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Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Best Books You've Never Heard Of

I’ve always loved to shop for books in used bookstores, estate sales and at auctions. I’m never been looking for first edition—although I might after seeing that episode of the Antiques Road show where a woman purchased a 1908 copy of Anne of Green Gables for $5—but I’ve been looking for are those rare, unknown should-have-been classics.

It started in my youth, when I had free reign of my grandmother’s bookshelves. I’d visit her for a week or two at a time and try to read as many books as I could during that time. There, I first discovered To Kill a Mockingbird, Victoria Holt books, and became entranced with Hans Christian Anderson’s amazing style. One summer, I picked up a book called Thorpe, by May Dutton.

What it was about his book that made me beg my grandmother to keep, I’m not sure. It’s a lot like To Kill a Mockingbird. So much so, that it wouldn’t surprise me to find out Harper Lee’s novel inspired it. To this day Thorpe has remained on my bookshelf—one of the few books I refuse to lend out. Any of you guys ever read this one.

Another book which carried over from my childhood is a pieces of YA fiction called House of Stairs, by William Sleator. I read and re-read this book many times in middle school. I asked a few times at my local bookstore for it, and one day finally decided to throw it onto an online book order. My brother-in-law saw it one day on my bookshelf and was completely floored. “I’ve asked everyone if they’d ever read this book, and no one has even heard of it. I can’t believe you have it!”

The last group is a series of books that I think every child should read. They’re at least slightly more known, but no where near the status I think they deserve. They’re a series of books written by John D. Fitzgerald, which would be described as The Great Brain Series. Someday I shall own this series! I searched for them at my local library recently, and was thrilled to find them. Two decades has not softened my admiration of this author’s flair and style. They are fantastic! Since then, I’ve pulled lots of novels from flea markets and enjoyed many quite a bit. I’ve not found another book as striking as the ones above—but I still hope to.

What about you? Do you have any, unknown but rare gems on your shelf?


  1. Oh, you gotta love the great brain. Except that there are some boys it's dangerous to give the book to ... like my brother ...

    Unknown gems on my shelf: The Mennyms, by Sylvia Waugh, hands down. Such the best.

    Also D.E. Stevenson's Celia's House. The plot will be familiar to all you Mansfield Park lovers, but it's great stuff.

  2. Nearly fell off my chair when I saw Thorpe! My maiden name was Mary Dutton, and I have a copy from a garage sale, from when I was 10!

    Unknown gems, here:
    A Sense of Humus
    Quo Vadis

  3. Oh my gosh, I read House of Stairs in high school! It was such a unique book, so different from what everyone else was reading. I never forgot the ending. Way cool stuff. I may just have to try to hunt down a copy :+}

  4. You forgot to include "The Y2K Family Survival Guide."

  5. I'm glad to see someone else clings to old books! I recently spent $40 (acck!) for a copy of Judith of France by Margaret Leighton. That's the only one I've gone overboard for, but I think it was definitely worth it.

  6. I have been searching for the book "Thorpe" for years! I had just about given up when I saw your post. I'm guessing I read it about 40 years ago. It left a lasting impression on me. So glad to hear that I remembered the correct title.

  7. Thanks for your comment re: Thorpe. My mother, Mary Dutton, Wrote it while I was in College. She passed away this week and I discovered your blog while googling her name today. She would have been so pleased to see what you and others thought about Thorpe.
    Best wishes, Richard Dutton


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