Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Great underappreciated authors (UPDATED)

The ever charming and irreverent Ella (Box of Books) has been vacationing for the last couple weeks, but she left behind for us a series she's recently collected of interviews with her fellow bloggers. She even invited me to participate and I did: I discuss a number of uninteresting things at length. (Shut up, already, Isabella!)

Ella's one control question put to all her subjects: “Who is your favorite underappreciated author, and what makes them great?”

These are the suggestions elicited:

Suggested by Kate (Kate's Book Blog):
Anna Kavan — "She’s extraordinary. Powerful, disturbing, unconventional tales. One critic referred to her as "Kafka’s sister" and she’s worthy of the comparison."
Adele Wiseman — "She took on topics thought at the time to be decidedly unsavoury for a woman writer... She is a daring, uncompromising, accomplished writer."

Suggested by Bud Parr (Chekhov's Mistress):
Mesa Selimovic — "It's something of a feat to pull off nearly five hundred pages of a man thinking, without a great deal of action. So, I would say that it's subtlety and nuance that Selimovic is great for." Death and the Dervish.

Suggested by Iliana (BookGirl's Nightstand):
Denise Chavez — "Her stories are always filled with eccentric characters."

Suggested by Dorothy (Of Books and Bicycles):
Mary McCarthy — "She has this very honest, forthright voice that is devastatingly intelligent." Memoirs of a Catholic Girlhood.
Also, great underappreciated book: U and I, by Nicholson Baker.

Suggested by Rachel (Milkbreath and Me):
Mark Alan Stamaty — "Full of fastidious, eccentric, hilarious, creepy, obsessive, possibly drug-addled detail, these books are surrealist classics." Who Needs Donuts? and Small in the Saddle.

Suggested by Susan (Paged Turned):
Rebecca West — "She's smart, versatile, and writes like a dream."

Suggested by yours truly:
Amin Maalouf — "Exotic locales, spiritual quests, stories within stories."

Suggested by Stefanie (So Many Books):
Ursula K LeGuin — "She tends to approach many of her novels and stories from an anthropological viewpoint, dissecting and commenting on the societies and cultures she creates but that are ultimately reflections of our own in some way."

Suggested by Danielle (A Work in Progress):
Mary Wesley — "Wikipedia says it nicely: "Her take on life reveals a sharp and critical eye which neatly dissects the idiosyncrasies of middle-class England with humour, compassion and irony, detailing in particular sexual and emotional values.""
Sebastien Japrisot — "He wrote a series of atmospheric noir thrillers."

Suggested by Phil Wade (Brandywine Books):
Lars Walker — "He is a good writer and I believe he has strong stories... It's good historical fantasy."

Suggested by Julia (Bookworm) — "It's pretty obvious (to me) what makes both of these authors great; what's sad is that I believe they're underappreciated only because they write genre fiction":
Patrick O'Brian
Ray Bradbury

Suggested by Jeff (Necessary Acts of Devotion):
Christopher Morley — "He has a keen eye for detail, a profound respect for books, and a wonderful sense of humor."

Suggested by Diana (Diaphanous):
John Banville
Also, great underappreciated book: We Need to Talk About Kevin, by Lionel Shriver.

And Ella answers the question (among others) herself — "All three have that mix of tension and dreaminess I find particularly nice in a novel":
WH Hudson
Mary Webb
George du Maurier
Also, great underappreciated book: The Enormous Room, by ee cummings.

I've heard of some of these authors,in passing, mainly on the blogs of those people who put the names forth, but on the whole they are new to me and wonderful discoveries. Other names I know quite well, but are typically circumscribed by some genre or other label: "underappreciated" is a subjective judgement.

I'm determined to hunt down some work by Anna Kavan (particularly Ice), since earlier this year I read a short essay (by Doris Lessing, in Time Bites) summing up three of her books.

The Underrated Writers Project thread is still open at MetaxuCafĂ© — nominate your own favourite underappreciated writer. See the Introduction and the list of 55 writers compiled at Syntax of Things.


cipriano said...

I find this whole topic very interesting, and I will tell you why. When it comes to reading material, I am somewhat of [to use your blogsite's terminology] a bit of a fish swimming upstream.
Against the current.
Not really a BESTSELLER reader.
And, I intend to check out this other response area you have listed here [BTW, I thought your interview responses most excellent, along with several other folks I have come to know here in the blogworld]... but for what it is worth, here are my choices, for underappreciated author[s].
First, Emma Donoghue.
She is just too good, but WHO IS READING HER?
No one!
Also... Sarah Willis. An unknown, but truly worth knowing.
Also, Canadian writer, Dennis Bock. The Ash Garden.
Superb, exquisite book. No one reading this has ever heard of it, and that is sad.
My two cents!

renee said...

This is great information. Thanks for compiling it all in one place!

litlove said...

The most underappreciated author I can think of is a woman called Louise Lambrichs who writes novels about families with a psychological slant, and occasionally a nod towards the thriller. I'm fairly sure her novel Hannah's Diary is available in translation.

Ella said...

Thanks for putting this list together, Isabella. Nice to have everything in one place; I have been keeping an eye out for all these authors since this project.

gina c said...

Ford Madox Ford. It seems he is only noted nowadays for The Good Soldier. His tetralogy Parades's End is an amazing look at the Great War experience, and seems quite neglected. One rarely sees anything other than TGS in bookstores. His oeuvre included literary history, criticism, poetry, novels (including some collaborating with Joseph Conrad), historical novels. He lived a long life, from the PreRaphaelite days of his childhood right up to the eve of World War II, knowing everyone and being in the center of things intellectual.

Anomie-Atlanta said...

Sam Lipsyte

Mark said...

I've said it before and I'll say it again, Mark Hlasko may be hard to pronounce, and virtually forgotten, but Eighth Day of the Week is one of the best novels of the twentieth century, and for a book about communist Poland, it's surprisingly hopeful.

Mark said...

Sorry, his name is Marek Hlasko. Told you.

AC said...

I'm a newcomer to your blog, but I have to say this post is great! I'm busy looking up all of these authors now. I'd add Gilbert Sorrentino, maybe?

Anonymous said...

If you're interested in underappreciated writers and books, I recommend checking out the Neglected Books page, at www.neglectedbooks.com. It's got a ton of lists of recommended neglected books, reviews of featured titles, and other good information for readers of the obscure, forgotten, or underestimated.

Isabella said...

Thanks for all the great suggestions.

I have since hunted down some Christopher Morley, and am very glad I did. Also, though I feared We Need to Talk About Kevin may stray toward soppiness and may even be overrated, it is not — read it.

I'm so glad someone mentioned Marek Hlasko. He's come up in conversation quite a bit over the last few months, so I'm inspired to reread 8th Day (I think that's the only one available in English), maybe even hunt down some of his other work to read in Polish.

I'll be posting an updated list in short order.