Saturday, March 1, 2014

"Writers No One Reads": a site for the forgotten, neglected, abandoned, and forsaken

One of the pleasures of being older is having more time to read. It's difficult not falling into Faust's tricky bargain, though -- at some point comes the realization there are more interesting books to enjoy than can possibly be read. It's akin to contemplating the number of habitable planets in the universe: the mere existence of so much possibility is as overwhelming as it is thrilling.

Writers No One Reads  is one of the best browsing sites for the dedicated reader who will never have enough time (or the funds) to read everything. There are indeed entire creative universes left to discover: as the site states, the three curating editors of the respective blogs 50 Watts, Invisible Stories, and (un)justly (un)read highlight "forgotten, neglected, abandoned, forsaken, unrecognized, unacknowledged, overshadowed, out-of-fashion, under-translated writers." 

The reviews are generous, detailed, and the history of the author is often an interesting subtext to the work. The site has a wide focus beyond the Americas:  there is enough variety here to make a browsing visit always interesting. Anyone stumbling into an unfamiliar writer's work can be forgiven if some obscure fiction doesn't lead them to the palace of wisdom, and there's even the ongoing debate that some works may be "justly neglected."  

Of course that final decision is to the reader. Here, for a small sample, is a random excerpt of books recently reviewed, and it should give every writer hope that, as the blog curators note with some wry humor,  "Has no one read your books? You are in good company."

No one reads Pamela Moore, though that may be about to change as Chocolates for Breakfast is being reprinted by Harper Perennial. Moore was briefly a celebrity: Chocolates for Breakfast was published in 1956, when she was eighteen and a student at Barnard; she was trumpeted as America’s answer to Françoise Sagan. Chocolates is an astonishingly precocious book: though garishly billed as a sexual free-for-all, it’s actually a very controlled Bildungsroman set in Hollywood; it’s notable not only for the forthright way in which Moore presents adolescent angst but also for its sympathetic portrayal of gay men and women. The novel sold well and remained in print in Europe; it soon disappeared in the United States....

Daniel Levin Becker is the youngest member of the Oulipo, a writing group or secret society or “bunch of nerds” who employ constraints in the construction of elaborate—whether apparent or not—literary works. The Oulipo, an acronym for Ouvroir de littérature potentielle, which translates into something like “Workshop for Potential Literature,” includes many eminent (and/or obscure) members among its ranks: Raymond Queneau, Georges Perec, Italo Calvino, Harry Mathews, and Anne Garréta, among others.

Many Subtle Channels (Harvard University Press, 2012) is Levin Becker’s history of the group and his role within it. It’s unique among its kind: an accessible, intelligent, and often funny examination of a phenomenon that has more often been treated academically. While there are other good works on the Oulipo in English, Many Subtle Channels offers the most human account of the benefits of potential literature. I find it hard to imagine a more ideal introduction to the group. ...

Paul Scheerbart

No one reads German polymath Paul Scheerbart (1863-1915). Yet during his prolific career his eccentric fiction, art, and poetry influenced a range of intellects, from architect Bruno Taut to writer Walter Benjamin. It’s a testament to Scheerbart’s prophetic vision that his fiction has attracted such lasting attention: he wrote mostly outer-space novels and utopian stories about things like glass architecture.

Beyond the quirky concepts, however, Scheerbart’s work has a revolutionary, philosophical zeal and the image of him that arises is that of a steampunk Ralph Waldo Emerson with imaginative powers equal to those of Thomas Edison and Jules Verne.

MIT Press brought out his glass architecture novella, The Gray Cloth: A Novel on Glass Architecture and Ten Percent White: A Ladies’ Novel, and University of Chicago Press published The Light Club (the full title is The Light Club of Batavia: A Ladies’ Novelette), about an underground utopia created by a group of wealthy humanists. These are enjoyable books, optimistic, ironic, and, as the titles indicate, pro-feminist for their time. ...

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