Critics' Lists: Summer 2013
7:03 am
Tue July 16, 2013

Lost And Found: 5 Forgotten Classics Worth Revisiting

Originally published on Tue March 18, 2014 4:25 pm

I don't remember when I first realized that books could go away, that they could — and did — pass into obscurity or out of print. Myra Breckinridge by Gore Vidal, All About H. Hatterr by G.V. Desani, Speedboat by Renata Adler, the sublime An Armful of Warm Girl by W.M. Spackman. Each of them, snuffed out. It seemed a scandal. But I vividly recall becoming aware that particular books were prone. To take chances with language or form was to court extinction.

But every now and then, if the moment is right, if the culture is finally ready or a champion found, these books return. (Most of the novels mentioned above have been brought back into print, though Myra has not. Vidal's heroine so intent on "the destruction" of the American male still waits for her moment.) This summer I'm reading and recommending books that have been restored to us, that have been reissued, reimagined or — in one instance — presumed lost and discovered for the first time.

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Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And now, a comeback story from our friends at NPR Books. It's a summer reading pick from Parul Sehgal of The New York Times Book Review. The book is titled "I Await the Devil's Coming." It's about a lonely girl living in Montana, and it's just been brought back into print.

PARUL SEHGAL: In 1902, a moody young woman living in Montana published her diary. In its first month, it sold 100,000 copies, and its 19-year-old author, Mary MacLane, became notorious. She left her small town, lived hard and died young. The book went out of print. But this year, MacLane is back, republished in all her ecstatic paranoia. She sounds like an off-kilter Walt Whitman with odes to her red blood, her sound, sensitive liver.

She writes that she was consigned to life in a place of sand and barrenness, bored to tears in Butte, Montana. She dealt with it by spending most of her time taking long, angry walks, proclaiming herself a genius and chatting with imaginary devils. This book is like her sour little love song to herself, to ambition, and most of all, to her own willpower.

Today, I walked far away over the sand in the teeth of a bitter wind, she writes. The wind was determined that I should turn and come back, and equally I was determined I would go on. I went on.

BLOCK: Parul Sehgal is an editor with The New York Times Book Review. She's picked four more reissued or rediscovered favorites. You can read about all of them at nprbooks.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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