The Book Unwritten

December 4th, 2007

The world is full of books I want to read, but some of the ones I most want to read don’t actually exist. They’re books that haven’t been written yet, by authors who seem to be taking very long sabbaticals.

The nonexistent book I most want to get my hands on in the whole world is Banana Yoshimoto‘s next. It’s been seven years since the English translation of Asleep was released, and even Asleep, as amazingly delicate and note-perfect as it was, was a collection of three long stories, some of which had been written earlier. Her last novel, as far as I can tell, is Amrita, which was published in Japan in 1994. This is a long, long time between books, especially for someone as unique (and as popular) as Yoshimoto is. If it would have any effect, I’d find out where in Tokyo she lives and stand under her window, like Brando did in “Streetcar” when he shouted, “Stellaaaaa.” I’m not sure shouting “Bananaaaaaa” would have the same effect, but I don’t know what else to do, and I don’t just want another Banana Yoshimoto novel. I need one.

And then there’s the new Sheila Bosworth novel that doesn’t exist, the follow-up to two of my favorite books of the last century (doesn’t that sound Victorian?), Almost Innocent (copyright 1984) and Slow Poison, which came out in 1992. One was published by Knopf and the other by Simon and Schuster, so Bosworth was taken seriously by the right people, as she should have been, since the books are Southern fiction at its most florid and idiosyncratic: compelling, tropically lush, richly colored, and on occasion feverishly funny, with a truly skewed perspective. Sheilaaaaaaaa!!! Where’s the new one?

Keith Snyder wrote six terrifically funny mystery novels set in, of all places, Pasadena, primarily in a leaky, decaying mansion that has become a boarding house for a collection of indolently brainy, intermittently crazy young people, centered (for the purposes of the books, at least) on a musician and conversational polymath named Jason Keltner. The mysteries themselves are fine — nicely structured, with lots of forward momentum to keep your page-turning finger moistened, but they’re primarily devices to get these people talking, which they do brilliantly. And then they talk some more. I could listen to them for days, and have.

Ruth Ozecki was responsible for My Year of Meats in 1998, which promptly earned a central position on my personal altar of phenomenal novels, books that managed to break my heart, turn my stomach, make me laugh, and make me cry, sometimes simultaneously. She followed it up in 2002 (I think) with All Over Creation, American magical realism, of which there isn’t much, at its absolute best. (Ozecki would probably hate hearing the book described as magical realism.) So here we are, almost six years later, and where’s the new one? There’s permanent negative space on my bookshelves, waiting for it.

Once in a while, though, a writer who seems to have hung up his pen for good suddenly re-emerges with a vengeance. The case in point that makes me happiest right now is Martin Limon, who in 1992 wrote Jade Lady Burning, a sensational mystery about two American military investigators stationed in Korea just after the war. He got pretty much everything right, although one of his two cops, Ernie Bascom, is something of a Neanderthal and takes some serious putting up with. In 1997 and 1998, Limon put out Slicky Boys and Buddha’s Money, both terrific books — and then he went away forever. I asked everyone — agents, booksellers, publishers — what happened, and nobody knew. And then, in 2005, he returned on the scene with The Door to Bitterness, and this year (he’s really in a spurt now) Soho Crime released The Wandering Ghost. So welcome back.

Any nonexistent books you’d like to read? I limited this post to living writers, but you don’t need to. What nonexistent book would you most like to have appear under your pillow some long winter’s night?

2 Responses to “The Book Unwritten”

  1. Lisa Kenney Says:

    This is a tough one, but a great question. I’ve never read a lot of series books, although I was hooked on Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles for a while. I’ve thought about this since yesterday and the one that finally came to me is that I think I always wanted Ken Kesey write something to follow up Sometimes a Great Notion. Maybe one of his later books did, but I’ve never read them. There’s a New Hampshire writer named Ernest Hebert who has written a series of books about working class people in New Hampshire. He says he’s done with them, but I hope he’s not.

  2. greg Says:

    I’m a John Fowles fan and I’ve read The Magus several times. Since this is a fantansy list I won’t let a little thing like Fowles’ death stop me from wishing there could be a sequel.
    I know it was considered by many to be an adolescent adventure but I loved following Nicholas Urfe through all of his changes.
    Of course, revisiting Nicholas and Alison on the occasion of their fifth anniversary could be as dreary as following Romeo and Juliet around, had they survived.
    “Ro, would you mind not leaving your codpiece on the bathroom sink?”
    “Sure, hon, as soon as you stop leaving the light on in yonder window. Did you see the last electric bill?”
    However, if the characters truly don’t cease from exploration, and I’m counting on that from Fowles, then I’d love to read it.

    Greg

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