Thousands of books are published each year that none of us ever hear of. Many of these books are very good, and some of them are great. Agents, publicity, luck, money—all of these factors help determine whether we hear about a book, and sometimes even whether we think it’s a good book. We trust certain media sources to tell us what to read (or what movies to see) and thereby miss out on many good things. And writers miss out on gaining an audience.
I don’t remember why, in 1991, I read Louis Edwards’ first novel, Ten Seconds. I may have reviewed it for the old Cleveland Edition or the Plain Dealer. I know I selected it for my book group to read, because one member memorably remarked, “You like gimmicky books, Kathy.” The gimmick is that the story’s time frame is the ten seconds of a hundred-yard dash, and the novel consists of the thoughts and memories of a spectator as he watches the race. Each chapter consists of one second of the contest.
I liked the book and have remembered it all these years later. When I saw, somewhere, that Louis Edwards had written another novel, called Ramadan Ramsey, I picked it up to read. (Despite the Ten Seconds’ good reviews, Edwards’ two intervening novels, N: A Romantic Mystery and Oscar Wilde Discovers America, didn’t make much of a splash, and I was unaware of them until now.) I loved Ramadan so much I chose it for both of my book groups to read in August, where the readers, with only a few exceptions, enjoyed it too.
Ramadan Ramsey is a coming-of-age story about a black boy, the title character, growing up in New Orleans with a beloved grandmother. I don’t want to spoil anything about the plot’s many twists. Maurice Carlos Ruffin in the New York Times calls it “a warm, hopeful novel” and an “antidote to the darkness” that sometimes seems to be closing in around us. I know, a review in the Times is not exactly falling under the radar, but I have yet to meet anyone who has heard of Ramadan Ramsey. Let this be my recommendation to you. Pick it up. Give it a try.
Do you have a little-known favorite book? Have you had any luck sharing it with others? Comment below.
While you’re at it, check out this list of famous writers’ recommendations of little-known books. By the way, I second Jonathan Franzen’s endorsement of The Man Who Loved Children by Christina Stead.