Over on Instagram this month, I’ve been enjoying Jessica’s #31bookpics challenge. She came up with an eclectic list of bookish photo prompts, and I’ve relished looking through my shelves for books to fit each one.
Early in the month, the prompt was “underrated,” and I pulled together this stack.
These are all books by authors who are much better known for their other work: Anne of Green Gables (Montgomery), A Wrinkle in Time (L’Engle), Charlotte’s Web (White), All the Light We Cannot See (Doerr). I have no quibbles with this – I’m a lifelong Anne fan and I loved All the Light (and who doesn’t adore Charlotte?). The fame, in every case, is well deserved.
But there’s something delicious about knowing and loving an author’s more obscure work, whether you come to it after reading the better-known books or discover the author through the “back door.”
For me, Montgomery, Doerr, White and Maud Hart Lovelace belong in the first category: I read and reread Anne of Green Gables and the first few Betsy-Tacy books as a little girl. (My sister is named after Betsy Ray.) It took a while for me to move on to Montgomery’s other work and Betsy’s high school (and later) adventures, but when I did, I adored them.
I’d only peripherally heard of Doerr before All the Light swept the bestseller lists. But after reading that, I snagged a beautiful hardcover copy of Four Seasons in Rome in a used bookshop in San Diego, and loved it just as much. And my E.B. White obsession, though it began with Charlotte and Wilbur, has expanded to include pretty much everything the man ever wrote.
In other cases, though, I read the lesser-known works first, and they’re still my favorites.
I bought Walking on Water, L’Engle’s wonderful book on faith and art, from a college friend who was selling off some of her books. I loved it so much I sought out A Circle of Quiet and L’Engle’s other memoirs before I ever read A Wrinkle in Time. Julia Cameron is best known for The Artist’s Way, but my college boyfriend (now my husband) plucked The Sound of Paper off a bookstore shelf and gave it to me for graduation, so I read it first. It is still true north for me.
I realize it’s an ultra-hipster-trendy move these days to insist that you loved a book before it was cool, or knew about an author before he or she became popular. But as I said above, I adore these authors’ more popular works. I am happily in the majority of readers who follow the interstellar adventures of Meg Murry or wish they could spend an afternoon in Avonlea with Anne.
But I’m always so pleased to discover an author’s overlooked work, or to introduce some lesser-known favorites to fellow bookworms who may never have heard of Rilla of Ingleside (Montgomery) or Emily of Deep Valley (Lovelace). For me, it simply expands the pleasure of reading. And really, anyone who hasn’t read E.B. White’s pitch-perfect essays is missing out.
What are your favorite overlooked books?