Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Cataloging the Imaginary Library

{Photo by rocketlass.}

Vladimir Nabokov's The Real Life of Sebastian Knight (1941) is a novel purporting to be a biography of a recently dead writer, penned by his half-brother. As such, it's full of the titles of books that don't exist outside the world of the novel. Like other prolific fake-titlers, such as Anthony Powell (J. G. Quiggin's Unburnt Boats, St. John Clarke's Fields of Amaranth, etc.), Nabokov seems to have greatly enjoyed the task of naming these phantom books, which at their best reside comfortably at the mysterious juncture of plausibility, originality, and amusement.

When, the day after reading Sebastian Knight, I encountered yet more fake titles in Nabokov's Laughter in the Dark (1938), then even more--though tipped more towards verisimilitude--last night in Graham Greene's The End of the Affair (1951), I began to think . . . what better, more Borgesian use could there be for the infinite capacity of the Internet than to assemble a catalog of the world's Fictional Library?

Thus was born a new feature! If I end up sticking with this over the months and building a ridiculously long list, I'll probably at some point figure out a different place to put them and a different way to organize them. For now, however, those of you who enjoy the art of fake titling as much as I do can simply enjoy this first batch:
From Graham Greene's The End of the Affair
For Ever Fido (1912), author unknown
The Ambitious Host, by Maurice Bendrix
The Crowned Image, by Maurice Bendrix
The Grave on the Water-Front, by Maurice Bendrix

From Vladimir Nabokov's Laughter in the Dark
Memoirs of a Forgetful Man, by Udo Conrad
History of Art: Volumes One through Ten, by Nonnenmacher

From Vladimir Nabokov's The Real Life of Sebastian Knight
The Laws of Literary Imagination, author unknown
The Tragedy of Sebastian Knight, by Mr. Goodman
Fall of Man, by Godfrey Goodman
Recollections of a Lifetime, by Samuel Goodrich
The Doubtful Asphodel, by Sebastian Knight
The Funny Mountain, by Sebastian Knight
Lost Property, by Sebastian Knight
The Prismatic Bezel, by Sebastian Knight
Success, by Sebastian Knight
Finally, I can't resist sharing some of the titles of go-getting business books featured in Ed Park's great new novel Personal Days (2008):
Every Worker's War Chest, by Fred Glass
Office Politics 101, by Randall Slurry
Climbing the Seven-Rung Ladder: The Business of Business, by Chad Ravioli and Khader Adipose
The Business Warrior's 30-Day Mental Fitness Plan (Revised Edition), by Cody Waxing
Yes, I Drank the Kool-Aid--and I Went Back for Seconds, by M. Halsey Patterson
Mine for the Taking: or, Some (INCREDIBLY!) Irreverent Notes on the Business of Wealth, by Parker Edwards
Letters to a Young Tycoon, by Percy Ampersand, edited by Percy Ampersand IV
Because part of the fun of that section of Ed's book is coming across these and other titles, I won't share nearly all of them--but maybe Ed will offer more at his reading at Chicago's lovely Book Cellar in Lincoln Square tomorrow night. Come out and see for yourself! Thursday, June 5th at 7 o'clock, 4736 N. Lincoln Avenue!


  1. The imaginary book I have always wanted to read is The Horn of Joy by Matthew Maddox, featured in Madeleine L'Engle's A Swiftly Tilting Planet.

  2. Anonymous5:36 PM

    "The fall of man" and "Recollections of a lifetime" are real books. And, funnily enough, I picked up "The real life of SK" immediately after finishing "The end of the affair" so I was surprised to see you mention them together in your post.