The Cemetery of Forgotten Books is a cavernous repository of books located in the bowels of a building in Barcelona; a final resting place of books that are out of print and have been sadly dismissed, little read or forgotten. It is the premise of, and an inanimate protagonist of the series of novels by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. I am not reviewing the books, however, except to say that the novels are beautifully crafted and compelling reads. I want to talk about forgotten books.
I’m not alone in the belief that the words of millions of authors are the whisperings of their souls, and that within every novel exist the spirits of its characters, begotten by their authors. As is the case with life and for most of us who walk the earth, most novels are eventually forgotten, if not long after one’s death, then after a few generations. This is a daunting reality, because most people want to be remembered, if only to validate their existence and to give meaning to their lives. An author, any artist, inventor, entrepreneur wants a lasting legacy, and those who say otherwise are lying.
Today, with the ease of the internet, e-books can exist forever, even if their publishers stop printing the paper versions. But that doesn’t guarantee readership. And these days, since any idiot with a keyboard and access to the internet can publish even the most poorly crafted story, it doesn’t mean that all of the stuff thrown out there is worthy of our time.
Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels List comprised by their board and readers are the novels we are made to read in high school and college. They are all Twentieth Century novels, mostly sweeping sagas, stories with philosophical leanings, books written by authors affecting an innovative style of modern writing, or glimpses into time capsules of different generations of society. I suspect the readers’ list is made up of books that readers are expected to say are great, because they were told they are worthy and great works of art. Why else would Ayn Rand, Hemingway and Joyce have multiple mentions by readers? What about Mario Puzo who wrote The Fortunate Pilgrim? Where is Evan Hunter’s Streets of Gold? I know why. Those fellows authored popular crime fiction, too.
What I find disturbing is that, although recently re-published by The Indiana University Press, Raintree County, by Ross Lockridge, Jr., one of the most innovative and brilliant novels of the last mid-century, isn’t included on either list. I can’t find the book an any list.
I know I am a fickle lover. I fall in love with books and constantly favor the delights of new discoveries, often juggling the top contenders. But of the many thousands of novels I’ve read, Ross Lockridge, Jr.’s Raintree County remains always at the top, above Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Tender is the Night and The Last Tycoon. Then follows all things Edith Wharton, followed by Steinbeck, and on and on. . . . I love Raintree County so much that the title of my latest book is a quote from it, A Tall, Imperious Bloom.
Is Raintree County a forgotten book? Has it been buried in The Cemetery of Forgotten Books, this soulful novel that no one under the age of seventy seems to even remember, other than it was the title of a rather awful film? The powerful voice of its author can be heard upon opening the covers of his book, so why is no one parting the covers? As a lover of great books, I can make the comparison to an avid opera fan never having heard Pavarotti sing. Open those boards and listen to the music of the prose.
HERE is the link for Raintree County.
And then, to learn more about Ross Lockridge, Jr., read Larry Lockridge’s revelatory narrative of his father’s life and tragic death in Shade of the Raintree: Centennial Edition.
HERE is the link for Shade of the Raintree.
Until next time,