1934: “Good Books That Almost Nobody Has Read”
May 13, 2010 8:08 PM   Subscribe

In early 1934, about a dozen of America's leading writers and critics - William Faulkner, John Dos Passos, Sinclair Lewis, Edmund Wilson, Thorton Wilder, etc. - answered the question: What are some “Good Books That Almost Nobody Has Read”? [Via the always interesting Neglected Books Page]
posted by stbalbach (24 comments total) 56 users marked this as a favorite
"Sol Sniderman, the editor of Point, a new literary magazine in Madison, Wisconsin, says he has heard that 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."

Wow, I'd like to read this. Great post.
posted by escabeche at 8:15 PM on May 13, 2010

As someone whose Must Read List is in danger of collapsing under its own weight, may I just say "Ack!" (by which I really mean: Good post and interesting site, thanks!)
posted by amyms at 8:15 PM on May 13, 2010

We should see some of these soon on Gutenberg.org, yah? Unless the ghost of Sonny Bono has extended the copyright to Highlander-esque durations...
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:21 PM on May 13, 2010

I'd be interested to see a similar list by more contemporary authors. I wonder what Murakami would recommend.
posted by tuck_nroll at 8:23 PM on May 13, 2010

Pele the Conqueror.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:31 PM on May 13, 2010

Wow, I'd like to read this. Great post.

I just bought a used copy for 9 bucks on amazon.
posted by i'm being pummeled very heavily at 8:58 PM on May 13, 2010

We All Fall Down by Brian Caldwell.
posted by Football Bat at 9:05 PM on May 13, 2010

Thanks for the post! And thanks to John Dos Passos, whose recommendation has added Agnes Smedley's Daughter of Earth to my absurdly long reading list. Dos Passos calls it an "uneven but impressive I suppose autobiographical narrative of a young woman's life in a Western mining camp and in New York." But the Village Voice review mentions "the erotic heat which informs every page of the book." Either way, I'm sold!
posted by cirripede at 9:10 PM on May 13, 2010

Great list. I just added several to my Amazon gift list. Thanks for posting.
posted by nicomachus at 10:52 PM on May 13, 2010

Awesome post, thanks

...off to amazon...
posted by fshgrl at 11:06 PM on May 13, 2010

Malcolm Cowley looks like he would be fun at parties. Shatner meets Super Mario.
posted by Damienmce at 5:04 AM on May 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

• Nobody Starves, by Catherine Brody
“A good local story about Detroit automobile workers.”

Hmmmm. Very topical.

• Greenbanks, by Dorothy Whipple
“A middle-class English novel so damn well done it reminds you of Chekhov.”

Dorothy Whipple is a favorite of Persephone Books, who specialize in out of print, 20th century female authors. They have published 6 of her novels so far, but sadly not Greenbanks. I really enjoyed The Priory and I've got the rest of her books on my wish list.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 5:23 AM on May 14, 2010

Wow, I'd like to read this. Great post.

I just bought a used copy for 9 bucks on amazon.

I think you got the only one; it's now listed as unavailable! Let me know how it was.
posted by escabeche at 6:58 AM on May 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Great post, and yeah, I looked for Spring Flight and found it "unavailable." You owe us a book report!
posted by languagehat at 7:02 AM on May 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Awesome post, but I don't see any mention of Faulkner in that article.
posted by nushustu at 7:49 AM on May 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

I don't see any mention of Faulkner in that article.

Your right, sorry about that, must have been wishful false memory.
posted by stbalbach at 8:13 AM on May 14, 2010

More regarding Spring Flight from Alfred A. Knopf (the man):
“Scott Fitzgerald’s mind was by no means wandering when he referred to 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. 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.
I checked the Copyright renewal database and it doesn't appear to have been renewed which means it should should be in the Public Domain, in case anyone wants to scan and upload it to Internet Archive.
posted by stbalbach at 8:23 AM on May 14, 2010 [4 favorites]

I for one, am sorry that a writer named Grace Lumpkin never achieved fame and fortune.
posted by storybored at 12:10 PM on May 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

There are a couple copies of The Spring Flight on Alibris.
posted by Floydd at 12:33 PM on May 14, 2010

I love the response from Alfred Knopf at the very end. Kafka's The Castle has dismal sales figures, worse than any of the seven other books Knopf gives sales figures for (all of which are now completely forgotten).
posted by twirlip at 4:23 PM on May 14, 2010

F. Scott Fitzgerald

• Miss Lonelyhearts, by Nathanael West

Slate has a review of a new biography of West: Nathanael West's Secret
posted by homunculus at 8:01 PM on May 14, 2010

• The Cannery Boat, by Takiji Kobayashi and others
“I am told that many readers are looking about for good examples of proletarian literature. Here is something they have missed.”

This is a Japanese classic which was recently rediscovered (a rather rare event in modern Japanese society) and made into a manga and film.
posted by shii at 12:04 PM on May 15, 2010

AKA The Crab Canning Ship, The Factory Ship or The Crab Ship. This kind soul translated the first chapter. Otherwise can't find a free version online and it's rare/costly in the used market. This person on LibraryThing reports:
It took me about 5 years to get the publication (above) into my grubby hands. I read the first 30 pages and found it insufferable. Reading critiques of the writer by Donald Keene and others they underscore some of the idiosyncrasies that are part of his attempts to write a truly proletarian story. One thing that makes it quite difficult is that characters are not given names, in order to remove their specificity and avoid the concept of individualism trumping the group. Or some other such lunacy. It makes for a tough slog though when everybody is "the old guy from Hokkaido" or "the man with the scar".
But that's just one review. It seems to be popular in Japan now because there are so many people living in poverty there is a resurgence of interest in Communism; old Proletarian literature and forgotten heroes/martyrs like Kobayashi are getting a second life, thanks in part to recent manga and film versions.
posted by stbalbach at 6:58 PM on May 15, 2010

> This kind soul translated the first chapter

That kind soul is MeFi's own No-sword!
posted by languagehat at 6:10 AM on May 16, 2010

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