Book Review: The Book of Forgotten Authors

The Book of Forgotten Authors, by Christopher Fowler, is a book for bibliophiles. It offers the reader details and anecdotes on ninety-nine authors who were once hugely popular and are now no longer in print. It is a very personal selection. The author admits that some of those chosen produced work that was predictable and not particularly well written, yet it has a charm that he finds appealing. Others he dismisses. Of Georgette Heyer and Eleanor Hibbert he opines that they wrote novels packaged in

“the kind of pastel covers no man would ever pick up.”

Really?

Each author listed is necessarily given just a few pages. Although superficial this is enough to provide a flavour of why they became popular before sinking into obscurity. Interspersed with the listings are commentaries such as ‘The Forgotten Books of Charles Dickens’ and ‘The Forgotten Booker Winners’. Although esoteric in places these make for interesting reading.

From some of the quotes provided I would suggest many of these authors deserve to stay forgotten, yet this reaction demonstrates just how personal individual reading experiences can be. In talking of the suspense writer Charlotte Armstrong:

“sometimes you want to wring the necks of her protagonists for picking the one option that will get them into deeper trouble. But hey, bad choices make good stories.”

I’m not sure that I agree.

The book is written with a deft and humorous touch. It is also moving in places. The chapter on Polly Hope was a particular favourite.

It is not so much the quality of the literature produced by these forgotten authors as their passing popularity that warrants their inclusion. Tastes change over time as do readers’ offence radars; authors can be sidelined when their evocative voice grates modern sensibilities.

I did not always agree with the conclusions the author reaches. The Forgotten Queens of Suspense opens with

“Ignored, underrated, overlooked or taken for granted, the women who wrote popular fiction for a living were often simply grateful to be published at all.”

This sounded familiar. The author is more generous suggesting

“Today women read more than men, and female authors have finally been accorded the prestige they always deserved.”

If only this were truly the case.

The output of many of the authors listed was prodigious, especially compared to current expectations. Like today some was also abtruse. Thomas Love Peacock is described as an acquired taste, seemingly for good reason. In writing of his tome Nightmare Abbey:

“it seems best to stumble from one page to the next and merely enjoy the juxtaposition of words”

“the book doesn’t so much end as stop. My paperback version is so old that some of the pages fell out, and it didn’t feel entirely necessary to put them back in the right order.”

Do authors such as this deserve a reprint?

There are scathing comments about readers who are described as ‘intellectually inert’. As an example, the author clearly dislikes the once popular little book, Jonathan Livingston Seagull. When a teenager I found this uplifting. Perhaps my more jaded, aged eye would not agree but at the time of reading it did its job and connected.

The author writes kinder words on the renowned Dan Brown:

“The real sin of bad writing is being boring, and Mr Brown is certainly never that.”

Well, he bored me.

Of course, agreeing with the author’s point of view is not the point. What this book offers is a window into the vagaries of the publishing world and its readership, the changing tastes and fickle loyalties. It is packaged in a way that makes it perfect for dipping into and refering back to over time.

I welcomed the insights into the ever evolving literary world, its discoveries and appropriations, pretensions and fads. So much has changed and yet much remains the same. As a great author, who has not been forgotten, once wrote: a man is not dead while his name is still spoken. For these ninety-nine, Mr Fowler could be a lifesaver.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the author, riverrun.

This post is a stop on The Book of Forgotten Authors Blog Tour. Do check out the other blogs taking part, detailed below.

Gig Review: The Inaugural Bath Book Bash

bathbrewhouse

There are many aspects of corporate culture that I was happy to leave behind when I resigned from my job in the IT department of a large, financial services company:

  • Team Building Days;
  • Ice Breaker Games;
  • Role Play;
  • Networking.

Why then did I choose to attend an event that would require me to walk alone into an unknown pub and introduce myself to strangers with whom I would be expected to mingle and chat for an evening? A couple of words explain all – book people. In my experience book people are lovely and the more of them I have in my life the better.

The inaugural Bath Book Bash was organised by  Jennifer Vennall, a writer and final year publishing student at Bath Spa University. Aided and abetted by Sam Missingham she had offered to help grow the concept of the Book Bash outside of London. If the number of people attending last night was anything to go by, this is a popular idea.

img_20161123_202702268

The venue was The Bath Brew House and they had set aside an area near their entrance which was quickly filled by authors, publishers, creative writing and publishing students, their teachers, and a large number of people I didn’t have time to place. After introducing myself and chatting to several of the early attendees I found myself in authors’ corner where, despite feeling a bit of a fraud, the conversation proved too interesting to leave. Thank you RachelLucy and Jason for your company.

img_20161123_202655537

As well as talking to these authors, I enjoyed conversations with several of the students and a representative of a previously unknown publishing house, Crimson, based in Bath. Another house I have worked with, Impress, were also there but my inability to hear well across a crowded table in a noisy pub prevented me engaging.

I discovered another writer I would have enjoyed chatting to as I was leaving to catch my train. Thank you for saying hi Joanne and apologies that I had to rush away.

img_20161123_202652044

There is obviously scope for a repeat performance. I am unsure if there were any other book bloggers but I felt welcome and a part of the community.

Jennifer is hopeful that another Book Bash will happen in Bath in January. All being well I shall do my best to attend.

Random Musings: Book blogging

stack-of-books-images-di7j6RneT

As a book blogger I wish to champion books and authors. I love books. I find it gratifying to promote a book that I have enjoyed, to tell others about it in order that they too may gain pleasure from reading. It takes time to absorb all those magical words but it is time well spent when a book has left me sated.

Naturally I do not enjoy every book that I select. I will not choose to invest the hours it takes to read a book if I expect to dislike it, but neither am I likely to enjoy every book that I pick up. Until it is opened I cannot be sure what is between the covers.

A good review is more than simply a judgement on whether a book is a good example of its type. Of course this matters. If a book presents itself as a thriller or a romance then it should be judged against other thrillers or romances; the expectations of the reader must be considered. However, genres are fluid and the best books cross boundaries and offer more depth.

I see my reviews as part of a conversation. I have read a book and I wish to talk about it, to share my thoughts with those who may be interested. My reviews are always my honest opinion which means that they will not always be positive. I wish that they could be. It is more fulfilling to recommend a book than to attempt to thoughtfully articulate why I disliked it, especially knowing that the author may read what I write. Often my reasons are nebulous, a reflection of my experiences. Every reader comes to a book weighed down by their own, personal baggage.

I am a writer but not an author. I write my book reviews for this blog, Amazon and Goodreads. I write opinion pieces such as this one. Occasionally I create some flash or micro fiction which I publish on my sister blog, Dreams and Demons. This work, alongside conversations I have had with author friends, has provided me with some small insight into the sheer graft required to produce a novel. Every book I pick up deserves respect for that effort.

In my reviews I try to offer recommendations. As well as a brief, spoiler free description of the plot alongside my opinion on the quality of the writing (which will take into account the expectations of the target audience from the blurb), I will comment on whether or not I enjoyed reading the book. I will also try to explain why. If I dislike a book because it contains a large number of graphic sex scenes then it may well appeal to a reader who wishes to read about such things.

There are many different types of reader which is why we have so many different types of books. Whilst I try to read eclectically, so as not to dismiss an entire canon of literature of which I have no knowledge, I see no point in selecting a book that I am unlikely to be able to recommend. I feel guilt when I cannot go back to the author full of praise for their work. I feel bad if a publisher has provided me with a book that I cannot then eagerly promote.

However, if I invest the time in reading a tale which, from the blurb, sounded as though it would be my sort of thing then I will review it for the benefit of other readers. It is for them that I write. I am always aware that infrequent readers may be put off the pursuit by a book that disappoints.

It is hard to beat the feeling I get when I recommend a book and then hear back from a reader that they loved it as much as I did. This is, of course, a pale reflection of the satisfaction authors must gain from positive reviews. I am merely a conduit. However well received my reviews may be I never forget that it is the authors’ hard work that triggered my abiding love affair with books. It is that joy which I truly desire to share.

dont like to read