The Book of Prefaces Paperback – 4 Nov 2002
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Described as "A Short History of Literate Thought in Words by Great Writers of Four Nations from the 7th to the 20th Century Edited & Glossed by Alasdair Gray Mainly", this impressive anthology grafts "together pieces cut from the corpus of ... mostly the dead whose copyrights have lapsed"! (The prefaces start with early masters such as Caedmon and Bede, work their way through Chaucer, Caxton, Leland et al to Marlowe, Shakespeare, Donne and their contemporaries, on to Dryden and Pope and up through the 18th and 19th Century greats). As with all Gray's work the book itself is a work of art: a visual artist of some merit, Gray sees the book object itself as an important site to work his wonders and this is one of his most ambitious books to date. Beautifully illustrated with distinctive typefaces and "footnoted" throughout in red (these annotations come from Gray and many of the foremost writers in Scotland) with "marginal glosses ... in small type about its book, author, language and events shaping these". After having prepared it for about the last 16 years, this monster 640-page collection of prefaces does not disappoint. It is a remarkable, adventurous journey through some of the most important marginalia of English Lit. and Gray, with his quirky, intelligent and incisive Scottish wit, makes for a wonderful guide. --Mark Thwaite --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"A house in Britain that does not have a copy of this book is a house bereft" -- Scotland on Sunday
"A house in Britain that does not have a copy of this book is a house bereft." -- Daily Telegraph
"He is our nearest contemporary equivalent to Blake, our sweetest-natured screwed-up visionary. Buy the book!" -- Evening Standard
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So now the book has arrived. The title has changed (now The Book of Prefaces, rather than an anthology). The price rather more than the suggested second hand value.
And it is well worth the wait. This will stand as a monument to Gray's achievements as an artist (of words and of pictures). His remit has been to produce a history of literature in English from the sixth century to the present day.
This is a book to revel in. Among prefaces to novels and poems (from the well known, such as Mary Shelley's genesis of Frankenstein to the less well known such as Trahern's poetry) there are prefaces (and prologues) to works of philosophy (e.g. Bentham and Franklin) and law (the introduction to Stair's Institutions, a crucially important work in the survival of Scots law as an independent legal system).
The book is beautifully illustrated, wonderfully designed, and contains a charming introduction by Gray detailing reasons for prefaces and for enjoying reading them (my favourite, enjoying watching authors in a huff).
This book will be an invaluable companion through life, and careful reading will have the desired effect of making an individual appear better read and more erudite than they really are.
Buy and enjoy this wonderful book.
Besides the sheer wealth of Stuff To Read, there are dense, canny and wonderfully sure-footed essays on the progress-or-not of English culture'n'society courtesy of Mister Gray, plus marginal glosses by a variety of highly intelligent people and also Roger Scruton. Scruton (England's dimmest philosopher) provides the gloss on the preface to Burke's "Reflections on the Revolution in France", and offers up his customary brand of simple-minded conservatism, but it doesn't matter because Gray has already neatly undercut him several dozen pages earlier with his own reflections on the revolution.
A book to keep with you for the rest of your life and leave to someone in your will. There haven't been many such in the past 50 years. And while the errata slip isn't quite exhaustive (there are a few typos that it fails to credit), how can you resist it when it's written in rhyme?
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