Monday, August 08, 2005

In search of lost authors ...

It has been estimated that 99 percent of all the books ever published are out of print. Certainly, enough people want to read out-of-print books to make for a thriving second-hand book business.
A couple of Sundays ago I wrote about a book that's out of print: John O'Hara's Sermons and Soda-Water. I was surprised at how many people sent me emails about O'Hara and what I had to say about him.
It had occurred to me, while I was reading O'Hara during my vacation, that it would be interesting to read just the Gibbsville stories, to see how they relate to one another -- and whether they form a cohesive whole. Well, Matthew Bruccoli has put together a collection of the Gibbsville stories called Gibbsville, Pa. I just got a copy from Amazon, along with a copy of BUtterfield 8. I plan on reading them and maybe a couple of the novels and writing about O'Hara again.
The response to my column about O'Hara encourages me to continue writing from time to time about books no longer in print, and about neglected authors. Aficionados of used-book stores are just the sort of people to have favorite neglected writers. So if any of you read this, let me know about them.
Again, I am convinced that the literary blogosphere can bring about a seismic change in critical outlook. We just have to get the conversation going.


  1. As you know it's even tougher for good unknown writers. But we write for the love of it. If the money should come along with it, well, I wouldn't complain, lol.

  2. Hi Doug,
    I certainly do know it -- from experience. And I was one of the lucky ones: I had my first professional book review published in a national publication not long after I left college. But I had a heck of a time getting my poetry published.
    This is something I believe the blogosphere will also go a long way to correct -- simply by offering a forum to anyone who wants to step up and take advantage of it. I think that commercial publishers will eventually start looking there -- if they haven't already -- for promising authors.

  3. I read almost nothing but "old" fiction anymore -- not just classics, but novels that at their time were highly praised, or not so highly praised, or even some plain best-sellers. Everything from Sinclair Lewis' "Kingsblood Royal" to Mary McCarthy's "The Group" to Hamilton Basso's "The View From Pompey's Head." Some I have read before, but most not. And why not? They are at least as good as what is being written today (I read enough to know that), and, in one instance -- a grasp of English grammar -- usually better. In one area particularly older fiction is overall quite superior -- in an understanding of and depiction of how people worked. How they actually worked. Maybe because more writers came from such people? I don't know, but factory, farm, and shop they got down on paper with a vengeance. Today, it would seem, most workers are potters, or the psychotherapist spouses -- on their way to becoming ex-spouses -- of potters. Nothing against potters, of course. Or psychotherapists.
    Willis Wayde

  4. I'm inclined to agree, Willis, especially about "the understanding and depiction of work." Too many novels today, it seems, have characters who are supposed to be, say, professors, but who never, except in passing, do what professors do -- prepare classes, correct papers, meet with students, read books, go to concerts, etc. Maybe professors don't do that anymore (but they must do something). Too many people in novels today do nothing but brood. Too few really do anything, are interested in anything, are like real people.

  5. Frank,

    You inspired me to write an essay on one of my favorite OOP books, Robert Ward's Red Baker, which is now up on my blog.

    Great idea.