The writing business is a harsh mistress. Plenty of really good books just fail to catch fire, subsiding under the waves after a few weeks, never to be heard from again. Even big-time household name novelists often have early or simply forgotten novels that have been eclipsed by their later, more celebrated works.
That doesn’t mean those forgotten novels aren’t worth seeking out and reading—on the contrary, they’re often as good, or even better, than the breakout books that made the author a celebrity. Here are 10 “other” books by famous writers you should check out.
Sharp Objects, by Gillian Flynn
Gone Girl is where most people’s familiarity with Flynn begins and ends, but she wrote two earlier thrillers that are on the same level. Her debut, Sharp Objects, may in fact be her best, a taut psychological thriller about an unsteady reporter who returns to her hometown to write about a past tragedy there—and must face her own demons in the process.
McTeague, by Frank Norris
It’s usually Norris’s later novel The Octopus that people are familiar with, but his first novel, 1899’s McTeague, is the more satisfying read. It’s a grim story, but anyone who has ever bickered over money with a loved one will see themselves in it.
The Night in Lisbon, by Erich Maria Remarque
Most people encounter Remarque’s classic All Quiet on the Western Front at some point in school, and are usually stunned by the grim and realistic depiction of war that still resonates today. But his later novel is a harrowing story of fleeing the rising Nazi machine in Germany, filled with tension, violence, and romance—and all the more remarkable for being based on the aging Remarque’s own experiences.
The Inheritors, by William Golding
When you write a novel like Lord of the Flies it isn’t surprising most people remember you for it, but Golding’s follow-up, The Inheritors, which tells the story of the last tribe of Neanderthals and their destruction at the hands of the rising homo sapiens (that’s us, by the way), was his own favorite, and is just as good.
The Invisible Circus, by Jennifer Egan
Win a Pulitzer for fiction and suddenly it’s like you never wrote a word prior to that novel. Such is the fate of Egan’s debut The Invisible Circus, now forever obscured by the bright light of A Visit from the Goon Squad. Mining suspense and dread from a woman’s investigation into her sister’s suicide in hippie-drenched early 1970s Europe, it’s a tense, dense, and intense story that deserves more attention.
Hangsaman, by Shirley Jackson
When Shirley Jackson’s name is mentioned, three titles come to mind: The Haunting of Hill House, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, and her short story The Lottery. You may not even be aware that Hangsaman, a novel about a young college freshman struggling with loneliness, dread, and violence, exists, in which case, please read it immediately. We’ll wait.
The Armageddon Rag, by George R.R. Martin
You will be forgiven for believing George R.R. Martin came into existence in 1991, when he began work on A Game of Thrones. Certainly the rest of the world seems to have forgotten his pre-GoT work, but there are some excellent novels in that previous Martin Era, among them this gem—an experimental murder mystery with fantasy elements that Martin once described as “a total commercial disaster.” While it’s a bit dated in places, it’s still a fascinating and complex novel well worth reading.
Gun, with Occasional Music, by Jonathan Lethem
Chances are if you were on a game show and asked to name a Lethem novel, you’d name The Fortress of Solitude. But his first novel is perhaps his most interesting—a messy, crazy collection of sci-fi and hardboiled detective tropes set in a near future with chemically improved children, animals with human levels of intelligence, and swappable sexual identities.
Adverbs, by Daniel Handler
}You likely know Daniel Handler better as his alternate personality Lemony Snicket, author of A Series of Unfortunate Events. This collection of stories, each titled with an adverb, brings the deliciously dark, dry, and tragically disappointed voice of Snicket to adult stories of love, loss, and linked events that somehow come together into a remarkably assured whole.
The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, by Michael Chabon
Long before The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay or even Wonder Boys, Chabon’s first novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, was a huge success. The novel explores a complex meeting of characters, involving a youthful lack of direction, mob ties (naturally), and the quest for adventure before embarking on adult pursuits.
So, next time you’re dazzled by a Pulitzer Prize or a film adaptation, consider what may have come before, and check out the writer’s backlist. You’ll be happy you did.