Jack MatthewsThis crossed my desk a few days ago, and since Jack Matthews has been written about on TeleRead in the past, I thought I’d note his recent passing.

I read the old article, and I thought it was interesting how a (then) living author with 20+ books had been so ignored by the Internet. No books on Kindle. No Wikipedia entry. No reviews of book that were available on Amazon. (I checked, and they aren’t now.)

Those of us who write about publishing talk about how the Internet now means that books will be available forever and how that’s a good thing. We expect that authors from long ago might be forgotten, but it made me pause for a moment to think about how easily we’re losing track of more recent literary works. Keeping such works alive, was, of course, part of the much-maligned Google Book Scanning project. I wrote the article I linked to just a month ago, and in it I said, “One of the persistent problems with book discovery is that its difficult to search for something if you don’t know it exists.”

Author Matthews certainly fell in that category for me. It does raise the question, “is my life significantly improved now that I know about him?” Probably not. It doesn’t appear he wrote the sort of thing I like to read. But I do believe in the value of preserving literature (good, bad and indifferent).

Well enough of my musings. Here’s an interesting quote by Robert Nagle, who wrote a lengthy Matthews obituary and is the one who alerted me to his passing.

Matthews believed that the psychological rewards of amassing a collection — any kind of collection — were considerable. “This joy to collect seems intrinsic,” he wrote, “for very young children possess it and soon extend the simple delights of touching and owning to include those more sophisticated delights of building and ordering.” There is the pleasure of the journey and stumbling upon a rare or brilliant title at the most unexpected time or place.

Kind of makes me think Matthews would have agreed with me. And luckily, Nagle is devoted to keeping the works of Matthew available. He’s republishing them all as ebook editions, and for the rest of the month, the first five Matthews books that have been published by Personville Press are available for free.

I’m planning to grab at least one. Perhaps I’m wrong. Maybe I’ll love his writing and I too will have the joy of stumbling across something brilliant and unexpected.

And thank you, Robert Nagle, for bringing him to my attention.


  1. I just wanted to mention an idea that has been rolling around my head for the last few years: a site and RSS feed which catalogs recent deaths by writers (with short bios, links, etc). People die in no particular order, and to my knowledge, there’s no one place where you can find out about who has died. It’s a good way to browse through writers you have never heard.

    I’m a big fan of Matthews, but I know there are LOTS of first class writers in their 70s and 80s who are relatively well known in specific regions but whose death will probably never make it to the New York Times. The plain fact is that it takes a very long time for readers to catch up with the output of an author they know (to say nothing of authors they have never heard of).

    Anyway, I should have implemented this idea by next summer — unless someone does first. Wikipedia would be the logical place to have this, but their death pages are curiously incomplete and not classified by profession or field.

  2. “No books on Kindle. No Wikipedia entry. No reviews of book that were available on Amazon.”

    But he hasn’t been overlooked at Goodreads, there are plenty of old reviews of his books at Kirkus Reviews, and if you do a web search on “Jack Matthews novels, a whole bunch of websites turn up. Including his Wikipedia entry. 🙂

    This isn’t to deny your basic point, which is that certain authors get left by the wayside in the digital era. I noticed that happening to an author I researched, who had the misfortune to die in 1995, just as the web was getting underway. On the other hand, I recently bought a used book by a relatively little-known author and proceeded to hunt down a dozen of his books. I couldn’t have done that in the pre-Internet era. Nor would I have read a couple dozen Victorian/Edwardian novels on boarding schools – just the thought of trying to track down that many long-out-of-print printed books makes my head ache. It took me about an hour to find and download the novels from Google Books, Project Gutenberg, and the Internet Archive. So I think this is the Golden Era for forgotten writers.

  3. There was an editorial in the Washington Post Sunday Book Review, circa late 90s, about the joy of discovering obscure and forgotten books at used book stores. Most of the books are worthy of remaining forgotten but there are also gems that should be rediscovered.

    The only problem with the internet age is that first you have to lay your hands on one of these obscure titles. Many used book stores lack the space and purge the shelves to make room for more Lee Child. After that comes converting the book to digital and proofing the text. And odds are the book is no good. And if you use the destructive book scan technology, you might need two copies of the book to properly proof.

    Still an interesting experiment that more people should do.

  4. Dusk, not to make too fine a point of it, but I was the one who wrote the wikipedia page and started the goodreads page. It was not there in 2010 when I wrote that author introduction. But your general point is correct. Ironically Matthews has written extensively about the pleasures of serendipidity and the phenomenon of writers falling out of favor then suddenly being rediscovered.

    Julie, I wanted to point to a great essay by Linda Holmes about the “problem” of having too many books and authors to read. A quote:

    Surrender, on the other hand, is the realization that you do not have time for everything that would be worth the time you invested in it if you had the time, and that this fact doesn’t have to threaten your sense that you are well-read. Surrender is the moment when you say, “I bet every single one of those 1,000 books I’m supposed to read before I die is very, very good, but I cannot read them all, and they will have to go on the list of things I didn’t get to.”

  5. Robert Nagle wrote:

    “It was not there in 2010 when I wrote that author introduction.”

    Careless reading on my part; while I suspected that the Wikipedia entry had been written by you (it’s usually the most fervent fans who create such entries), I didn’t follow the link in this article back to the earlier Teleread article, not realizing that it was written by you or that all of Ms. Munroe’s remarks about discoverability were echoing remarks made in that article. Now that I’ve read the earlier article, I’m very much impressed with all the work you’ve done to bring Mr. Matthews’s books back into the public eye. (I had earlier assumed that you were a relative of his.)

    Now here’s another bit of serendipity: I was an editorial assistant at the Johns Hopkins Press from 1990 to early 1992; according to your bibliography, that’s the period when JHU Press was publishing some of Mr. Matthews’s books. I don’t suppose you know which editor he worked under there?

  6. @Robert, that’s a great quote, and I reached that point a while ago. I read what I want, what looks interesting and don’t worry much about I’m “supposed” to read. As an English major, I’m sure many would say I’m woefully under-read in the classics, but many of them don’t appeal. While some, like Bleak House, my favorite Dickens, I’ve read many, many times.

    If the divine is going to judge me for what I read in life, I’m going to hope a comprehensive library is provided in Heaven, Purgatory or where ever, I could spend a while in Purgatory catching up. (Although Hell for me would be Moby Dick, so perhaps I’ll need to stop by there first.)

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