5 Famous Books Saved from the Dumpster

Posted by Hayley on January 30, 2018
The road to publication is paved with headaches, heartaches, and crumpled up balls of paper. No one knows this more than the following authors. Their work went on to achieve worldwide acclaim, but in the beginning, it took an unlikely—and often unsung—literary hero to save their manuscripts from obscurity.

Read on for a behind-the-scenes look at the big books that barely made it to the shelf.

Stephen King's Carrie

Bad Beginnings: In 1973, King and his wife Tabitha lived in a trailer. Struggling to make ends meet, he began writing a story about a teen outcast named Carrie White. The process, however, was not an easy one; compounded by the fact that King was modeling his main character on two girls he knew in high school who had both died at an early age. Eventually, he gave up. "I couldn't see wasting two weeks, maybe even a month, creating a novella I didn't like and wouldn't be able to sell. So I threw it away," King wrote in his memoir, On Writing.

To the Rescue... Tabitha! She fished the pages out of the trash and set them right back in front of her husband. "You've got something there," she told him—and she was right. Carrie sold over a million copies in its first year. Since then it's been adapted for film, television, and Broadway.



Bad Beginnings: Almost a decade after the publication of his classic and controversial novel, Nabokov admitted Lolita was a "difficult book" to write. Perhaps this was an understatement. At one point during the novel's creation, Nabokov set a fire in his backyard and fed his entire draft to the flames.

To the Rescue... Vera, Nabokov's wife! A Cornell student witnessed her running out of the house to pluck as many pages as she could out of the fire. Was Nabokov suitably grateful for this act of literary heroism? We'll let a snippet from one of his love letters to Vera answer that question: "How can I explain to you, my happiness, my golden wonderful happiness, how much I am all yours—with all my memories, poems, outbursts, inner whirlwinds? Or explain that I cannot write a word without hearing how you will pronounce it?"


Anne Frank's The Diary of a Young Girl

Bad Beginnings: Anne wrote her diary while she was hiding in an annex from the Nazis during World War II. The sweet, hopeful, and haunting account was abandoned when, on August 4, 1944, she and her family were apprehended and transported to concentration camps.

To the Rescue... Miep Gies. The Dutch woman, a loyal friend of Anne's family, snatched the diary out of the ransacked annex and kept it safe in her desk drawer. She returned the diary to Anne's father, the family's only known survivor, who submitted it for publication in 1946.


John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces

Bad Beginnings: Toole took the numerous rejections of A Confederacy of Dunces hard. He toiled on re-working it for years, writing to his editor, "Something of my soul is in the thing. I can't let it rot without trying." After eventually giving up on the novel ever getting published, Toole committed suicide on March 26, 1969. He was 31 years old.

To the Rescue... Toole's mother, Thelma. Two years after her son's death, she found a smeared carbon copy of the manuscript in Toole's old room. The novel would go on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1981.



Bad Beginnings: It's hard to imagine Lee's beloved novel absent from our bookshelves—and Scout and Atticus and Boo Radley absent from our hearts—but in the late 1950s, publication did not seem likely. The author later admitted to readers she found the writing process so frustrating that at one point she lost hope and threw the entire manuscript out the window and into a pile of snow.

To the Rescue... Lee's agent! He reportedly demanded she retrieve and finish the manuscript. The tough love worked. To Kill a Mockingbird was published in 1960. It became an instant sensation and won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction the following year.




Comments Showing 1-50 of 57 (57 new)


message 1: by Richard (new)

Richard Add to this Bulgakov's Master and Margarita.
It is ironic, because in it, the Master tries to burn his manuscript, and Margarita saves as much of it as she can. There are possible allusions to Nabakov here.


message 2: by Mark (new)

Mark Interesting read.


message 3: by Amber (last edited Feb 01, 2018 02:32PM) (new)

Amber Martingale Don't like TKAM. Not read any of the others, but can't really stand King, either. Only movie based on his books I find passably watchable is The Green Mile.


message 4: by Sarah (new)

Sarah Marie Amber wrote: "Don't like TKAM. Not read any of them\ others, but can't really stand King, either. Only movie based on his books I find passably watchable is The Green Mile."

What about The Shawshank Redemption!? In my opinion it's the best movie based on his books.


message 5: by Mark (new)

Mark I guess it was never thrown away like Carrie.


message 6: by victoria (new)

victoria Wish Lolita would've burned


message 7: by Evelyn (new)

Evelyn Where the red fern grows needs to be added to this list too, It was rewritten after being thrown in the trash.


message 8: by Reading Faerie (new)

Reading Faerie I was surprised when I saw To Kill a Mockingbird on this list.


♨ Bibliyowhan ↭ Mother of Books ζ Thank goodness To Kill a Mockingbird survived!


message 10: by Amber (last edited Feb 01, 2018 02:34PM) (new)

Amber Martingale Sarah wrote: "Amber wrote: "Don't like TKAM. Not read any of them\ others, but can't really stand King, either. Only movie based on his books I find passably watchable is The Green Mile."

What about The Shawsha..."


Not had a chance to see or read that one yet. I got hit over the head with TKAM in high school, figuratively speaking and wanted to stab my eyeballs out. Even my friend Wes wanted to stab his eyeballs out and he had to put up with the BRAILLE edition! When even a blind student wants to stab his eyeballs out... .


message 11: by Brett (new)

Brett Minor Amber wrote: "Sarah wrote: "Amber wrote: "Don't like TKAM. Not read any of them\ others, but can't really stand King, either. Only movie based on his books I find passably watchable is The Green Mile."

What abo..."


Wow! I enjoyed the book, but that is some awesome imagery. You guys really hated that book.


message 12: by Rea (new)

Rea Svitak And there are many (much more than 5) great books that were never saved...


message 13: by Amber (last edited Feb 06, 2018 11:39AM) (new)

Amber Martingale Brett wrote: "Amber wrote: "Sarah wrote: "Amber wrote: "Don't like TKAM. Not read any of them\ others, but can't really stand King, either. Only movie based on his books I find passably watchable is The Green Mi..."

LOL. It bored us.


message 14: by Cheryl (new)

Cheryl Burbage Reading TKAM was a watershed event in my life. I fell in love with the characters, who managed to retain their humanity in the face of ignorance, bigotry and injustice. I think it should be required reading in every high school.


message 15: by Amber (last edited Feb 06, 2018 11:44AM) (new)

Amber Martingale As described in a previous post, Cheryl, for me and my classmates TKAM was torture porn. None of us enjoyed it, not even the one who had to put up with a Braille edition of it... .

As the actor playing the Cat in the Hat in the YouTube video epic rap battle of history between Shakespeare and Dr. Seuss said about Shakespeare, our class was left looking like the end of MacBeth when we read TKAM: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l3w2M...


message 16: by Sophie (new)

Sophie Amber wrote: "As described in a previous post, Cheryl, for me and my classmates TKAM was torture porn. None of us enjoyed it, not even the one who had to put up with a Braille edition of it... .

As the actor pl..."
Thanks so much for the link Amber! I can't stop watching it (and laughing). I have not yet read TKAM but had it on my to read list. Now I'm wondering if I should bother.


message 17: by Yaaresse (new)

Yaaresse victoria wrote: "Wish Lolita would've burned"

Agreed...and as much as I dislike the idea of burning books, I wouldn't have been sad to see Lord of the Flies and Clockwork Orange added to the kindling.

Edna St. Vincent Millay's Conversations at Midnight could be added to the original posting of "saved" manuscripts, as perhaps could Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Allegedly, Stevenson's wife burned the first draft.


message 18: by Manuela (new)

Manuela Amber wrote: "As described in a previous post, Cheryl, for me and my classmates TKAM was torture porn. None of us enjoyed it, not even the one who had to put up with a Braille edition of it... .

As the actor pl..."


Perhaps understanding good literature is not your strong suit? TKAM should definitely be required reading in high school.


message 19: by Manuela (new)

Manuela Cheryl wrote: "Reading TKAM was a watershed event in my life. I fell in love with the characters, who managed to retain their humanity in the face of ignorance, bigotry and injustice. I think it should be require..."

You're absolutely right, Cheryl!


message 20: by Madeline (new)

Madeline Jobczynski Sophie wrote: "Amber wrote: "As described in a previous post, Cheryl, for me and my classmates TKAM was torture porn. None of us enjoyed it, not even the one who had to put up with a Braille edition of it... .

A..."


Yes, you absolutely should bother. It is one of the best works of fiction ever written. It is well-written and extremely captivating. I could not put it down the first time I read it. I totally respect the opinion of people who don't like it. But don't let that opinion stop you from reading it! Maybe you won't like it, but you have to give it a shot!


Carol She's So Novel꧁꧂ I have another add - Keri Hulme's The Bone People Hulme had so many rejections that she was going to encase the manuscript in perspex & use it as a door stop!

Fortunately Spiral Press believed in her & the book.

I've read 3 of the 5 books mentioned & will (some day) read the other 2.


message 22: by The Just-About-Cocky Ms M (last edited Feb 10, 2018 05:18PM) (new)

The Just-About-Cocky Ms M Manuela wrote :Perhaps understanding good literature is not your strong suit?"

Well, there's a condescending, elitist put-down., and completely unwarranted. Amber didn't like TKAM, and her opinion of it is as valid as anyone else's here who has replied.

As for "good literature," I'd say that TKAM is good enough, but like many another classic--or classic wannabe--the quality is entirely in the eye of the beholder.

So get over yourself, Missy Manuela, and remember that your opinion is hardly the dernier cri for the rest of us.


message 23: by Manuela (last edited Feb 10, 2018 05:32PM) (new)

Manuela The Just-About-Average Ms M wrote: "Manuela wrote :Perhaps understanding good literature is not your strong suit?"

Well, there's a condescending, elitist put-down., and completely unwarranted. Amber didn't like TKAM, and her opinion..."


It was very warranted as she was saying nobody enjoyed that novel and therefore Cheryl isn't allowed to think it should be required reading. Amber was being the snob.


The Just-About-Cocky Ms M She said to Cheryl that no one in her high school class enjoyed it. Nowhere did Amber tell Cheryl what she should and should not think. Go back and read her original short post--if you're up to it, that is.

Amber is entitled to one-star any classic she likes without having to suffer insults from a twit with delusions about literature. I one-star Dickens and Melville and on and on, so you want to judge me as well?


message 25: by Manuela (new)

Manuela The Just-About-Average Ms M wrote: "She said to Cheryl that no one in her high school class enjoyed it. Nowhere did Amber tell Cheryl what she should and should not think. Go back and read her original short post--if you're up to it,..."

Yes, I judge you indeed. And she was being condescending towards Cheryl.


message 26: by Topher (new)

Topher Colin well at least the headline was accurate... 5 famous books.. not 5 worth reading books... now let's start the list of books that should have stayed in the trash for the mother of all dumpster fires - there are bound to be more than 5 of them.


The Just-About-Cocky Ms M Manuela wrote: "Yes, I judge you indeed. And she was being condescending towards Cheryl."

I hardly know what to say... being judged for my opinions on books. Whatever has the world come to?


message 28: by Dilip (new)

Dilip Chauhan Johann wrote: "Thank goodness To Kill a Mockingbird survived!"

Exactly!


Chloe Millar/Angelica Hamilton Book nerds fighting is perhaps the funniest thing on the entire planet earth. I absolutely love ALL of you so freaking much. Thank you for your service.


message 30: by Celestial (new)

Celestial I don't think any books should be put in the dumpster and/or set aflame. The reason being each book could mean something different to the reader. That is one of the great things about books, allowing for different interpretations and opinions. So while some people may hate the books, it could be another persons most beloved possession.


Chloe Millar/Angelica Hamilton Manuela and average ms M please be my best friends. I enjoy both of you more extensively than you could ever fathom. I am currently eating popcorn waiting for one of you to continue the argument. Please don't let me intrude, just pretend I'm not here. I haven't even read the book in question, but I don't need context to enjoy this enrichment.


Chloe Millar/Angelica Hamilton Wait, I'm so sorry, I'm not following. Who's fighting who? So I think that the teams are Cheryl, who hasn't really participated, was more roped into the argument, who originally contradicted by Amber, who submitted a humorous joke in response. But then some more radical book enthusiasts came in sparking more conversation, our good friend Manuela comes in, highly stating her opinionation of agreeation with Cheryl. (yes I know those words are made up, but I'm 13 cut me some slack book ladies.) Then Madeline comes in, also on Cheryl's side, and plays a similar role to Sophie on Amber's side, a supporter, but not the main argument source. A sheep one could say. Then, my favorite part, our good friend not so average Ms. M comes on, and totally burns Manuela, BTW do you need some ice for that burn "Missy Manuela"? Amazing insult BTW, one of those insults that you can get away with on Goodreads because there is no profanity, but also probably made her blood boil. I have no idea about genders here, so I'm just making them up, please do forgive me. I honestly can't tell what side Ms. M is on, who seems to like the book, but now I'm pretty sure if just standing up the common good of humanity and human rights, but that's good as well. Then Manuela tries to be redeemed with the aspect of reasonability, striking the classic victim card, nice usage of that by the way. But the most reasonable and correct of them all, Topher. Who just told it like it was. What a flopping savage, you go girlfriend. So in conclusion, I have way too much time on my hands and need to get a life, opposed to narrating middle-aged women's book catfights. Thank you for making my Saturday night special ladies. I hope to wake up to another stream of disagreements in the morning.


message 33: by Gina **the Snow Queen** (last edited Feb 11, 2018 01:39AM) (new)

Gina **the Snow Queen** Whoa! Mightily entertained by the little quarrel here. Agree to disagree...one's trash is another's treasure, I suppose. BUT...I agree about Lord of the Flies ...hated that book so much! Read it the same year as TKAM and it was like pulling teeth!


message 34: by Nancy (new)

Nancy Hammons I went to school in California in the '70s and it was one of those things that if you wanted to read anything then read or not. I read TKAM a couple of years ago it was OK. I used to read King's books, but in an interview about a book he got political, so not going there anymore. If you are doing an interview about a book or movie stick to the subject.


message 35: by Dale (new)

Dale Young Don't forget A Time to Kill, by Grisham. He had to print his own copies and sell them out of the trunk of his car because the agents told him he'd never amount to anything as a writer.


message 36: by Juliet (new)

Juliet Smith Yaaresse wrote: "victoria wrote: "Wish Lolita would've burned"

Agreed...and as much as I dislike the idea of burning books, I wouldn't have been sad to see Lord of the Flies and Clockwork Orange added to the kindl..."

I respectfully disagree with you when it comes to Lord of the Flies, which shows different forms of government as interpreted by teenage boys. That said, I could probably take or leave Of Mice and Men.


message 37: by Manuela (last edited Feb 11, 2018 06:10AM) (new)

Manuela The Just-About-Average Ms M wrote: "Manuela wrote: "Yes, I judge you indeed. And she was being condescending towards Cheryl."

I hardly know what to say... being judged for my opinions on books. Whatever has the world come to?"


A world that tries to get people to read stuff worth reading. TKAM is one of the best books ever written. With all forms of art, it goes over people's heads sometimes.


message 38: by Charity (new)

Charity So... have a spouse that appreciates your writing. ;)


message 39: by The Just-About-Cocky Ms M (last edited Feb 11, 2018 07:02AM) (new)

The Just-About-Cocky Ms M Manuela, again, ad nauseam: "A world that tries to get people to read stuff worth reading. TKAM is one of the best books ever written. With all forms of art, it goes over people's heads sometimes. "

One individual's opinion of what is worth reading in general and TKAM as "one of the best books ever written" in particular does not--and cannot--serve as the arbiter of taste, comprehension, and enjoyment for everyone else.

One individual's smug contention that failure to appreciate any form of art she adores means that particular item--book, painting, concerto, symphony--goes over the heads of lesser folk means absolutely nothing other than to make Miss Smug and Pretentious a subject of ridicule.

I will say that I liked TKAM, but it is far from being one of the best books ever written. In its rather limited genre, perhaps, but certainly not in the much wider canon of literature.

I'm done now, Chloe Millar/Angelica. Thanks for reading. But I prefer a more worthy opponent to cross swords with, and this one is well past her sell-by date. And I'm not middle-aged; I'm older than dirt.


message 40: by Stephanie (new)

Stephanie I've read Carrie, The Diary of a Young Girl, and To Kill a Mockingbird; I've not read the other two. A Confederacy of Dunces sounds like something I might enjoy. However, I'm ambivalent about Lolita.


message 41: by Manuela (new)

Manuela The Just-About-Average Ms M wrote: "Manuela, again, ad nauseam: "A world that tries to get people to read stuff worth reading. TKAM is one of the best books ever written. With all forms of art, it goes over people's heads sometimes. ..."

Literature just isn't for everyone, honey. Don't feel attacked. It's okay.


Chloe Millar/Angelica Hamilton Thank you so much. This is just how I was hoping I would get to wake up. So much had happened! So, I think that we are saying a tearful goodbye to our good friend Ms M, it was an honor having you, you didn't go out without a fight. And I'm sure you aren't old as dirt. :) I admire how you left a sensible, relatively kind message of argument retireation. Manuela. As you for, I now see that we have book trolls. I figured that this website would be above that, being for those interested in high literature. It is fine to love a book, and it is fine to disagree, but you my friend, have gone above and beyond polite disaggregation. You sound a little like Donald Trump in your closing argument, " “My IQ is one of the highest — and you all know it! Please don’t feel so stupid or insecure; it’s not your fault.” So being interested in good literature, I am hoping that you will be able to understand your faults, and chillax a little bit.."honey"..... But I do still admire your agureing skills, because girl, you are gooood, like it's impressive you can take all of ms M's reasoning and complete disregard and twist her words against her, are you a lawyer or something? I think that I might want to be a lawyer or a doctor, but if I go law school can you coach me? Excited to keep narrating.
-Chloe


Chloe Millar/Angelica Hamilton Gina wrote: "Whoa! Mightily entertained by the little quarrel here. Agree to disagree...one's trash is another's treasure, I suppose. BUT...I agree about Lord of the Flies ...hated that book so much! Read it th..."
Also mightily entertained Gina.


message 44: by Amber (last edited Feb 13, 2018 12:05PM) (new)

Amber Martingale Manuela wrote: "Amber wrote: "As described in a previous post, Cheryl, for me and my classmates TKAM was torture porn. None of us enjoyed it, not even the one who had to put up with a Braille edition of it... .

A..."


No it shouldn't. "Required reading" does NOTHING but turn people OFF of books, period. ALL "required reading" lists should be ELIMINATED! Let people read whatever they want to read whenever they want to read it and at whatever pace they want to read it at!

Madeline: Horse hockey! It's overwritten boredom inducing crud. Any book that makes you want to stab your eyeballs out, like Jocasta did in the play Oedipus Rex (King Swollenfoot) before she hung herself because she went insane in the membrane after committing incest with her own son (Oedipus) after he inadvertently murdered his own father should not be read at all, much less in high school.

The Just-About-Average Ms M: Thank you!

Manuela (again): If Sophie thinks I was being condescending to her, she can tell me so herself! She doesn't "need" your help in deciding what to think. I was telling her exactly what I thought of TKAM and that at the time I was NOT alone in my opinion.

Chloe Millar/Angelica: You're welcome!

Nancy: I don't blame you, Politics sucks diseased moose wang.


Chloe Millar/Angelica Hamilton I love how you were able to address everyone in one comment. Very impressive.


message 46: by Amber (new)

Amber Martingale It's better than multiple posts each replying to a single comment.


Chloe Millar/Angelica Hamilton Agreed my friend. agreed.


message 48: by Robbie Lane (new)

Robbie Lane Confederacy of Dunces was very funny. I think you might need to consider the times and the year all the books were written. Couldn't stand Lolita, Lord of the Flies, or On the Road. Really wanted to love and appreciate that last one. Does anyone ever read, "The Yearling," anymore? It is one of my favorite books, was one everyone read when we were young kids, often was required reading. Just a book that had a huge impact on me and truly made me love animals and work in rescue during my adult life.


message 49: by Peter (new)

Peter Fiske The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant by Donaldson, great trilogy
Also The Green Rider series by Kristian Brittian


message 50: by Laurie Wilner (new)

Laurie Wilner I hated TKAM in high school; never finished it. I loved TKAM in my book club many decades later. It didn't work in my life & life experience as a teen but, with the distance of age & the bridge of understanding (both life & literary understandings) it became a whole new book. I'm so glad there was a demanding editor, a wife who knew, a parent willing to share in grief...


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