493. Lost Classics

I have been cleaning out a house where I used to live. It’s a little like archaeology. This was the house where I wrote some of my early novels, and it is the place I have been keeping the older and less often accessed half of my books. Every place I go in the house, a good memory looks back, and every box of books I open brings a forgotten smile.

I found an old A Common Reader catalog. I wish I had kept all the ones I received in those days, but who knew that A Common Reader would go out of business and make them irreplaceable. I’ll tell you about it in a future post.

One of the odd books I ordered from that odd catalog also turned up, Lost Classics by Michael Ondaatje, Michael Redhill, Esta Spalding, and Linda Spalding. You only need the first name to find it on Amazon, but fair is fair. I quote from the introduction:

A book that we love haunts us forever . . . it is in the act of reading, for many of us, that forged out first link to the world. And so, lost books . . . gnaw at us.

I know the feeling. Although, to be honest, I try not to lose my favorites, which is why it takes two houses to hold my library.

Lost Classics comes from Brick: a literary journal. In 1998, the editors ran a Lost Classics issue, and thereafter they were inundated with additional material from their readers. This was collated into the volume on the desk in front of me. You can still get it from Amazon, even though it came out in 2000.

Seventy-four writers provide short essays on somewhat more than that many lost books. They range from slightly forgotten to seriously obscure, but they all fascinate. Searching the index, I find that when I first read Lost Classics nearly two decades ago, I had already read two, The Highwayman by Phillip Noyes (one of only two which really weren’t lost) and N by E by Rockwell Kent. A couple were on my to-read list, and I made a point of finding and purchasing Islandia by Austin Tappan Wright. On full disclosure, it was too dense to penetrate.

That leaves nearly eighty unaccounted for, and that is the point. These are books you will probably never see, but the joy here is reading what they meant to those who did read them.

These are strange people, but I think they will be familiar to you. I will give you just one example:

I cannot find the book and the two or three people to whom I might have lent it have no memory of it, have never heard of it. But I have a clear memory of a Saturday in the summer of 1990, during the year when I tried to live one month in Dublin followed by one month in Barcelona and managed not to live much at all . . . the book hit me hard. I started reading . . . and I am still recovering, in certain ways, from what I learned.

Which reader was that? Which book? I won’t tell you. You will have to find a copy and seek it out for yourself. If you like old things, or odd things, or obscure things, you owe it to yourself.

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