Friday, September 07, 2007

Obscure Favorites by 50 Authors

From Bookshelves of Doom

Guardian Unlimited Books has a feature How Did We Miss These? (Part 1 and Part 2) as they ask various authors to nominate their favorite, underrated novel. Here's the recommendation of some authors included in the list:

Philip Pullman

The Balloonist (1977)

MacDonald Harris

My candidate for revival is a book by the American writer MacDonald Harris, who died in 1993, and none of whose 16 novels remain in print. Why he isn't better known I simply don't understand, because he's outstandingly good.

If I have to restrict myself to one novel (and it is difficult) I'll nominate The Balloonist - an adventure story, told in the first person, about an expedition by balloon to the North Pole in 1897. It's leisurely, it's subtle and reflective, it's funny, it's accurate and fascinating about the technical business of flying balloons and meteorology and the mysteries of early radio; there's a love story that is tender, sexy and ridiculous all at once, there are characters who are firmly conceived and rounded and surprising, there's an immaculate and jazz-like sense of rhythm and timing; but best of all there's that sensation that comes so rarely, but is as welcome as a cool breeze on a hot day when it does - the sensation that here is a subtle, witty and intelligent mind that really knows how to tell a story.

Actually, it's almost impossible to read any of Harris's first pages without helplessly turning to the next, and the next. I'm astonished that he's not far better known.

Michael Chabon

The Long Ships (1941-45)

Frans Gunnar Bengtsson

I personally guarantee that, however infinitesimally, the world would be a happier place if this wonderful novel, in its excellent English translation by Michael Meyer, were restored to print. A tale of Viking adventure set in the 10th century, what makes The Long Ships such a delicious book is not its thrilling escapes, battles and rescues, nor its lifelike, morally ambiguous heroes and villains, but the droll, astringent, sly tone taken by the narrator toward the characters, particularly with regard to their relations to God, gold and sex. It's a world classic of the literature of adventure, on a par with The Three Musketeers and The Odyssey, its avowed models.

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