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Books For Curious Minds

The past makes a good present, especially when you give one of these 12 reissued hidden gems / BY Nathalie Atkinson / December 15th, 2023


The past is present thanks to the many publishers reviving unjustly neglected and forgotten books. Beautiful modern editions – and, often, an introduction by a passionate admirer – give them fresh context and relevance for a new audience. (For other great 2023 reissues, check out my mid-year round-up.) 

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. 

1Whispering City by Horace Brown

For the latest in their Ricochet series of vintage noir mysteries, Montreal’s Véhicule Press has reissued this coveted but scarce Canadian 1947 pulp novel (based on a Canadian feature film). Set in Quebec City, it’s the story of a former pin-up turned actress who goes insane with paranoia after the dramatic death of her lover, and enlists Mary, a “lady reporter,” to prove it was murder and uncover the killer’s identity.


2Sofia Petrovna by Lydia Chukovskaya

This intense Russian novella, composed in secret in a school notebook during the winter of 1939-’40 (and published in 1965), is one of the few surviving contemporaneous accounts of the Great Purge, covering about two years in the life of a widow who is a true believer in Stalin. As the author said: “I expressly meant to write a book about a society gone mad … she’s a personification of those who seriously believed that what took place was rational and just.”


3Divine Days by Leon Forrest

“The War and Peace of African American literature” is how esteemed literary critic Henry Louis Gates Jr. describes this celebrated 1,100-page epic published in 1992. Set in 1966, it recounts a week in the life of aspiring playwright Joubert Jones of fictional Forest County (not unlike Chicago’s South Side, where the late novelist and professor at Northwestern University grew up) and touches on every aspect of African American life.


4Thus Was Adonis Murderedby Sarah Caudwell

Caudwell, pseudonym of a British barrister who died in 2000, brought her legal mind for puzzles to bear on a series of four witty cozy mysteries, published in 1981. This, the first, introduces the reader to amateur sleuth Hillary Tamar, an Oxford don of indeterminate gender and ambiguous age, who helps a young lawyer accused of murder on a trip to Venice. The first two books are now out in print (with a foreword by longtime fan A.J. Finn, author of The Woman in the Window) and, for the first time, available on audiobook.


5Her Side of the Story by Alba de Céspedes

Alessandra, a Roman woman looking back on her life before and after the Second World War, may not be fully attuned to the politics inherent in her everyday routine (ironing her husband’s shirts, getting the groceries) but this feminist social novel is. Italian superstar novelist Elena Ferrante, who writes the afterword, says this 1949 novel was a formative influence on her work and a title she keeps on a list of “books of encouragement.”


6Better Than Saneby Alison Rose

This memoir by the model and actress turned New Yorker writer  – now 80 – was written after she began working there as a receptionist in the 1980s, and was published to oddly little fanfare in 2004. From her childhood in Palo Alto, Calif., to her years as a writer, Rose’s misadventures, whether professional or romantic, share the same droll, shrewd and seedy flavour as freewheeling L.A. demimondaine Eve Babitz, causing at least one critic to observe that it is probably the most glamorous book you will read this year.


7The New Tribe by Buchi Emecheta

“We are able to speak because she first spoke,” the Nigerian American author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (We Should All Be Feminists) says of Buchi Emecheta, the Lagos-born pioneer of female African writers. Based in the U.K. from the age of 18, the officer of the Order of the British Empire, who died in 2017, was among the 1983 cohort of Granta’s vaunted decennial list, Best of Young British Novelists. This 2000 tale of a young Nigerian boy adopted by a white family proved to be her final novel.


8The Halt During the Chase by Rosemary Tonks

The second book by the cult classic writer of The Bloater to be reissued by New Directions is a colourful, brutally funny 1972 coming-of-age novel. Imagine a cross between Holden Caulfield and Elizabeth Bennett navigating Nancy Mitford’s world of silly British snobs and you’re a measure toward a portrait of the irrepressible protagonist, Sophie.


9Seed on the Wind by Rex Stout

When the early literary novels of the legendary Nero Wolfe creator (one of the most popular mystery writers of all time) fizzled out due to middling sales, he turned to commercial fiction. This 1930 novel of psychological suspense is one of two early Stout rediscoveries being published by Hard Case Crime, and both are experimental in form. In this one, the story unfurls, puzzle-like, in reverse chronological order, and features an independent-minded heroine indifferent to how society sees her as she takes charge of her fate (and reproductive destiny).


10My Search for Warren Harding by Robert Plunket

Thanks in part to his enduring influence on writers like Ann Beattie, comedian Larry David and journalist Frank Rich, Plunket’s 1983 debut novel has been revived. The provocative story about a closeted gay historian scheming to access the correspondence of U.S. president Warren Harding’s mistress got a second life among New York literati, who passed it around as a humorous escapist read during the pandemic. Now, as this New York Times profile reveals, they may have lured the 78-year-old out of retirement.


11Lies and Sorcery by Elsa Morante

The first unabridged English translation of Morante’s debut novel, originally published in Italy in 1948, was written during the Second World War. This new New York Review Books Classics translation, which weighs in at nearly 800 pages and charts three generations of women in a Sicilian family, has been likened in scope to Proust, Tolstoy and Stendhal.


12 SS-GB by Len Deighton

The 94-year-old British espionage novelist is best known for his insolent spy Harry Palmer, but his handsomely reissued stand-alone novels of the Second World War are worthy of rediscovery. This 1978 spy story and alternative history novel (set in a U.K. conquered and occupied by Germany) is considered his best work. There’s also Bomber (1970), a fictionalized account of a 24-hour Allied bombing raid told with great historical detail (and packaged with an appreciative introduction by Malcolm Gladwell), and Winter (1987), the absorbing saga of a German family divided by the gulf between their ideals.


THE SCROLL

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