writes beautifully about politics and day-to-day gay life. His debut The Swimming-Pool Library and Booker Prize-winning The Line of Beauty both embody a gloomy, sober, and functional underworld-full of life, purpose, and sexuality. None of Mikhail Bulgakov’s works, which are anti-Stalin polemics, were published during his lifetime; but this significant voice from the former Soviet Union is recognized and acclaimed by almost every Russian-speaking human being now. Although some readers regard John Banville as a mixed bag, his unreliable narration (and excessive use of obscure vocabulary) convinces me the measure of his force. Check out Shroud. The doubly minority-esque James Baldwin, African American and gay, is ridiculously under-read, under-appreciated, and overlooked. I recently re-read Giovanni’s Room My friend Rick has read a book by Magdalena J. Zaborowska that renders a multitextured reading of James Baldwin’s work in Istanbul. L.P. Hartley is almost unknown to most American readers until NYRB Classics re-published The Go-Between. He had led a very secluded life, avoided intimacy and didn’t have a partner. While he admitted his homosexuality, he tended his sickly mother, spent a lot of time in Venice, where he researched and wrote this novel. Dennis McFarland is adroit in staging family dramas and grappling with the dynamics of love and reminiscence in all their infinite depth and complexity. Re-discovery of Rebecca West is just overdue on behalf of the current generation.

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28 Responses

  1. I’ve never heard of any of these.

    Here is mine

  2. Wow, those are some great choices, and I’m embarrassed to say I’ve only read a few of them. I just bought a copy of The Go-Between to read this year, though. I’ve always loved Hartley’s short stories, so I have great hopes for his longer work!

  3. Great list. I have The Line of Beauty in my TBR pile based on your say-so and I can’t wait to read it!

    • If I remember correctly, The Line of Beauty is his most recent book but that was released almost 5 years ago. When is he going to have a new book?

  4. I have The Master and Margarita (on your much earlier recommendation) and The Go Between on my TBR. I have also heard great thins about The Line of Beauty, so I think I’ll add that as well.

    • The Master and Margarita is one great epic story, in my opinion, exploring good and evil. The Go-Between is just a beautifully written story about naivete of a young boy. The Line of beauty is most “hip” of the three. I hope you enjoy them! 🙂

  5. Yay! I also mentioned Giovanni’s Room in my post. Such a beautiful, sad novel.

  6. Great list, Matt! I especially like John Banville. The Sea was a favorite a few years ago and I like his mysteries (written as Benjamin Black), too.

  7. Ooo, there are some great ones here. Hollinghurst at the top of my list. That is a writer of which more should have the pleasure. Manages frankness and understated at same time. Quite a trick.

  8. I’ve not heard of all of them, but I have read The Line of Beauty, which was really an amazing book. It was heralded by EW, which is what caused me to pick it up. My favorite author to scream about from the rooftops is Connie May Fowler of course. She has a new book coming out in April that is simply wonderful.

    • I was actually surprised that The Line of beauty made a lot of headlines in magazines, probably because Alan Hollinghurst won the Booker Prize. I just got a copy of the last book you screamed about: Beach Music. 🙂

  9. Hartley is a great choice! I, of course, am pretty familiar with Hollinghurst but I guess he’s not exactly a blockbuster and the more people that read him the better!

  10. L. P Hartley is a wonderul writer, I really enjoyed The Go-Between but think it is outshone by his Eustace and Hilda trilogy. If you haven’t read it Matt, I’d reccomend it!

    I must read some James Baldwin, I think he’s intriguing as an author as each of his novels sounds so different. Do you have a favourite?

    • Eustace and Hilda trilogy is up next of Hartley for me. It’s somewhere in the TBR pile. My all-time favorite of James Baldwin is Giovanni’s Room, which I re-read recently. The critics always recommend Another Country, which is Baldwin’s landmark novel, exploring biracial and bisexual identities. I need to re-read that one as well but before doing so, I’ll have to read the commentary.

  11. I didn’t know any of those author…I’ll keep my eyes open for them 😉

  12. It saddens me that so many great artists spend so much of their lives in the shadows. I wish we valued our great writers as effectively as we do other artists. And even others masquerading as artists. The world, sadly, just isn’t fair.

    • Books have such delays because you’ll have to peruse every page to appreciate them. Whereas music exists in a form that is more accessible and time-efficient. Reading is a time investment; but those who persevere will be rewarded. 🙂

  13. Is Banville under-appreciated? I had no idea.

    Other under-appreciated, contemporary writers are A. M. Homes, Glen Duncan, Gabriel Josipovici, Ryszard Kapuscinski and in some ways Geoff Dyer and Jon Berger. Of older writers I am always surprised James Salter is not more widely read.

    • Banville is not as much a blockbuster , but he is worthy of a try. His books aren’t easy to read. Your list of underrated contemporary writers is very timely—I’m in search of new reading materials.

  14. Interesting post. I just finished writing about Thomas H. Cook (because I just finished reading his novel Instruments of Night). I don’t know why this man isn’t insanely popular because he’s terrific. Another novelist I have long admired is Carolyn Slaughter. I’m not sure anyone knows about her – but I’ve been a HUGE fan for 25 years.

    It does seem, though, that unless you’re Stephenie Meyer or Dan Brown you’re destined to be relatively unknown – which is a shame…considering the caliber of their writing.

  15. It has to be Eileen Chang, (Chang Ai-Ling)! Most Americans are not familiar with her, but they need to be…this was a superb writer. Maybe some folks in the SF Bay Area are familiar with her, as she taught at UC Berkeley. The film buffs who saw “Lust, Caution” in 2007, also maybe aware of her novella.
    I am waiting for “Eighteen Springs” to be translated into English!
    Maybe you should offer your services to her publisher?

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