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The Secret Library: A Book-Lovers’ Journey Through Curiosities of History – Oliver Tearle

14 Jul

The Secret Library is a fascinating tour through the curious history of Western civilisation told through its most emblematic invention – the book.

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.

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27 Comments

Posted by on 14/07/2017 in Essays, History

 

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27 responses to “The Secret Library: A Book-Lovers’ Journey Through Curiosities of History – Oliver Tearle

  1. shadowoperator

    14/07/2017 at 17:45

    Hi, Ste J! Actually, though the toilet anecdotes may be annoying, it sounds as if the episodic and first-here-and-then-there of the book merits its classification as a toilet book; you know, the type people like to leaf through while otherwise engaged. As well, it would be pleasant to find in a doctor’s office, instead of the heaps of old, out-of-date magazines. Sounds like a good read.

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    • Ste J

      15/07/2017 at 14:46

      Books like this are great to dip in and out of and is probably light enough to engage even the non reader most of the time. Speaking of those magazines, why is it always gardening and women’s magazines? I always make it a matter of great importance to carry a book around with me luckily!

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  2. Sheila

    14/07/2017 at 17:59

    Another one to add to the list! I’d love to learn more behind-the-scenes type facts about books through history. That’s funny about The Pathetic Family – I’m guessing lots of people would want to use that title.

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    • Ste J

      15/07/2017 at 14:49

      It’s good to read about books that didn’t make it, yet live on because of those few who know about them. I think Little Women should be renamed The PAthetic Family from now as, as the author would have wanted.

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  3. readinpleasure

    14/07/2017 at 18:19

    Sounds like a fascinating read, like you have opened a can of jewels. 🙂

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    • Ste J

      15/07/2017 at 14:50

      It is always good to see a book that brings new anecdotes to the masses and allows us to muse on those forgotten writers who almost made it.

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  4. julietbailey980

    14/07/2017 at 19:18

    This is on my coffee table right now waiting to be read!

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    • Ste J

      15/07/2017 at 14:52

      It won’t take you long but will be an enjoyable romp through the history of Western literature.

      Like

       
  5. Mika

    14/07/2017 at 19:54

    This sounds interesting to me. I wish I could find this in at least one of the bookstores here in the Philippines as i doubt it is available here. I agree with you, the cover looks amazing and Im sure the content is too!!! Im going to check this out! Have a great day, Ste!

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    • Ste J

      15/07/2017 at 14:38

      How easy it is to order books in from abroad, normally I’m not one for the internet shopping but if there is no other way it is always a handy option to have. The mostly likely place from my -admittedly- limited experience of Manila would be Fully Booked in MoA but even then it seems unlikely. Hope you get a copy though!

      Liked by 1 person

       
      • Mika

        15/07/2017 at 14:41

        Ive been there and to other branches of fully booked as well and I guess they can provide me with the title some time after I request for it. They have excellent customer service.

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        • Ste J

          15/07/2017 at 14:44

          I enjoyed visiting Fully Booked, I think I came away with three titles about The Philippines that I need to dive into when my reading commitments again lessen, it’s funny how books all seem to be offered at once after a quiet run.

          Liked by 1 person

           
          • Mika

            15/07/2017 at 16:09

            What are those? Have you read them?

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            • Ste J

              19/07/2017 at 12:07

              I haven’t read any of the three I got from there yet but will be doing soon. I picked up: Philippine Football: Its Past, Its Future, An Introduction to Philippine History, and By Sword and Fire: The Destruction of Manila in World War II.

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  6. Liz

    14/07/2017 at 23:22

    Oh wow – a book about books – utterly irresistible, especially if it includes references to Blackadder – what could be better? And I love the thought of one of our best loved classics being called The Pathetic Family – what a pity it did not stick.

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    • Ste J

      15/07/2017 at 14:42

      It would have had far more publicity as the pathetic family and caused debates all over the place. The Secret Library is the sort of book that makes you want to hoard even more books. It’s dangerous.

      Liked by 1 person

       
      • Liz

        17/07/2017 at 20:19

        Oh no – it sounds like the type of book one absolutely must have, and yet must also avoid. Literary dilemma!!

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  7. macjam47

    15/07/2017 at 13:03

    When I saw the cover, I thought, “Of course, this is exactly a book Steve would choose.” You’ve aroused my curiosity so I hopped right over to Amazon and placed an order. A great review, my friend.

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    • Ste J

      15/07/2017 at 14:40

      Thank you! Glad as ever to be sharing the book love, there’s some fascinating stuff in there and I flew through it in two sittings. I think that was the last hardback purchase I made and that was last October time.

      Liked by 1 person

       
      • macjam47

        16/07/2017 at 11:28

        I understand, I have so many books in my TBR that I can’t wait to get to, but I have to work my way through the pile.

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  8. Andrea Stephenson

    15/07/2017 at 21:23

    This sounds interesting, I think I’d enjoy the snippets about books I know and have read while also discovering new ones.

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    • Ste J

      19/07/2017 at 12:13

      There are lots in here and it gives a decent run down of the era as well so it has a bit of everything and some good facts as well that will be good to unleash at parties.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  9. Clare Pooley

    16/07/2017 at 23:13

    I can’t resist books about books either, especially if they mention obscure and lost books that I can go searching for! Thanks SteJ!

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    • Ste J

      19/07/2017 at 12:09

      It really celebrates the love of books when we get that feeling. Gives that thrill of the chase feeling a good dust off to when all these obscure books start popping up.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  10. Liz Dexter

    17/07/2017 at 09:20

    Oh, this sounds like a fab read and good addition to the “Books about books” genre – I’m definitely going to look out for a copy!

    Like

     
    • Ste J

      19/07/2017 at 12:11

      Book like this are great, they reaffirm our love for books and fuel the hunt for more good works. It’s certainly a fun book.

      Like

       

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