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Harper Lee and the One-Book Wonder Phenomenon

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The whole reading public is about to be gifted with something we never thought we’d see: a new Harper Lee novel. And so we got to thinking: What other one-book wonders left us desperately wishing for another book?

The following writers either started their careers late or their lives were tragically cut short. In some cases, the reasons their output was so low remain a mystery to this day. However, each was a unique and brilliant voice and we can only hope that someone will discover another dusty, long-forgotten manuscript.


The Bell Jar
by Sylvia Plath

A haunting classic that chronicles the breakdown of Esther Greenwood: brilliant, beautiful, enormously talented, and successful, but slowly going under. This deep penetration into the dark and harrowing corners of the psyche is an extraordinary accomplishment and makes us mourn Sylvia Plath’s tragic suicide at age thirty all the more.


Memoirs of a Geisha
by Arthur Golden

A literary sensation and runaway bestseller, this brilliant debut novel tells the story of one of Japan’s most celebrated geisha with exquisite lyricism. Published in 1999, with an acclaimed film adaptation released in 2005, Memoirs of a Geisha remains Arthur Golden’s only novel.


The Opposite of Loneliness
by Marina Keegan

“A collection of short fiction and personal essays, THE OPPOSITE OF LONELINESS reads like your early twenties in real time, touching on friendship, love, jealousy, self-discovery, family, and the one thing you’ll always love, no matter what: your first car.”

Read Julianna Haubner’s review here.


Wuthering Heights
by Emily Brontë
Charged with brooding, intense personalities and a gloomy atmosphere, the tragic love story of Heathcliff and Cathy has remained one of English literature’s most popular—and divisive—novels. Published in 1847 under the pseudonym Ellis Bell; Emily Brontë died the following year, at age thirty.

Invisible Man
by Ralph Ellison

A milestone in American literature, this novel has continued to engage readers since its appearance in 1952. A first novel by an unknown writer, it remained on the bestseller list for sixteen weeks, won the National Book Award for fiction, and established Ralph Ellison as one of the key writers of the century. Ralph Ellison was awarded in 1969.


Black Beauty
by Anna Sewell

This novel is a deeply moving account of a horse’s experiences at the hands of many owners―some sensitive; others cruel. Scenes from the lives of both the landed gentry and the impoverished working class reveal as much about the social ills of the nineteenth century as they do about the treatment of animals. Composed during the last years of her life, Anna Sewell died just five months after its publication.


A Confederacy of Dunces
by John Kennedy Toole

An American comic masterpiece, its hero, one Ignatius J. Reilly, is “a latter-day Gargantua, a Don Quixote of the French Quarter. His story bursts with wholly original characters, denizens of New Orleans’ lower depths, incredibly true-to-life dialogue, and the zaniest series of high and low comic adventures” (The Chicago Sun-Times). After struggling to find a publisher, Toole committed suicide in 1969. More than a decade later, his mother succeeded in having his manuscript published by the Louisiana State University Press, and he was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.


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The following writers either started their careers late or their lives were tragically cut short. In some cases, the reasons their output was so low remain a mystery to this day. However, each was a unique and brilliant voice and we can only hope that someone will discover another dusty, long-forgotten manuscript.
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