I was saying earlier in the week that nothing — and I really mean nothing — ever appears to be truly forgotten in the book blogosphere. Every single time I’ve ever blogged about a book or author I thought was obscure or underrated, I’ve had at least one comment saying how much the person was gratified to see me talking about it. So Teresa and I won’t exactly expect to surprise all of you by pulling a rabbit out of a hat with our “forgotten treasure” — Thursday’s topic for Book Blogger Appreciation Week. Instead, we’ll share a few of the books or authors we love, and hope to spread the wealth.
I’ve been reading Elizabeth Goudge ever since I was a child. She’s written children’s books (Linnets and Valerians and The White Horse are superb examples), but it’s really her adult novels that have stayed with me. From The Dean’s Watch to her trilogy about the Eliots of Damerosehay (The Bird in the Tree, Pilgrim’s Inn, and The Heart of the Family) to Green Dolphin Street and The Child from the Sea, she writes novels about heartache and redemption, families and tragedy, homes and lovers, and the transformation of painful duty into coruscating and enduring joy. She never makes the mistake of making evil more attractive than good, but she knows enough to make the battle close-fought. Her novels are compulsively re-readable, as pleasurable the eighth time as the first.
I always wonder why Charles McCarry isn’t more widely-read. I was at a conference once, listening to a former agent with the FBI speak about his experiences, and afterward he gave a few recommendations for really good, realistic spy novels. Charles McCarry was one of the three or four authors he mentioned. McCarry’s series with the poet-spy Paul Christopher is literate, wry, fascinating, and all too plausible. His book about the Kennedy assassination, Tears of Autumn, frankly has me convinced that it could have occurred no other way. These books are thrillers in the best sense of the word: they’re thrilling.
And last (but never least), I have to make a plug for Laurie Colwin. She’s one of my very favorite authors of literary fiction, but I rarely if ever see her being read in the book-blogging world, perhaps because she died much too young, at only 48, back in 1992. I risk sounding a little weird when I try to tell you how good I think her books are. They are, for me, just the right combination of things, like having exactly what you want to eat when you’re hungry: wry without being distanced, touching without being sappy, funny without being manic. They are about love, for the most part. Love between friends and family, between lovers, between parents and children, employers and secretaries. They acknowledge the distance between people — how little we can ever really know each other — while cheerfully, peacefully bridging distances with tenderness. I can never make up my mind which of her novels I like best: Family Happiness, about a woman who finds space away from her crushingly quirky family only when she falls (extramaritally) in love; Happy All the Time, about two couples who gently battle their way to peace, despite the obstacles in their way; Goodbye Without Leaving, about a woman who dreams of being the only white backup singer in a touring soul group. They are all about longing, and relationships, and love. They are superb.
I feel like most of my reading is thoroughly on the beaten path, but there are a few books I’d love to see more people reading. One of them, Before the Fact by Francis Iles is, alas, out of print, but it’s exactly the sort of dark psychological drama that so many people love to read today. Absolutely chilling. Perhaps if enough people start talking about it, some enterprising publisher will reprint it? Seems like a perfect fit for the Felony and Mayhem line, and they have reprinted The Poisoned Chocolates Case, by the same author writing under his real name, Anthony Berkeley (Cox).
Regular Shelf Love readers already know about my love affair with the Morland Dynasty books by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles. Although I enjoyed the series from the start, it took a few books for me to fall in love with it, but I’m now thoroughly impressed with Harrod-Eagles’s ability to create such an ambitious tale. A lot of historical fiction authors focus on specific periods, or on well-known figures, but Harrod-Eagles covers more than 500 years of British history through an entirely fictional family. I understand that the series is coming to an end after the 34th book because the books aren’t selling well. If Harrod-Eagles is willing to keep writing, I’d love to see more books about the Morlands! I was hoping the Sourcebooks reissues of the series would spark some interest (they’ve done wonders for Georgette Heyer), but I only saw a couple of reviews of the first book.
My final suggestion is actually for a couple of books that were very popular when published just a few years ago but seem to have already been consigned to the backlist black hole, never to be mentioned again. These are The Meaning of Night and The Glass of Time by Michael Cox, two books that rival the work of Sarah Waters in their ability to evoke the Victorian era in a fresh, but believable way. If you love Victorian sensation fiction, you really ought to take a look at these books. Unfortunately, Cox died shortly after the publication of the second book, which means that there won’t be new books from him, and it’s so often the publication of new books that draw attention to an author’s backlist. Don’t let these marvelous books be forgotten!