My favorite new website is most extraordinary in so many ways that a biblio-besotted Robert Browning would have to do it justice. But this is just me. I’ll do what I can. . . . In truth, it’s what I have been doing for my entire life: making note and taking care of the wonderful books that are forgotten in this age of hype. I’ll even credit a few of the authors who were once hyped but since forgotten and deserve to be remembered yet. By ‘deserve’ I mean, they earned it, not that I have bestowed upon them some special status of my own.
As examples of the latter, take the fine work of Maine author, Robert P. Tristram Coffin. He won the Pulitzer prize–twice–and is not read today for either his prose or poetry. But his Yankee Coast is a wonder in a treasure chest of such work. Or, take Kenneth Roberts, another Down East author I discovered by the good services of a librarian when I was 12. His novels were hugely successful, an excellent selection of historical fact worked into a fabric of fiction but my favorite of his then and now was his autobiography I Wanted to Write, which is a hard find even with all the copies of his bestsellers still to be found in every church sale.
What do you know today about Stewart Edward White? Likely very little. But he was a bestselling author for fifty years. Hard to pick a favorite now because it has been too long since I ate books like candy. Back then I’m sure it was his ‘California’ trilogy, The Long Rifle, Folded Hills, Ranchero, all following the good cowboy Andy Burnett. The library copies of those volumes had been read so many times I didn’t have to hold the pages open. By the way, I had found Mr. White because I wanted another author like Owen Wister, who really only wrote one book, and not even that intentionally. The Virginian stands as the progenitor of all Westerns, only better. But like many authors who met with too much fame, he was ruined for such a project ever again.
The Neglected Books Page at https://neglectedbooks.com/ is a far more sophisticated attempt than my bookshop can ever be by aiming at authors who never achieved the heights of Wister or Roberts. After half-a-century of bookselling, I have never read more than a small number of these titles. Take the current entry as of the day I write this: Betsey Barton. I am ashamed to think I had never read a thing. Not that she is my cup of tea–she’s not. But she is a very good writer with a purpose, who arose at the very center of an age of authors I revere. I should have known her before. And there are many others here that I’m just as happy I missed. You don’t live long enough to read all that you might and what time you have ought to be focused on the best, first. Even the best trash. (I am still a Harold Robbins fan.)
But Brad Bigelow (even sounds like a name of those times), the editor, must be a speed reader with an incredible eye for the obscure. And though most of these books will not be your ‘cup of tea’ either, enough will be to intrigue you. Better yet, the reviews are superb, in and of themselves, offering portraits and sketches and enough of the authors own words to tell you what you need to know. He bothers to understand the author when he can, as well as he might, I love his guess at what made them tick (or rat-tat-tat on their typewriters). Virginia Faulkner is an author I knew because I read something years ago thinking she might be a cousin of William. She’s not. But for this fan of the picaresque as well as Wodehouse, I’d say she forged her own trail. The Barbarians took a couple of my evenings back in 1968 or so. I was hoping for another ‘Movable Feast’ but it’s not as sweet, though I think the ‘artists’ she skewered deserved her sense of humor. And speaking of Wodehouse, Joan Butler is a close second, at least much of the time. It appears from the wonderful period dust jackets that she never let a serious assessment get in the way of a good double-entendre. And Eileen Winncroft’s Be a Gent, Little Women, Be a Gent, at least based on this review, should find a large new following today, even with political correctness. Drives My Green Age is a small masterpiece of the 1950’s, and a lot of fine prose. I’m reading it now. And you can read a bit too, right there on the Neglected Books site.
But most of all, enjoy the effort. Even the worst of the authors re-discovered here made the effort to write for a reason even if it was a bad one. You can read Mr. Bigelow’s effort to retrieve them and avoid the ones you shouldn’t bother with. Everybody has their own taste in such matters. And if they got it right, your life has been changed by a reviewer who cared about his work. If you’d like to read one, or two, or twenty, you can find most of the titles at the collective websites biblio.com, or abebooks.com. Sadly we have very few of these titles ourselves, but I’m always looking.