The Book of Forgotten Authors by Christopher Fowler is a nonfiction collection of 99 authors (with a 100th added to this paperback edition) whether fairly obscure, decently successful, or prolific in their time, who have since become almost completely forgotten by the reading public. In each author’s respective section Fowler discusses some of their most notable works and their writing career, while also offering a glimpse into their personal lives and insight into why they disappeared from the public eye. Peppered throughout are 12 short essays about broader subjects, such as contemporary characters who competed with the likes of Sherlock Holmes and James Bond, now forgotten, or authors who drifted from memory by writing too little—or too much.
What immediately appealed to me about this book was just how digestible it is. With one or two exceptions, each author’s respective section is about 2-3 pages long, which makes it perfect for reading in short bursts. Even a typically slower reader, like myself, could get through a good number of authors in a short amount of time. The only drawback I had was how this conflicted with my desire to get through the book more quickly. It’s perfect as a supplemental read, to be picked up and put down more leisurely, but I didn’t want to be reading it over a long period of time. Though I wouldn’t outright fault the writing for this, I found determinedly pushing through the book in order to finish it made the experience more laborious than it could have been.
Speaking of the writing, I really enjoyed how much personality Fowler projected in each entry. It never read like simple dry facts and description of the authors’ lives and works. Without overtaking this information, I always got the sense of Fowler’s own experience of discovery while digging into each author’s background and career. I especially enjoyed the entry about Polly Hope, whom Fowler got to meet and encouraged to republish one of her novels as an ebook. Another entry had a delightfully uncanny moment at the end where he tracked down a copy of an author’s book he remembered having as a kid, only to find that the copy he purchased had his very own signature inside. These small touches helped make an otherwise fascinating history book appreciably more personal.
Each entry, whether an essay or about an author, was an excursion into literary history that I thoroughly enjoyed. One of the more surprising aspects of the book was how often an original work and its author seemed to become buried by a much more famous adaptation. I had no idea that the Planet of the Apes film franchise was originally adapted from a French novel, La Planète des singes (Monkey Planet) by Pierre Boulle. Nor was I aware just how many Disney films adapted novels, including Bambi and Dumbo, which I’d assumed were original intellectual properties. Furthermore, some authors created pop culture icons, but nobody really knows their names nor their novels. The biggest example of this to me was Edgar Wallace, who wrote the original screenplay for 1933’s King Kong film, though he died before the film was made.
This book was nearly everything I’d hoped it would be. Literary history is admittedly something I haven’t touched upon very much on my own, and this made for a perfectly accessible entry point to experience a more niche corner of that. I especially delighted in the fact that one author I’d actually read before, and another I’ve had on my to-read list for a few years. The most regrettable thing for me was there were so many authors that they started to blend together a little, many getting lost in the shuffle as I read more and more. This wasn’t helped by the fact that they started to become rather homogenous to me as I got further along, something Fowler himself addresses in the paperback-exclusive entry at the end. Nevertheless, if the succinct title The Book of Forgotten Authors jumps out at you even a little, I recommend picking this book up.
My Rating: 4 out of 5