There are good books and there are great books and there may be a book that is something still more: it is the book of your life. If you’re quite lucky, you may at some point chance upon a novel which inspires so close a kinship that questions of evaluation (Is this book better than merely good? Is it some sort of classic?) become a niggling irrelevance. Luck has everything to do with it. For the sensation I’m describing has its roots in a poignant, tantalizing feeling that this marvelous new addition to your existence, this indelible Presence, has arrived by serendipity. Anyone who cares seriously about fiction eventually will get around to The Brothers Karamazov orMadame Bovary or Pride and Prejudice or Moby-Dick or Don Quixote, and if you’re somebody whose closest literary attachment is to a book of this staple sort, the satisfaction you take from it will not be graced by the particular haunted feeling of good fortune I’m talking about; you will have, instead, the assurance of knowing that your keenest literary pleasures were preordained. One looks differently on the book of genius that, even in a long bookworm’s life, one might never have stumbled upon.
This is from Brad Leithauser's introduction to Independent People by Halldor Laxness. Ive been meaning to recommend a few books people might not have heard of (and to elicit recommendations for books I might not have heard of).
Like Leithauser, I picked up Independent People by accident, though not, as he did, on a hiking trip through Iceland. No, more prosaically, I picked up the book at a library sale. I had never heard of it. I was enticed by the publisher (Vintage Books) and the remark by Jane Smiley on the cover: I love this book. It is an unfolding wonder of artistic vision and skill--one of the best books of the twentieth century. I cannot imagine any greater delight than coming to Independent People for the first time.
While you are reading it, you might wonder what makes it so great. It took me a while. Often, I felt like I was trudging through this long book, much as the main character trudges through life. All will become clear on the last page.
An interesting sidenote: The novelist Ann Patchett opened a bookstore in Nashville.
In an Atlantic article, she mentioned that she did not like the name--Parnassus Books--suggested by her partner-to-be. She had always fantasized about owning a bookstore called Independent People--"after the great Halldor Laxness novel about Iceland and sheep."
Well, in honor of Patchett, I'm not going to link to Amazon! Buy it from an independent bookstore or do the frugal thing and check it out of the library. My library doesn't own a copy, but they would buy one if I requested it. I really should as a service to other readers in my area.
Do you know of any books you might never have heard of?