Friday, September 25, 2015

Attics and Basements

By Art Taylor

I'll admit, straight from the start, that I have no idea how to answer this week's question: "After the excitement and controversy of Go Set A Watchman: what would be your dream rediscovered-lost-work? And your nightmare?"

It's been interesting to read the various approaches by my fellow panelists here at Criminal Minds—occasionally talking about their own early drafts or failed efforts potentially being made public someday, elsewhere surveying the trends (and travesties) of posthumous releases and/or works written by other authors building on legacies, and then Alan yesterday talking about a book that wasn't rediscovered after having been lost but just a failed book in a series (though he puts a clever spin on that: It couldn't have been the author himself who wrote it).

I've already admitted elsewhere my own interest in reading Go Set a Watchman for insight into the backstory of To Kill a Mockingbird (both the wider world of Scout's own story and some glimpses into the potential backstory of the editorial and publication process of Harper Lee's original book). Likewise, I've appreciated those times when author's original manuscripts have been published as a contrast to existing publications (Robert Penn Warren's "restored edition" of All The King's Men, say, or Raymond Carver's Beginners, which gave us early versions of several well-known stories), and I've appreciated too some of the trends of author's works emerging from archives and libraries for fresh audiences—as with recent publications of Dashiell Hammett's work. I've also talked elsewhere about my acceptance and frequently even admiration for the many series characters who've found fresh life in another author's hands—and in fact, I just picked up last weekend the latest James Bond novel, Trigger Mortis, penned by Anthony Horowitz this time and with the tagline "With Original Material by Ian Fleming." (I'm intrigued to find out more about how that original material might be identified in the book—or not, of course.)

But none of that quite gets to the question here, as I see it: Is there an author—presumably dead or at least no longer writing—from whom I'd want more? an unknown manuscript discovered in some corner of a relative's attic or unearthed from a basement—jewels from junk?

Well, I've rummaged around the attic and the basement of my own imagination (and then the very real bookshelves surrounding me at work and at home), and no author has jumped to mind.

Maybe readers here will fault my own speculative abilities—some dearth of interest on my part, some lack of passion. I can't blame them, entirely, though I wouldn't necessarily agree. I would indeed be interested if, say, an unknown story by Edgar Allan Poe or Flannery O'Connor or Stanley Ellin were to suddenly surface—but at the same time, I'm more than content with reading and re-reading the existing work by these and many other authors. And let's face it, all of us already have more to read than we'll ever finish in a lifetime—I still haven't read all of Poe, so why would I need more?

Are there authors whose works I can honestly say I've fully, completely exhausted my time with and need more? That's what I'm struggling to think of—because even then, my instinct would be simply to reread, a process which has so many pleasures and, sadly, too few proponents sometimes.

And maybe it's that last point I want to leave folks with—questions stemming from that: Which authors can you just never get enough of? Which authors, which books, do you find yourself REreading time and again? And what is it that you get out of that kind of immersion and reimmersion?


Kristopher said...

Great points Art. I wish I had more time to re-read, but it's just not possible with the blog.

Like you, I would certainly not complain about an undiscovered work - by say William Faulkner - but I am more than content to revisit the works we already have when the time allows. There is just so much to be gained by digging deeper.

The two books that I do re-read regularly are Jane Eyre and The Secret History. For whatever reason, I can't go more than a year or two without picking these two up again.

Paul D. Marks said...

I think there’s a difference between a newly found story by an author and an unfinished story that is finished by someone else. There’s a collection of Fitzgerald’s very early stories and you can see how he was finding his way as a writer. Also some early Ross MacDonald stories have surfaced. And then there’s Poodle Springs by Chandler, which he left unfinished and was finished by Robert B. Parker. It wasn’t nearly as bad as I had expected. And to be honest I enjoyed it. But it also wasn’t as good as a straight shot of Chandler, no “soda”/Parker on the side.

As to the questions you pose at the end, Art, the problem is as you mention elsewhere that there’s hardly enough time to read everything new that comes out. I do like rereading Chandler and R. MacDonald. Also The Razor’s Edge by Maugham. And some other things. As to why, why not? I know I’ll like it. Okay I’m being flip, but there’s new things to be gotten from every read. And I do relate to all of them on one level or another.

Art Taylor said...

Thanks, y'all--I appreciate.

Indeed a difference in a lost short story, a lost fragment finished by someone else, and then, of course, a brand new story using characters from other authors.

And yes, time is an issue! I have barely enough to stay on top of my to-do list generally, so some of this is indulgence. It's not often I reread a book unless I'm teaching it (but try to teach books I love, so....)

Susan C Shea said...

That's a good point: Who can we never get enough of. I would be thrilled beyond measure if a finished manuscript that Jane Austen intended to send to her publisher were found in an attic. But she already has one unfinished one that people have tried to finish without her sparkle, Sanditon, and that underscores how hard it is to successfully mimic genius.