Between 1920 and 1930, there were three writers with at least five books in the list of 10 best-selling books, according to Publishers Weekly. Two of them are Zane Grey and Sinclair Lewis. The other is Warwick Deeping.
Why is Sinclair Lewis a permanent fixture on our literary landscape while Warwick Deeping is all but forgotten?
Is there a way to know if the book we pick up today might find its way into another reader's hands 90 years from now?
The enduring presence of Sinclair Lewis is relatively explicable, being both a best-selling and critically acclaimed author in his time, as well as the first American winner of the
The disappearance of Warwick Deeping is likely explained by his subject matter: the historical romance. Because it's a popular and enduring genre, the marketplace responds by producing more and more of it, burying the past practitioners under the present. Deeping's novels became disposable the moment they hit the shelves. There's only room for one
Deeping was once popular enough to have the British Navy name a patrol boat after him. Alas, it was sunk in 1940 near the Isle of Wight.
Of our crop of contemporary authors, I think the shortest odds on longevity have to be on Toni Morrison, who fits the Sinclair Lewis model of being both critically acclaimed and strong selling. She also has a Nobel Prize on her mantel. More importantly, her novels bring life to the experience of being black in America. Her work is both art and artifact.
I think Don DeLillo has a shot with "Underworld" as a chronicle of Cold War America.
J.K. Rowling and "Harry Potter" may have taken up permanent residence as she becomes a Tolkien-like hand-me-down from generation to generation. But these are all guesses, and what and who will be remembered is not necessarily anyone we even "know" today. John Keats sold only several hundred copies of his books during his lifetime. Emily Dickinson was published almost entirely posthumously.
Or take John
This means it's likely that a book that most of us have never heard of will rise as a literary phoenix in the year 2083. Everyone, save the chain of dedicated readers who have kept it alive, will be surprised.
Biblioracle John Warner is the author of "The Funny Man."
The Biblioracle offers his recommendations
1. "The Spectacular Now" by Tim Tharp
3. "The Diary of Mattie Spenser" by Sandra Dallas
4. "The Fault in Our Stars" by John Green
5. "Shadow of Night" by Deborah Harkness
— Rachel D., Zion
Seeing "Julie and Julia" on the list makes me think of another category of book that, to me, seems disposable, a temporary artifact of the times, but may instead provoke future study as a kind of historical artifact: the self-help adventure story, of which "Eat, Pray, Love," is perhaps the prime example. For Rachel, though, I'm going a different direction with a nominally Y.A. novel that's found many adult fans: "These is my Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901" by Nancy Turner.
1. "A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain" by Robert Olen Butler
2. "The Prague Cemetery" by Umberto Eco
3. "The Hare with Amber Eyes" by Edmund de Waal
4. "NW" by Zadie Smith
5. "The Round House" by Louise Erdrich
— Naomi M., New York
I think Naomi is going to enjoy getting lost in the impeccable sentences of James Salter's "A Sport and a Pastime."
1. "Canada" by Richard Ford
2. "The Forgotten Waltz" by Anne Enright
3. "Elsewhere" by Richard Russo
4. "The Marriage Plot" by Jeffrey Eugenides
5. "The Dinner" by Herman Koch
— Pam W., Evanston
It's not an easy read, but it's a powerful experience that I think Pam will enjoy: the 2011 National Book Award winner, "Salvage the Bones" by Jesmyn Ward.
Get a reading from the Biblioracle!