'Lost' Literary Classics

Writers List Great but Oft-Ignored Reads for 'Talk of the Nation'

'The Stars My Destination' by Alfred Bester

hide captionNPR's Neal Conan suggests this Alfred Bester book as a "lost" literary classic.

Random House
'The Collected Poems of Weldon Kees' edited by Donald Justice

hide captionAuthor Anthony Lane's "lost" literary classic is the work of poet Weldon Kees.

University of Nebraska Press

Certain books are known to us all… The Odyssey, A Tale of Two Cities, or War and Peace, for example.

We call them classics. They're books loved across generations for their artfulness and enduring relevance. Yet there are other books with the same qualities that have faded from view. Talk of the Nation talked to writers about their favorite "lost" classics.

NPR's Neal Conan, host of Talk of the Nation, author of Play by Play, suggests Alfred Bester's The Stars My Destination. Vintage Books; ISBN: 0679767800; Reprint edition (July 1996)

Michael Ondaatje, author of The English Patient and Anil's Ghost, suggests Darcy O'Brien's A Way of Life, Like Any Other. New York Review of Books; ISBN: 094032279X; (August 9, 2001)

Ondaatje says: "...it's about (O'Brien's) parents, about himself as a boy and his parents, who were silent movie stars. And after they divorced, he's sort of brought up by both of them very ineptly. It's a very, very funny book and quite devastatingly critical of his parents, but it's something like Catcher in the Rye, really, for our time. It's a very, very good book."

Honor Moore, poet, author of Darling, A Collection of Poems, suggests Louise Bernikow's The World Split Open: Four Centuries of Women Poets in England and America, 1552-1950. lost classic: Random House; ASIN: 039471072X; (December 1974)

Moore says: "...it was published in 1975, and at that time there were so many fewer women poets in the canon than there are today. …the poems that she chose from these poets were chiefly poems about or out of human experiences had mainly by women, like childbirth, relationships between women, mother-daughter, so on and so forth."

Michael Pollan, author of The Botany of Desire, suggests A.R. Luria's The Mind of the Mnemonist. Harvard University Press; ISBN: 0674576225; Reprint edition (October 1988)

Pollan says: "...it is the story of a man, a Russian, in the 1930s whose memory had no testable limits. He remembered everything that ever happened to him. And it became a torment, because, you realize, forgetting is almost as important as remembering things, forgetting through life."

Karen McKinnon, author of Narcissus Ascending, suggests Lawrence Durrell's The Alexandria Quartet. Penguin USA; ISBN: 0140153179; Rep/Bx set edition (December 1991)

McKinnon says: "The intensity of those messy human connections was enough to hook me, but the sentences themselves were so lush and vivid, and Durrell conveyed such a captivating sense of, you know, how to be alive that I really did my best to crawl into that book. I traveled to places in it. I got involved with artists and other extreme people. I moved to New York to give myself the opportunity to create my own Alexandria…"

McKinnon also suggests Christopher Lasch's The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations. W.W. Norton & Company; ISBN: 0393307387; Revised edition (May 1991)

McKinnon says: "It's a non-fiction book. He was a sociologist, and he was writing in the '70s and he sort of predicted that the generation being formed at the time, which was my generation, would be characterized by all kinds of unpleasant things like emotional shallowness and fear of intimacy and hypochondria and pseudoself-insight."

Anthony Lane, author of Nobody's Perfect: Writings from The New Yorker, suggests the work of poet Weldon Kees.

Lane mentioned no specific work, but a collection is available: The Collected Poems of Weldon Kees, Donald Justice, editor. University of Nebraska Press; ISBN: 0803258283; Revised edition (August 1992)

Lane says: "...I'm quite interested in a poet called Weldon Kees, who's a very semi-mythological figure, which means he's almost entirely unread. Kees was born in 1914, and in 1955, his car was found near the Golden Gate Bridge, and it's presumed that he disappeared or went to Mexico like Ambrose Bierce…"

Lane also suggests G.K. Chesterton's Charles Dickens. House of Stratus Inc; ISBN: 1842329863; (January 1, 2001)

Lane says: "...(it's) a sort of critical biography. And one of the great things about a small bunch of critical biographies written by great writers about other great writers is that they tell you more about the first than the second often."

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