Monday, May 29, 2006

Book Review: "The Book of Lost Books"

British book critic Stuart Kelly took a wonderfully good idea and has turned it into mush. Perhaps it was because my expectations for The Book of Lost Books: An Incomplete History of All the Great Books You'll Never Read were so high that I was so disappointed in this book. Kelly's aim is a good one; he writes in the introduction that the book is "an alternative history of literature, an epitaph and a wake, a hypothetical library and an elergy to what might have been." I was looking forward to a fascinating compendium of works of literature that have been lost to history.

What I got instead was what the book perhaps ought to have been titled: The Book of Authors, Some of Whose Works Have been Lost. Kelly focuses far too much on the biographical details of the authors he chooses to highlight, and not nearly enough on their lost works. While his sketches of their lives are well-written and quite interesting, there were several occasions where I had to re-read an essay two or three times before I discovered what exactly had gone missing.

This is a good start, and hopefully Kelly's effort will encourage other literary scholars to examine this area of their field more closely. I hope that future endeavors will be better executed.


At 12:15 PM, Blogger The Kimmunicator said...

I completely agree! I had to skim the majority of this book but looked so forward to it. I was exhausted by all the little bio info.

At 12:05 AM, Blogger pacatrue said...

It sounds like he fell victim to a common critical impulse. Instead of trying to explore the artistic work, you find out the bio details that went into it. It's always been the easy way out, I think.


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