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We might also say that Evangelicals saved Lewis. Wheaton College, the Notre Dame of Evangelicalism, houses a good bit of his work and artifacts, along with other early/mid-century Brits like Sayers and Tolkien. I discovered Lewis as a student at Gordon-Conwell, a Reformed, well, non-denominational (but definitely Reformed) seminary.

PS: I've always found that a Evangelical-Lewis connection a bit ironic given his prominent emphasis of the Ransom Theory of the atonement.

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Yes, definitely. They’re part of the equation—ironic for many reasons, given some of his theological and cultural commitments. They were the first to panic when Harper stepped in to promote his back catalogue.

But without doubt: There would be no Lewis industry today without evangelical fans and institutional support.

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Some writers are so ahead of their time and talented in prose it takes decades for the masses to catch up to their immense talent.

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I think that’s true. Books have to speak to an audience. Sometimes that audience comes along later.

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An excellent piece as always!

We owe a debt of wonder to every creator that sealed the covenant of our confirmation, that guided the catechism of our souls. That welcomed us into a lineage, a genealogy. We are the successors of all the work that proceeded us. We pay the debt by paying it forward, by moving outward and on. Expansion and evolution and change. One stream that feeds a river, that feeds something bigger. That becomes something different. That becomes something new.

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That’s really true and always worth remembering. As readers and writers, we’re participants in literary culture stretching through the ages since before Gilgamesh. It’s amazing—and humbling—to contemplate, actually.

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Exactly! An invitation that's always available to us, that's always been available to us, one that will always be available to anyway. A truly open table, a welcomed seat for everyone. Whether we arrive by novel or by newsletter, it doesn't matter, it's all just the varying names for the ways we arrived at the gathering and the way we hope to invite others along.

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I had no idea about the campaign for book donations during World War II. That’s such a fascinating connection. In addition to what’s available and marketed to us, I have noticed that we like to read what other people are talking about so that we feel “in the know,” even if we don’t actually find that we enjoy them. It’s freeing to know that not all good authors are popular, and not all popular authors are good.

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Molly Guptill Manning’s book, ‘When Books Went to War,’ tells the whole story. It’s fascinating. But, yes, so true on what’s popular. When something gets word-of-mouth going, it takes on a life of its own. Every author’s dream for just that reason. But so many books don’t really deserve it. I’ve tried reading a bit of Dan Brown, but I found ‘The Da Vinci Code’ unreadably bad.

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So I am reading Mere Christianity for the first time, along with Brandon Edwards who is doing a weekly review. I wish I had read it a long time ago. But you mentioned A Year With C.S. Lewis. A friend gave it to me last December and I have been reading it. But I misplaced it, then forgot it and your mention sent me on a hunt. So it is now back on my desk. I admit to skipping any reading from Screwtape because they do not make sense to me separated from the book as a whole. Anyhow, you always have something interesting to share. Thank you!

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You’re welcome, John! It’s a delight to do it. I used to have a copy of ‘A Year’ also but can’t find it. I must have given it away at some point. I’m thinking about a re-reading goal for next year. I might add Mere Christianity to the list.

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Sep 12, 2023Liked by Joel J Miller

"Parnassus on Wheels" was a recent "find" for me only because someone I admire, Sarah Mackenzie, recommended it. Christopher Morley's ardent love of books shines through in this novella, published in 1917. He combines that love with a bit of a dig at the publishing world too. A funny, sweet story.

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I’ll have to check that one out. Thanks!

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“These unexploited opportunities require alertness.“

We could unpack that sentence into an article of its own.

I’d likely start with what alertness means in this context. Knowledge of the industry, for sure, is a foundational component, but awareness of book marketing trends and a fearlessness in testing available touch points with other authors efforts is critical, too. Successfully resisting discouragement when hopeful sales figure don’t pan out is also important if one is to notice the more subtle opportunities. I know from personal experience what you noted about the author advocating for their work and the tremendous boost this gives to the perception pf the work in the eyes of potential readers. That, too, is a balancing act of tenacity and patience.

All these in concert set the stage for an author being alert and sober enough to catch sight of unexploited opportunities amidst the barrage of easily recognizable ones.

Come to think of it, I think recognizing those “unexploited opportunities” likely depends on the same foundation of alertness.

Maybe? lol

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Totally. I often think about it from the editor’s side of things because they’re usually the ones signing the authors at publishing houses. When I held that role and I found something really choice, I wanted to move fast before any other editor had a chance to bid. Sometimes my promptness made the difference. Other times, I was late to the party but was the only editor to really see the potential in a book. Then there were the other times, I passed on something that proved big because I didn’t see it. I recently had a meeting with an author I rejected years ago; he reminded me of the fact—that book went on to do very well :)

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Fascinating read! I’ve never thought much about the ‘could have beens’ of books, or the way that the concept of ‘classic’ books isn’t shaped by the ideal of quality alone.

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Nope. There are all sorts of factors at play, including a lot of luck.

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I think John Williams ––Stoner and Augustus––had a similar renaissance about 20 years ago. I liked Stoner and loved Augustus.

When i think about whoever made the call to include Gatsby in the list sent to the armed services, I think about unheralded heroes. Just consider how many millions of hours of reading pleasure were granted to so many by the actions of a few people (Including Wilson).

Great post!

robertsdavidn.substack.com/about

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Thanks, David! I’ve not read any John Williams. I might have to look him up.

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Zadie Smith's The Fraud introduces me to William Harrison Ainsworth a Victorian novelist whose novel (Jack Sheppard) outsold Oliver Twist. From the little I've read thus far, I don't think Smith is trying to get people to read his books!

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LOL. A good reminder for me. She’s in no danger of slipping from public view, but I’m woefully in the dark on Zadie Smith. I’ve never read any of her novels. I must remedy that!

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I agree. She won't slip. And she's got a great collection of essays too.

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I need to get aboard that train.

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Sep 9, 2023Liked by Joel J Miller

Screwtape Letters and Mere Christianity are formative for me. I think of passages from them all the time.

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Same, especially Screwtape. My mom had a copy, which I devoured several times over. Then I lucked out and found an audiobook version (cassette tapes!) with John Cleese reading. How cool is that?! I remember really like Mere Christianity but recoiling a bit from his treatment of the Holy Spirit. I argued with that book a bit :)

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Sep 9, 2023Liked by Joel J Miller

Some have already touched upon this, but authors, whether fiction or nonfiction, are experts in their subjects (or should be). They're not necessarily experts in marketing, or as you put it, "to convincingly self-promote." The operative word is "convincingly." And that's the devil in the details, isn't it? What is convincingly self-promotion? If authors, or even marketing departments, knew how to do that they would. Likewise, if authors and publishers knew what would be a bestseller and continue to sell into the future, authors would write those books and publishers would only publish those book. But as you told Peco, "It's a puzzling business with no guarantees." And that's why, agreeing with you, authors need not only to promote their own work, but also need champions, both today and tomorrow.

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Yes, marketing one’s work full of a lot of luck (good and bad) and mystery. You’re 100% right: if we knew what worked, we simply do that. But it’s far more complicated. At best it’s necessary but not sufficient. As you say, we need champions. Without people advocating for our work, it won’t go far.

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Sep 9, 2023Liked by Joel J Miller

On having champions, I think about Cormac McCarthy. He seemed to go out of his way to avoid promoting his own work. But he had/has an army of loyal supporters, both in the critical world, academia, and just good old fashioned fans.

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Plus he had major supporters at both his publishers—his first editor at Random House and then at Knopf—plus his agent. He wouldn’t have made it without them. Success is (for lack of another buzzword) synergistic.

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I only heard of Zora last year, through reading about Nella Larrsson. It's a strange thing about authors becoming unknown. Last year or the year before I came across a book about forgotten authors, and one of them was Keith Waterhouse. He was an absolutely brilliant writer, columnist and playwright, so I was very surprised about that. Another writer I like is Stephen Potter, who nobody seems to have heard of now but in the late 40s and mid-50s was all the rage. It's kind of sad really. Salinger didn't do interviews and has not fallen into obscurity, so I'm not sure that lack of PR is always the reason, but very much enjoyed this article.

Also, I didn't realise that you were a Substack featured writer in July, so belated congrats!

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Thanks, Terry!

Salinger is outlier but certainly complicates drawing any easy conclusions or rules. I think all these elements are as I mentioned to Derrick necessary but insufficient components. If enough of them are going your way, you’ve got a shot. If not, then no.

Still, as you say, it’s a pity to love certain novelists and other writers that seem to fade from view. I’ve always loved H.L. Mencken but he has few fans today.

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I'm ashamed to say I've never read Salinger or Mencken, but both are on my list. Next up, when I've finished the Anomaly, is four books by jane Austen. Yes, outlier, the exception to the rule. Agree about necessary but not sufficient.

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Easiest path into Mencken are the two Chrestomathies. Highly (though cautiously) recommended!

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Thanks, Joel. Cautiously? I am intrigued

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Haha. Mission accomplished.

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Ha! I can just hear that evil laugh. Thanks

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Superb roundup! Enjoyed this. Great start to my Saturday!

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My pleasure! Glad you enjoyed it!

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Fascinating! I am always pleasantly surprised at the layers you manage to reveal. I think an additional hurdle that 'forgotten authors' face is the decline of English vocabulary knowledge in the younger generation of readers. Those classics which are still taught in schools hold a mere vestige of the vocabulary which was once considered essential for good communication (for example 'Of Mice and Men' has 25 classic words compared to 1356 in 'David Copperfield').

Thus, even if authors are brought back into circulation, many of the older books written will remain inaccessible to younger readers, because of they lack the attention span and vocabulary needed to appreciate their work. With this in mind, I have republished a Classic Learner's Edition of Dickens's 'A Christmas Carol' (https://humanitasfamily.net/books/), which contains the unabridged original as well as in depth vocabulary study. I pored over every page of the tale, carefully taking note of words that might trip up young readers and make them stumble. If I had the time, I would continue to republish a series of Victorian era classics, to ensure that their rich language, humor, and insights continue to touch the current young generation. I will keep this project in my back pocket for my retirement years:)

Finally, thank you again for advocating for my husband's novel Exogenesis. Getting into the publishing market as a new author is a sisyphean task, and your support is greatly appreciated!

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I think you’re right about the vocabulary issue, along with syntax, cultural context, etc. I read Pride and Prejudice this year, and while I wouldn’t call it difficult I can see how it might pose difficulty to younger readers—or those without the patience to check endnotes or look up an item or two. Books of another time can demand more of us to fully appreciate—even then, it can be a slog. My dad used to teach Romeo and Juliet to high-school freshmen. Words and phrases that we think we know, we often don’t quite because the meaning of certain words can slip under the surface as the centuries progress.

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This reminds me of the trajectory of G. K. Chesterton‘s works. He was massively popular and then shortly after his death most of his works went out of print. Over the last twenty years there has been a resurgence that was only possible due to the concerted effort of people who were willing to advocate and actively publish his work again.

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I don’t think I was aware he had dipped, but that makes sense. Most of my copies are old editions my wife brought with her into our marriage, but Ignatius and others have done a great job of republishing him. I got to participate in that work a bit at Thomas Nelson. I acquired a biography, quote collection, and daily reader of Chesterton, written and complied by Kevin Belmonte. The biography was entitled Defiant Joy. I recommend it!

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I believe I have the daily reader collection. It was one of our first purchases of his work.

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How wonderful! Kevin was a fun guy to work with.

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