Books fall into obscurity all the time. If they're lucky, someone rescues them and reintroduces them to a new audience—which is exactly what happened with The Moonflower Vine, a 1962 novel by Jetta Carleton, a one-hit wonder from Missouri who lived from 1913 to 1999. But in this case, it wasn't just a person who rescued the long forgotten novel. With the help of a Web site called NeglectedBooks.com—and novelist Jane Smiley—The Moonflower Vine will be reissued by Harper Perennial in April, and will even benefit from a co-promotion with Vintage.
The Moonflower revival began when a small press contacted Carleton's grandniece, Susan Beasley, telling her it wanted to reissue Moonflower, which is set on a farm in western Missouri during the first half of the 20th century. Beasley got in touch with agent Denise Shannon, who didn't know the book but Googled it and wound up on NeglectedBooks.com, a site launched in 2006 that features thousands of books that have been, according to the site, “neglected, overlooked, forgotten, or stranded by changing tides in critical or popular taste.” Run by Brad Bigelow, who works as an IT project manager for NATO, the site features books with links to online sellers and also links to publishers who reissue books, like NYRB Classics, Paul Dry, Persephone and many others.
When NeglectedBooks featured Moonflower in December 2006, it had an endorsement from Jane Smiley, who also grew up in Missouri; Smiley had included it among the classics she discussed in her 2005 book, Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel. Robert Gottlieb, former editor-in-chief of Knopf, had edited Moonflower, and later said, “Of the hundreds upon hundreds of novels I've edited, this is literally the only one I've reread several times since its publication.” When Moonflower was first published, it spent more than four months on the New York Times bestseller list. After reading about it on NeglectedBooks, literary agent Shannon—who'd never been to the site before—ordered it from a used bookseller. She loved it and went on to sell it to Terry Karten at Harper Perennial, along with five foreign publishers.
Smiley, whose novel Moo is just out in paperback from Vintage, wrote the foreword to the new edition of Moonflower, and will promote it along with her book when she goes on tour in April. “Jane has been like a fairy godmother for this book,” said Shannon. Smiley will participate in events in Missouri, tied in with the ReadMOre Festival, a statewide literacy program that has chosen Smiley's A Thousand Acres (1991) as its 2009 selection. Copies of Moonflower, Moo and A Thousand Acres will be sold at all events.