7 Books That Will (Probably) Never Be Printed Again

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IStock

In an age where readers can get their book fix via downloads or overnight shipping, it can be easy to overlook the fact that not everything is available on demand. Thousands of titles remain off-limits in both digital and analog form for a variety of reasons—some controversial, others due to the author's wishes. Take a look at seven titles you’re unlikely to find on shelves anytime soon.

1. FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH // CAMERON CROWE (1981)

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Screenwriter and director Crowe (Say Anything, Almost Famous) began contributing to Rolling Stone and other music publications when he was still a teenager. At the age of 22, he convinced Clairemont High School in San Diego to let him enroll as a student so he could chronicle the experience of a senior class. Fast Times, which changed his classmates' names to maintain a semblance of privacy, was adapted into the 1982 film starring Sean Penn.

Despite the name recognition of both the title and its author, Crowe has resisted any attempt to put it back in print. Talking to The Hollywood Reporter in 2011, Crowe said that he “likes that there’s one thing that’s not readily available … I like it too much as a kind of bootleg.”

2. RAGE // STEPHEN KING (1977)

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In the late 1970s, horror novelist Stephen King—who was often chastised for being too prolific—decided to adopt a pseudonym in order to release more of his material without the accompanying criticism. Writing as Richard Bachman, he published seven books. One, Rage, was written while King was in his late teens and concerned a high school student who kills his teacher and takes his algebra class hostage. By 1997, at least three adolescents who had brought weapons to school and killed or injured classmates had admitted to reading the book or had it found in their possession; one said he modeled his behavior directly after the book’s lead character.

A distraught King convinced his publisher that the book was a “possible accelerant” and had no place on shelves. They complied; King has said that “I pulled it because in my judgment it might be hurting people, and that made it the responsible thing to do.”

3. PROMISE ME TOMORROW // NORA ROBERTS (1984)

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While Roberts might not be as celebrated as King, her success in the romance genre is impressive by any measure. As of 2011, she had over 400 million books in print. The lone exception: Promise Me Tomorrow, a title she wrote early on in her career. Though Roberts had already finished well over 20 books by the time Promise Me Tomorrow was released, it doesn’t appear she’s eager for people to revisit it. In 2009, Roberts told The New Yorker that it was full of clichés and committed the most egregious of romance-novel sins: an unhappy ending.  

4. INVASION OF THE SPACE INVADERS // MARTIN AMIS (1982)

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British novelist Martin Amis took a jarring detour in 1982 when he authored this slightly tongue-in-cheek “guide” to the arcade games of the era, which was part gamer’s travelogue and part critical essay of the industry. The unlikely pairing of author and subject was enough to entice Steven Spielberg to write the introduction, but not enough for Amis to ever consider revisiting it: When a writer for The Guardian suggested it should resurface, Amis stared at him and offered no response at all.

5. SEX /// MADONNA (1992)

By the time Madonna committed to shooting a coffee table photography book of herself and models (including Vanilla Ice) in various compromising positions, the world had gotten fairly used to her provocative behavior. Nonetheless, when Warner Books released Sex in 1992, it promptly sold through half of its million-copy print run inside of a week. Intended as a limited-availability collector’s item, the publisher has never expressed interest in returning to it; BookFinder, which releases an annual list of the most sought-after out-of-print titles, regularly places the 132-page book at or near the top of the heap.  

6. ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITTANICA (1768-2012)

The venerable reference volume taxed its last particle-board bookshelf in 2012, when Encyclopaedia Brittanica, Inc. decided to cease publication of its analog information library. At 129 pounds, the $1395 collection sold just 8000 copies, a far cry from the 120,000 sets the company moved in 1990. The advent of online resources like Wikipedia and a prohibitive cost led Brittanica to focus on online strategies. A total of 15 volumes were released through 2010.

7. THE HOUSE WITHOUT WINDOWS // BARBARA NEWHALL FOLLETT (1927)

Amazon

Book critic Wilson Follett’s love of words may have been hereditary: His daughter, Barbara, was consumed with them early on, pecking away at a novel at the age of eight. When she was 12, her father assisted her in completing The House Without Windows, a novel about a girl who disappears into the woods and finds companionship with animals. Follett passed the manuscript on to his contacts at Knopf, who published it to widespread acclaim in 1927.

In 1939, the former child prodigy was unhappily married. She left her home with a small amount of money and disappeared, never to be seen again. According to a relative who maintains a web presence for her work, Knopf has not acknowledged who might hold the copyright to the book. It remains available only via secondhand sellers.

15 Fascinating Facts About Beatrix Potter

Getty Images
Getty Images

Even today, more than 75 years after her death on December 22, 1943, celebrated children’s author Beatrix Potter's beautifully illustrated tales—featuring animals and landscapes inspired by her beloved home in England’s Lake District—are still hugely popular. Below are 15 fascinating facts about The Tale of Peter Rabbit author.

1. Beatrix wasn't Potter's real first name.

Potter was born in London on July 28, 1866 and was actually christened Helen after her mother, but was known by her more unusual middle name: Beatrix.

2. The Tale of Peter Rabbit was inspired by a letter.

The first edition of The Tale of Peter Rabbit.
Aleph-bet books via Wikimedia // Public Domain

Potter’s most famous book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit , was inspired by an illustrated letter Potter wrote to Noel, the son of her former governess, Annie, in 1893. She later asked to borrow the letter back and copied the pictures and story, which she then adapted to create the much-loved tale.

3. Peter Rabbit and her friends were partly based on Beatrix Potter's own pets.

Peter was modeled on Potter’s own pet rabbit, Peter Piper—a cherished bunny who Potter frequently sketched and took for walks on a leash. Potter's first pet rabbit, Benjamin Bouncer, was the inspiration for Benjamin Bunny, Peter's cousin in her books. Potter loved sketching Benjamin, too. In 1890, after a publisher purchased some of her sketchers of Benjamin, she decided to reward him with some hemp seeds. "The consequence being that when I wanted to draw him next morning he was intoxicated and wholly unmanageable," she later wrote in her diary.

4. Potter’s house was essentially a menagerie.


Riversdale Estate, Flickr // Public Domain

Potter kept a whole host of pets in her schoolroom at home—rabbits, hedgehogs, frogs, and mice. She would capture wild mice and let them run loose. When she needed to recapture them she would shake a handkerchief until the wild mice would emerge to fight the imagined foe and promptly be scooped up and caged. When her brother Bertram went off to boarding school he left a pair of long-eared pet bats behind. The animals proved difficult to care for so Potter set one free, but the other, a rarer specimen, she dispatched with chloroform then set about stuffing for her collection.

5. Peter Rabbit wasn’t an immediate success.

Potter self-published the Tale of Peter Rabbit in 1901, funding the print run of 250 herself after being turned down by several commercial publishers. In 1902 the book was republished by Frederick Warne & Co after Potter agreed to redo her black-and-white illustrations in color. By the end of its first year in print, it was in so much demand it had to be reprinted six times.

6. Beatrix Potter understood the power of merchandising.

In 1903 Potter, recognizing the merchandising opportunities offered by her success, made her own Peter Rabbit doll, which she registered at the Patent Office. A Peter Rabbit board game and wallpaper were also produced in her lifetime.

7. Potter was a naturalist at a time when most women weren’t.

Potter was fascinated by nature and was constantly recording the world around her in her drawings. Potter was especially interested in fungi and became an accomplished scientific illustrator, going on to write a paper , “On the Germination of the Spores of Agaricineae, ” proposing her own theory for how fungi spores reproduced. The paper was presented on Potter’s behalf by the Assistant Director of Kew Gardens at a meeting of the Linnean Society on April 1, 1897, which Potter was unable to attend because at that time women were not allowed at meetings of the all-male Linnean Society—even if their work was deemed good enough to be presented.

8. Potter sometimes wrote in secret code.

Between 1881 and 1897 Potter kept a journal in which she jotted down her private thoughts in a secret code . This code was so fiendishly difficult it was not cracked and translated until 1958.

9. Potter was reportedly a disappointment to her mom.


Wikimedia // Public Domain

Despite her huge success, Potter was something of a disappointment to her mother, who had wanted a daughter to accompany her on social calls and make an advantageous marriage. In 1905 Potter accepted the marriage proposal of her publisher Norman Warne. However, her parents were very against the match as they did not consider him good enough for their daughter, and refused to allow the engagement to be made public. Unfortunately, Warne died of leukemia just a few weeks after the engagement. Potter did eventually marry, at age 47, to a solicitor and kindred spirit, William Heelis.

10. Potter wrote much more than you. (Probably.)

Potter was a prolific writer , producing between two and three stories every year, ultimately writing 28 books in total, including The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin , The Tale of Mrs Tiggy Winkle , and The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher . Potter’s stories have been translated into 35 different languages and sold over 100 million copies combined.

11. Potter asked that one of her books not be published in England.

In 1926 Potter published a longer work, The Fairy Caravan . It was at first only published in America because Potter felt it was too autobiographical to be published in England during her lifetime. (She also told her English publishers that it wasn’t as good as her other work and felt it wouldn’t be well-received). Nine years after her death in 1943, the book was finally released in the UK.

12. Potter's later books had to be cobbled together from early drawings.

As her eyesight diminished it became harder and harder for Potter to produce the beautiful drawings that characterized her work. As a result many of her later books were pieced together from earlier drawings in her vast collection of sketchbooks. The Tale of Little Pig Robinson was Potter’s last picture book, published in 1930.

13. A lost work of potter's was published in 2016.

A lost Potter story , The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots , was rediscovered in 2013 and published in summer 2016. Publisher Jo Hanks found references to the story in an out-of-print biography of Potter and so went searching through the writer’s archive at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Hanks discovered a sketch of the kitty in question, plus a rough layout of the unedited manuscript. The story will be published with supplementary illustrations by Quentin Blake.

14. Potter was an accomplished sheep farmer.

Potter was an award-winning sheep farmer and in 1943 was the first woman elected President of the Herdwick Sheep Breeders’ Association.

15. You can visit Hill Top, Potter's home.


Strobilomyces, Wikimedia // CC BY-SA 3.0 

When Potter died in 1943 at the age of 77, she left 14 farms and 4000 acres of land in the Lake District to Britain’s National Trust, ensuring the beloved landscape that inspired her work would be preserved. The Trust opened her house, Hill Top, which she bought in 1905, to the public in 1946.

Mental Floss is partnering with the Paper & Packaging – How Life Unfolds® “15 Pages A Day” reading initiative to make sure that everyone has the opportunity (and time) to take part in The Mental Floss Book Club. It’s easy! Take the pledge at howlifeunfolds.com/15pages.

This article has been updated for 2019.

No, Ernest Hemingway Didn’t Write That Six-Word ‘Baby Shoes’ Story

Ernest Hemingway and actor Gary Cooper (right) leave a cinema on the Rue Royale in Paris, France in 1956.
Ernest Hemingway and actor Gary Cooper (right) leave a cinema on the Rue Royale in Paris, France in 1956.
Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Journalist-turned-novelist Ernest Hemingway was known for his clean, restrained writing style. Which makes it conceivable that he's the author of the most famous six-word short story of all time.

The story goes that Hemingway wrote the gut-punching line "For Sale, Baby Shoes, Never Worn" to win a bet against his writer friends. But there's no evidence that such a bet ever took place, and it's likely that one of the best-known works attributed to Hemingway has nothing to do with the author at all.

According to Open Culture, the urban legend sets Hemingway in a hotel (usually the Algonquin, but the location varies) some time in the 1920s. He was allegedly having lunch with a group of writer pals when he bet them he could write a story with a full narrative in just six words. After his friends put their money down, Hemingway jotted down a few words on a napkin and passed it around the table. Though brief, the other writers couldn't deny that "Baby Shoes" was indeed a full story.

Chances are this story actually originated years after Hemingway's 1961 death. It first appeared in print in the 1991 book Get Published! Get Produced!: A Literary Agent’s Tips on How to Sell Your Writing by agent Peter Miller. When recounting the anecdote, Miller wrote that he first heard the tale from an unnamed newspaper syndicator in 1974.

The story spread from there and its original source only became murkier. A retelling of the tale was included in the one-man biographical Hemingway play Papa in 1996, and then in a Reader's Digest essay in 1998. The internet—for which Hemingway's punchy, compact style was a perfect fit—got "Baby Shoes" in front of more eyeballs than ever.

Though it's been cited in articles and books numerous times, no one has ever been able to trace the story back to a first-hand source. As for the true author of "Baby Shoes" if it isn't Hemingway, flash fiction fans may never know his or her identity. It's possible that the line was never meant to be a fictional story in the first place: Real ads that bear striking similarities to the legendary work predate the myth.

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