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The Custodian of Forgotten Books by Daniel. A. Gross
In Brussels, Brad Bigelow, a former I.T. adviser for the U.S. Air Force, has made a hobby of rescuing neglected books and writers from obscurity.CREDITILLUSTRATION BY BOYOUN KIM
A little over a decade ago, a forgotten book was suddenly remembered. Its second life began when a fiction writer referenced it in a book of her own. A blogger read the new book, then tracked down a copy of the old one, and wrote about all this on his Web site. An archivist read the blog post and e-mailed it to a small publisher. By 2009, Jetta Carleton’s “The Moonflower Vine,” first published in 1962, was back in print.
Most novels are forgotten. Glance at the names of writers who were famous in the nineteenth century, or who won the Nobel Prize at the beginning of the twentieth, or who were on best-seller lists just a few decades ago, and chances are that most of them won’t even ring a bell. When “The Moonflower Vine” resurfaced and ricocheted around the publishing world, it became an unlikely exception.
What’s strange about the journey of that book—and about our moment in the history of publishing—is that its rediscovery was made possible by an independent blogger, named Brad Bigelow. Bigelow, fifty-eight, is not a professional publisher, author, or critic. He’s a self-appointed custodian of obscurity. For much of his career, he worked as an I.T. adviser for the United States Air Force. At his home, in Brussels, Belgium, he spends nights and weekends scouring old books and magazines for writers worthy of resurrection.