29 November 2010

The Great Library in the Clouds

The near and far future of the book

I predict that in the year 2525 ('if man is still alive, if woman can survive') people will still have books in their homes, there may even be secondhand book shops and the publishing of books on paper (or what passes for paper in the 26th century) will not have entirely ceased. By then all the books in all the worlds libraries will probably fit on a pinhead and Wikipedia, fitting on the same pinhead, will have as many entries as there are things in the universe.

In the meantime everything is in flux - confused and litigious but full of hope and potential. At the vortex there is Google with its already enormous digitised library, their 'mind of God' visions and the money to achieve them - 'a universal library of all knowledge', Amazon brandishing their Kindle but also still eagerly selling books on paper, publishers and authors rowing with the digitisers over copyright issues and companies like Superstar in China busy getting on with the job - they have already digitised over 800,000 books published in China from the dawn of print to now. In the background is Apple who have a way of becoming indispensable and whose Itunes (soon to be cloud-based) could be a foretaste of the way books will be accessed in future. There is a potential for a coming clash of the titans but it is to be devoutly wished that none of these companies gain anything approaching to a monopoly of information, knowledge and the accumulated wisdom of the world.

Kevin Kelly's 2006 New York Times breakthrough article Scan this Book alerted all to the incredible growth in digitisation.. A highly intelligent and intelligible article rounding up current thinking on the future of the book, digitisation, the twilight of the 'reign of the copy', copyright squabbles etc., He quoted Brewster Kahle, digitiser, 'Silicon Valley Utopian' and founder of the Internet Archive -
'This is our chance to one-up the Greeks!...It is really possible with the technology of today, not tomorrow. We can provide all the works of humankind to all the people of the world. It will be an achievement remembered for all time, like putting a man on the moon.'
The title of KK's article 'Scan this Book' of course harks back 40 years to Abbie Hoffman's rant Steal this Book and there is more than a hint of Woodstock Nation in the drift of Kelly's arguments. He comes from the open access, free school of web thinkers - cash, if any, (monetisation) comes from spin-offs, ads, links etc., Four years later you still get a lot of stuff free but in 2010/11 people are becoming used to occasionally paying money for information, not much and if you are in the educational system even less - but it's happening without burning barricades or paving stones being thrown.

Reach for the Sky...Cloud Computing

In 2010 there was much emphasis on cloud computing. For digitised books it means that they would reside on remote servers; rather than permanently downloading the book, the user would read a book (or chapters) within his or her browser. If sufficiently interested the reader might check the book out of the library for good or buy a paper copy from a shop or web operator. Google is going in the cloud direction, Amazon are said to be 'big believers' and Apple and other tablet makers are known to be thinking on these lines. Their Ipad has relatively low storage capacity and is designed to read material rather than accumulate it. Usage fees , where demanded, would be paid by access counts and some of the monies would devolve back to publishers and authors in the same way that a rock album or song earns the record label, the band and the song- writer micro dollars each time it is accessed from Itunes (once they have registered proprietorship.) With a cloud library you can theoretically access tens of millions of books (not snippets) with a smartphone sitting on a rock in the Khyber Pass. You might still pack a few real books for the journey but have none of the usual fears that you might run out of something to read.

With digitised books already available from many providers, mega-portals will arrive to take you to the cheapest source and hopefully offering much free stuff including no charges on almost all books out of copyright (many, many millions of books.) Let's call such an aggregator Aleph after Borges's short story- the Aleph is a point in space that contains all other points -those who gaze into it can see everything in the universe from every angle simultaneously, without distortion, overlapping or confusion. Right now for buying real books we have established mega-malls like ViaLibri, Bookfinder, AddAll etc., There are aggregator sites for old and current TV shows, sometimes offering as many as 20 different holders of the same item rated for efficiency of streaming etc., If you want no ads and high definition quality or desire to own the show you have to pay $2.99 at Itunes. The Itunes financial model could be a good start in dealing with copyright issues, although a cheaper system like UK's Lovefilm would be preferable with friendly access rates as low as $5 a month. In the school and university system one would hope to see much free or sponsored access, likewise for institutions, social housing, hospitals and prisons etc.,

Real books printed on paper are, in my opinion, with us to stay. Ebook champion Bill Hill, late of Microsoft, would have us believe otherwise -he points out the energy-wasting, resource-draining process of how we make books now. 'We chop down trees, transport them to plants, mash them into pulp, move the pulp to another factory to press into sheets, ship the sheets to a plant to put dirty marks on them, then cut the sheets and bind them and ship the thing around the world. Do you really believe that we'll be doing that in 50 years?' We will be doing it less but I feel sure we will still be doing it. Books are not going the way of 8-Track and BetaMax, sad remnants of a bozo era, they are at their best an unassailable and beautiful technology. He has a point, however, when one thinks of forests cut down for endless truckloads of books of total trash (often TV or celebrity related.)

Looking at the advantages of a cloud library, let us say I am deeply interested in the legend of the Holy Grail. In my quest I might accumulate 20 or 30 essential books on the Grail and Arthurian legend. I would of course have A.E. Waite's The Holy Grail. History, Legend and Symbolism. Further books may be difficult to find, expensive or only partly of use. There are well over 1000 books on the subject (I know this from a man who used to deal in Grail books.) Rather than pay someone $100 for Alfred Nutt's 1880 book Studies on the Legend of the Holy Grail with Especial Reference to the Hypothesis of its Celtic Origin. I could check it out of of the great library in the sky, peruse it and if it is essential download or even buy it as a real book from a shop. Being out of copyright it would probably be free online.

As my knowledge of the Grail grows I may want to annotate the odd book up there. This would be an option that could be turned off by subsequent readers and, like Wikipedia, peer reviewed. In my quest I might find an important Grail book that belonged to an Arthurian scholar with notes and queries in the text - e.g. A.E. Waite's copy of Jessie L. Weston's From Ritual to Romance. Not quite as good as T.S. Eliot's copy but of huge interest to Grail scholars. Ordinarily such a book would be bought and sold without its content being recorded and would be lost forever to scholars, seekers of the Grail and the general reader. I could annotate the cloud copy with AE Waite's own comments, thus preserving a unique item for all who wish to study it. [ To be continued...]

A lengthy screed written in the evenings while clearing an interminable art book library in Santa Cruz California. More to follow. How are they ever going to replace art books? The look and feel of the pages, the different styles of paper, the very heft of the book? Even the most modest art book is impressive. The only problem is the weight! Back to looking at past and present books real soon - enough blue sky thinking.

26 November 2010

Autograph anecdotes 3

Above is a letter signed by the 8 year old Arthur Firbank, later known as the exquisite novelist Ronald Firbank. Sadly it is a facsimile, one of a small quantity produced in his lifetime. I am on the road and I dont' have the Benkovitz /Firbank bibliography so am unsure of its status. I used to have three copies and it has some value. The point is he is writing asking for an autograph- from Dame Nellie Melba (once so famous they named food after her.) Do boys still do this? Ronald Firbank's signature is probably now worth more than Dame Melba's. Such changes of fortune are common in the world of autographs - when in the 1930s William Faulkner owed money to East Motor Company Garage, he gave them a bunch of IOU's and he wrote on one of them, 'I can't pay this now but someday this signature'll be worth more than I owe you.'

The world of autograph hunting is full of sad stories of missed celebrities, refusals from self important stars and boasts about getting autographs from deeply unimpressive Z listers. Here are a few examples culled from the web:
'I met and got the autograph of André Kuipers (A Dutch astronaut), when he visited my school when I still was in 7th grade.

I was so close to getting the signatures of Fall Out Boy at one of their concerts. But they left at the last minute.

I found Eric Clapton's car outside the biggest store
in Stockholm, Sweden. When he came out from the store, he refused to sign for me.

I went to the concerts of the Black Eyed Peas, Rihanna and Chris Brown, but I never actually met them.

I've heard woe betide anyone who asks Helen Hunt for an autograph.

Robert Heinlein would respond to autograph requests by saying, "Certainly. May I have a pint of your blood?" Had I known that and met him, I would have shown him my Red Cross blood-donor card. Do you think that would have sufficed?

Before he died, I know Marlon Brando was a real bitch about people and signatures. I think Frank Sinatra was that way too.

R. Crumb does not sign.

I was in San Francisco and saw Bob Uecker at a bar. He was a total asshole. After I took his picture with a couple of friends (in which he smiled like the Joker and waved) he told us "Now get the fuck out of here." Just the total opposite of the nice goofy guy he always portrays in TV and film.'
Bob who? However astronauts, even Dutch, are a growing area of autograph collecting as are dictators, tyrants and despots- I especially like the story (thanks Callum) of the dogged collector of tyrant's autographs posted in the last weeks comment field:
'(he) was keen to have Colonel Gaddafi's autograph and wrote, from the US, saying that he was about to name his new baby boy after the Colonel and would it be possible to have a signed photo as it would mean a lot in years to come... The Colonel sent the photo... and an engraved gold watch with a note about the photographer he was also sending who would be able to take photos of the child, parents and gifts. A child had to be found at short notice and a faux photo session was endured but, in the end the autograph was successfully added to his collection.'
There are many tales of frustrated or repelled autograph hunters. The post war London dealer Fred Bason, a sort of Driffield of his day, persuaded John Drinkwater to sign his books by saying that without his signature his books were unsaleable (this is true of many current writers.) A 1951 Time Magazine article on Fred ('Cockney Bookman') records a couple of classic rebuffs:
'...literary lions headed into the deep bush when they scented Fred on their trail. Poet John Masefield, for instance, responded to Fred's advances with a "chilly" printed card, and that "awful snob" Rudyard Kipling, trapped by Fred outside a museum, "raised his stick as I raised my hat."'
On the subject of authors (like Drinkwater) whose books are unsaleable unless signed, the question is this -which author's signature is the most common? It is hard to find an unsigned book by British Prime Minister Edward Heath, the singer Sophie Tucker seems to have signed everything that moved and for $5 you can buy fine signed firsts by writer such as Maxine Hong Kingston, Susan Kingston, Terry Brooks. If you have $10 you can buy books signed by Rushdie, Anne Rice and Margaret Atwood...for $15 you can buy a signed book by President Jimmy Carter Sources of Strength: Meditation on Scripture for a Living Faith. if on the other hand you have tens of thousands of dollars you might attempt to buy the signature of Button Gwinnett, the rarest of all signers of the Declaration of Independence. His signature looks like this:-

20 November 2010

Autograph anecdotes 2

Autograph collecting as a hobby is said to have become established in Europe in the 1780s - by the late 1890s it had become sufficiently annoying to writers to be satirised by Henry James in his short story The Death of the Lion (1894). I am indebted to David Haven Blake's magisterial work Walt Whitman and the Culture of American Celebrity for these tit bits. Blake advances the idea that early collectors saw the autograph 'as a revealing symbol of the inner life of the renowned.' This may still be true, that something private, possibly intangible, is revealed in an autograph. He quotes one Tamara Thornton as saying that the autograph represented ''a reification of self in script''. The signature signifies the man. A few anecdotes before advancing further into woo woo territory.

One of the commonest autograph stories concerns the celebrity cheque that doesn't get cashed because the signature is worth more than the amount of money on the cheque. This would not really work for Lembit Opik and the Cheeky Girls or even Gareth Gates (but it might for Bill Gates.) George Bernard Shaw boasted about how his cheques were seldom cashed, also there are tales of uncashed Marc Chagall and Michael Jackson cheques. The quirky site Anecdotage.com has this fairly typical celeb story:
While driving with Lee Marvin one day, Gary Cooper stopped for gas and paid with a $10 check. The attendant was delighted. "I'm going to frame this!" he exclaimed. Some time later Marvin asked Cooper how many of his checks came back to the bank. His reply? "About one in ten."
The trouble with these stories is that you should be able to get your cashed checks back, albeit stamped, as with all the cheques above (Doris Day, Mae West, Buzz Aldrin.) An Argentinian friend who met Jorge Luis Borges on a plane got him to sign her passport but was mortified when on renewal it was kept by the authorities... There is an amusing sub genre of related Picasso autograph stories:
Picasso once visited a local cabinet-maker to commission a mahogany wardrobe for his chateau in the South of France. To illustrate the design, he quickly drew a sketch showing its shape and dimensions, handing it to the craftsman. "How much will it cost?" Picasso asked. "Nothing," the cabinet-maker replied. "Just sign the sketch."
Similar stories are told of Dali and even Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin but I like this story of Chaplin and Picasso -a good story and as they say in Italy - si non e vero, e bon trovato:
Chaplin was visiting the studio of his friend Pablo Picasso. Picasso made a sudden gesture and accidentally spilt some paint on Chaplin's white slacks. He said, 'I'm so sorry, Charles! I'll get some spirit and remove it.' And Chaplin said, 'Please don't! Just leave the paint where it is and sign my trousers.'"
To be continued...

18 November 2010

Book Thieves. How to steal books and influence people...

The prospects for odd job man William Jacques, who on 30 July 2010 was jailed yet again for stealing books, this time from the Lindley Library, are not that rosy. After a year and a half in a comfy open jail, he’ll be out in the world of books again and may well be up to his old tome-raiding tricks once more , just like our old friend Gilkey out of The Man Who Loved Books Too Much, and no doubt, like Gilkey, he’ll be caught again, probably in the same way as before. Alternatively, he may go ‘straight’ and begin offering very ordinary books at ridiculously inflated prices on the web, like so many ‘ legitimate ‘ dealers do today. Perhaps he could combine dealing with his former career as an odd job man in Maida Vale. There is certainly money to be earned thereabouts, though he may have to adopt another alias before he offers his services. As a ‘ student ‘ at the Lindley he called himself Victor Santaro. He may even grow another beard, though this tactic didn’t fool the gimlet eyed staff at the BL when he last paid a visit there.

Of course, he could return to his old mum’s house at Cliffe, near Selby, where he spent most of last Christmas before some pesky sneak tipped off the police and he was dragged away from his mince pies to be charged at the local nick. I wonder if that informer had been some disgruntled local bookseller who had recognised him. As far as graduate level jobs go, Jacques, with his smug face beaming out from at least two web pages , is unlikely to get past the online vetting procedures of any commercial organisation. Still, as he hasn’t returned the 13 volumes of Nouvelle Iconographie des Camellias that he stole, he probably won’t starve.

The same uncertain fate is unlikely to affect former Oxford don Dr Simon Heighes, who was a part time lecturer and a highly respected specialist in Baroque music, when in May 1995 he was caught stealing rare books from the library of Christ Church College. When challenged, Heighes, a 33 year old fellow of Oriel College, admitted filching altogether 74 books from the Library , including works by Newton, Milton, Edmund Halley and Vesalius (pic above), all of which he had sold on. He also owned up to stealing from the libraries of Queen’s College and Trinity College of Music at Greenwich, where he had also taught. Altogether Heighes asked for 113 other offences to be considered. The total haul netted by this man ‘ of eminence and respectability ‘was enough to pay off his mortgage. In court Heighes claimed he had since sold his house for £149,000 and thanks to a inheritance now had a total of £195,000 to offer for compensation. Nevertheless, he was jailed for two years.

Fast forward to 2010 and Mr Heighes seems to have learned his lesson and is back to his old trade of music critic, though without a handy academic niche from which to operate. He has discovered that freelancing—whether for BBC Radio 3, BBC Music Magazine , or for various record companies as an expert on Baroque music —is probably all that is open to a disgraced don with a once promising academic career. The BBC Music Department, with its earnest-faced Oxbridge graduates with clean nails and sensible haircuts, doubtless welcomed back one of its own and for the past decade or so it’s all been all go--reconstructions of Bach’s St Mark Passion, sleeve and programme notes, polite reviews in music magazines, and most bizarrely, a feature on BBC Radio 3’ ‘ Building a Library ‘. Or should that be ‘Dismantling a Library ‘ ?. And he is even a respected figure in rural Oxfordshire, where he gives talks to schools and has become a governor of the primary school in his home village of Wootton by Woodstock.

But past misdeeds often come back to haunt you. In 2004 Heighes must have flinched to read that one book he had sold on—the incredibly rare 1552 pocket edition of Vesalius’ De Humani Corporis Fabrica-- valued at £60,000 + ( the third folio edition is on ABE at £92,000 ) hadn’t been returned to Christ Church College Library. Having been sold quite legitimately by a dealer to the Nippon Dental Library in Japan, the authorities there had refused to give it back. Apparently under Japanese law a stolen article remains the property of the purchaser if two years have elapsed since its sale. So, the former don now finds himself reluctantly embroiled in an issue he thought was long behind him. But is he inclined to help in any way ? Nope. When approached he refused to comment. In 2006 the book was still in Japan.

So there we have it. Cambridge graduate Jacques, who in his efforts to disguise the provenance of the many historic volumes he stole wrought irreversible havoc on national treasures. And former Oxford don Heighes, who is back with his Oxford friends in the BBC Music Department, and from his rural bolt hole, elects to forget the inconvenient fact that a book he stole---one of the great treasures of Christ Church library - is unlikely ever to be returned.

Compare this pair of ex-convicts to someone like Sean Greenhalgh, the brilliant self-taught art-forger, jailed for four years for passing off works produced from a garden shed in Bolton. It could be argued that the only damage he wrought was to the reputations of smart West End dealers and museum professionals who were fooled by his art. Others might argue that in showing up their shortcomings he actually performed a valuable service. But there were no old school, college or Tate Britain contacts to help him get a job when he returned to his council house.

But then who said that in the ‘gentlemanly’ world of book thieving life is fair ?


Thanks Robin. Wise and stern words indeed. Jacques 'the tome raider' seems to have had more than his 15 minutes of fame. The saga of the Japanese Vesalius seems to be ongoing and given the Japanese ' two years and it's kosher' law I doubt it will be resolved over a glass of claret in the college library. As for BBC3 I can't help feeling it is better in the hands of these Oxbridge types, morons they ain't. The good thing to come out of this is that It has become obvious that serial book thieves have a very good chance of being caught and that it is a bad career move. A warning to wantons. Dealing in books is easier and safer, also surprisingly simple--you buy a book for a dollar and sell it for two dollars (or three) and you never get your collar felt.

13 November 2010

Autograph anecdotes

There is a story behind every autograph. Idly fossicking about on Google I have retrieved a few such stories and added some of my own. It needs cojones to be an autograph hound so I offer much respect to those who have hunted down celebs and obtained signatures. The best collection I ever bought (about 2000+ inc Walt Disney, Ian Fleming, Bogart and Bacall, the Dalai Lama, Frankie Lyman (and the Teenagers) Tony Hancock and Lester Piggot) was from a very minor celebrity who was able to get into receptions and first nights etc., He had written jokes for Bob Monkhouse. It doesn't get much better. The greatest groupies and name droppers are often slightly famous themselves and a minor name will often have accumulated a few major names.

The most common type of autograph story usually ends 'and he was a really nice guy...we had a good chat'. It seems to come as a surprise that celebrities are not monsters, although great scorn is reserved for those who refuse autographs. A star cannot disappoint his fans. Graham Greene had a good line when refusing to sign a book--something along the lines of " I would like to but it would devalue those I have already done and I don't want that to happen, sorry.'

Rudyard Kipling received a note from a fan saying '...I hear you get paid $5 for every word you write. Enclosed is $5, please send me one word. Kipling replied with the one word "Thanks."

George Bernard Shaw was more generous (and even wittier). To fans writing to ask for his autograph he would often reply "Certainly not! George Bernard Shaw."

The painter Utrillo could, after a few free drinks, be induced to sign canvasses that he had not painted. Buyers beware.

Damien Hirst, the foolishly successful artist, sometimes signs things (books, tea shirts) as David Hockney. These are still saleable as he is known to do this and, in its way, it is also quite witty.

American crime writer and essayist James Ellroy signed every one of 65,000 first-edition copies of his 1996 memoir My Dark Places. You can buy a fine signed copy on ABE for $5 - there are over 200 signed copies for sale there with several over $100. As the signing progressed his signature degenerated to an unreadable scrawl. The ever-optimistic Booksniffer of Sussex manages to make a virtue of this '…wildly scrawled signature, as frantic and vigorous as the author's crackling prose.' $70 with free postage in UK. The above pic is of the great man pointing to the exact spot in L.A. where the murder victim known as the Black Dahlia was found.

Lou Reed's signature is the worst I have seen. It goes like this '----- -----.' Two almost straight slashed lines, making Ellroy's signature look like the handwriting of a village postmistress. Possibly easy to forge, so provenance needed when buying.

[…to be continued with tales of pathos and even bathos…]

08 November 2010

Books I have never read...continued

Robin Healey has sent in this piece found in The Bookman, 1932. This is the second and last part. The man with the dog is Hugh Walpole (now that's a library I would like to have bought...)


Parts of Thackeray’s The Newcomes
Parts of Piers Plowman
Half of Balzac’s novels
Most of the plays of Corneille
Most of the plays of Racine
The ‘ Works and Days ‘ of Hesiod
Lingard’s History of England
Most of Raleigh’s History of the World
Most of Clarendon’s History of the Rebellion (he admits to having owned the three ‘ noble ‘ volumes of date first Oxford edition of this for 25 years and is only just beginning to read it ).
And then, for no reason whatsoever, he then goes a bit off subject.
‘If our ideals are realised, and the ethnic frontiers fixed, and co-operation established, we shall abolished war, whether military or fiscal, and we may even have reached agreement about the separate development of races. But there will still be writers, Tutankamen, Homer and many others, who will still be recognised as having faced all the facts of man versus man and man versus the Universe. These are the true immortals, these and the men who, from Catullus to Tennyson, from Omar to Housman, have made music out of the certainty of death and the beauty of the rose.
Ten thousand years hence, if any kind of organised civilisation endures, those men will still be read and will still awake an echo in ever sensitive breast.
And what will it matter then whether anybody has read the Prose Works of Milton, The Adventures of a Guinea, Caleb Williams or the Forsyte Saga ? ‘

H de Vere Stacpoole

‘I have never read Aurora Leigh and I’m not going to. Nor Shirley’ ( does he mean the novel by Bronte or the poet Shirley ?)
The Pilgrim’s Progress

Hugh Walpole

‘Mommsen’s Rome. I’ve just bought it in Everyman and on my journey next year to Mars with Professor Piccard intend to read every word of it.
Beaumont and Fletcher. I’ll catch these plays before I die !
Zadig and Candide . I can’t read Voltaire. Shameful confession !
The novels of George Meredith. I have read some but cannot reread them. Their posturings choke me….
Anything, prose or verse, by Victor Hugo---a screaming, pretentious old bore.

Professor Dover Wilson

‘ I should need time, much time…my confession would run to columns and sheets of titles.’

Humbert Wolfe

‘ I have never read Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire or Carlyle’s French Revolution .

A good modern party game. Try and invent some responses from living authors. Such as…

Jonathan Meades.

The novels of Alan Sillitoe.

Will Self

‘I’ve never read anything by John Masefield. Even at school.’

Katie Price

‘ Jacques Derrida and Louis Althusser. And Philip Hensher. I’ve never liked him.’

Alain de Botton

‘Can’t say I’ve ever read a word of John Grisham. And I’m not going to.’

Ian McEwen

‘I’ve only dipped into Hugh Walpole…’

Martin Amis

William Cobbett.

Prof A.C.Grayling


[R.M. Healey]

Thanks Robin. Who the devil is Katie Price?! I know that Nabokov regarded Ezra Pound as 'that utter fake' but assume he must have read some of his work to utter this judgment. It is hard to make assumptions in this field-- for example one would not think Evelyn Waugh had read Frances Parkinson Keyes* but he was known to ensconce himself in an armchair on a rainy afternoon and plough through her novels. He found the writing so undemanding as to be therapeutic. Our previous posting on this subject received some attention in the biblioblogosphere, with one earnest punter declaring that life was too short to read about books that writers hadn't read, he would prefer to hear about the books great writers liked. Got a feeling that's been done ...

*Frances Parkinson Keyes (July 21, 1885 – July 3, 1970) was an American novelist, and a convert to Roman Catholicism. Her last name rhymes with "skies," not "keys."

04 November 2010

Books I have never read...

Regular Bookride contributor Robin Healey has sent in this piece found in The Bookman, 1932. (With thanks to the late Grant Uden.)

Maurice Baring

The Arabian Knights, Tristram Shandy.
Scarcely touched John Buchan
Lesser Elizabethan Dramatists, Restoration dramatist, Addison and Steele, Charlotte Bronte ( except Jane Eyre)
Cannot read:
Haven’t finished
Carlyle’s Frederich
Dipped into

Thomas Burke

Got only half-way through
Scott, Thackeray, Charles Kingsley, George Eliot, Thomas Hardy


Unread by me.
Racine, Corneille

Lord Dunsany

‘ The whole of the novelists of the eighteenth century ‘

John Galsworthy

‘too many…’

Ian Hay

‘ ...very little fiction except one or two old friends whose books I snap up as soon as they appear---Kipling, Mason, Sabatini, Jacobs and P. G. Wodehouse…Of contemporary fiction, the work of our brilliant sophisticated younger school ( he means, presumably, Waugh, Wyndham Lewis, Lawrence, Huxley, Woolf etc ) I am afraid I know nothing. I simply cannot read it, partly for want of time, and partly because I do not enjoy it. I know it is my loss, but there it is…’

Aldous Huxley

The Vicar of Wakefield, Les Miserables, ‘ a good deal of Meredith…’

Sheila Kaye-Smith
‘Lorna Doone, Gibbon’s Decline and Fall, Our Mutual Friend, War and Peace, all the works of Henry James.’

Robert Lynd

‘…Gibbon’s Decline and Fall.’

S.P.B Mais

Smollet’s Peregrine Pickle, The Origin of Species, Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, the works of


‘… At least half the works of Scott, the Brontes, Thackeray, Dickens and Eliot, and all of Trollope…most of Addison and Steele, Borrow and several others …’

J. Middleton Murry

Fenimore Cooper, Karl Marx’s Capital.

Beverley Nichols

‘ With the exception of Woodstock I have never read a single book of Walter Scott’s. …I have read the first fifty pages of several of Scott’s novels, but even with the assistance of strong drink, I could not get any further. They bore me to distraction…’

Sir Arthur Wing Pinero

‘So many…one of these books is Don Quixote.’

Thanks for bringing this out of obscurity Robin! To be continued with a consideration of the kind of books modern writer like Amis and Self might not have read. For example it is fairly safe to assume A.C. Grayling is not a reader of Ouida...After a wait of 75 years in 2007 Pierre Bayard's 'How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read' appeared and rendered such considerations obsolete. But it still a good game - I am with Sir Arthur and have not read 'Don Quixote.' I once started '100 Years of Solitude', I even listened to a few pages of 'Captain Corelli' but I have never read a novel by Meredith. Not reading Meredith is less astonishing these days, however.