We’ve all heard of them—Crime and Punishment, Treasure Island, Pride and Prejudice, and their fellow classics—but what of the others? The overlooked works by authors of an enduring treasure? It’s a different feeling altogether when you’ve associated an author with one or two works for as long as you’ve known about them and then learn about their other efforts. Forgotten. Left out of English studies course listings. Barely acknowledged. Gems of under-appreciated literature huddled on the back shelves waiting to be rediscovered. I’m here to rectify this lack in general knowledge and enrich your life by compiling a list of books that I can recommend by authors immortalized for something else. Yes, the unclear phrasing of the title for this post was intentional. These are books you’ve never heard of by famous authors:
1. A Long Fatal Love Chase by Louisa May Alcott—This is for those who, like myself, continued on from the brilliant richness of the Little Women narrative and read Little Men and Jo’s Boys only to be left rather disillusioned by her descent into moralizing. In the style of Alcott’s short gothic stories, A Long Fatal Love Chase is a passionate and heart-pounding pursuit across the world with an ultimate price. It’s a welcome breath of…not exactly “fresh” air…say rather “bracing” air, in keeping with the idiom.
2. The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle—I’ll allow this book is more well known than some, but chances are you know Conan Doyle first and possibly only for the Sherlock Holmes stories. But what if Jurassic Park were real? It is in this story. Where the Holmes stories feature relatively static characters, The Lost World introduces a man in desperate need of a character arc. Throughout the harrowing events of the novel, public meetings, ship travel, and jungle trailblazing, he finds a new frontier of possibilities inside himself. And manages not to be consumed by lizards in the meantime, whether they be pre-historic dinosaurs or his erstwhile fiancee.
3. Notes From Underground by Fydor Dostoyevsky—Again, not entirely unknown, however, Dostoyevsky is primarily known for his novels Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamavoz as well as his short story “The Idiot.” Notes From Underground is the personal account of a lonely man with deep thoughts and concerns about society and his place in it. At times amusing, bitter, shocking, but always full of pathos and honesty about the human psyche, this story provokes consideration through its significant-insignificant happenings. Confession time: Notes was the first work of Dostoyevsky’s that I read (it had a compelling cover and it’s short!), and I absolutely loved it. It made me want to go on and read more of his stuff. So I think it’s a great introductory work to read if you’re not sure you like Dostoyevsky.
4. Tommy and Grizel by J.M. Barrie—There is little of the whimsy of Peter Pan to be found in this fatalistic look at life and love, but all of its unique narrative voice: and its death. Tommy is a writer, and he’s also in love with his best friend. He gets caught up in small town politics, high-society hi-jinks, and an unfortunate case of eavesdropping that casts a shadow on the rest of his too-short life. Tommy and Grizel is actually a sequel to Sentimental Tommy, which I didn’t know when I picked it up, and I have yet to find a copy of Sentimental Tommy to read. However, the story and characters of Tommy and Grizel are easy to get into without having read the previous book.
5. The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights by John Steinbeck—You probably thought Steinbeck was all about social commentary, epic family journeys, and fatal mistakes ending in tragedy with his grapes of wrath and mice and men. Well, I’m here to tell you…yeah, that’s basically what Steinbeck is about. No change here: Camelot has all those things, which is probably what drew Steinbeck to it. Unlike Dickens’ The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Steinbeck’s unfinished work doesn’t get nearly enough love or attempts to continue/finish it yet it is so brilliantly begun. Why did Steinbeck have to stop writing it?
6. Emily of New Moon by L.M. Montgomery—We love Anne of Green Gables for a reason, no argument from me. But there’s something so mature and nostalgic about the Emily trilogy that just grips me with its pathos. Her entanglements with friends and lovers (Dean Priest still gives me creeps), the experiences of her family and failures ring so true and relateable. Emily is another imaginative heroine with aspirations of writing, but she is no Anne Shirley. She has less of the fire spirit about her and more of the moon: hence, the title. (And if you want slow burn, friends-to-lovers romance, this is it.)
7. The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie—You’ve heard of Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot… but Tommy and Tuppence? Although they did get their own mini-series a few years ago (which I have yet to see), it’s less likely. Which is a shame, because this lovely duo is a crime-solving, spy-thwarting machine with fantastic personalities and great rapport with each other. And don’t get me started about the second book in the series, Partners in Crime, and its brilliant construction of seemingly unconnected, trivial cases and parodying of different famous detectives almost every chapter.
8. Roverandom by J.R.R. Tolkien—With the publishing of all Tolkien’s unfinished works and fragmentary writings going on these days, I don’t think I had ever really heard anything about Roverandom until I saw it in a store. I confess I was even slightly prepared for disappointment because I thought there must be a reason it isn’t much talked about. Well, my caution was unnecessary: this children’s story about a toy dog traveling earth and sky meeting wizards and magical creatures is a delightful experience at any age, full of Tolkien’s whimsy and dry humour.
9. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen—Slightly better known than Lady Susan (which one is hard pressed to find in any collection of Austen novels), Northanger Abbey is an amusing tongue-in-cheek narrative about a Heroine in a Gothic novel navigating the somewhat more mundane world of Bath. Enter, a gentleman with a mysterious family background and horrifying secrets. When he spirits her away to his old family home, all her darkest dreams may come true. This novel is semi-comic and has meta-dramatic elements that is just a treat to read.
10. The Blithedale Romance by Nathaniel Hawthorne—It seems most of us were condemned to reading The Scarlet Letter at some point during school, and probably have heard of The House of the Seven Gables, but besides these two popular works and a whole lot of interesting short stories, Hawthorne actually churned out an incredible novel that doesn’t get much notice these days. The Blithedale Romance is about a group of social reformers with ideas of paradise and the natural existence of people with the earth and one another. It is a premise marked with failure for the characters from the beginning, fraught with obsession, bitterness, jealousy, and always the siren call of society. Where The Scarlet Letter is an ultimate triumph over guilt and oppression, The Blithedale Romance resonates with a shocking fatalism.
11. David Balfour, or Catriona, by Robert Louis Stevenson—In the forgotten/disregarded sequel to Kidnapped, David Balfour continues his adventures, stumbling into Scottish politics and trying to win the love of his life. While the rascally brilliance of the initial travels with Black Alan Breck cannot be duplicated or undermined, David Balfour manages to keep up the style and excitement of the initial adventures and deserves to be read and recognized.
12. The Red House Mystery by A.A. Milne—Deep in the Hundred Acre Wood, A.A. Milne wrote a mystery story. But there’s no silly old Pooh bear to be seen here. Instead there is a housefull of dinner guests and the arrival of several late-comers which contribute to a set of violent and disturbing events: including, of course, the solving of a mysterious death. In the spirit of old gumshoe stories, The Red House Mystery is a perfect crime read for a cozy evening.
Had you heard of any of these already? Which do you think you would want to read? Let me know in the comments!