Sunday Salon: Best books that never existed

TSSbadge3 Which are the best books that never existed? asks David Barnett at the Guardian blog.

That's an easy one.

The obvious answer aside, however, many are suggested in the article and comments of which I've never heard, and a few of which I have (eg the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy which seems to be a Guardian readers' favourite.) Here are a few from the comments: Jason King's great "Mark Caine" adventures, including The Lady Is Ready; Frank Bascombe's collection of short stories and also Nathan Zuckerman's Carnovsky (would it be better than Portnoy's Complaint, I wonder?); The Life and Letters of Silenus, Nymphs and Their Ways, Men, Monks and Gamekeepers: A Study in Popular Legend, and Is Man a Myth? are all on Mr Tumnus's shelves in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe; and Camel Ride to the Tomb, by X. Trapnel, a character in Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time and The Doubtful Asphodel by Sebastian Knight, from Nabokov's The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, are two non-existent books I'd like to read, but Stanislaw Lem wrote a whole marvellous volume – A Perfect Vacuum – of reviews of books which did not, and in some cases could never, exist. There are plenty more suggestions, including the inevitable few from people who haven't (yet) got their own works published.

Apart from Hitchhiker's, David Barnett's choices (links at Guardian post) are: Necromonicon (H. P. Lovecraft); the Ficciones of Jorge Luis Borges; books in the library described in The Abortion: a historical romance 1966 by Richard Brautigan; The Pension Grillparzer from The World According to Garp (I thought John Irving pretty much did write that in reality, in a subsequent novel); and The Blind Assassin by 'Laura Chase' (Margaret Atwood).

7 thoughts on “Sunday Salon: Best books that never existed

  1. Are these the best books that never existed, Maxine, or the only ones anyone can think of? I bet a lot of them were rubbish… like the ones you see on decorative bookshelves in pubs.

  2. I’ve often thought it would be fun to read that Fly Fishing book by AP Hartley… that one in the Yellow Pages TV campaign where an old man tries to find his own book. I think someone actually did write it eventually, didn’t they?

  3. I love the idea of nonexistent books. I’m soon to start reading Roberto Bolano’s Nazi Literature in the Americas, which should offer up a few titles. And I have an order in for the Lem book you mentioned.

  4. For a guilty pleasure, I rather like the sound of ‘The Death in the Drainpipe’ by Mrs Ariadne Oliver, which features in Agatha Christie’s ‘Cards on the Table’.

  5. I think that Agatha Christie had a lot of fun laughing at herself through Ariadne Oliver! The mystery that intrigues me the most is “The Dying Goldfish”: the one that Joyce thinks does not contain enough blood in “Hallowe’en Party”.
    Another book that I would be interested in dipping into is “Edmund: A Butler’s Tale” by Gertrude Perkins (Mr E Blackadder) – though I would probably need to wrap it in brown paper if reading it on the train.
    This idea of trying to determine that “value” of the non-existant books that are referred to in fiction is new to me. Both the books that I have referred to above are hardly improving – they would be funny because they would likely be awful!
    The “improving” reference books referred to in e.g. “Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrel” are likely to have more value, but would probably be more dusty (unless you happened to be Very Interested In That Sort of Thing).

  6. Bronwen, you are very erudite! I still think I would prefer to work my way through some of the books Hermione loves in Hogwart’s library, but you have me tempted with the Blackadder 😉

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