Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Who Put the Bomp (In the Bomp, Bomp, Bomp)? I know it wasn't Emily Bronte.

Another result of my bizarre sleeping schedule is that I am often awake and watching TV to help stay that way at 2...and 3 and 4 a.m. Perhaps you don't watch TV at that time of day, but let me tell you, the picking are slim. Many channels stop showing 'real' shows and the infomercials take over. Number sleep bed, fishing lures...and my personal favorite, the Time-Life records. Hits of the 60's...hits of the 70's...hit's of the 80's, many of them familiar but from groups never heard from again. Yes, one hit wonders. Funkytown by Lipps, Inc.,House of the Rising Sun by Frijid Pink, Who Put the Bomp (In the Bomp, Bomp, Bomp) by Barry Mann. Most likely you might remember those songs but the artist....not likely. And never heard from again after their one big hit.

Seems the same also has happened in the literary world according to an interesting little article in The Times of London by Luke Leitch called "10 Literary one-hit wonders". Here is the list that Mr. Leitch suggests, but the original article is worth looking at also, if just for some links to the original Times reviews.

  • Harper Lee - To Kill a Mockingbird

  • Margaret Mitchell - Gone With the Wind

  • Emily Bronte - Wuthering Heights

  • J.D.Salinger - Catcher in the Rye

  • Oscar Wilde - The Picture of Dorian Gray

  • John Kennedy Toole - A Confederacy of Dunces

  • Sylvia Plath - The Bell Jar

  • Anna Sewell - Black Beauty

  • Boris Pasternak - Dr Zhivago

  • Arundhati Roy - The God of Small Things

First, you will notice that with these one hit wonders, it is not just the works but the author that have remained famous. Emily Bronte, Salinger, Pasternak...yes, I am sure we are all familiar with those names. Why, we might wonder, did they each produce just one great novel, and then no more.

Well, some it seems, have a good excuse. Toole killed himself before his book was published, Plath, quite famously, killed herself a month after her one novel was published. Pasternak died a couple of years after Dr. Zhivago was published, Sewell died five months after Black Beauty came out and Bronte died of TB just a year after Wuthering Heights. So maybe they had a few more great novels in them but just never had the chance to write them.
But what of the rest?

Harper Lee is still alive at the age of 82 but, except for a few essays, has published nothing since To Kill a Mockingbird, does not give interviews and makes few public appearances. Perhaps her remark to the audience after she was inducted into the Alabama Academy of Honor in 2007 is telling, Lee responded to an invitation to address the audience with "Well, it's better to be silent than to be a fool." It is said that she started a second novel, The Long Goodbye, but has left it unfinished....maybe we can hope that she reconsided and we will see it one day.

And of course there is the famous case of the rarely seem Mr. Salinger. Now, I must say that when I saw him on the list, I thought it was a mistake. In high school, long ago when dinosaurs roamed the earth, I was a great fan of Slinger and read everything he wrote...which was not too hard. But his other works, Franny and Zooey, Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction were all novellas, Nine Stories, a collection of short stories. Hmmm...maybe they just seemed longer when I was young. Like Ms. Lee, Salinger is still alive, but rather the recluse. But, at least according to the Wikipedia article about him, he has continued to write,
"While he was living with (Joyce) Maynard, Salinger continued to write in a disciplined fashion, a few hours every morning. According to Maynard, by 1972 he had completed two new novels. In a rare 1974 interview with The New York Times, he explained: "There is a marvelous peace in not publishing.… I like to write. I love to write. But I write just for myself and my own pleasure." According to Maynard, he saw publication as "a damned interruption". In her memoir, Margaret Salinger (his daughter) describes the detailed filing system her father had for his unpublished manuscripts: "A red mark meant, if I die before I finish my work, publish this 'as is,' blue meant publish but edit first, and so on."
So maybe Salinger will delight his fans with some more of his work in the future..or after his death.

And then we have Arundhati Roy, who I must admit I am not familiar with. it seems, according to Leitch, that she is going to attempt remove her name form the one hit wonder list. "After her debut novel The God of Small Things won the Booker Prize, the Indian writer turned to nonfiction writing and political activism. In 2007 she announced that she was returning to fiction. After a ten-year hiatus, the stakes will be higher than ever before - if Roy ever finishes her sophomore effort, it will be a triumph of will over the dreaded Second Novel Syndrome."

Oh, the dreaded Second Novel Syndrone! On the same page, you can find a link to the "10 Cursed Second Novels" list. Charles Frazier, Alice Sebold, Joseph Heller, Mary Shelley ....gosh, maybe Salinger is wise to leave those manuscripts in the drawer for now.


  1. I got a bit irritated at the Salinger myself. Yes, he only wrote one novel, and the article is about novels, but to say he was a "literary one-hit wonder" is pretty clearly false. His novellas and short stories are stunning! I don't like privileging the novel the way so many people do and really with Salinger it seems a bit ridiculous.

  2. I've read To Kill a Mockingbird and Gone with the Wind and have a few other on my shelves. This is an interesting list. Thanks for posting!

  3. Very interesting post. I am wondering...what happened to Mitchell? I'm reading GWTW right now, and it is a fabulous book and very easy to read. Did she just purge all of her words in one big honkin' novel?

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  5. ok, I had to delete my post for too many typos and try again....

    Yes, I do share a little dissatisfaction with Salinger being on the list...and I agree that maybe his other works might be better than Catcher...and a lot less popular with serial killers!

    I had to go google Mitchell..she was a journalist, wrote a lot of non-fiction stuff about the Civil War...and it seems she wrote another novel...when she was 15. "Lost Laysen -- a romance set in the South Pacific". It was found after she died and actually published in 1996. So actually GWTW is her 2nd novel.

    Let's strike her from the list too!!

  6. And what ever happened to that guy who sang Boney Maroney? See if you can find out who put the ram in the ram a lam a ding dong next time you're eyeballing the early a.m. tv. Inquiring minds really want to know. When do you actually sleep?

  7. when I can...when I can...

  8. Caite, I've just made you a part of the sisterhood. Come on over...

  9. Fascinating, thanks for posting about this. I knew the details about some of the authors (Salinger and Lee, for two) but not others. And clearly I must seek out more Salinger, since all I've read was The Catcher in the Rye.

  10. Oh, I really thing you should. Yes, it has been awhile, but I seem to remember liking his other stuff a great deal.

  11. Oh this was such a good post. I loved it. And death is a great excuse for not producing more!

    It is a shame to include someone who is still alive and working though -- like Arundhati Roy. She should be given the benefit of the doubt.

    And Lee and Salinger -- I guess they might know better than anyone if their work "doesn't live up." It can be a bad thing to be too good right out of the gate, I guess.

    Nice post --- I enjoyed it!

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  13. I agree that you really shouldn't include anyone still alive...even including Lee and Salinger. Because it is quite possible they have their greatest novel sitting in a drawer and it will be published someday.

    Of course, we may all be dead by then....

  14. I feel a bit sorry for poor old Oscar ending up on this list too. Yes he only wrote one novel but he's hardly a one hit wonder...what about his prose? Andwhere would we be without his wonderful satire? The importance of being Ernest is a personal fav and then there's the Canterville Ghost and Lady Windermer’s fan to name but a few...

    I'll stick up for you Oscar!

  15. yep...Ocsar presents another issue. Was he even a novelist, really?

    I think we have demolished this

  16. Lol, guess what I'll have stuck in my head the rest of the day? Who put the bomp in the bomp in the bomp, bomp, bomp, ba-bomp? Who put the dip in the dip, da-dip, da-dip? Who was that man? I'd like to shake his hand! He made my baby fall in love with me

  17. Yes, you can now thank me for providing a day's worth of entertainment to you!
    You are welcomed.. ;-0


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