The Next Chapter: Conversations With Obscure Books

Back in September, I posted on Bookstigram the book I was reading, The Great Pretender by James Atlas. It’s a book about a young college-aged guy who was obsessed with writing poetry and sex. It reminded me in a way of early Philip Roth. Someone said that I enjoyed “obscure books”. To me, that’s a compliment. I don’t understand why some authors like Fredrick Backman and Elizabeth Strout get more love on Bookstigram while other wonderful authors like Elizabeth Bowen and Nadine Gordimer are ignored. I’m slowly trying to change that with my posts on Bookstigram.

One of the most popular authors at the moment is the Bookstigram darling, Irish novelist Sally Rooney. Her fame stems from two books: Conversations With Friends, published in 2017 and Normal People the next year. Normal People was longlisted for the Booker Prize and both novels were made into TV shows.

I have to admit that I haven’t read either novel, although one day if I find a copy I will. It’s hard for me to get past her generic titles and the cartoon-like covers on her books And for the record, I don’t mind reading a book that everyone else is reading. I read Sara Gruen‘s Water For Elephants because I saw so many people read it on the bus and I wound up loving her novel about a traveling circus during the Depression. Unfortunately though, for every Water for Elephants, there’s The Girl on the Train or The Fault in Our Stars, two books I absolutely loathed.

Here are some “obscure books” that I have touted on Bookstigram that I hope find more love

The Beans of Egypt, Maine by Carolyn Chute: This 1985 novel is about the rough and tumble Bean family, who live in rural Maine. There’s the patriarch of the family, Ruben, an alcoholic who winds up in jail often. Then there’s Roberta, who is always pregnant and Ruben’s quiet son Beal, who marries his pious neighbor next door, Earlene, who tries in vain to reform him. You can just imagine these characters and the hard scrabble life they lead.

Grendel by John Gardner. This 1971 book is a clever retelling of Beowulf from the point of view of Grendel, the monster that gets slayed. Gardner said he based his version of Grendel on the French existentialist Jean-Paul Satre. The monster is a world-weary creature who ponders the meaning of life while battling Beowulf. If you like a retelling of a classic with some philosophy thrown in this book is for you.

The next book I want to recommend is The Human Comedy by William Sayoran. This book first started as a screenplay but when MGM turned it down, Sayoran wrote it as a novel. It takes during WWII in the fictional town of Ithaca, California. 14-year-old Homer Macaulay takes a job as a telegraph delivery boy to help his mom make ends meet. During the war, the Department of Defense would send telegraphs to families to let them know about the death of their son who was fighting overseas. It is a bit sentimental but the book paints a vivid picture of life in this idyllic California town during the war.

Finally, we go back to Maine for The Funeral Makers by Cathie Peltier. This 1986 novel starts with one of the Mc Kinnon spinsters dying of the only documented case of Beri Beri in North America. The Mc Kinnon family descends on the small town of Mattigash. One branch of the Mc Kinnon family is fortunately made up of 3 generations of undertakers. Despite the macabre title, this is a funny book about families and their tricky past and possible fragile future.

Back to Sally Rooney, I see a lot of her two books posted to rave reviews on Bookstigram and that’s great. I don’t follow current authors like I used to. I’m glad she’s getting a lot of attention. Time will tell if she will be a writer people are reading 20 years from now, or if she’s forgotten. I have a passion for books that aren’t well known but are still worth reading. If I get people to read Grendel or The Funeral Makers through my posts, then it’s well worth it. These books need our love before people completely forget about them.