Robert Nedelkoff, out-of-print maestro, sends this message:
I’ll begin by saying that for the last year and a half I’ve been on the advisory board of the Lost Books Club, which Mark Moskowitz set up with the late Leslie Fiedler as a result of the Stone Reader documentary, and that the LBC’s next selection, “The LBJ Brigade,” was my suggestion. So I’m in a position to help get neglected, out-of-print books back in the stores, rather than just talk about it.
But it does look like the Lost Books Club is going to be concentrating on getting out one, two, or three books by any particular writer.
What I’d like to do here is to present to any interested editors (at major houses, or at small presses with the kind of resources that would be needed) three American authors, whose oeuvres are extensive, and entirely out-of-print — writers whose work deserves the kind of treatment that Dawn Powell received at Steerforth or Stanley Elkin received at Dalkey Archive. And since I’m well aware that nowadays a reason to republish is needed beyond a writer’s having written good or important books, I’ve provided it in each case.
So here they are:
In 2002, for the Washington Post’s 125th anniversary, Jonathan Yardley contributed a survey of American literature since 1877. This article started with Melville and Whitman, and went through about 150 names: Hem, Fitz, Pynchon, Alan Furst, Willa Cather, ChesterHimes, JF Powers, Robert Frost, Amy Tan, Elizabeth Spencer, Kerouac, the whole shebang.
Every writer listed, in 2002 and now, has at least one book in print — except one. Yep, it’s De Vries, once invariably hailed as “America’s foremost comic novelist.” A writer whom Robertson Davies, in the Seventies and Eighties, repeatedly called the best American novelist, period. A writer praised by Kingsley and Martin Amis, Christopher Buckley, Julian Barnes, Thurber, Paul Theroux . . . the list could go on for centuries. A writer whom J.D. Salinger called friend.
And now? Well, he died in 1993, and either just before or just after his death, the last of his books drifted out of print. Rick Moody is the only writer under 50 that I know of who’s read him. But his books are there, and still funny, and still barbed, and still good.
Reason to publish De Vries, Ed: You may get the chance to be a pen-pal of Harper Lee’s. I’m not kidding. In the one real interview she ever gave, to Roy Newquist of the Chicago Sun-Times in ’64, she went on record, for the first and only time, about whom she admired among (then) living writers. She chose Updike, Cheever, Mary McCarthy, Capote, Flannery O’Connor — none of whom are in particular need of revival — and De Vries, whom she called “the
Evelyn Waugh of our time.” Who knows? Maybe if you took on De Vries, then dropped her a line, she’d be willing to expand on that quote.
Worth looking into: In his NY Times Book Review obit essay on De Vries, Paul Theroux talked about what a superb, acute, witty letter writer he was. What little has been published from De Vries’ correspondence (in Harrison Kinney’s Thurber biography, and a couple of other places) more than bears this out.
Whom to contact: Dan Campion, author of the only book about De Vries published since his death, tells me that as of a couple of years ago Watkins & Loomis were handling his estate. I think the writer’s lit’ry executor now may be his actor son Jon.
His first novel, The End Of My Life, was very nearly the last book edited by Max Perkins — and Bourjaily, to my knowledge, is the last living writer who worked with Perkins. (And, speaking of another of Perkins’ writers, Hemingway, in a conversation with Leslie Fiedler in 1960, singled out Bourjaily as the best writer of his generation – that one’s not online, but you’ll find it in A New Fiedler Reader.) His novel Confessions Of A Spent Youth was often acknowledged by Fred Exley as a major influence on A Fan’s Notes. His nonfiction The Unnatural Enemy is one of the best and funniest books about hunting. At Iowa and LSU, he was one of the best writing teachers ever. Give Vance a chance.
Reason to publish Bourjaily, Ed: You get to work with the last writer standing who worked with Perkins. Plus, if you’re good, maybe he’ll tell you some stories about the “literary salon” he and his wife used to preside over in the Village — and anyone who’s read a biography of James Jones or Mailer knows that there are some stories to tell about that.
Choice titles: The above, plus The Man Who Knew Kennedy.
Whom to contact: I believe Carlisle & Co still handle him.
Not long before he died, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote (it’s in his published letters) that Weidman was worth fifty or a hundred Steinbecks (forget which it was). Later in the Forties, Hemingway said in a letter that Weidman, in his first books, certainly proved he could write. Rebecca West liked him too. His novel The Enemy Camp paved the way for Philip Roth. His best short stories (“My Father Sits In The Dark,” “The Explorers,” a number of others) rank right alongside the best of Cheever and Welty.
Reason to publish Weidman, Ed: You get to hang out with his son John, who’s Sondheim’s librettist, and maybe he’ll introduce you to the great man. Plus, if you run into Scott Fitzgerald in the hereafter, he’ll shake your hand and tell you what a fine thing you did to get this guy back in print.
Whom to contact: Don’t know the agent for Weidman’s estate but if you want to get in touch with John Weidman, I think he’s handled by William Morris.
Readers: send your own out-of-print revival suggestions to outofprint at maudnewton.com.