A few weeks ago, Publishers Weekly took to Twitter to ask readers which books they wished more people had read. Duly prompted, since then we’ve been thinking about the books we think are woefully under-read, under-appreciated or underrated, from the “lesser” works of famous writers to mostly forgotten or unacknowledged geniuses. Of course, a list like this is even more subjective than usual — a book that to our minds is criminally under-sung could be just the one all of your friends are talking about this month, not to mention the fact that any list of underrated books could be 50, 100, 500 entries long — but we thought we’d give it a try nonetheless. After all, if you’re anything like us, you’re always looking for something new to tack onto your reading list — so be sure to add to our list in the comments!
Adverbs , Daniel Handler
Handler, of course, is more famous in the literary world under his other name: Lemony Snicket. But before Lemony Snicket, there was Adverbs, a sort of bizarre, conceptual book of linked stories with language so delicious that every page is like a little thrill. It saddens us that no one we know has read this book (except the eight people we’ve forced it on, of course)
Coin Locker Babies , Ryu Murakami
Though the two are closer in popularity in Japan, in America Ryu Murakami is nearly completely overshadowed by his similarly-monikered contemporary. It’s a shame, because where Haruki is the twee, dreamy kind of weird, Ryu is the creepy, devilish, chill-you-to-your-bones kind of weird. This novel is one of our favorites of his, a story of two boys born in coin lockers, a poison that turns humans into bloodthirsty killers buried in the ocean, and the perils of being a pop star. It is awesome.
Cosmos , Witold Gombrowicz
Well, it’s not like Gombrowicz is critically underrated (Cosmos won the 1967 International Prize for Literature) but he’s definitely underread, especially in America, where the Polish author is basically unheard of. In this surreal, rambunctiously existential novel,two young men living and working in Warsaw come across a sparrow deliberately hanged in a tree, and it sets them on a dubious path of discovery, attempting to track down the killer.
The Reef , Edith Wharton
Everyone reads The Age of Innocence, The House of Mirth, and maybe even Ethan Frome, but to us, Wharton’s oft-snubbed masterpiece is The Reef, a story of four romantically-intertwined Americans living in Paris, as psychologically complex and beautifully written as you could ask for.
Petersburg , Andrei Bely
Your humble literary editor was first assigned this book in an undergraduate class in Russian history with a rather eccentric professor. When I told him I loved it, he thanked me profusely and hugged me (this was our first conversation). I was surprised, and probably totally awkward about it, but I understood. This is another novel that has been highly rated on an official level — The New York Times Book Review called it “The most important, most influential and most perfectly realized Russian novel written in the twentieth century” — but mostly ignored, as far as we can tell, on a popular one. Bely should be a household name on par with Joyce, Kafka and Nabokov.
Divine Days, Leon Forrest
This book, heralded as “the War and Peace of African-American literature” (but actually modelled after Ulysses) is an incredibly powerful, unusual magnum opus from an accomplished author. It is, very sadly, out of print.
Stranger Things Happen , Kelly Link
Kelly Link deserves to be canonized a million times over. Her stories walk that precarious line between fantasy and reality, science-fiction and surrealism (it must be more like a star than a line, we guess), and though her books are always well-received by critics, we find her woefully ignored by the masses.
Satori in Paris , Jack Kerouac
On the Road, Schmon the Road. The first Kerouac book we ever read was Satori in Paris, and it’s still our favorite, a dreamy search for history and meaning (or rather, for a “kick in the eye”) in France that everyone mostly ignores.
The Bayou Trilogy , Daniel Woodrell
Though Woodrell has received some recent modest attention after his novel Winter’s Bone was adapted to film, we still think he’s criminally ignored — this omnibus of three of his earliest novels, brutal, grimy and brilliant, will get you on track.
The Summer Book , Tove Jansson
Depending on what kind of kid you were, you may know Finnish author Tove Jansson as the author of the delightful Moomin books — but in our opinion, her success with children’s books has overshadowed her beautiful, glistening prose for adults, particularly The Summer Book, a collection of twenty-two vignettes on the nature of summer, each one its own perfect bauble to be cherished and shined once a year.