Flashlight Worthy says:
The "lost classics" below were suggested by Melanie Rehak.
Melanie's a very early fan of Flashlight Worthy. We were touched when she took the time to write this list — despite the fact that she had a newborn at home, was planning a move from Brooklyn to Berlin, and had to put the final touches on the manuscript of her next book. Thanks, Melanie!
by Paula Fox
This one is no longer as lost as it once was — it was literally out of print for decades — but it's still worth rediscovering. Fox's fierce prose and unflinching portrayal of a woman adrift in both her marriage and the race-roiled Brooklyn of the 1960s make this book at once familiar and shocking. It takes place in a single weekend, in which Sophie Bentwood realizes her place in the world is unsteady at best after she lets a stray cat into her house and it bites her.
by Dawn Powell
Anyone who's ever felt uncomfortable at a cocktail party or suddenly discovered that things are not always what they seem should read Dawn Powell, perhaps the sharpest social satirist of the 20th century. "A Time to Be Born" is loosely based on the story of Clare Booth Luce's rise to fame after she married Henry Luce (though Powell denied this was the case). It follows two childhood friends from the Midwest, both now in New York, one an ambitious social climber who has used her looks to rise up the ranks and become a famous journalist, the other a meeker soul who prevails in the end, because Powell's heart is always with the underdog.
by Wallace Stegner
This is my favorite Wallace Stegner book, a ravishing, and occasionally devastating look back at the lives of two academic couples who meet during the Depression as told by the husband in one of them, now a successful writer. One working class, one wealthy by way of the wife's money, the two couples form a lifelong friendship which Stegner uses to dissect social class, ambition, and marriage. The scenes set in Vermont, with their descriptions of nature interwoven with the spoils of privilege, are among the best in the book.
by Edith Wharton
Though this book was first published in 1913, it could easily be contemporary if the clothing styles and social mores were altered a bit. In a way, it's an earlier version of "A Time to Be Born" — an incisive portrait of a social climbing woman who seeks a higher position (rather than a career, given the times) through marriage. The heartless calculating of its so-called heroine leaves you breathless with its cruelty, and Wharton's depiction of the trappings of the upper class in this era leaves nothing to the imagination. The book is filled with gilt and wallpaper and opera gowns, and all of it makes a delectable backdrop for social machinations, while never quite managing to cover them up.
by Flannery O'Connor
This is a book I never travel without if I'm going away for more than a week. O'Connor's clear, religious (literally and otherwise) and most of all humorous perception of the world around her as she began her writing career in the east and then moved back home to Georgia after contracting lupus make it easy to see why she felt correspondence was a good stand-in for a romantic relationship. In Georgia, she raised peacocks and wrote her extraordinary stories, expecting to die soon (she lived another fifteen years), which gives her letters the urgency of someone eager to both unravel life's mysteries before dying, but also accepting of the truth that none of us are permitted to know everything.
by Irwin Shaw
While this whole book is great, I love it most for the story "The Girls in Their Summer Dresses," which, among other things, captures that moment when the weather turns warm for the first time in New York and women break out their summer fashions for the first time. I first read this when a friend sent it to me after I told him I always go out and buy a new dress at this time of year, purely for the ceremony of it.
How about you? Do you know of any "lost classics"? Absolutely wonderful books that no one seems to read any more? If so, drop us a line.
Recommending books so good, they'll keep you up past your bedtime. more...
About Melanie Rehak
Melanie, author of Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her is also a poet and critic. She writes for the New York Times Magazine, the New Yorker, Vogue, and the Nation, among others. Oh, and she's recently moved from Brooklyn to Berlin!
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