'True Detective' Makes Obscure Short Story Collection Popular Again — These Books Could Use That Boost, Too
Recently, an obscure collection of 19th century short stories went from toiling in obscurity to hitting number 7 on the Amazon Bestseller List. How did this happen? Why True Detective, of course, the hit HBO series starring Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson. From imagery to direct quotes, the show makes numerous references to the collection, titled The King in Yellow , and fans of the series have taken notice. Ever since episode five, sales of The King in Yellow have been climbing.
This is, simply put, really cool. In a world where it's so easy for books to be forgotten, or to never get the attention they deserve in the first place, the idea of a TV show making an author's work popular again is pretty awesome. And, in fact, we can also think of a few other books and authors we'd love to see get a bump in popularity by piggy-backing on a pop culture phenomenon. Because some books are cool enough they deserve a second chance to become pop culture phenomenons of their own.
1. The Blind Owl by Sadegh Hedayat
Sadegh Hedayat was an Iranian author in the early 20th century who was heavily influenced by Western literature and Iranian folklore. His most critically acclaimed novel, The Blind Owl , is a surrealist story full of intense imagery and existential questions that are just as intriguing today as upon publication in 1937. Sadly, Hedayat is currently banned in Iran due to his Western and non-Islamic influences while the people in the West have more or less forgotten him. So seeing it become part of pop culture today would be unspeakably cool.
2. Petersburg by Andrei Bely
Petersburg was originally published in Russia in 1913, but didn't make it into English publication until 1959. The book follows a young revolutionary in Tsarist Russia who has been ordered to kill his own father. It received critical praise by the New York Times, but never really caught on in America. Which is why it would be awesome to see it get the sort of attention that could make Bely as much of a household name as Nabokov, something he definitely deserves.
3. Mumbo Jumbo by Ishmael Reed
Ishmael Reed's masterful tale Mumbo Jumbo is one of the better known titles in this list, but despite still having a place on some college reading lists, the book never caught on in mainstream literary culture. Which is a shame because it is stellar. Set in 1920s New York, the book incorporates everything from voodoo to conspiracy theories to Sigmund Freud, and is both thought provoking and entertaining from start to finish. The novel seeks to deconstruct the very foundations of white, Western civilization, and does so brilliantly — so it would be excellent if white, Western civilization would finally give it all the attention it deserves.
4. Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter
Angela Carter was a British novelist and journalist from the mid-20th century known for being a staunch feminist. Her novel Nights at the Circus is tale chock full of magical realism and political implications that involves a woman hatched from an egg, a fortune-telling pig, runaway outlaws, and, of course, a circus. The book has been gaining popularity in the U.K. since Carter's death in 1992, and it would be great if a little pop culture magic could bring all that postmodern feminist magic to this side of the pond.
5. The Selected Stories of Mercè Rodoreda
Mercè Rodoreda is one of the most famous Catalan writers of all time, but here in the U.S. she's virtually unknown. Sometimes called a Spanish Shirley Jackson, her stories are short but pointed and will give readers plenty of thrills. Still, she could use a little help making the leap to American shores, so if any TV shows want to start referencing her, we'd be over the moon.
6. The Collected Stories by Grace Paley
Grace Paley was an American short story writer and political activist best remembered for her pacifist stance and opposition to militarization. However, she also published numerous short stories and was at one point a finalist for the National Book Award. Many of her stories speak to the struggles of women trapped in gender roles, and they are so insightful and compassionate that there is plenty of material for film and television to draw on. Which they really should because Paley really deserves better than to slip into obscurity.
7. Divine Days by Leon Forrest
Leon Forrest is one of the greatest African American novelists you've never heard of. His 1,000 page masterpiece Divine Days is long enough that it's often compared to War and Peace, though it was actually modeled after Ulysses. The novel involves a large cast of entertaining characters and takes the reader on a multifaceted exploration of black identity. Possibly due to the length, it was never overly popular and is currently out of print, but we have faith that some well placed television references could bring it back to the country's attention.
8. Selected Poetry by Edna St. Vincent Millay
Edna St. Vincent Millay was a powerhouse of a poet from the first half of the 20th century. She was also a feminist activist known for her love affairs with both men and women. She's still somewhat well known today, but her fiery pen deserves much wider recognition. We'd love to see some of her poems quotes in film and television. Or maybe see her version of Penelope inspire its own adaptation.
9. Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko
Leslie Marmon Silko's prose is beautiful, and on full display in her best-known novel, Ceremony . Yet even this masterful work isn't half as popular as it should be with American readers. Set after World War II, Ceremony follows a Native American soldier who's returned home from the war struggling to cope with everything he's seen. The novel's rich symbolism and its recurring theme destruction versus creation make it a worthwhile point of reference for any number of books or movies, and we would welcome anything that gets it the wider readership it has more than earned.