Synopses & Reviews
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.
"Homer's first work, alluded to by Aristotle, was supposedly a comic epic poem. Byron's memoirs were posthumously destroyed, and Ben Jonson didn't live to complete his final play, a pastoral tragicomedy. Flaubert, who suffered seizures that were probably epileptic, kept the text of a scientifically accurate novel about insanity locked up inside his head. At 15, Scottish freelance critic Kelly began compiling a List of Lost Books when he was shocked to learn that there are no extant plays of Agathon, a celebrated fifth century B.C. tragedian and friend of Euripides. 'From Shakespeare to Sylvia Plath, Homer to Hemingway, Dante to Ezra Pound, great writers had written works I could not possess,' Kelly laments. 'The entire history of literature was also the history of the loss of literature.' At their best, Kelly's short essays whet the appetite for great works of literature, and serious readers will enjoy scanning these pages looking for curiosities and pondering lost volumes from the oeuvres of Austen, Chaucer and St. Paul. Inevitably, the thesis is more charming than the lengthy execution, and one suspects this would have been much more effective in condensed form as a whimsical article in Harper's or the Atlantic. Illus." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"An absolute joy...Kelly's book is as appealing for what it is not as for what it is. In an age of slapdash laundry lists of places to see before you die...The Book of Lost Books is a work of great passion, insight and scholarship." Joe Queenan, The New York Times Book Review
"Each lost book has an underlying tale waiting to be read and treasured. This fantastic compendium is highly recommended for academic and larger public libraries and book lovers everywhere." Library Journal
"[O]ften witty and sometimes poignant....The Book of Lost Books leaves us pensive, imagining all the works that are well and truly lost...and thankful for what remains." Jane Smiley, The Los Angeles Times
"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
About the Author
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.