On The Tip Of Your tongue: More Forgotten Authors

Books

 

It seems I may have overestimated the number of readers interested in rediscovering forgotten authors, and it’s unlikely that there’ll be a second volume, which is a shame because it was finished and all ready to go – so from time to time I’ll pop a few of the authors in here, in the hope that you’ll find them interesting.

One of the prime requirements for any writer is an insatiable curiosity. Irving Wallace was a mediocre novelist but an appealing non-fiction populist writer because he was intrigued by outliers, people who didn’t fit in.

Born to a Russian Jewish family in Chicago in 1916, he sold tales to magazines while he was still a teenager. After joining motion picture units during WW2 he wrote scripts for Hollywood B movies, then produced novels with sexual themes. His first big hit was The Chapman Report, about a sexologist and his patients, clearly based on Dr Kinsey. The film version was sold as the sexiest ever made, but now looks trashy and tame. The Man, written in 1964, was about the first black president, The Prize concerned the race to award the Nobel Prize, The Seven Minutes was about an obscenity trial, later filmed by Russ Meyer, The Word prefigured Dan Brown in its account of a biblical discovery, and The Fan Club was about a group of young men who coerce a young film star into having sex with them. Wallace’s novels are a perfect reflection of 1970s concerns and could have made telling statements about the times. Unfortunately the flat prose makes them dull reads and means that they haven’t stood the test of time – which is not to deny that they were once hugely popular.

Wallace excelled in capturing the strange mental processes of eccentrics. In The Fabulous Originals and The Square Pegs he explored odd lives, from flat-earth theorists to rich lunatics who founded cults. He investigated the bunkum of PT Barnum, a real-life Phileas Fogg and various scandalous women, and in these books found a way of putting his research to good use.

The People’s Almanac was a rag-bag of weird facts and esoteric knowledge, and sold surprisingly well. However, when Wallace teamed up with his son and daughter to produce another non-fiction work he hit pay-dirt.

In 1977 The Book Of Lists rounded up odd statistics, from people who died during sex to suspects in the investigation of Jack the Ripper. It was an astonishing success, appearing in versions around the world (with the UK’s edition handled by Jeremy Beadle) and pretty much started bookshops’ love affair with volumes of ephemera.

Wallace became one of the five most-read authors of his time, and sold 92 million books translated into 31 languages. More volumes of lists appeared from Irving and many copycats, until the arrival of the internet effectively killed them off. Wallace was an energetic populist and a true original who finally found his niche.

14 comments on “On The Tip Of Your tongue: More Forgotten Authors”

  1. Jay Mackie says:

    I loved this book!! I bought my copy years ago for pennies from a church bazaar. I dipped in and out and reread bits for years – it was full of obscure and sometimes grotesque content that was strangely addictive and compelling.
    I remember coming across stuff like Atilla the Hun died during sex and about the story (legend?) of Sawney Beane and his huge family of murderous cannibals who lived in a cave in 15th century Scotland and killed tens of people.
    I want to reread it again now – so will need to check if it’s still on my bookshelves at my mother’s next time I visit. If not, I’ll be buying another second hand copy!

  2. Arthur Pearson says:

    Rose Wilder Lane wrote best-sellers under her own name in addition to the Little house books based on her mother Laura Ingalls Wilder’s memoir. She thought of those books as just something she turned out as a favor to Mom, but every book under her own name is forgotten now.

  3. Arthur Pearson says:

    Not sure whether the Little House books are popular across the water. I imagine reruns of the TV series are out there in Britain.

  4. snowy says:

    [As if you lot have not suffered enough of me and my half baked opinions already today!]

    BoFA, [as nobody is calling it], always struck me as a tough thing to sell in a very crowded commercial book market dominated by hugely over-promoted pot-boilers with copy-cat titles. And it was probably swamped by all the other list-books that came out at the same time. Which is a shame because everybody that has read it seems to love it, even if they don’t agree with the choice of authors 100%, [an impossible task, “You can please some of the people…” etc.]

    Life is cruel.

    Unless it caught a lucky wind, it would appear to my ill informed eyes that… it’s destined to be something that sells slow and steady, to only those that really love books.

    Sad really.

    [I also think that there is still juice left in translating the project to another media, effort initially high/reward potentially good, but the realistic prospect of getting it picked up is so very slight that it doesn’t really bear further discussion. It would have to be undertaken out of love for the subjects, rather than with an eye to any reward.]

  5. Wayne Mook says:

    I was always a sucker for lists as well. Books of trivia and so on.

    Sorry to see there will not be a Forgotten Authors 2.

    Wayne.

  6. Ian Luck says:

    Attila the Hun. I seem to recall that he died whilst having strenuous sex with a girl who was much younger than him – a captive ‘prize’ from a raid. Cause of death? Came and went.
    I’m most dreadfully sorry. I’ll get my coat…

  7. snowy says:

    Laura Ingalls Wilder is slowly being erased from US history, but just to make a welcome change from my ‘voice’, I would suggest that those surprised by this news to click my screen name to listen to much cleverer people talk about it, [it will take only you to the BBC website, nothing sinister.]

    [I have one very slight exception to what is contained in the programme, Samira Ahmed who is normally the smartest thing ever, seems to get tripped up by the definition of ‘terrible’ used in the text. Confusing ‘formidable, powerful’ with ‘unpleasant; disagreeable’.]

  8. Roger says:

    Sorry, but I’m delighted there won’t be BoFA II. I’ve already got enough books not-yet-read – let alone books-to-reread – to see out my lifespan without being tempted to look for more.

  9. Helen Martin says:

    Do people really see Forgotten Authors (title shortened but not initialised) as a list book? I think of it as a research guide – some gradually darkening places in which to search for (almost) hidden gems.

  10. gkbowood says:

    To Arthur Pearson;
    Yes, indeed, the Little House books were very popular here ( in the US ) in the 60s /70s! I read them all and many years later, when a boxed collection came out, I bought it for the memories of wonderful summer reads while visiting my Grandparents.

  11. Jo W says:

    To Ian Luck,
    Please don’t apologise for that joke. It was really interesting to watch ‘im indoors choking on his early morning builders tea! 😉

  12. SimonB says:

    Going to have to dig out my copy of The Book Of Lists now. Also got TBOL2 and The Book of Predictions from them.

  13. Glasgow1975 says:

    Unfortunately I thought it WAS the second volume, having bought the miniature Invisible Ink version about 6 years ago, so found myself just skimming to try and find any ‘new’ bits, and feeling a little conned by this new ‘old’ book :/

  14. Kevin Etheridge says:

    Hi Chris , nice to see this, I enjoyed a lot of his books, mainly ‘The almighty’ and ‘The seventh Secret’…..enjoyable books I still go back to once in a while…best, Kevin

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