As book-lovers and bibliophiles, we can all be pretty vocal about the books we love. We share recommendations, read reviews, and always add to our ever-growing to-be-read piles. There seems to be a never-ending stream of extraordinary reads of all kinds, which is obviously a very good thing (even though that to-be-read pile has become a precariously balanced actual pile next to your already bursting book shelf).
Unfortunately, it also makes it all too easy for lesser known tomes to get scattered in the shuffle. In fact, odds are your current favorite author has an under-the-radar read (or two or three) lurking in their catalog. Perhaps it’s a novel from early in their career. Maybe it’s by an author whose best known work grabs all the attention. Or it could from that time your favorite author dabbled in a genre outside their usual wheelhouse. Whatever the case, there are likely a number of novels and series from well-known authors just waiting for their chance in the spotlight. Here are a few of our favorites.
George R. R. Martin
While George R.R. Martin is best known for the brutal and epic fantasy found in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, Martin has been known to stretch his literary muscle from time to time with brilliant results. The Armageddon Rag, a surreal murder mystery built on the radical history and music culture of the 1960’s, is one of Martin’s more entertaining works.
Border Trilogy (2)
While it is part of Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy, the award-winning first book in that cycle, All the Pretty Horses, tends to suck all the oxygen out of the room. The Crossing treads on similar ground to All the Pretty Horses, but McCarthy’s coming-of-age tale is a much darker and bleaker exercise – more akin to Blood Meridian. It centers on sixteen-year-old Billy Parham and his surreal journey to return a she-wolf to the mountains of Mexico.
Robert Galbraith (a pseudonym for J.K. Rowling)
When you wrote one of the most famous and beloved series in the world, it can be difficult to shift genres and find a neutral audience. Thus, J.K. Rowling made the decision to dabble in mysteries under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. The result is an intricately woven detective tale centering on a curmudgeonly and down-on-his luck private investigator.
Vladimir Nabokov is obviously best known for his English language masterpiece, Lolita. However, among his works are a number of excellent novels originally written in his native Russian. Of those, Invitation to a Beheading may be the best. It is a surreal, bizarre, and Kafkaesque tale of a young man sentenced to death by beheading.
Margaret Atwood is one of the most celebrated authors of her generation, acclaimed for her shrewdly-realized and often quietly brutal speculative fiction. With a string of undeniable classics to her name, it can be easy to forget that Atwood’s writing was razor sharp out of the gate. Her first novel, The Edible Woman, is powerful examination of the life of a young woman who is losing her grip on world around her. It’s as incisive and visceral as any of her more celebrated novels.
One of the downsides to writing one of the seminal novels of the 20th century is that there’s a fair chance your other works may be a bit obscured. While Brave New World is certainly worthy of all of its considerable acclaim, Aldous Huxley penned a number of brilliant reads throughout his career. His last novel, Island, ranks as one of his best.
While Philip Pullman is best known for the His Dark Materials trilogy, his Sally Lockhart quartet is equally as fascinating – it tours the steamier side of Victorian London. Pullman’s keen eye for detail and action are on full display as is his penchant for brilliantly engaging and complex heroines.
Kazuo Ishiguro’s stark and elegiac, yet deeply layered prose earned him this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature. Most are familiar with the deeply human tales woven in The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go. The Unconsoled is arguably Ishiguro’s most controversial book, and its sprawling, intricate story of a renowned pianist caught up in a maddening series of misadventures is challenging. It is as haunting and emotionally resonant as anything he has written.
Shirley Jackson is widely renowned for her short story The Lottery and her gothic horror classics, The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in The Castle. There are a number of equally fascinating and dread-inducing stories throughout her published works. Among them, Hangsaman is an oft-overlooked gem. Based on Jackson’s own experience with a bizarre disappearance, Hangsaman is a labyrinthine and chilling read.
A Novel (Penguin Orange Collection)
David Foster Wallace
There seem to be two basic schools of thought on reading the inimitable work of David Foster Wallace: one either says damn the torpedoes and dives straight into Infinite Jest, or one goes for the more bite-sized (and in the case of a Wallace, bite-sized is a relative term) ruminations in Consider the Lobster. There is, however, an occasionally missed middle ground – Wallace’s first novel, The Broom of the System. This tale of a young telephone switchboard operator in the midst of various existential crises features the same extraordinary wordsmithing, none of the footnotes and appendices, and the same incisive intersection of absurdity and insight.