Sunday, November 11, 2007

More Deserving Authors

From The Guardian, Chris Power on one of literature's unsung heroes: Alasdair Gray.

I guess my concern boils down to not wanting it to be Gray's death (he's 72, and not in the best health) that prompts a more widespread appreciation of - excuse the overused phrase, but it isn't hyperbolic in this instance - one of Britain's best living authors. At the same time I'm aware that, as well as most likely preaching to the converted, every person reading this will probably have an alternative writer in mind; one whose work I don't know, or undervalue, just as I believe Gray's is undervalued.

Imani's Outmoded Authors Challenge was a great opportunity to shine the light on many of these similarly out of fashion writers who deserve to be more widely read. I do recall when it came to making the list of authors to be read though, there was the problem of capping – because far too many authors have fallen into the fate of obscurity and neglect - and then their books go out-of-print.

It's a vicious cycle, because when an author's works goes out-of-print, access to their works are restricted to libraries and second-hand bookstores -- it thereby forces them into further obscurity. This is why I adore the endeavours by publishers such as NYRB and Virago that kept many of these deserving authors in-print and available.

Often, the reason authors fall into obscurity is because of the sheer lack of coverage. Look through the book reviews of any newspapers these day and you see mainly frontlist titles (and not necessarily fiction). Sometimes, it seems like everyone is reviewing the same book. (That said, I admit I was thrilled that many of the major newspapers, like The Washington Post and The New York Times gave rave reviews for Amy Bloom's Away. I adore Amy Bloom, so I have no problem if all the newspapers in the world only talks about her book)

I have no problem with newspaper writing about new authors/new titles. I believe it is important to support living writers who will be able to benefit in this lifetime from the sales of their books -- although the irony is that Alasdair Gray is still alive and already he is considered "undervalued". Perhaps Chris Powers is right, perhaps the only way to give Alasdair Gray that boost to his readership is death. But surely we can do more for him right now?

If the newspapers and "legitimate" media is not doing enough to highlight these deserving, obscure, out-of-fashion authors -- what can we do? I believe all readers have some personal under-valued authors that we have come to love, and think they deserve better. For all the criticisms against book-bloggers, I think they are doing a lot more for the literary underdogs than the newspapers would ever admit.

4 comments:

Matt said...

Newspapers in my opinion are not doing enough to promote reading, let alone reviewing outmoded authors. The book section of the local paper has reduced to merely two pages of contents, and mostly bringing attention to what's on the best-seller charts.

The Outmoded Author Challenge has been great to introduce me authors I have never read and haven't heard of. The challenge has been sending me on a scavenger hunt for these books which are out-of-print. I have encountered just exactly the same problem you have mentioned: books are either out-of-print or missing from libraries, due to various reasons. The ones available at the library are tattered.

I'm grateful for book bloggers who have pointed me new authors and books that I would have otherwise overlooked.

Dorothy W. said...

I think you're right that this is a niche bloggers can fill -- they can write about older, lesser-known books and help keep them alive. I've learned about tons of authors I'd never heard of before since beginning my blog.

Dark Orpheus said...

Matt That's what I really appreciate about book bloggers too. I love finding out about these authors/titles I have never heard of, and maybe falling in love with them myself. I don't find that sense of "discovery" or love of books that often from newspaper reviews. Not anymore.

Dorothy I am totally on the same page with you - I have learnt so much since I started reading blogs. I think I also read more since then.

Matt said...

I would not be surprised if some of the book reviews are paid reviews on newspaper.