I was delighted to be invited to join the blog tour for The Book of Forgotten Authors by Christopher Fowler as it was a book that was already on my wish-list thanks to fantastic reviews from other book bloggers. So I’m thrilled to host today’s stop on the tour and to share my review of this fascinating book.
About the Book
Absence doesn’t make the heart grow fonder. It makes people think you’re dead. So begins Christopher Fowler’s foray into the back catalogues and back stories of 99 authors who, once hugely popular, have all but disappeared from our shelves. Whether male or female, domestic or international, flash-in-the-pan or prolific, mega-seller or prize-winner – no author, it seems, can ever be fully immune from the fate of being forgotten. And Fowler, as well as remembering their careers, lifts the lid on their lives, and why they often stopped writing or disappeared from the public eye. These 99 journeys are punctuated by 12 short essays about faded once-favourites: including the now-vanished novels Walt Disney brought to the screen, the contemporary rivals of Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie who did not stand the test of time, and the women who introduced us to psychological suspense many decades before it conquered the world. This is a book about books and their authors. It is for book lovers, and is written by one who could not be a more enthusiastic, enlightening and entertaining guide.
Format: Hardcover (352 pp.) Publisher: riverrun
Published: 5th October 2017 Genre: Non-Fiction, Literary Criticism
Find The Book of Forgotten Authors on Goodreads
Reading The Book of Forgotten Authors is like browsing in the best second-hand bookshop in the world. That’s second-hand bookshop, mind – not antiquarian bookshop – because the works of the authors featured in Christopher Fowler’s hugely entertaining book are the sort you’d most likely find on the bargain shelf or in a cupboard box near the door.
From (too) much time spent in said second-hand bookshops over the years, I pride myself on having a good knowledge of authors and confidently expected to recognise most of the names mentioned. I was wrong. Over 80% were completely unknown to me and of the rest, some only sparked recognition once I’d read their entry and the titles of some of their books. I confess to feeling a little thrill of pride on the few occasions a book was mentioned that resides somewhere on the many bookshelves in our house. Yes, I’m talking about you Richard Hughes (In Hazard, A High Wind in Jamaica).
There were some authors whose inclusion frankly surprised me: Denis Wheatley, Barbara Pym, Marjory Allingham, Georgette Heyer, Winifred Watson. However, when I thought about it further, they may have name recognition but does anyone still buy, borrow or read their books? Which, surely, is Christopher Fowler’s main argument. And, am I the best person to judge? After all, I’m lucky enough to be part of the book blogging community containing some of the best read people on the planet.
The author clearly has an eclectic and esoteric taste in books and, despite his best efforts, some of the authors seem justifiably forgotten to me. I only jotted down a handful of titles to look out for during my next foray into a second-hand bookshop. However, even if the books don’t sound appealing (and, on occasions, the authors likewise), the joy of this book is the wit and humour of each bookish vignette. For those of us who occasionally struggle to write reviews, the author provides an object lesson in conciseness, managing to summarise books in a single sentence and an author’s life story in a few pages.
So why do authors become forgotten? If I may attempt to emulate the author’s brevity, here are my thoughts in 9.9 (rounded up to 10) bullet points:
- They wrote too much
- They wrote too little
- They wrote in an unpopular genre or format
- They died
- Their books went out of print
- They were usurped by the fame of their character
- Their book became a more famous film, play, musical
- They were overshadowed by another contemporaneous author
- They wrote under many pseudonyms
- They wrote ‘challenging’ books
To some extent, The Book of Forgotten Authors looks back to an age of traditional publishing when there were few alternative avenues for authors to publicise their books. Today, with the advent of independently published and self-published books, the appearance of new genres (Young Adult, New Adult, etc) and the sheer explosion in the number of titles available, it’s interesting to wonder who the ‘forgotten authors’ of tomorrow will be.
The Book of Forgotten Authors is a treat for bibliophiles and would make a fantastic addition to any book lover’s Christmas present list. It’s ideal for dipping in and out of, using as a reference guide or as a source of inspiration for the bookish equivalent of the jaded palate. I can imagine it triggering many conversations starting with, “Listen to this….” and attracting curious glances at the reader due to its laugh out loud moments. Speaking of the latter, here are a few of my favourites:
- [On Dan Brown] ‘He makes readers turn pages, and he’s fun to read, albeit in the same way that you’d watch a viral video of a drunk Russian falling over a railing.’
- [On R. M. Ballantyne] ‘What drew the Scots to literary Tropicana? Did they just enjoy reading books where nobody wore a jumper?’
- [On The Swiss Family Robinson] ‘This chronicle of survival against pirates, wild animals and the elements went on to become a beloved classic and the most memorable thing about Switzerland except Toblerones and euthanasia…’
- [On Baroness Orczy, author of The Scarlet Pimpernel] ‘More than a dozen sequels followed, and with the proceeds the Baroness was able to buy an estate in Monte Carlo. As you would.’
In three words: Quirky, engrossing, bookish
About the Author
A typical example of the late 20th century midlist author, Christopher Fowler was born in the less attractive part of Greenwich in 1953, the son of a scientist and a legal secretary. He went to a London Guild school, Colfe’s, where, avoiding rugby by hiding in the school library, he was able to begin plagiarising in earnest. He published his first novel, Roofworld, described as ‘unclassifiable’, while working as an advertising copywriter. He left to form The Creative Partnership, a company that changed the face of film marketing, and spent many years working in film, creating movie posters, tag lines, trailers and documentaries, using his friendship with Jude Law to get into nightclubs.
During this time Fowler achieved several pathetic schoolboy fantasies, releasing an appalling Christmas pop single, becoming a male model, posing as the villain in a Batman comic, creating a stage show, writing rubbish in Hollywood, running a night club, appearing in the Pan Books of Horror and standing in for James Bond.
Now the author of over forty novels and short story collections, including his award-winning memoir Paperboy and its sequel Film Freak, he writes the Bryant & May mystery novels, recording the adventures of two Golden Age detectives in modern-day London. In 2015 he won the CWA Dagger In The Library award for his detective series, once described by his former publisher as ‘unsaleable’.
Fowler is still alive and one day plans to realise his ambition to become a Forgotten Author himself
Connect with Christopher