Another Tuesday, another Top Ten Tuesday list. This week the fine people at the Broke and the Bookish have asked for our lists of Top Ten older books we don’t want people to forget about. A few days ago I posted a kind of pre-list post about Charles Portis, and now I’m bringing you a full list of ten books which don’t belong drifting out of print. Thankfully, with ebooks, the possibility of books disappearing has been drastically lowered, but sitting in a forgotten corner is just as bad, so here are some titles for you to track down. Some are obscure, others are in no danger of being forgotten, but are unfairly considered lesser works.
First and foremost is Norwood, Charles Portis’ first novel. This deceptively simple book turns a simple road trip to New York into something filled with surprises and humor. It’s a short book, but really fun.
Next is We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson. This one gets overshadowed by her legendary works, the short story “The Lottery” and the novel The Haunting of Hill House. In many ways this one is more disturbing as Jackson teases the reader with hints and suggestion, always leaving the facts of what happened just out of the reader’s reach. There are also flashes of Jackson’s wicked humor through this one, and in a way that makes it creepier.
Donald Westlake is a confirmed grandmaster of mystery writing, and has produced some truly legendary characters and classic novels. One of my favorites, which gets passed over, is his first Dortmunder novel, The Hot Rock. This was very well known in the Seventies, when it came out. There was even a movie version starring Robert Redford and George Segal. The book hilarious, the definition of a comedy of errors as each attempt Dortmunder’s crew makes to steal a particular gem goes awry.
Jim Lynch’s The Highest Tide is a wonderful coming of age story of a young, brilliant boy obsessed with the ocean coping with his parent’s marriage falling apart, his first crush, and the beaching of a giant squid which leads off a series of strange(r) occurrences.
Chris Adrian’s first novel, Gob’s Grief, follows the fictional son of suffragette Victoria Woodhull, who’s (also fictional) twin brother enlists in the Civil War and is killed. This leads Gob to search for a means to resurrect all those killed in the Civil War.
The Third Man is in no danger of being forgotten, but certainly warrants attention. Graham Greene’s mystery set is postwar Vienna is a classic of the form, and essential reading for anyone who loves the movie. This is actually one of the rare cases where the movie exceeds the book, but not by much (Greene himself even admitted Carol Reed improved on his ending, and Orson Welles’ improvised Cuckoo Clock speech is one of the finest moments in all of cinema).
Jim Knipfel is a remarkable writer, and his memoir, Slackjaw, really needs to be taken off whatever dusty shelf it’s been confined to and brought to people’s attention. The normal short hooks to describe a story fall short of what Knipfel accomplishes, which is showing damaged people (himself included) find a place in the world. This book is funny, tough, and filled with great lines and stories.
Everyone knows the classic movie The Christmas Story, after years of Christmas reruns on TNT I’ve never met anyone who couldn’t quote this movie ad nauseum. Jean Shepherd’s In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash is the original source material and, if possible, even funnier than the movie. Shepherd is the Webster’s definition of a raconteur, and this is the best example of his witty storytelling.
One of my son’s favorite books, The House with a Clock In Its Walls by John Bellairs is next. Bellairs seems to have fallen out of popularity nowadays, which is a shame as his books are better creepy stories for younger readers than the Goosebumps books.
My tenth is a short story, but I have it as a picture book illustrated by Dave McKean. Ray Bradbury’s “The Homecoming” is one of the first stories he published. He submitted the story to Harper’s Bazaar, who decided it just wouldn’t fit with their October issue as it had been planned. Instead of rejecting it, they opted to rework the entire issue. For a short story from a not established author. “The Homecoming” is a beautiful story about feeling different, and being loved for who you are.
Search these out, you’ll enjoy them all. What older books do you think are too cool to be forgotten?