Why some novels die and some endure

James Sallis wonders in the Boston Globe why some books drop off the map while others endure:

Why is it that we can so freely read Raymond Chandler or Nathanael West and not be brought up short? For all his brilliance and innovation, John Dos Passos somehow seems mired in the past, even as we go on listening to the same music he listened to and reading much the same writers. J. D. Salinger, who once seemed so relevant, has become all but unreadable.

The question why some books remain or resurface in the cultural discourse (and others don’t) is an interesting one, but I think it’s poorly examined here. Sallis suggests that we forget books primarily because they’re dated. But a novel can fall out of vogue for many reasons–shifts in the political climate, changing social preoccupations–and never be revived, simply because it doesn’t seem important to, or come to the attention of, the right people in publishing.


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