6 Lesser-Known Books by Famous American Authors

One of my many failed reading goals in 2021 was to complete six books written by women before I was born. I failed by only coming up with three, and I also noticed that two of those three were by the same author, whose work now interests me greatly. It’s because I got distracted when I found someone (included on this list) that I connected with and wanted to read more – not because I was attached to a character, but rather to an idea. So even though I failed my own challenge, ultimately it was kind of a victory.

These trips are not always available to continue with a single author. Sometimes the author dies before completing another novel, or others publish their story after their death. However, many semi-contemporary writers (speaking from 1900 and earlier) have continued to write, but are known for one book – not even one genre, which is perfectly fine, but one book. It may be because it was adapted into a major film or read in school, but either way, it ends up unfairly overshadowing the rest of their work.

To combat this in a familiar and less daunting way, I’ve taken six American women known to have written much-studied, assigned, shared, and/or adapted work and paired them with a sister novel published from 1920 to 2020. To help narrow it down, I’ve limited the list to a handful of authors known for their fictional novels, so just know that you won’t find your favorite poet, playwright, or essayist here.

These books feature similar themes to their better-known “sister” novels, such as what it means to belong and the complicated nature of family ties. Although all are considered classics or literary fiction, many of these books also feature storytelling elements and genre games found in their other works.

Quicksands by Nella Larsen

Quicksand by Nella Larsen (Image: Martino Fine Books.)

(Image: Martino Fine Books.)

Fifty pages longer than his most famous novel (Who passed), by Nella Larsen Quicksands features similar themes and more autobiographical elements to the story. If you haven’t read Who passed for some reason we recommend that you take a copy with both titles, but Quicksands deserves your attention anyway.

This story begins with our light-skinned biracial protagonist, Helga, who teaches at an all-black school in the south. She feels disconnected from her place and moves to Harlem and later to Denmark in search of a space where she feels most welcome and fulfilled. While racial dynamics and issues are central to the book, the “expectations” versus “reality” when it comes to race and class is something many people will connect with in Helga.

Jonas squash vine by Zora Neale Hurston

Jonah's Gourd Vine by Zora Neale Hurston (Image: Amistad Press.)

(Photo: Amistad Press.)

Although she is one of the most recognizable names in African-American literature today, Hurston was at odds with many of her peers at the time (politically and stylistically) and her popularity faded towards the end. end of his career. Her legacy exists today through writers (like Alice Walker) and historians, and her work is still published today, as Hit a straight lick with a crooked stick (2021).

Before Their eyes looked at God, Hurston wrote this semi-autobiographical novel about a black family migrating for better opportunities and a new beginning. Jonas squash vine tells the story of womanizing pastor John Buddy Pearson. In the novel, Hurston explores the limits of faith and good intentions regarding spiritual and physical strain.

The price of salt Where Carol by Patricia Highsmith

The Price of Salt or Carol by Patricia Highsmith (Image: Dover Publications.)

(Image: Dover Publications.)

Known for her detective stories and physiological thrillers like The Talented Mr. Ripley, Patricia Highsmith posted The price of salt in 1952. This novel is one of the first lesbian novels (not just coded queer) to have a happy ending. Urged by her editors and another not to harm her career by attaching her name to lesbian fiction, Highsmith wrote it under the pseudonym Claire Morgan. Around 1990, she would republish it under the name of what is now called Carol, with his name as author.

Two women of different economic classes (wealthy Carol and difficult Therese) abandon daily routines in favor of a chance at love and happiness with each other. Carol’s divorcing husband (Harge) begins to suspect his wife of being with another woman and gathers evidence to use against her in the custody battle for their child.

The Bonesetter’s Daughter by Amy Tan

The Bonesetter's Daughter by Amy Tan (Image: Ballantine Books.)

(Image: Ballantine Books.)

Like Tan’s Joy of Luck club, The Bonesetter’s Daughter examines the common fragile relationships between mothers and daughters. After reading Joy of Luck club, please watch the movie, as it stars legendary actress Na-Ming Wen (from star wars, Mulane, Agents of SHIELD, and so much more).

Ruth Young (American-born Chinese) and her widowed immigrant mother, LuLing, have a barely functioning mother-daughter relationship. As LuLing begins to lose her memories and suffer from dementia, Ruth reads some of her mother’s writings. Here, Ruth pieces together LuLing’s past and reveals a side of LuLing that Ruth never knew.

Carmelo by Sandra Cisneros

Carmelo by Sandra Cisneros (Image: Vintage.)

(Image: vintage.)

Known to many readers for her coming-of-age novel The Mango Street House, Cisneros—alongside Rudolfo Anaya Bless me, Ultima– is where many Millennials and Gen Zers are introduced to Chicanx literature (sometimes interchangeable with Mexican-American). Although sometimes she has take, Cisneros is a staple of this literary movement and continues to write today.

First published in the early 2000s, Carmelo follows Lala and her large, multi-generational Mexican-American family as they drive from Chicago to Mexico City to visit her grandparents for their annual summer visit. Ever observant, Lala begins to piece together the events that led her grandmother to be so horrible, only to be accused of spreading lies.

To like by Toni Morrison

Love by Toni Morrison (Image: Vintage.)

(Image: vintage.)

Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Toni Morrison is known for two great novels, Beloved and The bluest eye. As in these novels and many others, she confronted the politics of race, class, and gender in stories that captivated millions.

To like shares the lives of three generations of women and their relationship with charismatic hotel owner Bill Cosey. Although there are no ghosts as in Beloved, the character of Cosey is reconstructed through the perspective of the women in his life. While the tensions and wounds of the past are peeled away, the issues of the present are pressing. There are controversies over his estate, the seaside town that served as a haven for middle-class black families for decades.

(Image: Martino Fine Books, Ballantine Books and Vintage.)

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