What constitutes a “neglected classic”? The matter is entirely subjective. After all, a book heralded by one person as worthy of rediscovery may be well known and beloved by any number of other readers. Let us simply say, then, that the following books are works we think ought to be read by more people, works that we keep coming back to but that aren’t talked about as much as we would like. This list is just a start. Tell us below what you think of our choices, but more important, tell us about the books that you feel are worthy of our acquaintance.
Twilight in Delhi by Ahmed Ali
Published seven years before the partition of India and championed by the likes of E. M. Forster, this novel is a poetic, visceral, and loving portrait of Muslim Old Delhi: its colors, sounds, smells, customs, people, idiosyncrasies. Reading this novel is like traversing a glorious archaeological ruin—especially with our knowledge of how this world will soon disappear.
They Were Counted by Miklós Bánffy
Set in the waning years of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the first volume in The Transylvanian Trilogy is a moody, atmospheric masterpiece, replete with misty mountains, dense forests, magnificent castles, and a cast of misbehaving aristocrats struggling with themselves, one another, and the violent, inexorable passing of an age.
The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter
These beguiling stories, by one of the 20th-century’s masters of short fiction, may seem like mere fairy tales, but they are darker, bloodier, and more complex and psychologically intense than almost anything one might encounter in that genre. These terrifying miniatures will chill and arouse all at once.
I Am One of You Forever by Fred Chappell
This slim, Southern Gothic picaresque novel recalls Gabriel García Márquez’s magical realism in the form of tall tales swapped on a front porch. Whiskey-swilling uncles relive Greek myths in the presence of the 10-year-old narrator who is beginning to comprehend the nature of God and of unconditional love.
Dom Casmurro by Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis
Arguably the greatest novel by the Brazilian master Machado de Assis, this darkly comic and psychologically penetrating book features one of the great unreliable narrators in world literature: the paranoid, jealous Bento Santiago, who begins to think that his child is not his own, but rather the result of an adulterous relationship between his closest friend and his wife.
North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
The title of Gaskell’s brilliant, perceptive social novel, set in the industrial north of England, was not her own. Charles Dickens, whose contemporaneous Hard Times was direct competition, insisted on the title. Gaskell had wanted to call the book “Margaret Hale” after her protagonist, a girl of the south whose feelings about the north are challenged when she is forced to move there, into the heart of the cotton manufacturing country. A classic novel about the many crises brought about by industrialization.
Aleck Maury, Sportsman by Caroline Gordon
Gordon’s beautiful elegy to a lost world is set in the rural South of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and takes the form of the fictional memoirs of Aleck Maury—gentleman, classical scholar—whose great passion in life is the pursuit of pristine fields and streams in which to hunt and fish. A heartbreaking novel that depicts a man beholden to his ideals, who sees the world around him irreparably change and his own life pass him by.
Reveille in Washington: 1860-1865 by Margaret Leech
Winner of the 1942 Pulitzer Prize, this history of the nation’s capital during the Civil War is a rich, beautifully written narrative. Consider this passage on the death of Elmer Ellsworth, the North’s first casualty: “From the capital, sorrow spread in a wave over the Union. It was as if the people of the republic, so inexperienced in war, had closed their eyes to the purpose for which their young men had been sent to Washington; as if Ellsworth’s death had for a moment undeceived them, and a premonition passed, like a shudder, over all their hearts.”
Company K by William March
A highly decorated Marine veteran of the First World War, March never fully recovered from the trauma of the trenches. In 1933, he published this powerful, innovative narrative experiment—the story of the war told in the form of short testimonials from every member of his fictional Company K, both the living and the dead. Their voices, revealing the men at their best and at their worst, coalesce into a vivid sense of the futility and moral bankruptcy of war.
Fireman Flower and Other Stories by William Sansom
Along with Henry Green and Stephen Spender, Sansom served as an auxiliary fireman during the London Blitz. Soon after his experiences in the war, Sansom published the first of numerous books, a haunting, nightmarish collection of short stories that had many critics hailing the emergence of an English Kafka. The best stories in the collection deal directly with the experience of fighting fires, including “The Wall” and the book’s unforgettable title story.