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Hidden Gems: The Best Rediscovered Books of 2022

Our list of 16 republished books includes a 1883 pamphlet about laziness by Karl Marx's son-in-law, an inventive 1933 biography of a Russian count and a 1970 mystery featuring a gay detective / BY Nathalie Atkinson / December 9th, 2022


Every year, this is my favourite holiday list to assemble, by far. Lost books, once they are found, republished and enthusiastically championed, take avid readers off the beaten path. The re-reading and discovery trend (especially of women’s authors and mystery fiction) means there are more to choose from than ever. As a companion to this week’s The Big Read about the passion projects of publishers and editors who rescue forgotten writers from obscurity, here are my highlights from this year’s crop of hidden gems.

Obsessive Book Buyers: Zoomer editors have carefully curated our book coverage to ensure you find the perfect read. We may earn a commission on books you buy by clicking on the cover image. 

 

1A Sultry Monthby Alethea Hayter

As one of the first-ever group biographies, if not the first, this 1965 work ushered in ensemble research that closely studies and distills a cultural moment, as well as the individuals who lived it. The rich work by Hayter, an English author who died in 2006 at the age of 94, is about the London literary scene and poets Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett, painter Benjamin Haydon and Scottish writer Thomas Carlyle and his wife June Carlyle (with cameos from Dickens, Wordsworth and Tennyson). Set during a heat wave amid a political crisis in the summer of 1846, it is introduced by Square Haunting author Francesca Wade. 


2America is in the Heartby Carlos Bulosan

Told from the point of view of a migrant worker, this semi-autobiographical story by the writer and labour organizer, first published in 1946, is a Filipino-American classic. One of the most influential working-class social novels of its time, it has been likened to Cannery Row and The Grapes of Wrath for its raw depiction of the struggle for survival while pursuing the American dream. It’s one of the Penguin Vitae series of landmark re-issues; on the lighter side, there’s also a new edition of Edith Wharton’s tragicomedy The Custom of the Country, with new introduction by American filmmaker and actress Sofia Coppola. 


3Fadeoutby Joseph Hansen

First published in 1970, openly gay insurance investigator Dave Brandstetter was a rare and unapologetic out-of-the-closet lead character. Hansen wrote about the gay milieu with sensitivity and insight, so to mark the 50th anniversary of the year the American Psychiatric Association declared homosexuality was not a mental illness – and introduce him to a new generation – New York specialist publisher Soho Syndicate is giving a makeover, with new covers and introductions, to all 12 books in the series by the American poet and crime writer.


4Near Neighboursby Molly Clavering

This slow charmer from 1956 is about the burgeoning friendship between a spinster and the young family next door. At 68, Dorothea is recently bereaved (and frankly, relieved) after the death of her domineering sister offers a new sense of freedom in post-war Edinburgh. It is yet another find from Furrowed Middlebrow, the 20th century women’s classic imprint at Dean Street Press. They also reprint golden age crime fiction, so if that’s your thing, check out the handsome new quintet of Brian Flynn whodunits.


5Nevadaby Imogen Binnie

When it was first printed nearly a decade ago, the Vermont writer’s darkly comic debut novel — about the adventures of a transgender New York punk — became a landmark trans novel and had a profound impact. Now being re-released as a classic, Binnie’s candid depiction of being a trans woman has been lauded by noted culture critics like Lucy Sante and Torrey Peters, author of a 2021 debut novel, Detransition, Baby.


6Of One Bloodby Pauline Hopkins

The Black American journalist and author (the former editor of The Colored American Magazine) pioneered the use of horror, science fiction, romance and fantasy writing to explore social and racial themes. Decades before the Marvel comic Black Panther was published, this 1903 novel features a mixed-race Harvard medical student, passing as white, who stumbles upon a technologically advanced, Wakanda-like African country that has never been colonized. CanCon bonus: it’s part of MIT Press’ new Radium Age science fiction reprint series, which boasts cover design by Canada’s own Seth.


7Pull Devil, Pull Bakerby Stella Benson

Recovered Books has resurrected this odd 1933 hybrid fiction/non-fiction biography of an eccentric Russian nobleman from Benson, an English modernist and feminist, because it presages the autofiction of W.G. Sebald, Geoff Dyer and Sheila Heti. Treading the fine line between fact and fiction, Benson envelops Count Nicolas de Toulouse Lautrec De Savine’s galloping memoir with her own running commentary, questioning what’s memory and what’s truth.


8Room to Swingby Ed Lacy

This Edgar Award-winning, hardboiled 1957 novel is the latest selection from the Library of Congress Crime Classics series, which covers genre novels from 1860 to the 1960s. Written by a Harlem-based white author, the protagonist is Toussaint Moore – the first Black private eye in a noir setting – who is accused of murdering a white man. Though not writing from lived experience, the pseudonymous author was married to a Black woman and had an integrated social life in Harlem.


9Salka Valkaby Halldor Laxness

This lesser-known novel (even by obscure standards), newly published by Archipelago books, charts the inner life of the titular heroine, who lives alone in a small fishing village. Laxness, a prolific Icelandic writer, won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1955 and is a favourite of Pulitzer-winner Jane Smiley, who calls this new translation “one of the most empathetic portraits of a girl and a woman that I’ve read by a male author.”


10Strange Journeyby Maud Cairnes

The latest middlebrow exhumation in the British Library Women Writers series is a weirdly compelling story that explores class differences in 1930s suburbia, when middle-class housewife Polly and aristocrat Lady Elizabeth find themselves trading bodies at random and unpredictable times. The story alternates their perspectives, with a focus on everyday concerns (like household budgeting) and class consciousness, and revels in the mishaps that inevitably arise from trading identities.


11The Bloaterby Rosemary Tonks

The English author and poet wrote terrific novels – like this sex comedy – before turning her back on the literary world until she died in 2014. This re-appraised 1967 classic is a stinging slice of Swinging Sixties London that probes the false promises of free love and bohemia; much of the discontent about men is relayed through sublime gossipy dialogue among female friends, making the novel ideally suited to lovers of Muriel Spark and wry comedies of manners.


12The Daughter of Timeby Josephine Tey

An oft-overlooked star among early 20th century British detective writers like Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh and Dorothy Sayers, Tey’s ingenious 1951 historical mystery about a laid-up Scotland Yard inspector, who becomes obsessed with investigating the alleged crimes of King Richard III, is considered one of the best mysteries of all time. It’s often been surprising difficult to obtain (the friend who gave me a copy had to get it print-on-demand) and this new edition remedies that problem.


13The Right to Be Lazyby Paul Lafargue

The title alone! This is a canny choice from NYRB Classics, the most influential and beloved of the North American re-issue specialists, and the 1883 pamphlet is the original argument against hustle culture. The author was Karl Marx’s secretary (and son-in-law), who persuasively argues against “the moribund passion for work” — the same conclusion many came to during pandemic-spurred introspection. Call it quiet quitting, 19th century-style.


14Things Come and Goby Bette Howland

The introduction by American author Rumaan Alam (who wrote the brainy thriller Leave the World Behind) praises Howland: That she “juggled shitty jobs and two kids and mental illness …. that she still sat down to write seems the opposite of tragedy.” This edition collects three novellas originally released in 1983, the year before she won a MacArthur Fellowship and abruptly ceased publishing new work.


15Tripticksby Ann Quin

A recent appraisal in the New Yorker about the little-known British writer calls her final novel (first published in 1972) “her most pointedly satirical work… a feminist anti-romance, anti-road novel.” Enthusiasts like Anakana Schofield, Sheila Heti, Deborah Levy and China Miéville contend that her experimental punk style bridges the modernists Virginia Woolf and Elizabeth Bowen.


16The Pothuntersby PG Wodehouse


The Pothunters by PG Wodehouse
Admittedly, this one’s a bit of a cheat. No one could ever call the English comic genius behind the antic humour of Jeeves & Wooster obscure, let alone forgotten, but it’s such a spiffing new-old Wodehouse. In this case, it’s his first novel – set in a boarding school and written when he was just 20 – which is being published to mark its 120th anniversary. (Dec. 27)


THE SCROLL

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