Thursday, July 07, 2011

If we were to limit checkouts to a single book . . . which Invisible title would you choose?

{Photo by rocketlass.}

Earlier this week Laura Miller, author of an excellent book on growing up with (and to some extent growing out of) Narnia, The Magician's Book, and book columnist for Salon, wrote about invisible books--and the Invisible Library that Ed Park and I have been curating, with a certain appropriate vagueness of effort, since 2008. Fans of the Library should go read the whole article, but there are two bits that I think are well worth pointing out here.

First, there's this, which includes a fact that, as a committed Dickens fan, I can't believe I didn't know:
The pseudonymous Dr. Beachcomber would like to expand the Invisible Library to include fake books -- that is, titles that don't even exist in a fictional universe. They appear only on the spines of sham bookshelves used to disguise secret doors in exceptionally interesting houses. Charles Dickens had just such a door installed in his own study in London, with fake titles of his own devising, including "Socrates on Wedlock."
To which I can only reply: of course he did. If you look up "fecund" in the dictionary, alongside stipple pictures of soybeans germinating you'll find an image of Dickens stroking his beard in satisfaction.

In Tearing Haste, the recent volume of letters between Patrick Leigh Fermor and Deborah Mitford included a list of that sort of book--unquestionably not truly Invisible Library titles, despite Dr. Beachcomber's stance--requested by Deborah for a door in her house. To a one they were, as Ed put it when I sent them to him, "horrible"--pun-riddled and silly, though at least acknowledged to be so. (And there was at least one clever and slightly sassy title: Bondage, by Anne Fleming, a play on an apparently poorly kept secret about the sexual proclivities of their friends Ian and Anne.)

Then there's this question, the crux, really, of Miller's article, and not a question that had yet occurred to me:
Which raises an intriguing question: If allowed to choose only one, which volume in the Invisible Library would you most want to read?
If you're the sort to dive into the scrum that is a comments section, what better invitation do you need? Hie thee to Salon and plump for your favorite!

No one who's read this blog for long can be in any doubt about my choice: any one of the novels or memoirs written by Nicholas Jenkins, narrator of A Dance to the Music of Time. Like all fans of Dance, I suspect they'd be much like Anthony Powell's non-Dance novels; like nearly all fans of Dance, that would bring me great, great joy.

{Though if I were to get a second choice . . . who would turn down the chance to read Orbius Tertius?}


  1. I really must get to my copy of In Tearing Haste to check out that list!

    Crome Yellow has a passage about fake books painted onto a library door. Would those be doubly-invisible books? (Chapter XIV)

  2. Anonymous8:58 AM

    The real question is which Benno von Archimboldi book would you choose...

    I think I'd read The Rivers of Europe.

  3. Anonymous9:03 AM

    I was tempted to be a smartass and say 'Eating Ribs with Barry Seaman'.

  4. Any type of cook book, yummy :)

  5. Samuel Delany's Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand, which I was reading today, has two or three pages describing Invisible Library books. I'm most intrigued by The Sharakik Years, but I left my copy in my office this afternoon so I can't quote why.