With all the new releases that descend on bookstores like a tsunami each fall, it’s easy to forget just how many worthy older books never see the light of day. Some are works from abroad that don’t find a U.S. publisher; others are works by established authors that, for various reasons, haven’t ended up in print. When and if they finally do, it feels like an unexpected gift from the literary gods, sparking the same sense of discovery that comes with a promising debut. As novelist/bookseller Anne Patchett says in a popular video series highlighting backlist titles for the Parnassus Books TikTok account, “If you haven’t read this book, it’s new to you.”
I’m thinking, for example, of A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin. Berlin’s piercing autobiographical stories were published by small presses in the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s but later fell out of print; their second life in this 2018 volume was a revelation for contemporary readers. (Our starred review called it a “testament to a writer whose explorations of society’s rougher corners deserve wider attention.”) Books by Kathleen Collins, Rachel Ingalls, and Uwe Johnson published in recent years offered similar epiphanies.
The fall season brings more such works; here are three we’re especially excited about:
Sing a Black Girl’s Song: The Unpublished Work of Ntozake Shange, edited by Imani Perry (Legacy Lit/Hachette, Sept. 12): Shange, who died in 2018, is best known for her 1976 stage play (or, as she called it, “choreopoem”), for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf, which is regularly performed by local theaters and schools throughout the U.S. and recently had an inspiring revival on Broadway. For this volume, the National Book Award–winning author of South to America scoured the archives to bring us essays, poems, short stories, and plays from this vital writer whose work deserves a wider readership. “The literary value of these works extends far beyond the insight they offer into Shange’s life and artistic career,” says our starred review.
The Children’s Bach by Helen Garner (Pantheon, Oct. 10): This 1984 novel is considered by many critics to be the crowning achievement of an 80-year-old Australian writer too little known in this country (but revered by its writers). The release of a new U.S. edition, with an introduction by Rumaan Alam (Leave the World Behind), could reintroduce American readers to this brutally honest and elusive observer. Our starred review calls it “[b]rilliantly constructed and puzzling in a good way, the way that even our own lives can be puzzling to us.” (Garner’s 2014 nonfiction book, This House of Grief: The Story of a Murder Trial, is also being published here next month.)
So Many People, Mariana by Maria Judite de Carvalho, trans. by Margaret Jull Costa (Two Lines Press, Oct. 10): De Carvalho (1921-1998) is now recognized as one of the most important Portuguese writers of the 20th century (it’s no coincidence that so many of these rediscoveries are women and people of color, whose work was too readily discounted). In a starred review, our critic praises these “[e]legant stories full of a dry and subtle wit, intricately observed scenes, and a full range of emotion.”
Tom Beer is the editor-in-chief.