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Tolkien's Gown and Other Stories of Famous Authors and Rare Books [Paperback]

R.A. Gekoski
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)

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Book Description

8 Sep 2005
Rick Gekoski has been described as the Bill Bryson of the book world. Rare book dealer, academic, publisher, critic, bibliographer, and broadcaster, his BBC Radio series Rare Books, Rare People was acclaimed by The Daily Telegraph as 'one of the gems of Radio 4'. In Tolkien's Gown, a book based loosely on that hugely successful radio series, he discusses twenty great works of modern literature as both texts and objects. At once erudite and funny, the essays give a publishing biography of each book, together with comments about the author's involvement with first editions of the works. 'What is the value of a book?' he asks. The answers are both critical and financial, involving appraisals of the literary qualities of the works, together with an account of their (sometimes surprising) value in the rare book trade. His stories are fascinating and diverse, and involve memorable encounters with, among others, Graham Greene, William Golding, J.D. Salinger, Ted Hughes, Salman Rushdie, Julian Barnes and Harold Pinter. Relations between book dealers and authors can be uneasy: J.D. Salinger threatens a law suit, William Golding produces a parody of the author, Ted Hughes thinks he has been overcharged. While Graham Greene is simply delighted to have done business. For anyone who loves books, Tolkien's Gown offers a wealth of amusement and instruction, and enough literary anecdotes to last a lifetime.


Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Constable (8 Sep 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1845292391
  • ISBN-13: 978-1845292393
  • Product Dimensions: 19.2 x 12.8 x 2.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 344,548 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Review

'You will enjoy Tolkien's Gown... at Warwick University [Gekoski] discovered that he had an eye for books and manuscripts and began to deal in them. That is how he has made a successful living for many years. He is also a very good storyteller.' --Sunday Telegraph

About the Author

Rick Gekoski came from his native America to do a Ph.D at Oxford, and went on to teach English at the University of Warwick. To supplement his meagre academic salary and for the fun of it he worked as a 'runner' - someone who buys books and sells them on to the trade. In 1982, sick of lecturing, he decided to become a full-time rare book dealer, specialising in important twentieth-century first editions and manuscripts. He lives in London and spends time each year in Paris and New Zealand.

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Customer Reviews

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4.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Quirks, Quips and Quids from the rare book trade 16 Aug 2009
By Mark Meynell TOP 1000 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I loved this book - it's a wonderful combination of literary insight, amusing anecdote and the useless bits of information only applicable to the most esoteric pub quiz. 20 different books, each with their own stories to tell - about authors, publishers, reviewers and readership. Because Gekoski comes at his subject as both an academic and businessman trying to make a living, he has a fascinating range of yarns up his sleeve.

It was particularly fun to hear of the recurring bitparts played by Graham Greene in the story of Gekoski's catalogue, as well as the often wry remarks of an American living in England - I suppose that makes him the Bill Bryson of the book trade, though I suspect he wouldn't be particularly flattered to hear it.

But the most enjoyable thing for me was to learn some of the rigmarole in the genesis of some of my favourite books, stories one never really hears (unless of course one has gone really keen by following up with writers' biographies). Too often, one just picks up a book to read without giving a moment's thought to how it came to be on a shop's shelf.

Anyone who has even the slightest appreciation for books (especially 20th Century novels and poetry) will not fail to enjoy this rattling book. Buy it and read it. Gekoski's bibliophilia is incurably infections.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dealer with a difference 10 Jan 2005
Format:Hardcover
At first impression, Rick Gekoski appears a world away from the genteel sanctuary of second-hand bookshops and their monk-like proprietors but what sustains his book is a common delight in the fusty and not so fusty love of books themselves. Tolkien's Gown is based on Gekoski's Radio 4 series Rare Books, Rare People. Each of the twenty chapters focuses on a celebrated twentieth-century author, concentrating on a particular book. There are James Joyce and Beatrix Potter, Jack Kerouac and J.K.Rowling, Sons and Lovers and The Hobbit, Eliot and Larkin. Gekoski has a dealer's perspective but his pithy and perceptive criticism reflects a man of letters. Anecdote is informed by personal aquaintanceship in the case of Golding, Greene and Rushdie; there is always an awareness of the wider context. More than anything, there is an ease and fluency in his communication, a joy in what he describes. But don't be fooled by the informal style, it is very precise. You know exactly what he's getting at when he says that so-and-so 'wore his charisma lightly'.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Quirks, Quips and Quids from the rare book trade 16 Aug 2009
By Mark Meynell TOP 1000 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I loved this book - it's a wonderful combination of literary insight, amusing anecdote and the useless bits of information only applicable to the most esoteric pub quiz. 20 different books, each with their own stories to tell - about authors, publishers, reviewers and readership. Because Gekoski comes at his subject as both an academic and businessman trying to make a living, he has a fascinating range of yarns up his sleeve.

It was particularly fun to hear of the recurring bitparts played by Graham Greene in the story of Gekoski's catalogue, as well as the often wry remarks of an American living in England - I suppose that makes him the Bill Bryson of the book trade, though I suspect he wouldn't be particularly flattered to hear it.

But the most enjoyable thing for me was to learn some of the rigmarole in the genesis of some of my favourite books, stories one never really hears (unless of course one has gone really keen by following up with writers' biographies). Too often, one just picks up a book to read without giving a moment's thought to how it came to be on a shop's shelf.

Anyone who has even the slightest appreciation for books (especially 20th Century novels and poetry) will not fail to enjoy this rattling book. Buy it and read it. Gekoski's bibliophilia is incurably infections.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Book collecting 1 Nov 2007
By kehs TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
This is a fascinating read for anyone who has an interest in the world of book collecting. Gekoski has shared with us some terrific tales about his life as a book dealer. He discusses 20 books and includes information about the author's thoughts on their own works. It's a book crammed full with humour, anecdotes and interesting facts. I recommend it to all booklovers.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well I enjoyed it! 20 Jan 2006
By JG
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Enjoyable read, fascinating background to the authors included and the book dealing industry.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars `What is the value of a book?' 17 Nov 2009
By Jennifer Cameron-Smith TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
There are twenty essays (chapters) in this book. Each one focuses on a twentieth century writer and one of his or her key works through a mixture of biography, literary history and Dr Gekoski's personal encounters with either the author or a rare edition of their books. The book is loosely based on a BBC Radio 4 series (Rare Books, Rare People).

I found these stories fascinating. Some of the encounters with authors include: Graham Greene, William Golding, J. D. Salinger, Ted Hughes, Salman Rushdie, Julian Barnes and Harold Pinter. These encounters are not always entirely friendly: J.D. Salinger threatens a law suit and William Golding parodies him in `The Paper Men'.

The authors included are: Vladimir Nabokov; J.R.R Tolkien; William Golding; Oscar Wilde; Jack Kerouac; James Joyce; D.H. Lawrence; J.D. Salinger; T.E. Lawrence; Sylvia Plath; John Kennedy Toole; Evelyn Waugh; Beatrix Potter; Ernest Hemingway; Graham Greene; George Orwell; Salman Rushdie; T.S. Eliot; J.K Rowling and Philip Larkin.

This book is easy to read and very entertaining. Snippets about the authors, glimpses into the workings of the rare book market all make for interesting reading. This book is a delightful collection of essays which serve as a reminder that books have their own stories of creation, as well as both intrinsic and extrinsic value.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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