Connected by Books (Alissa Grosso)

As a rule, I fly so far below the radar that I'm probably inches from a crash landing at any point in time. I mean that not only as an author that nobody has ever heard of, but as a person in general. I'm not exactly sure what an average 40 year-old woman is supposed to be like, but I know that she's likely nothing like me, which is just another way of saying I'm a weirdo.

So, being a weirdo, I tend not to be into mainstream things, and usually have no clue what actually is mainstream. Recently, there was some big sporting event thing here in the U.S., but not being a cable subscriber I didn't actually see any of the Superbowl. I had heard that a band named Coldplay was going to be performing, and I had heard of them. I knew they had that one song that Weezer did a cover of, but I had no idea that this was a band that was famous enough to be playing the halftime of the Superbowl. Apparently they have multiple hit songs. Who knew? Not me.

That's why this month's YA Outside the Lines theme is a tough one for me. We're supposed to write about "Under the Radar" authors, but pretty much every author I read is an under the radar author, and pretty much every author I'm friends with is an under the radar author, and I can't write about one author without writing about another author, and that would make for an excessively long post. Plus, what if I accidentally leave someone out? They'll think I hate them. (This, in a nutshell, is why I stopped wishing people happy birthday on Facebook - the fear that I might not be able to send birthday greetings on a daily basis, and would thus offend someone who I missed out on.)

So, I'm going to tell a story, that kind of sort of pertains to this month's theme, but mostly doesn't because as I pointed out earlier, I'm a weirdo.

Some years ago, I decided to spend a couple of days in Philadelphia for the science fiction convention, Philcon (back when it was still held in Philadelphia). This was long before I was a published author. It was shortly after I split up with the guy I had been dating. So, naturally my ex, my parents, my sister, my sister's roommate and pretty much everyone else I had ever met, were sure that I was going to Philadelphia to meet some guy. I wasn't. The last thing I wanted to do was meet a guy. I guess maybe this was what an average 20-something woman would have been doing, but not being average, I have no idea. I was going to Philadelphia because of an author, a female author.

I don't think Connie Willis could ever be considered an under the radar author. She's won awards, to be specific 11 Hugo awards and 7 Nebulas. I supposed outside of science fiction, folks might not know what a Hugo or a Nebula is, and as such they might mistake Connie for an under the radar author, but she isn't. Even if you don't like science fiction, you should read her books because you will love them. Anyway, the year I was headed down to Philcon she was the guest of honor.

Sitting in a small room listening to Connie speak, was a really special and memorable experience for me, and this being in an age before cell phones, it really was a chance to get away from the chaos of my life, and just be happy. My ex, with no other way to contact me, had no choice but to leave annoying message after message on the hotel room's voicemail, messages I was blissfully unaware of as I listened to one of my heroes speak.

One of Connie's award-winning books, and maybe my favorite of all her works, is a book called To Say Nothing of the Dog.

You should read this book. It is awesome and hilarious.
I think someone in the audience had asked about the title of the book, and she explained that it came from the subtitle of a forgotten classic (here's where we get to the under the radar bit). That book is something called Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) by Jerome K. Jerome. To be fair, Three Men in a Boat, isn't exactly an unheard of book (it even has it's own graphic novel version, that's certainly nowhere near as good as the original), but unlike say A Tale of Two Cities or Pride and Prejudice, it's not something that often gets assigned as a high school reading assignment, which is a pity, because it, like Connie's book that borrowed it's subtitle, is laugh-out-loud funny.

You should read this book, too!

Three Men in a Boat was written by an author with the improbable name of Jerome K. Jerome, and it first came to Connie's notice when she was reading another book, Have Spacesuit, Will Travel by Robert Heinlein, to be exact.

I'm not going to declare this a must-read. It's good in a campy sort of way, but it's also a bit dated, and if you aren't a big science fiction fan, you probably won't like it.

Heinlein's not remotely an under the radar author either, so I'm really doing a horrible job of staying on topic this month, but anyway, back to the story. So, in that book, which is one of Heinlein's "juveniles" (back when it was written the term "young adult" had yet to be coined) the protagonist's father happens to be reading a book called Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome. Of course, young Connie knew this had to be a made up book because how could there possibly be an author named Jerome K. Jerome. Until some years later when she learned that Jerome and his book existed, and lo and behold, it turned out to be one of the funniest books ever written.

So, this is how I discovered the not-quite-under-the-radar gem that is Three Men in a Boat, but our story is not yet concluded. As it happens, maybe a couple of years after my trip to Philcon, the library I was working at decided to have a month where all our book displays were staff picks and we were each supposed to come up with a list of 10 or 20 books that we loved and we thought other people should read. Naturally, Three Men in a Boat was one of the books on my list.

One day in the staff room I found a note left by one of my colleagues from a library patron who borrowed Three Men in a Boat as a result of it being on the staff picks display, and who, of course, loved it. The patron's rambling message was more focused on who the library worker was who could have picked such a wonderful book. He was positive it would be someone up there in years, as a young person wouldn't appreciate good literature, which since I was still in my twenties, proved to be mistaken assumption. If I recall correctly, I think he also thought I must be a man, which also turned out to be untrue. I don't know what this proves other than the fact that I am a bit of weirdo or that the library patron had some prejudices.

I do find it cool to think that because Robert Heinlein referenced Jerome K. Jerome's book in one of his juvenile novels, Connie Willis discovered it, and referenced that same book in the title of one of her best novels, a novel which was one of the reasons I became such a huge fan of Connie Willis that I traveled down to Philly to hear her speak and subsequently discovered the brilliance that is Three Men in a Boat. That discovery led me to include it as one of my staff picks, which led to one more person discovering this under the radar book. In fact that very complicated and connected series of events seems like something that could have come straight out of Three Men in a Boat or, at the very least, To Say Nothing of the Dog. Oh, and because of that long involved story and because of my weird reluctance to write about current under-the-radar authors, I told this rambling story and shared it with the world, or, at least, the portion of the world that reads YA Outside the Lines. So, I fully expect that because of it one or more of you is going to read Three Men in a Boat, and maybe To Say Nothing of the Dog, as well, and who knows if you're in the mood for some campy old science fiction, Have Spacesuit, Will Travel and the connections will continue.

Alissa Grosso is the author of three very under-the-radar young adult novels. You can find out more about them and her at


  1. I don't know what this says about me, but I was hoping the library patron who read your book rec would end up being your husband or your best friend. But that's just totally missing the point of your entire story. So forget I mentioned it. Instead, thanks for the book recs! I am in need of a book that will make me laugh out loud :)

    1. I was thinking that too, Jody! I think it's the author's mind!

    2. That would make for a good story, but, alas, I had to meet my guy by far less bookish means. Apparently the first novel he actually read all the way through was the first novel I published. I feel incredibly honored!

  2. Great post. I call these unlogical connections in real life 'God's Pinball Machine.'

  3. I loved reading this! I have the same fear about Facebook birthdays. And...once I read a book (title forgotten) in which a girl read Agatha Christie, so I read Agatha Christie and I got to THE MIRROR CRACK'D, so I read "The Lady of Shalott." And I still love Christie and Tennyson, who are definitely not under-the-radar (but who are often maligned), no matter what anybody says.

    1. I think it's kind of cool to discover one book, from another book. I think I need to start making reference to some of my own favorites in the books I write.

    2. Totally agree! Such a fun post, Alissa.

  4. This is so true about the convoluted paths of word of mouth!
    And I recall that I read Gary Snyder because he was only thinly disguised in a novel of Jack Kerouac's, and both Kerouac and Snyder led me to Ginsberg, and all three of them led me to the dozens of books and magazines on Zen Buddhism that I've read, not to mention trying meditation myself.

  5. Alissa Grosso, I must agree with you that I do not watch the superbowl either, so the fact that Coldplay was playing while I was unaware makes me know that I am not the only person who is not on mainstream.


Post a Comment