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5 Forgotten Writers Whose Works Inspired Me When I Was Much Younger

 

5 Forgotten Writers Whose Works Inspired Me When I Was Much Younger

 

When I say certain writers are forgotten, that doesn’t mean they’re unknown. It just means that hardly anyone reads them these days. Some of them were famous in their time. Some were considered quite literary, but they never made it into college classrooms, or if they did, they were soon removed. Some of the things they wrote might not even be any good, but that didn’t matter to me at the time I was reading them, and it doesn’t matter to me now. Why? When I was growing up, nobody ever told me that there were good books and bad books and mediocre books. There were just books, and I read everything I could get my hands on. I loved it all. Later on I went to college and learned that there were books I was supposed to disdain, but somehow I never developed the right attitude. I’d read George Eliot and William Faulkner and T. S. Eliot for class, and I’d enjoy them. But when that was done, I’d read writers who never got into the curriculum and enjoy them just as much, if not more. This is about some of the others.

 

1. John O’Hara’s name might still be vaguely familiar to some younger readers, but to me at one time he was just about the greatest writer I’d ever come across. If he’s thought of at all now, it’s as a writer of short stories, but it was the novels I liked, the big, sprawling ones like From the Terrace. Probably because of the sex, but also because of the storytelling, which never seemed to falter. I remember how excited I was when Sermons and Soda Water was published. It wasn’t a novel but three novellas, each a separate hardcover volume, all three enclosed in a slipcase. What class! My name was the first on the “hold” list at the library, and as soon as I got the books, I looked up the poem from which the title was taken. This was my introduction to Byron’s Don Juan, another great book that no one reads anymore outside a college classroom. At some point in the ‘60s I stopped reading O’Hara except for the aforementioned short stories, which are excellent and which I still dip into now and then.

2. Thomas Wolfe was a huge name in the first half of the 20th century, and I’d heard a good bit about him by the time I picked up Look Homeward, Angel. (I’m ashamed to admit that what finally led me to read the book was Johnny Ray’s recording of a song with the same title.) I didn’t have to read any farther than the first page to be impressed: “. . . a stone, a leaf, and unfound door; of a stone, a leaf a door. And of all the forgotten faces . . . O lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost, come back again.” Wow! That was writing! And it went on for hundreds of pages. For a good while, I wanted to be Thomas Wolfe. Then I read another of the novels and decided, maybe not. But I still have a great affection for Look Homeward, Angel.

3. Robert Ruark is no doubt a lot less well-known than Wolfe and O’Hara, but he also wrote some big, sprawling novels. I must have had a real thing for them in the ‘50s and early ‘60s. And for sex and violence, of which there was plenty in Something of Value, which was about a Mau Mau revolt in Africa. Ruark was thought of, as I recall, as something of a poor-man’s Hemingway, except that he didn’t write nearly as well as Hemingway. That didn’t stop me from reading Poor No More, another long novel, this one set mostly in the New York business world, with plenty of sex and crudity, along with a protagonist who was looking out for Number One and to hell with everybody else. The critics hated it, but it sold a lot of copies, including one to me. I thought Ruark’s writing was terrific, though I realize now it wasn’t the quality of the writing I liked. It was the storytelling. A Ruark novel never slowed down. I wished I could write like that.

4. Leon Uris might still be a familiar name to some older readers. I discovered him with his first novel, Battle Cry. Yes, another big, sprawling novel, and also crude and sexy. I liked stories of war in those days, and this one really grabbed me. So did Exodus, which might have been his next novel. Lots of characters, lots of history, the kind of thing I could never do myself but which I admired tremendously. The Haj is still relevant today, I’ll bet. Uris wasn’t a great writer, but he could tell a whale of a story, or so I thought at the time. I continued to read his books for at 40 years after reading Battle Cry.

5. Alan Drury – okay, I admit it. For me, it was big, sprawling novels all the time. Not really. I was reading a lot of other things, too, but I sure went for the long ones in the old days. Not now. Now I won’t touch them, but I loved them then and wanted to write them. In Drury’s case it was only one book. Though he wrote many others, Advise and Consent was the one I read and obsessed over for a good while. I still remember parts of it vividly even after more than 50 years. For that matter, I still have the paperback I bought when it first appeared, probably around 1960. It’s a story D. C. politics that still seems all too true, and at the time it was regarded as a roman a clef. Maybe it still is. Guessing who the characters were supposed to represent was part of the fun.

As it turned out, I never wrote a book like any of those I’ve mentioned, and the kind of things I write are nothing like any of the titles above. Still, they seemed to me like wonderful stories, and they all made me want to write something someday. I hope that when I’m forgotten at least somebody will remember a book or two I wrote and feel the same way.

Bill Crider

Bill Crider, born in Mexia, Texas is an American author of Mystery fiction. He received an M.A. at the University of North Texas (in Denton). Later, he taught English at Howard Payne University for twelve years, before earning a Ph.D. at the University of Texas at Austin, where he wrote a dissertation on the hardboiled detective novel. He then moved to Alvin, Texas with his wife, where he was the Chair of the Division of English and Fine Arts at Alvin Community College. He retired in August 2003 to become a full-time writer.

He is the author of the Professor Sally Good and the Carl Burns mysteries, the Sheriff Dan Rhodes series, the Truman Smith PI series, and wrote three books in the Stone: M.I.A. Hunter series under the pseudonym “Jack Buchanan.” He is also the writer of several westerns and horror novels. You can find more about him on his site, as well as his blog on pop culture and overall oddness in our world.