29 Comments
Dec 6, 2023Liked by Joel J Miller

Thank you for this well-researched insight. I appreciate the effort it took to marinate these gathered facts and present it holistically in such a literate way. Your work is always worth a slow rereading. Steady on.

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Rick, thank you for the kind encouragement. Words like yours keep it fun and rewarding.

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To read some of those forgotten books, it's heartening to see a few have reversed their obscurity. Stefan Zweig’s Beware of Pity, for example, was mined extensively by Wes Anderson for the Grand Budapest Hotel and NYRB has that beautiful new edition.

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Yes, that’s one of the best things about literature. If we haven’t lost it entirely, it’s there waiting for us—a whole universe of treasures for the taking.

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Dec 6, 2023Liked by Joel J Miller

Thank you for this. Abolition of Man is added to my must-read list. I very much enjoy the breadth of your reading and writing.

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Brian, thank you! It’s fun to pull it all together from time to time like this!

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The Abolition of Man is one I return to enough that it meanders around my bookshelves, which are a bit less organized than they should be. I just now tried to find it and failed, but I know it'll pop up again. A recollection of where I last put it ... or I'll just stumble on it. In the process of searching, I found other "forgotten" books. That a service of forgotten books, too, in my case. They lead me to others.

I enjoyed this post very much, Joel.

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Treasure hunting in your own library is one of life’s underrated joys! Montaigne’s Essays are like that for me, but they rarely get so lost because the book’s so fat.

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Dec 6, 2023Liked by Joel J Miller

“Though he is dead, he still speaks” (Hebrews 11.4).

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Perfect.

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What an incredible article, an anthology of the overlooked in and of itself! I'm saving this one! I only found Willa Cather recently while researching early 20th century women authors for my own fiction writing and found a treasure trove of other writers. I'm listening to My Antonia on Audible now. I appreciate your take on reading texts that might offend. I'm definitely in the camp of read it all with a critical eye understanding the context and the age as opposed to banning the book. Otherwise it's a slippery slope. I read Mein Kampf by Hitler when I was in 8th grade on my own (no idea how I got a copy) because I wanted to understand the psychology of a person who could have engineered such atrocities. Should that have not been made available to me? Anyway, my deepest appreciation to you for such an extensively researched article. CS Lewis is on my list!

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Thanks, Emily! It’s weird how some people seem to cede so much of our personal power and agency to supposedly irresistible and dangerous ideas—as if a book just takes over our minds. It’s laughable actually. We can read pretty much anything, engage it critically, and decide what to think. That goes for books with values and mores we might dislike or even books with horrendous philosophies. Read it and disagree! It’s possible. The reader is in charge.

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Great post, really fascinating. So many writers have fallen out of fashion and we miss so much by not reading them. Looking at lighter fiction, I came across Christopher Fowler's 'The Book of Forgotten Authors' and have been dipping in and out of it ever since. I was a bit surprised to find that he considered some of my favourite authors to be 'forgotten' - Barbara Pym, and E.M Delafield are two - but I was equally surprised to find some gems in his lists of which I was unaware - I was delighted for instance by Frank Baker's 'Miss Hargreaves'. I posted about the book earlier this year https://junegirvin.substack.com/p/christopher-fowlers-forgotten-authors

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That’s a good point. Some books aren’t objectively obscure, only obscure to us. Thank God for people like Fowler who bring them to our awareness and expand our options. Thanks for sharing about Baker’s book!

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I just read the (surprisingly good) NYTimes article about Ms. Heyer.

I detest this fad of bowdlerizing classic books. I hope it dies an ignominious death.

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I’m with you on that. I can see why a publisher might want to publish a notice at the front of the book to distance itself from—or draw critical attention to—the message or language. But even that is fraught. It may be the right of the estates, but I definitely don’t like changing the language of something already published.

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Oh no, I feel like I was just ambushed by a huge spoiler for *The Man Who Was Thursday,* but I suppose that’s my fault for not having read it yet.

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LOL, nothing can spoil that ending. You could read it for yourself and not spoil it. You’ll need to read it again no matter what you do.

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Thanks, Joel, for these great insights.

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Thanks, Peco! It’s fun to share them.

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Great post. Sometimes an author needs someone's fanatical devotion to keep them alive. H.P. Lovecraft was a forgotten pulp writer, but his friend August Derleth virtually devoted his life to keeping HPL's writing available. Then a new wave of HPL fans arose in the 1970s, repudiating Derleth, but pushing HPL further along. Now HPL is part of the pantheon, published by the Library of America. That would have seemed crazy in the 1970s when I was buying the Ballantine paperbacks with their grotesque covers. One of the biggest names in Science Fiction in the 1970s was Harlan Ellison, but he seems to have faded away and his books are hard to find. Nonetheless, he is good. I read almost everything by him, and he was prolific. If Ellison had his own "Derleth" he could be revived. Olaf Stapledon was kept in print by Dover Books, and on countless occasions I ALMOST bought them, but never did. I have a copy of Odd John which I have carted around for a few years not but not read.

Interesting that you mention Leigh Brackett, whose books were beautifully packaged and widely available. Mass market paperbacks in genre categories like science fiction and fantasy were sold on wire racks, with the covers visible. Great cover art drove paperback sales. One key to revival could literally be outstanding cover art. The Frazetta covers for the reissued Conan stories were likely the decisive factor in reviving interest in Robert E. Howard.

Cyril Connolly was a friend of Evelyn Waugh, and likely about equally well regarded in their lifetimes. Waugh has, justifiably, held a position as one of the greats, and there is ongoing interest in his work. But perhaps Connolly is unjustly neglected. Waugh managed the feat of being a "Catholic writer" while also being a mainstream novelist, so he had both populations of readers Chesterton is obviously also a Catholic favorite, and C.S. Lewis is a more generally Christian favorite. Being a writer whom religious readers like seems to be a good posthumous chess move to maintain ongoing popularity.

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So many great insights here in this response. I love hearing about Lovecraft. In the late 80s and 90s my friend Timothy was a raging fan—literally the only person I knew who’d even read Lovecraft. Nowadays I run into Lovecraft fans all the time.

I also loved the insight on cover art. It’s amazing what goes into a buying decision. Charles Williams’s novels have recently entered public domain, and there are a dozen editions out there now—all with hideous covers. The best covers are the old Eerdmans editions, and some of the originals. But it makes a huge difference about how the work strikes you.

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I remember reading Abolition of Man in high school, just before reading Brave New World. Absolutely terrifying combination, would recommend. Thank you for this excellent post!

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Great point. When a reader can bring books into conversation with each other, it can be powerful.

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Cyril Connolly’s The Unquiet Grave sounds intriguing. I noticed on the book jacket that Hemingway praised it. Has anyone in the group read it?

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I haven’t, but I took note of it. Looks intriguing.

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Joel, this is one of your all-time best posts - a keeper! I'm thankful for the Library of America, which is keeping so many great authors in print in lasting editions. Their recent collected works of Charles Portis (True Grit) is fantastic. Also, Standard eBooks has very nicely formatted free digital versions of many neglected authors (including Willa Cather: https://standardebooks.org/ebooks/willa-cather).

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Read Barfield's History last year - great....some of these other recommendations are just too precious for words..........your review, spot on.

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Abolition was on sale for Kindle within the past few weeks and I bought it for two bucks. I can’t wait to see if you write a post on the book I bought today. Wait...how did you know?

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