Literary B-sides

by amy

Back when records were the medium through which musicians released their music, single 45s would have an A-side–with the song predicted to be a hit–and the B-side, often a track of the artist’s own composition. Sometimes these B-sides were better than the A-sides. For example, songs like the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” The Beatles’ “Revolution,” and even Gloria Gaynor’s iconic “I Will Survive” were originally B-sides.

In the literary world, we have the same phenomenon. Some books are really pushed by publishers as A-sides, when there may be other works by the same authors that are equally as good–or better–but they get overshadowed or overlooked because of the big hits.

So, here are six of Bookminded’s Literary B-sides (three classic, three contemporary):
Classics
A Long Fatal Love Chase by Louisa May Alcott
This romantic cliffhanger by the author of Little Women was written two-years before her best-known work but deemed too scandalous for publication during the author’s lifetime. It was rediscovered in 1995 and though it is a late-nineteeth century work, it reads as a contemporary page turner.

Romola by George Eliot
Set in Renaissance Florence, the author of Middlemarch and The Mill on the Floss wrote this about Romola: ‘There is no book of mine about which I more thoroughly feel that I swear by every sentence as having been written with my best blood.”

The Basil and Josephine Stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Before the publication of Gatsby and Tender Is the Night, Fitzgerald wrote these fourteen stories about life growing up in Buffalo, New York that were published in the Saturday Evening Post. Basil is a stand-in for Fitzgerald’s younger self beginning at age eleven, and Josephine is written as his female counterpart. These stories are charming and innocent and offer an interesting counterpoint to his later works.

Contemporary
The Invisible Circus by Jennifer Egan
Egan’s first novel (actually made into a 2001 movie starring Cameron Diaz) is set in 1978 and focuses on Phoebe O’Connor, who is fixated on the death of her sister Faith, who died in Italy in 1970. A novel about family and personal histories that I really enjoyed. (More than A Visit From the Goon Squad, actually!)

How To Be Good by Nick Hornby
Leave it to Nick Hornby (High Fidelity, About a Boy) to take up such an existential question within the context of a really novel about a do-gooder doctor who is having an affair and is ready to end her marriage until her husband (who has been–at least by her measure–bad) undergoes a transformation of character after meeting a faith healer named Dr. Goodnews.

A Change of Climate by Hilary Mantel
An early novel about a missionary family’s secrets and redemption set in England and Africa from the author of Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies that is readable and thought-provoking.

What Literary B-sides would you add to the list?

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