Monday, April 26, 2010

Have You Ever Heard Of: A Post About Obscure Favorites

In my mind, there's only one thing worse than the "what's your favorite book?" question. It's when you actually answer that near-impossible question and get stares so blank you wonder if you'd just been speaking Sanskrit. What? You've never heard of one of my favorite books of all time? What in the name of Edward Bulwer-Lytton is wrong with you? 

Surely, most literary nuts have a book or two on their favorites list that no one else in their literary circles has read, or even heard of. If you love an obscure book, you've probably deluded yourself into believing that it's not as obscure as you might think. Either that, or you take pride in the fact that one of your favorites IS obscure. Of course, what "obscurity" means is as relative and fluid as the "favorite book" question itself. So sometimes it's fun to stick a toe in the literary waters and find out how obscure your obscure favorites really are.

For me, the obscure book and my answer to the dreaded "favorite book" situation above was The Power of One, by Bryce Courtney. This inspirational coming-of-age story about young boxer Peekay is set in appatheid-era South Africa. It's probably better known for its (AWFUL) movie version, but the book is absolutely mesmerizing. Even if you hate boxing, you'll be glued to the pages. It's just a heart-wrenching, beautiful novel.

Another of my favorite obscure novels (though not necessarily favorite overall) is Gospel, by Wilton Barhardt. This long adventure novel about a graduate student's modern-day quest to find a lost gospel is just simply lots of fun. There are also a few scenes that poke subtle fun at fundamentalist Christian doctrine, so if you're into that, you'll probably laugh out loud. I read Gospel soon after I read The Da Vinci Code, and actually liked it much more. But, here's how obsure this one is: It's out of print. If you're interested, though, I've seen it frequently at used book stores.

So what are your favorite obscure novels? Why do you like them? 


  1. I have never read The Power of One but I LOVED the movie. So good. Oh, PK :-)

    If you would be interested, you could do a post on one of these for my With Reverent Hands series- it's EXACTLY for these types of obscure books!

  2. Oh Greg, where do I even begin? Actually, my favorites are by an author named Jeffrey Barlough, and they comprise his Western Lights fantasy series. The titles I've read are Dark Sleeper, The House in the High Wood, Strange Cargo, and Bertram of Butter Cross. There's another one, Anchorwick, but I have yet to read it. I can't explain why I like them, other than they pull me out of this world and into Barlough's.

    Great post!

  3. My favorite book probably of all time is "Forever" by Pete Hamill. Ugh. I love it so much. And another fave is "Kartography" by Kamila Shamsie. But no one has really heard of these. So normally I say "Pride & Prejudice" is my favorite. But I'm not happy about it...

  4. I have not read the power of one or seen the movie.

    My fav book which I just finished actually is I do not come to you by chance by Adaobi Nwaubani.

  5. Oh I wish I had a favorite obsure book, but I am afraid my favorites are ones that other people have heard of but not necessarily read. Here are two:
    Shantaram by David Gregory Roberts and Into the Forest by the Late Jean Hegland. Both kept me up late at night, but for different reasons. Shantaram is huge, but well worth it. While Hegland's will have you collecting food and water, just in case...

  6. i'm thinking part of obscurity is a geographical problem, i think most people in Australia know The Power of One - must be because Bryce Courtney lives here! My new favourite book no-one seems to have heard of is Red Queen by HM Brown. It's Australian too, and won an award but I seem to be one of the only people who've read it!

  7. @Aarti - Whoops, sorry for bagging on the movie, then. I think I had the typical "loved the book, so hating the movie is natural" reaction. :)

    @NancyO - Seems like there are so many good fantasy series, that it's not surprising people love the occasional "obscure" one.

    @home - Not at all familiar with Forever or Kartography, so nicely selected! Of the two, Forever looks more interesting - adding it to the wishlist.

    @Myne - I Do Not Come To You By Chance sounds fantastic - what an inventive angle for a novel!

    @SariJ - Yeah, I think I have heard of both of those, but have never picked them up. Into the Forest sounds particularly intriguing!

    @mummazappa - Yeah, and Courtenay isn't obscure in my family, either - we've all read The Power of One, and Tandia (the sequel, which was less good). You win the award for most obscure, too, with Red Queen - doesn't even come up on amazon! :)

  8. It's quite possible that compared to the book, the movie is awful. But I haven't read the book and just remember the movie really gripped me when I watched it in school. I should try the book, though!

  9. Hitomi Kanehara. So far I've yet to meet anyone else who knows who she is! She's writes transgressive lit (my own particular penchant) and has so far had two of her novels translated from the Japanese. I'm such a sucker for Japanese pop culture and her books are just full of it! LOVE IT!

  10. My obscure favorite is The Bone People, by Keri Hulme, a New Zealand writer.

  11. Bibliophiliac: I LOVED The Bone People! What a great book. But you're right...most people have never heard of this one!

  12. I also thoroughly enjoyed The Bone People. But God, was it emotionally exhausting!

  13. Sold on The Bone People! Wow - it's actually a Booker Prize winner.

  14. The Hunters by James Salter. I don't have a good sense of how many people know him or this his best book, but no one in my RL circle had ever heard of it/him. Beautiful prose and a killer ending.

  15. You should do a post on your top 10 favorite books of all time (if that could even be possible). I've never read either of these books; just vaguely heard about them. I'd be interested in seeing what kind of other books might make it to the top 10. I've been discovering some AMAZING books via Aarti's In REverent Hands posts, and I'm sure I'd discover quite a few from your favorite books list as well. :-)
    Favorite obscure books of mine would mostly fall under sci-fi, I guess. Like The Physiognomy by Jeffrey Ford. He himself isn't obscure, but for some reason I've never met anyone else that has even heard of this particular book. And the City in the Stars, by Arthur C. Clarke, once again a well known author, is a book that no one seems to have heard of that I ADORED!
    So not really obscure, I guess, but under-appreciated.

  16. Hello there! Have a blog award:


    It's well-deserved!

  17. @theApe - Count me as one who hasn't heard of The Hunters...until now. I love the premise of the book, though - thanks for bringing it up here!

    @brizmus - Thanks for the idea for the post. I'd always thought about doing that, but am never sure how much anyone cares about anyone else's Top 10 list, ya know? A preview: The Power of One is definitely near the top! I loved you last sentence, by the way - under-appreciated IS a much better way to say obscure, anyway! ;)

    @Bethany - Hey, thanks so much! I'm honored.

  18. Im with mummazappa. Its funny to see the Power of One referred to as obscure, it is very popular here in Australia, there wouldn't be many people that hadn't heard about it I think.

    I tried to read The People once, but I couldn't get into it.

    One of my favourite obscure books is called Father Frank but the name of tha uthor escapes me right now. I also love the Clan of the Cave Bear series

  19. i know! it's a travesty it's not on amazon it's that good. imo of course :-)