Highlighting forgotten, neglected, abandoned, forsaken, unrecognized, unacknowledged, overshadowed, out-of-fashion, under-translated writers. Has no one read your books? You are in good company.

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WNOR 2013 Book Preview


These writers are famous in some part of the internet or the world. Some may be famous in your own family or in your own mind.

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The stories of R. A. Lafferty are returning to print*, though in small editions: Centipede Press will publish his collected stories as limited-edition hardcovers — up to 12 volumes — starting with The Man Who Made Models. Centipede says:

In a career that began in 1959 and continued until his death in 2002, R.A. Lafferty garnered the admiration of authors and editors including Robert A.W. Lowndes, Harlan Ellison, A.A. Attanasio, Gene Wolfe, Michael Swanwick and many, many others. His body of short fiction is comprised of well over 200 stories and, despite his vast popularity, there was never a concerted effort made to produce a comprehensive collection of his short fiction, until now. 

Welcome to the first volume in a series that will run to a dozen volumes collecting all of R.A. Lafferty’s short fiction. Whether it be well-known stories such as “Narrow Valley” or more obscure work such as “The Man Who Made Models,” all will be collected here in the Lafferty Library. Each volume will feature close to 100,000 words of Lafferty’s fiction and each volume will feature an afterword by series editor John Pelan and a guest introduction by a notable author in the field of fantastic fiction. 

These scans are from the 50 Watts hoard (the cover art for Nine Hundred Grandmothers is by Leo & Diane Dillon). No word when or if Lafferty’s novels will be reprinted. I love Past Master (1968) — it’s science fiction but the main character is Thomas More — and my copy is in tatters.

Here also is the bio from Centipede's site: 

R.A. Lafferty (1914–2002) was an American science fiction and fantasy writer known for his original use of language, metaphor, and narrative structure, as well as for his etymological wit. He also wrote a set of four autobiographical novels, In a Green Tree, a history book, The Fall of Rome, and a number of novels that could be more or less loosely called historical fiction. Lafferty’s quirky prose drew from traditional storytelling styles, largely from the Irish and Native American, and his shaggy-dog characters and tall tales are unique in science fiction. Little of Lafferty’s writing is considered typical of the genre.

*The first volume is already sold out (at least from the publisher). When I drafted this post last week it was still available. Kind of sad.

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No one reads “the sandwich-man of the Beyond.”

Joseph Péladan was born in Lyons, in 1858, into a milieu obsessed with occultism…In 1884 Péladan imposed himself on the Parisian public by publishing Le Vice Supreme, a fantastic mystico-erotic novel in which poetry alternates with a no less studied prose: ‘Faithful to your monstrous vice, O daughter of da Vinci, corrupting Muse of the aesthetics of evil, your smile may fade from the canvas, but it is engraved for ever in my heart.’

Péladan, who changed his name from Joseph to Joséphin, described himself as ‘the sandwich-man of the Beyond,’ exhumed a mystical society founded in Germany in the late Middle Ages, declared himself its leader, and crowned himself Sar Merodac, a title which enabled him to dress himself up in a costume reminiscent of Lohengrin and Nebuchadnezzar. He was a dark, handsome man, with bushy hair and a bushy beard, ready to swallow — and utter — all sorts of nonsense. In the despairing Paris of his day, which he convinced of its decadence, Barbey d’Aurevilly sang his praises, and young men such as Jean Lorrain and d’Annunzio copied him… Péladan obtained immediate fame, drawing on two sources from which all those who were disgusted with materialism would drink: occultism and aestheticism. His books came out in rapid succession, under the general title La Decadence Latine.

The text comes from Dreamers of Decadence by Philippe Jullian and the post idea and image from Strange Flowers. There’s also a blog (in English) devoted to Péladan. I think I would prefer reading a biography — especially if it was titled “The Sandwich-Man of the Beyond” — rather than any of the 19 volumes of La Decadence Latine (never translated into English as far as I know).

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update: illustrator Mahendra Singh says: “Joseph Péladan plays an occult role in Jean-Christophe Valtat’s Luminous Chaos (Melville House), the 2nd volume of his mind-bending, psychotropically overheated steampunk trilogy, Mysteries of New Venice. When I illustrated Sâr Péladan, I soon discovered the true meaning of ‘occult hair.’” Here it is!:

No one reads the Queen of the Underworld (1850–1924).

In 1913, Sophie Lyons wrote her memoirs, chronicling six decades of bank robberies, prison breaks, cons, and swindles that left her a rich woman. One hundred years later, we’re [Combustion Books] bringing this important work back into print, casting back the veil of the 19th century criminal underworld. This is the world of fences and art thieves, bank sneaks and conwomen, but it is punctuated by a remarkable and nearly universal honor among thieves. Fully illustrated throughout with numerous diagrams of robbery methods and ways of concealing stolen valuables.

via Brickbat Books (my favorite Philadelphia bookstore)

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Harry Martinson 1963. First UK edition.

People continue to not read space poetry

This edition of Aniara: A Review of Man in Time and Space by Nobel-Prize winner Harry Martinson was “adapted from the Swedish by Hugh MacDiarmid and Elspeth Harley Schubert.” Knopf published the same translation in 1963 and then Avon reprinted it as a paperback in 1976. MacDiarmid is the giant Scottish modernist poet and Schubert translated many books from Sweden, and I bet their version is idiosyncratic and wild.

Theodore Sturgeon said: "Martinson’s crowning achievement is the communication at last of galactic immensity, something heretofore reserved to intuition or the highly exclusive speech of abstract mathematics. The poet does this not once, but time and time again, relentlessly and in many ways."

In 1991, the Swedish publisher Vekerum brought out a new English translation by Stephen Klass and Leif Sjoberg. It was reprinted in the US by the now-defunct Story Line Press. All of these editions are out-of-print and pretty hard to find.

Story Line’s description: “The great Swedish writer Harry Martinson published his masterpiece, Aniara, during the height of the Cold War — right after the Soviet Union announced that it had exploded the hydrogen bomb. Aniara is the story of a luxurious space ship, loaded with 8,000 evacuees, fleeing an Earth made uninhabitable by Man’s technological arrogance. A malfunction knocks the craft off course, taking these would-be Mars colonists on an irreversible journey into deep space. Aniara is a book of prophecy, a panoramic view of humanity’s possible fate. It has been translated into seven languages and adapted into a popular avant-garde opera. This volume is the first complete English language version and received the prestigious American Scandinavian Foundation Award.”

The Vietnamese, at least, may now be reading space poetry.

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Arkady and Boris Strugatsky are probably the most famous Soviet-era science-fiction writers, but only recently have any of their numerous books come back into print in the US: Chicago Review Press published a new translation of Roadside Picnic (the basis for Tarkovsky’s Stalker) in 2012 and Melville House just published Definitely Maybe (translated by Antonina Bouis). CRP will also publish Hard to Be a God in June.

These scans come from the 50 Watts hoard except for the top 1979 Penguin (art by Adrian Chesterman) courtesy of David/qualityapemanRichard M. Powers illustrated the bottom Roadside Picnic and the four other covers in that style.

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No one reads Dame Darrel, the Wise Woman of York (or Charles Godfrey Leland).


Illustrated manuscript of The Witchcraft of Dame Darrel of York by Charles Godfrey Leland, humorist, folklorist, poet, and artist. Leland presents the book as an account of witchcraft practiced by Dame Darrel, “the Wise Woman of York,” in medieval England, though the work is primarily based on Leland’s own research and imagination. The majority of the manuscript catalogs various types of fairies, elves, goblins, and other spirits in alphabetical order, but there are also stories and descriptions of spells, all of which are paired with fantastical drawings. If you’re inspired to page through the full volume, the Digital Library record is here. I recommend page 137 for an entry on phasmation or a “fantome.” This manuscript is found in HSP’s Charles Godfrey Leland papers [0363] collection.

Additional fun fact about Leland: our man Charles G. is the Leland of Leland and Boker, authorized printers of the Emancipation Proclamation.

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(via biblipeacay)

I contacted illustrator Mahendra Singh after learning that his late aunt Monica Tornow appears in Malcolm Green’s legendary anthology Black Letters Unleashed: 300 Years of “Enthused” Writing in German (Atlas, 1989). This post grew from our exchanges.

Tornow wrote short prose pieces and one novella, Ming-Fatso & Ming-Scrawn (1989, with illustrations by Wulf Lücks). She was born in 1938 in Dresden and died in 2006 in Virginia—on the family farm, which she visited every summer—surrounded by her beloved cats.

"Body Demons," the page-long work included in Black Letters Unleashed, is her only writing translated into English. It’s an extract from a collection of similar surrealist feuilletons published in 1978 in Manuskripte, an influential Austrian publication of the time. Mahendra says “the general tenor of the pieces reminds me of the Walser short ‘A Slap in the Face’… I’m looking over them and laughing, they’re pretty good. Burning chickens, leopards knocking at the door, time machines interacting with cats … they are right up your line.” You can now read “Body Demons” on 50 Watts, along with Mahendra’s own translation of another short work, “It Was a Beautiful Day.”

Mahendra writes:

Monica lived mostly in West Berlin, worked as a producer of documentaries for West German TV, and was a totally insane cat nut—Ming-Fatso & Ming-Scrawn is about her two Abyssinians. She wrote on the side, some good stuff but she was possessed of the true Bartleby spirit and simply couldn’t be bothered with the demon Ambition. She introduced me to Ernst, Walser, Gombrowicz, Saltykov, Lem and much more, the classic Central European tradition of mordant, black humour.  

Monica loved a crisp, cool Fontana Candida on a sweltering Virginia summer afternoon, followed by a good goulash and some Johann Stamitz on the stereo.

She was also involved sometimes with the Berlin Film Festival … she told me that when Kaurismäki attended one time, he had a guy who would walk before him with a bottle of schnapps on a silver tray, always ready to provide him a restorative shot.

She is sorely missed by her family (except for the damn cat hair that got into everything).

Also see: Two texts by Monica Tornow on 50 Watts.

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No one reads Beatus of Liébana.

Illustrated Beatus manuscripts bring to life an extraordinary vision of the end of the world, as recorded by Saint John in the Apocalypse (Book of Revelation) and filtered through the lens of Beatus of Liébana, an eighth-century Asturian monk. These manuscripts are unique to medieval Spain and a testament to the pervasive artistry and intellectual milieu of monastic culture there. The leaf shown here comes from a manuscript disassembled in the 1870s.

This table was created in an attempt to calculate the numerical “code” of the Antichrist, who was a particularly troubling figure to Christians of the Middle Ages. Saint John asserted in Apocalypse 13.18 that the “number of the beast…is 666,” the number specifically linked to the devil at the time the Apocalypse was written. Here, the eight names given to the Antichrist are lettered in red in vertical columns; each letter is assigned a number. The total given is 666, written four times diagonally in the center of the table.

from the Met via the great 1910-again tumblr

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Robert Aickman's books will soon be widely available thanks to Faber & Faber (finally!).

Publishing timetable:
Dark Entries (June)
Cold Hand in Mine (June)
The Late Breakfasters (June)
The Model (June)
The Wine-Dark Sea (August)
The Unsettled Dust (September)

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No one reads glyph poems.

A collection of unpublished Glyph poems by Edward Sanders. This body of work consists of 19 Glyphs printed letterpress from plates of Ed’s original artwork, with two text pieces printed from hand set type. These 19 prints are each 8.5 x 11 inches, and laid into printed envelopes. The group includes Ed’s statement on the work, and is signed by him. Printed in a hand numbered edition of 250 copies. This body of work spans four decades of Sanders’ poetic career, and covers a broad range of his unique writing style, intellect, and keen sense of humor. A very nice addition to the published works of this important poet, activist, Fug, and fromer Peace Book Store Proprietor & publisher of Fuck You: A Magazine of the Arts. Published by Jon Beacham and Daniel Morris. [Brother in Elysium on tumblr]

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Scan of a rare book cover by surrealist Wolfgang Paalen (1905-1959) for Contes Bizarres by Achim d’Arnim, introduction by André Breton, published by Eric Losfeld for Arcanes, 1954.

No one reads Achim von Arnim. (“Achim von Arnim is surrealist absolutely, in space and time.” —André Breton)

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I learned of the forgotten novelist Claire Spencer (1895–1987) through Houghton Library's post of this art deco cover. Spencer might fall into the category of “justly neglected?—and it’s likely I’ll never get around to reading her three novels, Gallows’ Orchard (1930), The Quick and the Dead (1932), and The Island (1935). (You can read two of the books online by following those links.) At first I was just going to post the cover, but finding no wikipedia entry or online bio I decided to cobble one together myself.

Claire Spencer was born in Paisley, Scotland, and emigrated to the United States in 1918. At some point before the publication of her first novel, she married the editor and publisher Harrison “Hal” Smith, and they had two children together. They divorced in 1933 and the same year Claire married John Evans, the only son of bohemian arts patron Mable Dodge Luhan and the author of two novels. Much of this info was gleaned from the letters of Robinson Jeffers’ wife Una, who was friends with John and Claire during their time in Taos. Una called Claire “the strangest woman I’ve ever met & one of the most interesting.” Hal Smith did publish The Island two years after the divorce, but it would be Claire’s last book. The couple and their brood eventually settled in Brooksville, Maine, where Claire Spencer Evans died in 1987 (I cannot find an obituary). John served in a number of government positions until his death in 1978.

(John Evans and Claire Spencer, portraits by Edward Weston)

In Gallows’ Orchard, “marriage and child birth and death take on distorted forms for Effie Gallows. Her neighbors loathe and fear her, and eventually the village children stone her to death.” It was a Book-of-the-Month Club selection. (Time says, “Book-of-the-Month selectors defend their choice by comparing Gallows’ Orchard to the work of the late great Robert Louis Stevenson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Thomas Hardy.”)

Kirkus Reviews tells us that The Island “emerges with a certain stark beauty in spite of an incredible number of tragedies and violent deaths.” They end their short review"Not a book to be sold indiscriminately."

The Quick and the Dead — set in New York City, unlike the Scottish village setting of the other novels — seems to have gotten the strongest reaction from 1930s reviewers. John Bronson, reviewer for The Bookman, drolly summarizes, “When his mother dies Peter is at last happy and commits suicide” and continues:

The retching jagged emotion, the dribbling loathsome sensation, the hysterical impression, the granulation and distortion and decomposition of life are Miss Spencer’s material. There is no question of the success of her style: it is sensitive, intense, and original. The only questions are whether the public is interested in being tortured and nauseated and, this premise granted, whether Miss Spencer’s rather abstract characters possess the reality to attain that end. [source]

That sounds like a review of an AMC or HBO TV show.

The notice in Literary Sign-Posts couldn’t have helped sell many copies: “The people are filled with a deep revulsion with themselves and with each other and with the lives they lead, occasionally touching a depth of disgust that is almost a spiritual nausea.”

I wonder if Graves and Faulkner read her books?

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Marc Lowenthal of Wakefield Press writes about a new publication from Atlas Press: Princess Sappho/Léon Genonceaux’s The Tutu (1891), “the strangest novel of the nineteenth century.”

Ben at Toys and Techniques mentions the Welsh writer Owain Owain. It appears his books have never been translated into English (and probably never will be). I have the sense they’re not in print in Wales either.
From wikipedia:

His science fiction book entitled Y Dydd Olaf (“The Last Day”) was described by the Welsh literary critic Pennar Davies in the book’s preface: “Nothing like this book has been seen before either in our language or in any other language. We should rejoice that such brilliance exists in Welsh writing.”

this photo via Gwenno

Ben at Toys and Techniques mentions the Welsh writer Owain Owain. It appears his books have never been translated into English (and probably never will be). I have the sense they’re not in print in Wales either.

From wikipedia:

His science fiction book entitled Y Dydd Olaf (“The Last Day”) was described by the Welsh literary critic Pennar Davies in the book’s preface: “Nothing like this book has been seen before either in our language or in any other language. We should rejoice that such brilliance exists in Welsh writing.”

this photo via Gwenno

At Weird Fiction ReviewEdward Gauvin discusses a writer no one reads and translates the first lines from 65 of his stories:

Pierre Bettencourt (1917 – 2006) is a merry prankster, an eccentric of French letters. If the history of the French fantastique in the 20th century has gone somewhat underground, if many of its practitioners are forgotten today, Bettencourt is even more obscure, a lifelong outsider artist despite coming from a prominent family: his younger brother André Bettencourt was the head of L’Oréal and held a senate seat for 44 years (that’s three presidents), while André’s wife Liliane was involved in one of the biggest tax evasion and campaign financing scandals in recent French history. Bettencourt was also a painter, known for his layered pieces featuring such mixed media as butterfly wings, stone, eggshells, and pine needles. [cont. reading]

Sample lines translated by Gauvin:

11. My wife and I have a way of sleeping together that might seem a bit bizarre: neither face to face nor back to back, but with the soles of our feet pressed together.

14. I just lost my head. Little by little, my neck stretched out like an hourglass, and then tied off all by itself, without any gush of blood.

22. No one has the right to cut their nails here: except priests.

29. I have pills for dreaming.

34. The spiders around here mean no harm. You fall asleep in a lawn chair and wake up trussed hand and foot.

58. A very elegant thing to do in these parts is dressing half in flesh, half in bones.

Image by Pierre Bettencourt

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