This is a stand-out entry in the genre of "Books about Books". The author Rick Gekoski is an American who went to the U.K. for post-graduate education and ended up staying there, first as a university lecturer in English literature and then as a rare book dealer specializing in 20th-Century English literature. In NABOKOV'S BUTTERLY, Gekoski writes about twenty landmark or otherwise rare works of 20th-Century English literature from the two perspectives in which he has particular expertise: rare book dealer and lecturer in English literature. Thus, more so than any other book I can think of, NABOKOV'S BUTTERFLY is a hybrid between a book about the rare book trade and one of commentary about works of literature and noted authors.
As a rare book dealer Gekoski personally handled many of the books or other items (for example, J.R.R. Tolkien's academic gown from Merton College, Oxford) discussed in the book, and he personally knew or dealt with some of the authors or other literary figures who are discussed. To give you a better idea of the scope of the book, here are a few more of its subjects (in addition to "Tolkien's Gown", which was the title of the book as originally published in the U.K.):
* A copy of the original Paris edition of Nabokov's "Lolita," inscribed by Nabokov to Graham Greene (an inscription that includes a characteristically enchanting drawing of a butterfly) -- an item that Greene sold to Gekoski and which he in turn sold to Bernie Taupin.
* The holograph manuscript of William Golding's "Lord of the Flies," which Golding had written in school exercise books and kept in a safety deposit box.
* The archive of biographical materials that Ian Hamilton assembled during his research for a biography of J.D. Salinger, which was suppressed as a result of a lawsuit initiated by Salinger (who then also threatened to sue Gekoski for acting as the broker of Hamilton's archive).
* The American edition of "The Colossus and Other Poems" by Sylvia Plath, inscribed by her to her husband Ted Hughes seven months before her suicide (an inscription that also referred to her father and psychological vexation Otto).
Best of all, Gekoski himself is a fine writer. NABOKOV'S BUTTERFLY is highly literate yet at all times engaging and it often is witty. The book includes some intelligent commentary on several classics or near-classics (e.g., "A Confederacy of the Dunces" and "Animal Farm"), as well as a number of anecdotes about various literary luminaries. An example of the latter is from Gekoski's first meeting with Graham Greene (with whom he became good friends):
"We spent most of [the] next few hours talking about Conrad and Henry James. I think he began to take me seriously when I said that I thought that Henry James was funny, and couldn't understand why no one else did. He agreed wholeheartedly. We drank another vodka, in total critical harmony. 'I'm not in that league,' Greene said, with the conviction of someone who had thought a lot, reached the truth, and did not regret it. 'Conrad and James were Grade A novelists. I'm Grade B.' We had a final vodka in his honour: Grade B was pretty respectable, we reckoned."
In the past two years I read two other items from the "Books about Books" genre -- "Books: A Memoir" by Larry McMurtry and "The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop" by Lewis Buzbee -- that received numerous accolades from other Amazon reviewers but in truth do not hold a candle to NABOKOV'S BUTTERFLY. I fear the book has been poorly handled and under-promoted by its American publisher(s). In any event, if your interests run either to the rare book trade or to 20th-Century English literature, I am confident that you will not regret seeking out and reading NABOKOV'S BUTTERFLY.