Books about books are my favourite thing. My favourite cosy mystery protagonist is a librarian. My favourite romance is set in a novel-writing class. I read book blogs daily. Plus, I’m an English Literature student so I spend a lot of time reading critical journals. The Book of Forgotten Authors by Christopher Fowler* is right up my street because it’s a book chock full of passion about books.
Absence doesn’t make the heart grow fonder. It makes people think you’re dead. So begins Christopher Fowler’s foray into the back catalogues and backstories of 99 authors who, once hugely popular, have all but disappeared from shelves.
These 99 journeys are punctuated by 12 short essays about faded once-favorites, including the now-vanished novels Walt Disney brought to the screen, the contemporary rivals of Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie who did not stand the test of time, and the women who introduced psychological suspense many decades before it conquered the world. This is a book about books and their authors. It is for book lovers and is written by one who could not be a more enthusiastic, enlightening, and entertaining guide.
I’ve been reading this book for a long time (I started in 2017!). It’s a book where you could dip in and out of with ease. But sitting down for a good long session didn’t quite keep up the charm. So, ironically, I put it to one side and kind of forgot about it until I was doing a declutter. I finished it that day.
You can tell that a lot of work went into the original articles that this book is based off and it pays off. Each author has a neat little biography and the essays were easy and interesting reads. While I raised an eyebrow at some being considered forgotten, I’m sure V.C. Andrews’ Flowers in the Attic haunts many a millennial, it would be impossible not to get excited about the books and the history and reading in general!
Obviously people have different tastes so a book of 99 authors is sure to include some, or many, that I don’t find interesting or recommendable. I wouldn’t personally have chosen to include the overtly racist authors or the prosecuted sex-offender. It felt like Fowler wanted to mention these because he did the research when really these authors could just stay forgotten. Plus, I understand that publishing is, like almost everything, a male-dominated field. But I needed for there to be more diverse choices. It stands at about a quarter female, and very very white.
Overall though, I found myself with a list of authors books to add to my TBR. Some of my picks are From the City, From the Plough by Alexander Baron, a novelisation of his experience in the run up to D-day. The Wooden Overcoat by Pamela Branch, purely from the description as a mix of P.G. Wodehouse and Ladykillers. Whatever I can find by Lucille Fletcher, a noir suspense writer who seems irritatingly out-of-print. The Dr. Thorndyke detective stories by R. Austin Freeman sound like a more to-my-taste detective stories from the time of Sherlock Holmes. And Eleanor Hibberts vast historical fiction repertoire under the pen name Jean Plaidy.
If you’re like me and you feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of current releases, or publishing trends mean that your preferred style is out at the moment, I think this is a really interesting way to refresh your TBR. You’re sure to get caught up in passion for books if you pick this up.
Do you have a favourite forgotten author? Or someone who deserved to be a classic?