As well as leafing through the well-known titles that have helped shape the world in which we live, Oliver Tearle also dusts off some of the more neglected items to be found hidden among the bookshelves of the past.
You’ll learn about the forgotten Victorian novelist who outsold Dickens, the woman who became the first published poet in America and the eccentric traveller who introduced the table-fork to England. Through exploring a variety of books – novels, plays, travel books, science books, cookbooks, joke books and sports almanacs – The Secret Library highlights some of the most fascinating aspects of our history. It also reveals the surprising connections between various works and historical figures. What links Homer’s Iliad to Aesop’s Fables? Or Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack to the creator of Sherlock Holmes?
The Secret Library brings these little-known stories to light, exploring the intersections between books of all kinds and the history of the Western world over 3,000 years.
Books about books are great, they reaffirm our love for the medium and encourage us to go out and buy more, not to mention the exciting finds of obscure literature that can be shared and kept alive by intrepid reading adventurers.
What drew me to the book originally was the cover. Who can resist looking at a cover that has a bit cut out of it? Stripping off the cloak, rows and rows of books are seen, as through the key hole. It’s a nice touch and puts the reader in mind of being close to discovering lots of new books, always a good feeling.
This history of sorts is broken down into eras of Western civilisation and the chronological order is as follows: The Classical Age, The Middle Ages, The Renaissance, The Age of Enlightenment, The Age of Romanticism, The Victorians, The Americans, On the Continent, The Modern World. There is a lot to be enjoyed in each age but it would have been fun to have read about the other continents, but then that was not the remit of the book so hopefully a future book of the sort could grace the shelves.
I always enjoy a tour into the lesser known books, in fact the more obscure the better, it mixes the familiar with the contrasting others that disappeared and have been sadly forgotten. One thing that was, whilst not surprising, mildly annoying was the obsession throughout historical literature with toilet humour, the author seems to delight in pointing it out when really he needn’t feel the need to so often.
The Secret Library is a light read, by no means exhaustive of any era but nonetheless entertaining and amusing in quite a few parts. There are a myriad of little facts to delight the reader and a mention of Blackadder and his infamous dictionary problem too! The highlight for me was the seismic revelation that Louisa May Alcott thought her story, Little Women was boring and gave it the working title The Pathetic Family, sadly the publishers over ruled it, which is a loss still felt through the civilised world to this day.
Despite knowing a lot of the books mentioned here, there were a pleasing amount of gems that encouraged me to delve further into books and seek the more forgotten works, which have so many interesting stories to tell, both in their covers and of their authors and times. This is a book that will be polished off in a sitting or two and despite the crudities mentioned throughout, has more than enough to keep the reader going and fuelling his or her passion for more words.