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Monday, April 20, 2009 10:11 am
Books That Don’t Exist
Posted by: Keir Graff

In the Wall Street Journal, Stephen Marche has a nice piece on books that don’t exist (“Longing for Great Lost Works“)–not books that have been invented by authors for fictional purposes, but books that have been destroyed or lost forever. A poignant thought:

Classical literature, like classical architecture, is a collection of delicious ruins. The destruction of the library at Alexandria was probably a larger disaster than we realize, simply because we don’t know all that it held. It must have contained records of all the Greek works we’re missing, and the complete versions of the classical texts that survive today only in fragments. What about the literature of pre-Roman Egypt? What about the literature of the Phoenicians? These are maybe the saddest missing books, the ones that we don’t even know have existed. If we could have even one, even at random, what a light it would shed on our intellectual prehistory.

Still, without missing books, authors of contemporary bibliothrillers would be lost for plots. Take Michael Gruber’s The Book of Air and Shadows, for instance, the race to find an unknown Shakespeare play. And Carlos Ruiz Zafon (The Angel’s Game) wrings every last ounce of atmosphere out of the idea with his Cemetery of Forgotten Books. So, even just by the idea of their absence, these lost works still give us something worth reading.

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