With hundreds of books pouring into the Kirkus office every week, it’s hard to make time to read things that came out last year, let alone further back. Two things have me thinking about older books today, beginning with the unusual fact that you’ll find reviews of four volumes by Australian writer Christina Stead in this issue.
Best known for The Man Who Loved Children (1940), Stead is being brought back into print by Text, an independent Melbourne-based publisher that has introduced an exciting list in the U.S. over the past few years, including books by Elizabeth Harrower and Elizabeth Witting. All four titles we consider earned starred reviews, which may be some kind of record.
I’ve also been thinking about older books since International Women’s Day on March 8, when I tweeted a list of backlist books by some of my favorite women writers, including lesser-known books by famous authors—please read Hilary Mantel’s Beyond Black, a novel about a fairground psychic who really does speak to ghosts but lets everyone think she’s a fraud—and books by writers who aren’t read so much anymore, including Alice Adams (the gossipy Caroline’s Daughters and Almost Perfect). Fellow book people on Twitter reassured me that Laurie Colwin and Margaret Drabble are still being read, and a surprising number jumped in to proclaim their love for Michelle Huneven’s Blame, about a woman who goes to jail for killing two people while driving drunk.
And just to bring things full circle, consider Rosellen Brown’s Civil Wars, one of my favorite books, about a civil rights activist bringing up her racist brother’s children after he dies in a car crash. I just discovered that in a starred 1984 review, Kirkus called it “one of the best portraits of a besieged family since Christina Stead’s The Man Who Loved Children.”
Laurie Muchnick is the fiction editor.