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On the Shelf

Fake Books, Fictional Detectives

September 20, 2012 | by

  • “Would anyone go and ‘consult’ him? One feels not.” In a rediscovered Agatha Christie document, the author admits to a love-hate relationship with her creation, the debonair Belgian detective Poirot, and critiques other mystery writers.
  • The Marquis de Sade wanted even more days of Sodom? Unfinished novels of great writers.
  • “Wanting for some unknown reason to fill a space in his study with a selection of false books—complete with witty names he thought up himself—[Dickens] wrote to a bookbinder with a list of ‘imitation book-backs’ to be created specially for his bookshelf.” Now, the New York Public Library has re-created several of these fake books.
  • And speaking of the NYPL! Thanks to a donation, the library has reconsidered its controversial plan to relocate many of its books.
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    1. Joe Carlson | September 20, 2012 at 10:23 am

      Forget who said the English language novel has produced two geniuses, Dickens and Joyce, but both writers had minds/imaginations that worked 24/7. Dickens’ library of fake books suggests Borges and contains one title that suggests Lewis Carroll:
      “HANSARD’S GUIDE TO REFRESHING SLEEP – in as many volumes as possible.”

    2. Gail Kent | September 20, 2012 at 11:50 am

      Again, illustration attribution missing – what is the source of your images? Thanks!

    3. Sadie Stein | September 20, 2012 at 11:55 am

      Hi Gail, this image is from the public domain!

    4. Georgia | September 20, 2012 at 12:00 pm

      This may not be true, but I think I remember once reading or hearing that there was a trend in Dickens’s time where you would have a disguised, book-spine-decorated door in your library and the way to find the otherwise imperceptible entrance to a person’s secret room off the library was to suss out the fake book titles. Or maybe it was a dream I had!

    5. Georgia | September 20, 2012 at 12:08 pm

      Okay, I did some research, and the chapter “Some Non-textual Uses of Books” in the book “A Companion to the History of the Book” confirms it:
      “The conceit of false spines was to have a glorious future, the titles displaying the owner’s wit and, when they concealed a door, providing a disguised means of escape. By the end of the eighteenth century, the door or pilaster disguised by false spines was common, the false spines having titles that could be satirical (The Honest Lawyer, The Present State of Morocco) or puzzling (Block’s Thoughts).”

    6. Sadie Stein | September 20, 2012 at 12:09 pm

      Georgia, I love it! I think this may call for a full post, don’t you?

    7. Georgia | September 20, 2012 at 12:10 pm

      Actually, “Some Non-textual Uses of Books” could be a good title for use on a false spine, if anyone knows any whimsical people redecorating a library and wanting to convey a certain eighteenth-century-style wit.

    8. Sadie Stein | September 20, 2012 at 12:11 pm

      I wish I could say I knew fewer of those people 😉

    9. Georgia | September 20, 2012 at 12:11 pm

      Definitely a full post! Naturally, in my eighteenth-century-theme dreamhouse, the secret room would be concealed behind a false-front dollhouse…

    10. amrh | September 21, 2012 at 3:17 am

      It reminds me of Dream’s Library in the Sandman graphic novels, where Lucien the librarian watches over a collection of books that were never written…

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