Starting a new book can be a gamble. How do you know you’ll like it? I, personally, hate to abandon books in the middle, so starting one can be a big commitment. When I’m looking for a book I know I’ll like, I often turn to a familiar author. But what happens when you’ve read all their big works? Move on to the small ones, of course! Just because these books did not get as much glory as their siblings, doesn’t mean they aren’t worth a read. Some of them may even surpass the more renowned works in writing quality, finesse, or points of interest. Others, at least have that same streak of wit and shine of brilliance that made the world recognize their authors. So, I present to you a list of five books that you probably haven’t read by authors that you probably have.
- Asimov on Science: A 30 Year Retrospective by Isaac Asimov — Asimov is most famous for the Laws of Robotics from the anthology I, Robot and also his Foundation trilogy. This collection of thirty-one short essays by him, however, is actually my favorite of all of those works. They range across a variety of topics from the irrational number pi, to linguistics, to the very shape and form of the universe. The most amazing part of Asimov’s writing is how he takes such complex concepts and through the use of examples and metaphors explains them so simply that a lay person can understand him perfectly. A good number of these essays positively blew my mind, so you may want to read them sitting down. If you want to read something intellectual that doesn’t feel like a chore, this may be the perfect book for you.
- The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis — Like many children, I was completely unaware that Lewis’ Narnia series was all a metaphor for a Christian message. Only later in life did someone point out to me that Aslan was more than just a talking lion and completely changed my perspective. In high school, I therefore did a research paper on the influence Christianity had on C.S. Lewis’ writings, and came across this apologetic work, a collection of letters from the perspective of an irritable demon named Screwtape. One doesn’t have to share Lewis’ religious stance to enjoy this work, however. Although written with the intent of showing a mortal man’s triumph over the temptations of the devil, the book is also rife with humor, cynicism, philosophical musings on the human condition, and depictions of the bureaucracy of hell. Screwtape’s frustration with his nephew’s inability to corrupt his targeted human is surprisingly entertaining as is the image of hell as a place with endless paperwork and a strict “Lowerarchy” where everyone’s got quotas to meet. As a side note, the most interesting part of my research project on C.S. Lewis was learning about his friendship with J.R.R. Tolkien, and you will see that this book is dedicated to Tolkien, with whom Lewis had many theological debates.
- The Children of Húrin by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien — I found this book in my father’s collection of books he read growing up. Although it takes place in the Lord of the Rings universe, The Children of Húrin has a slightly different feel. It was constructed from manuscripts written by Tolkien, and originally appeared in the Unfinished Tales. J.R.R.’s son, Christopher, known for creating the version of the map of Middle Earth at the front of the books, then filled in the gaps and had this book published as a standalone. The setting takes place during the First Age, long before the events of LOTR, which take place towards the end of the Third Age. Not as simple as The Hobbit, nor as uplifting as The Lord of the Rings, The Children of Húrin is a dark and tragic tale that reads like a Norse saga. It is the story of a family cursed for their opposition to the malicious and powerful Morgoth, and having to deal with their very human flaws, regardless of the fantastical world around them. If you can’t get enough of the Tolkien universe but want something less encyclopedic than The Silmarillion, then this is the book for you.
- The Night World series by L.J. Smith — L.J. Smith achieved world fame when the CW made a hit tv show out of her Vampire Diaries series (although by now the show has departed completely from the books). It was so successful, the CW even picked up her witch series The Secret Circle, though that show didn’t make it past the first season. No one ever seems to have heard of her Night World series, even though I consider it her best work. The Vampire Diaries were okay, but the plot became more and more contrived as the series went on. I stopped reading once the protagonist died for the third or fourth time. The Secret Circle was so unimpressive I abandoned it halfway through (and you know I almost never do that). Night World, however, contains polished prose, vivid characters, compelling love stories, and detailed world building. This series has it all, from vampires to witches to shapeshifters to the humans who live among them. It is a collection of loosely connected stories within same universe, three separate novel-length stories per book. If vampire/supernatural romance is your jam, I definitely suggest this series even if you didn’t like her other works.
- Lament and Ballad by Maggie Stiefvater — Wow. It seems I can’t go two posts without talking about this lady (somebody check me on that, ‘cuz it might actually be true). Ms. Stiefvater is perhaps best known for her werewolf Shiver trilogy, though that may be tied with her Raven Boys series by now. Recently, even her standalone Celtic kelpie tale, Scorpio Races, made news for a movie deal in the works. But before the carnivorous horses, before the Raven boys, and before the werewolves, there were the faeries. Lament was her first book, and my first encounter with Stiefvater’s word magic. I even mentioned it in my faerie post oh so long ago. It is your typical faerie romance novel (I read them like crack) but with its own unique angle: a main character with a gift for music. The novel opens with her sick from nerves before a recital, and throughout the story, song serves as a connection between her and her mysterious faerie love interest, as well as giving her an advantage when dealing with the fey world that may be trying to kill her. This is one of my favorite books by Stiefvater and it doesn’t even have its own paragraph on Wikipedia next to her other works. So if it sounds up your alley, give it a read and spread the word.
Have you read an obscure book by a famous author that deserves more credit? Let us know in the comments!