Thursday, December 23, 2010

Quiet Masterpieces

Literary Blog Hop
What a great question for the Literary Blog Hop (hosted by The Blue Bookcase)!  Thanks to Lisa at Bibliophiliac (from whom the question comes)...I'm sure my TBR will become much heavier after this weekend!  The question:

What literary title (fiction or non-fiction) do you love that has been under-appreciated?  What quiet masterpiece do you want more readers to know?

This question makes me happy for two reasons.  One, there are so many fabulous books that don't receive the attention they ought to, and I'm looking forward to getting my hands on some new treasures.  Two, I've been wanting to talk about William Maxwell and hadn't gotten around to doing it.  This is my chance!

William Maxwell (1908-2000) certainly isn't unknown.  With a long career at The New Yorker as the fiction editor (1936-1976), in addition to having many published novels and stories, he definitely has reason to be talked about.  For all this talent, however, I rarely see his name mentioned.

William Maxwell: Early Novels and Stories
Early Works
They Came Like SwallowsMy introduction to William Maxwell came through the novel They Came Like Swallows.  This very short book (192 pages) is highly autobiographical, but it is also beautifully written and incredibly captivating.  It takes place in the Midwest in 1918, and is a close look at the impact that the flu epidemic had on an 8 year-old boy.  Initially I was simply happy to have found a novel covering America during WWI with a focus on the epidemic--a topic that is often overshadowed by the devastation of WWII.  I quickly discovered, however, that this little book is something special.

William Maxwell: Later Novels and Stories: The Château / So Long, See You Tomorrow (Library of America #184)
Later Works
Rarely, if ever, have I read such an intimate and honest portrayal of a person's real self. It is quite commonplace to read of people's actions and doings. It is fairly typical to read a story of a person as perceived through someone else's eyes. I've often read a book that shows what a person thinks of himself. But to hear the inner workings of one's self, the feelings and thoughts and reactions that happen without our permission--or perhaps without even our conscious knowledge--and in such a matter of fact way, is moving. This is the part of a person that cries out to be loved and accepted: just as they are. This is the part of a person that is rather unexplainable. Yet William Maxwell has done it. Beautifully.

Maxwell's writing is simple, yet powerful.  If you haven't experienced it, you really should.

Want to know more?
List of Works
Quickie Wiki Bio
An Excerpt: 'The Actual Thing'
A Plethora of NY Times Articles


  1. They Came Like Swallows.will be tracked down and added to the ever-growing Himalaya, that is my TBR.

  2. Adding to the TBR! When you said "Rarely, if ever, have I read such an intimate and honest portrayal of a person's real self" you had me!

  3. Parrish--I know what you mean about the huge TBR...I add books much quicker than I cross them off. Better that than never hear of all these these great books though, right?

    L.L.--I hope you enjoy it! It really is a fabulous little book, and deceptively simple at first blush.

  4. You've convinced me!!:)

    And since you've mentioned it, I've never read anything related to WWI either!....and I never knew there was an epidemic in America during this time...

  5. Cool! Actually never heard of this guy before. Sounds like something I would like.

  6. These sound beautiful! I'm adding to Goodreads! Love this hop. :-)

  7. Oh, by 'these,' I was referring to the novel, as well as the other works. Particularly, what appear to be biographies on the right-hand side of the screen. I LOVE a biography. :-)

  8. I read that book and i loved it! Glad to know someone likes it too)

  9. This is a question I am happy to see asked; now I'm eager to see what others have answered. I suspect that I will add many books to my Amazon wishlist. Thank you for sharing this book, a new add.

    My post:

  10. breadcrumbreads--WWI (esp. the influenza) really does seem to be a neglected era in literature, so I really enjoy finding books about it. And if it is historically accurate and well written, how much better!

    Ingrid--he does seem to be one of those authors that has faded into obscurity somewhat, and he really deserves to be more well known. I hope you find the chance to check him out.

    Jillian--the pics on the right are his collected works, but he did write his family's history, and there are a couple of biographies/memoirs here, here, and here. I'd love to read more about the guy...I think I'll put some of those on my wishlist too. :)

  11. Orhedea--I'm so glad to find someone else who has read it and loved it! At some point while reading I realized I was experiencing something very unique.

    readerbuzz--I've added many books already. I love finding these hidden treasures!

  12. Adding this author to my TBR pile! Thanks!

    Merry Christmas to you and your family. Have a wonderful time with them!

    Here is my Literary Blog Hop post!

  13. Maxwell is a writer I have yet to read--how remiss of me! They Came Like Swallows is one of those books I've heard mentioned from time to time, and always as a masterpiece. It seems Maxwell is known, but not as well-known as he deserves. And I love those Library of America editions, which makes it tempting to buy very soon!

  14. Just hopping by to repay the visit--I've read only one Maxwell book before, but I've just picked up an advance reading copy of the correspondence between Maxwell and Eudora Welty, who is one of my favorite writers, edited by one of my former college professors. I'm fairly new to reading collections of letters and this one has me excited--getting an intimate look at two fantastic and erudite writers. The new book is called What There Is to Say, We Have Said and it's coming out from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in the spring.

  15. Wow...very interesting...have never heard of Maxwell...going to check this author out.

    I am new to this blog hop...glad I found it. Nice to meet your blog title, colors, and design.


  16. Gautami--thank for the visit! Hope you enjoy Maxwell when you get around to checking him out.

    bibliophiliac--those editions are tempting, aren't they? They sure would look lovely on the shelf, but even better, I love that they contain all the smaller works as well. I'm hoping Maxwell gains notoriety as the years pass.

    As the Crowe Flies and Reads--how much fun! I was just looking at that book on Amazon. Seems like it would be a wonderful correspondence to read.

    Elizabeth--so nice to meet you! Thanks for coming by, I'll head over and check out your blog too.


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