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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A life in books
Rick is not the first person to write his life story in the context of the books he's read, but this one is as good as any and was a read both amusing and informative. It contained a good enough mix of the familiar and the new to keep my interest throughout its 300 pages. Rick is basically an academic (ex-lecturer in English at Warwick University) turned rare book dealer,...
Published on 19 Sep 2009 by A Common Reader

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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Book Worm
Printed on the dust jacket of this book is an endorsement from Tatler which reads 'Think Bill Bryson, only on Boooks'. This, and its source, are a pretty good summing up of the contents: if you are the kind of person who likes Tatler, you'll probably like this; if you're the kind of person who loves Bill Bryson, you'll love it.

This is the life-in-books of...
Published on 24 Sep 2009 by Roderick Blyth


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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A life in books, 19 Sep 2009
By 
A Common Reader "Committed to reading" (Sussex, England) - See all my reviews
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Rick is not the first person to write his life story in the context of the books he's read, but this one is as good as any and was a read both amusing and informative. It contained a good enough mix of the familiar and the new to keep my interest throughout its 300 pages. Rick is basically an academic (ex-lecturer in English at Warwick University) turned rare book dealer, and has so many contacts in the world of literature. And oh yes, he's been a judge on the Man Booker Prize. So, as far as literature is concerned I guess he's qualified to write about books, which he does eruditely, knowledgeably and perhaps above all, humorously.

Rick's book is not just about books of course, but also about himself, and I have to say, his life has been interesting. He writes about his childhood in a way which explains his love of reading, and like so many avid readers, their literary imagaination seems to have come alive through gaining access to an adult library at an early age. I remember at age 14 being able to graduate from the junior public library to the adult library, and finding riches there beyond belief. My own interest seems to have been in humour whereas Rick Gekoski seems to have got his rocks off by exploring his parents' extensive library of psycho-sexual literature, whether Psychopathia Sexualis by Krafft-Ebing, or Sexual Anomalies and Perversions by Magunus Hirschfield.

Thankfully this stage seems not to have lasted too long and in no time Rick was deep in Holden Caulfield's life in Catcher in The Rye. And then Rick read T S Eliot, The Waste Land and his reading perceptions were changed forever. Isn't the pleasure of reading a book like Outside of a Dog so much to do with discovering shared experiences, that sense of inwardly saying, Ah yes, when the writer enthuses about one's own literary loves?

Rick progresses through some fairly esoteric stuff on his journey to Silence of the Lambs (and yes, I agree, even Robert Harris deserves a place in the canon because of his creation of Hannibal Lecter, a character so real he must jump off any page that contains a mention of him). But to reach Lecter we progress through R D Laing, Germaine Greer (this is a very 60s list at this point), and even touches on Hume, Descartes and A J Eyer.

I was quite pleased to see Carl Hiassen in Rick's list, for we must all have some lighter reads to keep us going and it was also fascinating to read Rick's encounters with the Cambridge spies - Kim Philby etc. Rick actually travelled to Moscow to meet Mrs Philby.

This really is a very interesting book which must keep any avid reader interested throughout its pages. I reached the end and could have done with more, and what greater tribute to a book is there than that? Its a great book to dip into, and also one to read from cover to cover in a couple of days. I am sure it will remain on my shelves as a regular reference point and I'm pleased I bought it.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars `To look at those (few) books in the dawning recognition that what they furnish is not a room, but a self.', 19 Mar 2010
By 
Jennifer Cameron-Smith "Expect the Unexpected" (ACT, Australia) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
Rick Gekoski has named his bibliomemoir after the Groucho Marx assertion: `Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read.' This title seems appropriate for a book tour of the 25 books that are special to Rick Gekoski, and the particular circumstances of their specialness. Bibliomemoir, seems like just the right word to describe the journey.

What I most enjoyed about this book was the eclecticism of the choices, neatly bound together by Dr Gekoski's life as a unifying thread. Worth noting, too, is that not all of the books have been selected for their own content. Take, for example, the choice of `Spycatcher' by Peter Wright. The significance of this book has little to do with its contents; instead it signifies people, places and events intersecting with Rick Gekoski's life.

I've always been fascinated by the books prolific readers identify as having been influential in their lives. My own list might include two or three of the authors chosen by Rick Gekoski, but I have learned far more about him from the other books on the list. It isn't so much the books chosen that make this such an interesting read, it is the way that each book represents a particular aspect of his life. Consider Dr Seuss's `Horton Hatches the Egg' as a window into his childhood life; or Germaine Greer's `The Female Eunuch' as a signpost in his academic life. Interesting views indeed!

I enjoyed this book, although I have some reservations about the candid portrayals of various family members. Still, I rationalise that if books are great formative influences in our lives, then family members and personal relationships must be as well. For me, the book starts and ends with one question: `How do books make us?'

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Book Worm, 24 Sep 2009
By 
Roderick Blyth (Oxfordshire, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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Printed on the dust jacket of this book is an endorsement from Tatler which reads 'Think Bill Bryson, only on Boooks'. This, and its source, are a pretty good summing up of the contents: if you are the kind of person who likes Tatler, you'll probably like this; if you're the kind of person who loves Bill Bryson, you'll love it.

This is the life-in-books of Rick Gekoski, ex-professor of literature, and dealer in rare books and manuscripts, man-about-town and compulsive name-dropper - a person admirably in tune with the Zeitgeist. Rick's reading life starts with Dr.Seuss, moves through the Hardy Boys, and after a precocious deviation into the exciting world of psycho-sexual manuals, moves onwards and upwards to J.D.Salinger, Ken Kesey and D.H.Lawrence. Unwelcome maturity comes with prescribed texts by Descartes, Hume and 'Freddy' Ayer, Finally Rick undergoes a premature epiphany, discovering Roald Dahl among his childrens' Christmas presents and avoiding the longeurs of the festive day by reading Roald all afternoon while locked in the loo, much to the annoyance of his wife and the slightly lesser annoyance of his children: they want to read the book themselves - or that's what they say - but clever Rick can see that this is the wife's ploy to get him stuck into the washing up, and he keeps the closet door well-locked. Getting stuck into Carl Hiaasen, 'Rick' is amazed to find that he's unconsciously struck gold with a book that has made it on to Colum Toibin's list of 200 Best Books since the War.

'Outside of a Dog' is amusingly exhibitionist - Rick finds himself quite fascinating, owns an Epstein bust of T.S.Eliot to which he waves good-bye every night on leaving the Office, and has known everyone from Grahame Green to Salman Rushdie, and from John Bayley to Germaine Greer. Less amusing for the reader (and presumably for them) is Rick's exhibition of his family as well. One can scarcely think that Rick's ex-wife Barbara will be indifferent to his portrayal of her pyschiatric difficulties and pretensions to setting up as a psychotherapist, or that his daughter, Anna, whom he presents as a would-be Clarice Starling, will be unembarrassed at being put on public display as a serial-killer wannabe groupie.

Still, for all the ruthless self-advertisement, there's no denying that the book has chutzpah - the comparison with Bill Bryson is by no means misleading - but it's bubblegum, really. That the real Rick Gekoski is a more interesting man than this unattractive piece of self-advertising suggests became clear to me when I heard him discussing antiquarian books on the wireless.

Pity.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Well written, erudite, but Gekowski comes across as unlikeable, 2 Dec 2011
This review is from: Outside of a Dog: A Bibliomemoir (Paperback)
I admit I have not yet finished this book (about 2/3 of the way through).

It is well written, at times amusing, and above all *interesting* (i.e., covers interesting concepts and philosophies that he has lived through).

But I am struggling to enjoy it mainly because Rick Gekoski strikes me as a man who is (or at least was) not very likable. This is partly the impression he deliberately cultivates, at times he actively disowns his younger self, but goes deeper than that. He seems to be a man who, gifted with financial security and brains, has decided to spend it being miserable, argumentative, self-centered and critical of most things.

This came to a head for me, and motivated me enough to write this review, in one of the most minor, throwaway comments of the book. He explains in the somewhat throw-away line that he 'detests Ken Livingstone' for getting rid of the Routemaster bus. But Ken did not ban the Routemaster Bus - the law on accessibility meant that the Routemaster was illegal. This small example is significant for me as it illustrates my irritation with Gekoski's view of the world:
- it is a pretty miserable view (detesting someone is a strong term and all over a bus)
- it is self-centered (the Routemasters were impossible to use for anyone elderly, with kids, disabled, etc; they were also increasingly environmentally noxious)
- it hints at his argumentative nature (although there are better examples)
- finally, it is unfair (and sloppy thinking): Ken had little to do with the Routemaster being retired - he had little choice to rubber stamp the replacement given the upcoming legislation

I don't want to sound too despondent, this book has a lot to recommend it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I read therefore I am, 30 Oct 2009
By 
Damaskcat (UK) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (VINE VOICE)    (TOP 50 REVIEWER)   
A memoir with books is a good description of the autobiographical excursion through the books which have made Rick Gekoski what he is today. Starting with Dr Seuss's `Horton Hatches the Egg' and ending with his own book about Coventry City football club, `Staying Up', the author travels via T S Eliot's `The Waste Land' , A J Ayer, R D Laing, A S Neill and thrillers whose titles and authors he can no longer remember.

He is American by birth but has spent much of his life in England from choice, at first studying at Oxford and later lecturing at Warwick University, as well as building up his own rare book business. He tried writing novels and decided that it wasn't for him, resigned from his secure job at Warwick when he realised he was frightened of his students and could no longer understand what they were saying.

He is unblushingly honest about his failings and after he left Warwick deliberately set about making himself less intelligent feeling that years of academia had sucked the pleasure out of reading classic literature and turned him into something he was not. Both he and his wife Barbara undergo analysis with varying results. He delights in his two children - Bertie and Anna - and worries he may have introduced Anna to the wrong sort of books when she writes a book about serial killers.

The author writes in a delightfully readable style and anyone who loves books will understand where he is coming from with this memoir. He puts forward the theory that the books you read make you what you are. When you re-read old favourites you may have different reactions to them because you are older but it will also remind you of the person you were when you first read that book. One chapter I found most interesting was the one about Germaine Greer - who also lectured at Warwick - and her iconic `The Female Eunuch'. That chapter contains one of the best analyses I have read of the effect of the book on both the men and the women who read it.

The insights into his rare book business are also fascinating with trips to Moscow to meet Kim Philby's widow - not an unqualified success; and visits to Graham Greene - successful both from a personal and financial point of view. My first thought when I had finished reading was `Why haven't I come across this guy before?' I really enjoyed it and would recommend it to anyone who loves books - either for their contents or for their value in themselves.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, 1 July 2014
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This review is from: Outside of a Dog (Kindle Edition)
great
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4.0 out of 5 stars ...there is no ordinary life..., 27 May 2014
By 
Eileen Shaw "Kokoschka's_cat" (Leeds, England) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Outside of a Dog (Kindle Edition)
“Outside of a dog a book is a man’s best friend.
Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.”

There can’t be many people who don’t know this saying is one of Groucho Marx’s best epigrams, perhaps bettered only by the one that says “Marriage is a great Institution, but who wants to live in an institution.” This book, from an American who spent a great deal of his working life in Britain, is cultured, erudite and sometimes amusing, but it isn’t one of those books you might ordinarily pick up with much enthusiasm. The life of an English teacher, morphing into a bit of a rebel, a sad home-life at times and then morphing back into an English teacher of some distinction. It’s not a marvellously gripping tale but it does have moments of wonderful insight into his chosen profession. It’s sometimes pithy, often witty and even more often wise.

Writers try to suggest what other people (like us but not us) feel, says Gekoski, comparing the experience of trying to understand how a lion feels with that of a man trying to understand how a woman feels. Missing the point he goes on to say “Did Freud not admit that women were lions to him, that he could not understand, after years of observation, what it was that they wanted? There is some general truth lurking here. If lions women and blacks cannot be understood from outside the group, why is it not also true of men, or whites? After all, what woman could fully comprehend the gloopy mixture of aggression, competitiveness, insecurity and lust that drives most men?” To which my answer is: No, you don’t get out of your appropriation of power that easily. Take for instance Freud’s account of women, where a lack of a penis becomes a defining quality. The only sensible reaction to that is to say, yes, and you don’t have a vagina, and furthermore, whichever you lack is an accident of birth.

What he does suggest, however, is that reading books – novels especially – gives us a reliable place in which we can come to an understanding, where we can apprehend and participate in the inward world of another person. The secret, he insists, is to realise there is no ordinary life. We are all irremediably foreign and separate. How does literature help us?

Well, it takes us away from ourselves and into another person’s or several other people’s lives. That’ll do for me, for a start. But it has to be a really good writer that does that to us, one that embodies a powerful presence in the words.

Gekoski’s eminently sensible dismissal of what he calls “the post-structuralist miasma” rings true: “If you really want to understand your post-structuralism you have to correlate the new form of language to its essential form of life. Get yourself a table and some companions at Deux Magots, drink a lot of espresso, smoke Gitanes, talk all night, shrug and wave your hands about, purge all specificity and observation from your vocabulary and replace it with abstraction. Close your eyes, philosophize, and it will all make sense in a way quite inconceivable in a senior common room at an English university.” Nicely put Mr Gekoski.

I really enjoyed this book.
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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rare and desirable, 29 Aug 2009
By 
David Fanning (Wales) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Following on from the writer's splendidly entertaining "Tolkien's Gown", this is a further foray into the specialised world of rare and notable books and even rarer and more notable authors, although - regrettably for this reviewer at least - with fewer anecdotes of Gekoski's bookselling exploits. This engaging account tells of the books that have affected the writer's life - in varying ways and for a variety of reasons - and how they have made him what he is. There are some irritating and even amateurish design elements, for which the publisher must carry the blame, but the book is a fascinating and rewarding insight into the thoughts and actions of a well-read and widely knowledgeable man. This book will leave you better informed and perhaps even wiser!
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars an autobiography?, 26 Aug 2013
This review is from: Outside of a Dog (Kindle Edition)
I thought this was going to be about books but it's an autobiography. Which would've been fine if I were interested in the author, but I'm not, sorry.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing., 26 July 2012
By 
Stromata (Scotland) - See all my reviews
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I hate to write negative reviews - after all this is just one persons opinion - but I really did not enjoy this book. More truthfully, I did not even finish it as I was beginning to dislike the author more with every page.

Having loved 'Tolkeins Gown', Rick Gekoski's last book, and enjoyed his Radio 4 series on antiquarian books, I was very much looking forward to this offering, especially as the jacket described it as 'A Bibiomemoir'.

Sadly, I feel this books lacks the subtle humour that is needed when writing about personal stuff such as divorce, family etc. Perhaps the humour was there but I just missed it.

Having said all that, when Rick Gekoski publishes again or presents another radio series I will be there, but on the strength of his earlier work, not this.
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Outside of a Dog: A Bibliomemoir
Outside of a Dog: A Bibliomemoir by Rick Gekoski (Paperback - 18 Aug 2011)
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