Our day has come. A Ten Best List for the cardigan mafia.

There is a giveaway somewhere in this post.

It has been wonderful finding kindred spirits in the blogosphere. We relish our collective predilection for forgotten novels of the past and once popular authors finding new life thanks to Virago, Persephone, NYRB Classics and other smaller presses. And even though most of us are fairly broad in our reading we often feel a little left out by top 10 lists, or top 100 lists, or even top 1000 lists that don’t seem to give appropriate consideration to the books we love. You know the lists, the ones where Philip Roth and Saul Bellow seem to be the only two authors on the planet.

And then, like a gift from Nancy Pearl, The Guardian runs a top 10 list of the best neglected literary classics. I clicked on the link quite skeptically, sure that it would be a lame list with all the usual authors. But much to my surprise the list was strikingly sympathetic to the likes of My Porch and my bloggy friends. No doubt this is still a list to be quibbled with. There are so many forgotten classics it would be hard to believe that any list of 10 could even scratch the surface let alone find the best 10. But at least this one is interesting (and different) with the likes of Barbara Comyns, FM Mayor, and Marghanita Laski. And I have actually read three of the novels, Olivia Manning’s School for Love; The Wife, perhaps the best of Meg Wolitzer’s enjoyable output; and one of my own personal NYRB breakout hits, Darcy O’Brien’s A Way of Life, Like Any Other. I think the only author on the list who has any broad recognition is probably H.G. Wells.

I decided to come up with a list of titles that I would like to nominate to a top 10 list of the best neglected literary classics. I only chose books that I have read, and that I think don’t get enough notice in the blogosphere. So even though some of these titles may be easy to find and some may not be that old, they all deserve more attention.

In no particular order:

As for Me and My House by Sinclair Ross
Such a wonderful, sad, short novel that takes place in Dust Bowl-era Saskatchewan. This is a quiet book where there isn’t much action, but it seems like so much happens. If you like this kind of book, have a blog, and are willing to read and review within three months of receipt of the book, I have an extra used copy of this hard-to-find book. Just include the following pledge in your comment: “I have a blog and am willing to read and review the prize book within three months of receiving it.”  I will ship anywhere in the world EXCEPT for Canada. I love Canadians, but I feel like you owe it to your native son to find and read your own copy of this book.

Stoner by John Williams
I have talked about this one every chance I get and it has been getting a fair amount of notice in the blogosphere. But it is one that should definitely be more widely read.

On the Black Hill by Bruce Chatwin
Chatwin traveled widely in his life and wrote about his adventures including the rather famous Patagonia. But in this beautiful novel, no one goes anywhere. Identical twin bachelors spend their Spartan lives on a farm on the English-Welsh border.

Reunion by Fred Uhlman
Two German boys, one Jewish, become friends in the early days of the Third Reich. I really liked this novel and haven’t really seen much about it elsewhere.

The Student Conductor by Robert Ford
Takes place in Germany in the time just before the wall comes down and one of the few books that I have read that expertly weaves in classical music without sounding pedantic or name-droppy. And so far as I can tell, the only novel by Robert Ford has written.

The Rise of Silas Lapham by William Dean Howells
If Anthony Trollope had been an American and less verbose, he may have written The Rise of Silas Lapham. A tale of money and status in 1880s America. A bit of a rags to riches to rags story.

The Game of Opposites by Norman Lebrecht
Lebrecht has written two novels and is a rather well-known critic in England. His fiction doesn’t get the attention it deserves. His first novel Song of Names won a Whitbread First Novel award.

I would have put Elinor Lipman’s The Inn at Lake Devine, but I don’t think the title is as forgotten here in the US as they may be in the rest of the world.

What would you like to nominate? And don’t forget to enter the giveaway if you meet the criteria and are willing to take a solemn oath.

33 thoughts on “Our day has come. A Ten Best List for the cardigan mafia.

  1. Karenlibrarian February 28, 2011 / 4:27 pm

    I would nominate two books. First, Winter Wheat by Mildred Walker, a sadly ignored author from the American Midwest. Winter Wheat is a beautifully written coming of age story, set in the Montana about WWII. I loved it as much as A Tree Grows in Brooklyn which everyone seems to love, yet nobody's ever heard of it.

    The second would be The Old Wives' Tale by Arnold Bennett. It's sort of a neo-Victorian because it was published about 1905, but it's a great story of two sisters growing up in the Five Towns area of England. One stays home and works at the family drapers' shop, and the other one elopes with a ne'er do well and ends up living in France. This book is included in the Modern Library Top 100 but it seems like nobody ever talks about it. It was really good, I could not put it down and I would love to read more of his books.

    And I'll take the dare: I have a blog and am willing to read and review the prize book within three months of receiving it. I promise.

    I might even steal this idea and do my own little ignored book giveaway — since we don't have World Book Night in the U.S., we might start a trend!


  2. C.B. James February 28, 2011 / 4:43 pm

    I saw the list at The Guardian this morning and was intrigued. I loved School for Love and did a chapter of my thesis on The Odd Women. I'm not a big fan of The Vet's Daughter but I liked it. Some of the other titles I'd never heard of but any list pushing those three can't be bad.

    The giveaway book looks very good, but there's no way I can promise to read it in three months. Three years maybe……


  3. Frances February 28, 2011 / 4:59 pm

    I had a similar reaction to that list. Would add The Damnation of Theron Ware by Harold Frederic. And like C.B. James before me, three months will probably not be enough. :)


  4. Amanda February 28, 2011 / 5:11 pm

    I am proud to stand with you as part of the cardigan mafia! I would nominate any Sylvia Townsend Warner (but my favorite is The Corner That Held Them).


  5. Paperback Reader February 28, 2011 / 5:49 pm

    I have a blog and am willing to read and review the prize book within three months of receiving it. I do not live in Canada.

    I have read 1 of your list (The Rise of Silas Lapham) and lusting after Stoner after meeting you last year.

    I nominate The Visitor by Maeve Brennan and The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery (and countless green out-of-print VMCs).


  6. StuckInABook February 28, 2011 / 6:00 pm

    “I have a blog and am willing to read and review the prize book within three months of receiving it.” That three month thing is a good idea, it would definitely hold me to it!

    Did your list get cut short? I only see seven, and it ends mid-sentence on The Game of Opposites…?

    Interesting (or maybe not) that all your authors are male.

    As for books I'd nominate – I suppose that's what my ongoing list of Books You Must Read is about. AA Milne is one of the authors I love who doesn't seem to be much read (aside from his children's books).


  7. LifetimeReader February 28, 2011 / 7:44 pm

    My nomination: Scarlet Sister Mary by Julia Peterkin. Won the Pulitzer in 1929 but I've never met anyone IRL (except my father) who has heard of it, much less read it. (It is a book about race and sex written at in a very different time, and needs to be read with that in mind.)

    I have a blog and am willing to read and review the prize book within three months of receiving it.


  8. Ted February 28, 2011 / 8:26 pm

    Great post, Thomas. I haven't seen the Guardian piece but I clearly have to check it out. And I must admit, I haven't read a single one on the books on your list, although I saw the film adaptation of “Reunion,” which was very well done. Thanks for what looks like a rich list of recommendations!

    “I have a blog and am willing to read and review the prize book within three months of receiving it.”

    On my list of neglected literary classics would be
    something by May Sarton, maybe “Kinds of Love” or “Faithful are the Wounds.”

    Tim Winton's Cloud Street – fabulous – but perhaps too recent to be a “classic.”

    Anything by Doris Grumbach – Chamber Music, Fifty Days of Solitude, and The Pleasure of Their Company” are some good ones.

    Galsworthy's The Forsythe Saga

    Something by Dawn Powell!

    Something by Janet Frame.

    Olivia Manning's The Balkan Trilogy (wonderful!)

    Thomas Mann isn't neglected per se but his Dr. Faustus is.


  9. Iliana February 28, 2011 / 10:00 pm

    I never seem to read any of the books that make it on the lists but I've actually read two from Nancy Pearl's list – yay.

    No need to enter me in the giveaway but I have to say I'd add Stefan Zweig's The Post Office Girl and Dance Night by Dawn Powell to the neglected literary classics list.

    I haven't read any of your suggestions but I like the sound of Reunion and Stoner.


  10. Mystica February 28, 2011 / 10:12 pm

    I would definitely read and review the book within a period of three months. I live in Sri Lanka so I do hope there are no restrictions!

    One of my suggestions would be Mollie Panter Brown's Good Evening Mrs Craven the other would be Excellent Women by Barbara Pym.


  11. Thomas at My Porch February 28, 2011 / 10:25 pm

    Karen: Winter Wheat sounds fascinating. I am making my way through the Modern Library. So far I have read about 64 of them, so it is only a matter of time before I get to The Old Wives Tale.

    CB: Refreshing list isn't it.

    Frances: I have never heard of Harold Frederic. I need to look him up.

    Amanada: I have seen STW's name recently. Now my interest is piqued.

    Calire: I don't think I have ever met anyone who has read The Rise of Silas Lapham.

    Simon: The list didn't cut short, but my blurb on The Game of Opposites was. I have fixed it. AA Milne wrote adult books? I really should check that out.

    Lifetime: A 1929 unheard of Pulitzer winner definitely is worthy of the list.

    Ted: I love you for including May Sarton. But I think I would choose As We are Now.

    Iliana: Two of you mentioned Dawn Powell and I have lots her books on my shelves, that is great.


  12. M. Denise C. March 1, 2011 / 12:15 am

    Shock. I have actually read one of the books on your list: The Rise of Silas Lapham by Howells. It reminded me of another one: The Rise of David Levinsky by Abraham Cahan first published in 1917. I like and recommend both.


  13. ramblingfancy March 1, 2011 / 3:49 am

    I love the Sinclair Ross. Brilliant choice. I'd add another Prairie boy, W O Mitchell. His Who Has Seen the Wind is I think almost unknown outside of N America and is such an easy, comic read. From the UK, I'd like to add any selection of Stacy Aumonier's short stories. I think his are overall the most readable short stories ever. Sadly never easily available in print. In YA for girls has to be Masha and The Youngest Lady in Waiting by Mara Kay.


  14. verity March 1, 2011 / 5:40 am

    I so enjoyed Stoner which I wouldn't have read without you giving me a copy so I would love to be entered for the Sinclair Ross.

    I would certainly agree with Olivia Manning being included on the list!


  15. Jessica March 1, 2011 / 6:13 am

    “I have a blog and am willing to read and review the prize book within three months of receiving it.” – I quite like books where nothing happens ;)

    I think I must read all the really well know classics as I do not have a great enough knowledge to nominate any let alone a whole list.


  16. Jim Murdoch March 1, 2011 / 7:12 am

    I would go with David Karp's dystopian novel, One which holds its own against Orwell and Huxley and yet somehow has been quite forgotten.


  17. Thomas at My Porch March 1, 2011 / 10:41 am

    Mystica: I will definitely enter you in the drawing.

    Lifetime: I agree with Pym and Sarton. I think Pym is getting a decent amount of attention these days with the new (and garish)Virago editions.

    Denise: Now two people who have read Silas Lapham. How cool. I must check out the other one.

    Donna: How exciting that you have read the Sinclair Ross. You may be the first person I have come across who has even heard of him.

    Verity: I need to read more Olivia Manning. I am glad you enjoyed Stoner. I always worry that I overhype books.

    Jessica: So entered in the giveaway.

    Jim: I do like the occasional dystopian novel and I have never heard of David Karp. It is always interesting to see how authors choose to doom the human race.


  18. motheretc March 1, 2011 / 10:11 pm

    I live in Canada so am not entering the giveaway but rest assured that I will be seeking this book out. Apparently it's not so hard to find up here: the Toronto Public Library has 44 copies (two different editions)!


  19. ramblingfancy March 2, 2011 / 6:39 pm

    It's because I've lived in Saskatchewan Thomas. Have you tried Sunshine Sketches by Leacock btw? I was chuckling over those tonight. Very different, Ont. not Sask. but another classic read.


  20. harriet March 3, 2011 / 3:14 pm

    “I have a blog and am willing to read and review the prize book within three months of receiving it.”

    I would like to nominate anything by Emily Hilda Young — probably Miss Mole. She is a wonderful writer and it's amazing that she is not better known and more celebrated.


  21. Dark Puss March 3, 2011 / 4:53 pm

    I came here after reading your comment on Harriet Devine's weblog. I am your average reader but I have read two of the books on your list; Stoner and On the Black Hill. I append your requested pledge, with a very slight change in the wording.

    “I have a weblog and am willing to read and review the prize book within three months of receiving it.”


  22. Dark Puss March 3, 2011 / 4:56 pm

    Oh you also asked for a nomination – almost any book by the unforgivably neglected Colette probably Le Ble en Herbe (Ripening Seed) if pushed.


  23. Saint Andrew's Bower March 4, 2011 / 6:16 am

    Hi Thomas, I have two gardening blogs, but have a huge interest in literature, with an English Literature major Arts degree, and many years' experience as a bookseller. My favourite neglected novel is J L Carr's A Month in the Country. I would be happy to review Sinclair Ross's As For Me and My House. I have a blog and am willing to read and review the prize book within three months of receiving it. Regards, Faisal Grant.


  24. Nan March 4, 2011 / 12:31 pm

    Like KarenLibrarian, I would recommend a Mildred Walker book – The Southwest Corner. Also, the Mrs. Appleyard books by Louise Andrews Kent. And a book that used to be oh, so famous, and I fear lies unread these days: The Human Comedy by William Saroyan. I hope to reread it this year. That said:

    “I have a blog and am willing to read and review the prize book within three months of receiving it.”


  25. Nan March 4, 2011 / 12:49 pm

    I knew others would come to mind. Edward Streeter's Mr. Hobbs' Vacation, and Father of the Bride.
    The Keeper of the Bees by Gene Stratton-Porter. Neighboring on the Air by Evelyn Birkby – nonfiction. And authors Nevil Shute and Elizabeth Cadell. Her My Dear Aunt Flora is one of the best ever, and all of Shute is fantastic though I've not read the most famous (and unlike his other subjects) On The Beach.


  26. Thomas at My Porch March 4, 2011 / 10:22 pm

    Mother: See that is why I excluded Canadians. I doubt my library here has even one copy. I hope you check it out…

    Donna: You have lived so many places I have hard time keeping it all straight.

    Harriet: I love the title Miss Mole and I have never heard of Emily Hilda Young. Perfect for the list.

    Dark Puss: Would you prefer if it were 'blog? :) And I loved The Ripening Seed. I tried to read Cheri but all I could see in my head was the boring movie version. But I totally agree with you on TRS.

    Faisal: My husband is an avid gardener, I look forward to looking at your blogs. I just read A Month in the Country recently and really liked it.

    Nan: I was going to include Nevil Shute but it seems like the Vintage editions are giving him a fair amount of notice these days.


  27. lyn March 6, 2011 / 12:17 am

    Oh, ramblingfancy, Mara Kay's Youngest Lady in Waiting changed my life. I read it over & over again (I read Masha once & that was enough for me) but YLIW led me on to Russian literature & history & those reading paths have stayed with me ever since. Sorry Thomas, I don't really have a contribution (although I second Miss Mole. haven't read it but want to), I just wanted to connect with a kindred spirit!


  28. betsy March 6, 2011 / 1:23 pm

    The House of God by Samuel Shem- the greatest American novel about hospitals and medicine. Black humor.

    The Fools in Town are on Our Side by Ross Thomas. An ex-spy joins a conspiracy to corrupt a small Southern city.


  29. Melwyk March 8, 2011 / 12:40 am

    I do like the virtually unknown “High Bright Buggy Wheels” by Luella Creighton, another Canadian.

    And you were wise to bar Canadians from this giveaway: I know in Western Canada at least, we are/were all forced to read this in high school, and copies multiply like rabbits at thrift stores. I hope others will like it; you know it isn't one of my favourites, despite my being a Saskatchewan girl!


  30. Thomas at My Porch March 10, 2011 / 4:16 pm

    The giveaway is closed, but I love hearing all of your suggestions. Keep them coming.

    Lyn: It is always fun to find kindred spirits online.

    Betsy: Black humor in a hospital, sounds fun.

    Melwyk: I thought as much about Canadians. Have you read it since high school?


  31. CW March 17, 2011 / 3:29 am

    I've been enjoying your blog, and was inspired to pick up both Stoner and On the Black Hill today. I can't wait to read them.


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