The Book of Lost Books
An Incomplete History of All the Great Books You'll Never Read
By Stuart Kelly
(Random House, Hardcover, 9781400062973, 368pp.)
Publication Date: April 18, 2006
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In an age when deleted scenes from Adam Sandler movies are saved, it’s sobering to realize that some of the world’s greatest prose and poetry has gone missing. This witty, wry, and unique new book rectifies that wrong. Part detective story, part history lesson, part exposé, The Book of Lost Books is the first guide to literature’s what-ifs and never-weres.
In compulsively readable fashion, Stuart Kelly reveals details about tantalizing vanished works by the famous, the acclaimed, and the influential, from the time of cave drawings to the late twentieth century. Here are the true stories behind stories, poems, and plays that now exist only in imagination:
·Aristophanes’ Heracles, the Stage Manager was one of the playwright’s several spoofs that disappeared.
·Love’s Labours Won may have been a sequel to Shakespeare’s Love’s Labours Lost–or was it just an alternative title for The Taming of the Shrew?
·Jane Austen’s incomplete novel Sanditon, was a critique of hypochondriacs and cures started when the author was fatally ill.
·Nikolai Gogol burned the second half of Dead Souls after a religious conversion convinced him that literature was paganism.
·Some of the thousand pages of William Burroughs’s original Naked Lunch were stolen and sold on the street by Algerian street boys.
·Sylvia Plath’s widower, Ted Hughes, claimed that the 130 pages of her second novel, perhaps based on their marriage, were lost after her death.
Whether destroyed (Socrates’ versions of Aesop’s Fables), misplaced (Malcolm Lowry’s Ultramarine was pinched from his publisher’s car), interrupted by the author’s death (Robert Louis Stevenson’s Weir of Hermiston), or simply never begun (Vladimir Nabokov’s Speak, America, a second volume of his memoirs), these missing links create a history of literature for a parallel world. Civilized and satirical, erudite yet accessible, The Book of Lost Books is itself a find.
Stuart Kelly studied English language and literature at Balliol College, Oxford, where he gained a first-class degree. He is a frequent reviewer for Scotland on Sunday and lives with his wife in Edinburgh.
“Never let it be said that there are too many books in the world when so many great ones got away–all those books we don’t have because they were variously left on trains, burned, lost, neglected, abandoned, unstarted, or cruelly cut short by the author’s demise. After reading Stuart Kelly’s clever and enjoyable book, you will feel positively grateful that any survived at all.”
–Lynne Truss, author of Eats, Shoots & Leaves
“A fascinating story about writing, which should be quite new to most people and certainly deserves to be preserved. Stuart Kelly should be allowed to browse among all the libraries of the world.”
–Muriel Spark, author of The Finishing School