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the Book of Prefaces Hardcover – June 10, 2000

ISBN-13: 978-1582340371 ISBN-10: 1582340374 Edition: 0th

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 672 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA (June 10, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1582340374
  • ISBN-13: 978-1582340371
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.8 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #264,750 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

The preface usually contains one of four pleasures, says anthologist Alasdair Gray. There is the biographical snippet, full of gossipy details that "make us feel at home in earlier times." There is the author's attempt to forestall criticism (in first editions) or to answer it (in later ones). There is the report on the state of civilization, both favorable (see Walt Whitman) and unfavorable (see Karl Marx). And there is the attack on other writers or translators, sometimes bridging centuries and containing spears thrown at the long dead. All four pleasures are well represented in this 640-page treasury of English and American intros, which runs from an A.D. 675 translation of Genesis to the 1920 poems of Wilfred Owen. Why stop there? "The flow is stopped at 1920," admits Gray in his own disarmingly self-effacing preface, "by costs of using work still in copyright."

This is anything but anthology-on-the-cheap, however. Gray (Lanark and A History Maker) poured 16 years of research into The Book of Prefaces, and adds considerable value with his own running commentary, which straggles down the margins in brash red ink. Gray on the God of Genesis: "This God, with revenge in mind, first makes earth ugly as hell." Among God's anthologized fellows are Mark Twain, who defends his use of Southern dialect in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; Lewis Carroll, who anticipates his critics' charges of writing nonsense in The Hunting of the Snark and proceeds to prove their case; and Charles Darwin, who recalls how the seeds of The Origin of Species were sown aboard the HMS Beagle. Gray mixes scholarly research with playful eccentricities: When was the last time you saw a book's typesetter, typist, and publisher memorialized in pen-and-ink drawings? And "with this in their lavatory," writes the cheeky author, "everyone else can read nothing but newspaper supplements and still seem educated." He may be right. --Claire Dederer

From Library Journal

This long-anticipated book from a major figure in the Scottish literary revival lives up to expectations. A delightfully original, ironic, and humorous compilation, it aims to include every major introductory essay in the English language from Caedmon (seventh century) up to the early 20th century. A red gloss runs down the side of most pages, providing fascinating and often idiosyncratic commentary. The reader learns, for example, that in John Gay's day thieves were likely to hang "unless, like the most successful thieves, they could hire lawyers." Gray, noted for his poetry as well as his novels (Lanark), stories, and plays for stage, radio, and television, was assisted by some 30 contributors, who wrote about 20 percent of the commentary. This book shows how English/American literature spread and developed, but it is itself a work of literature. It is not the mere reference anthology it may appear at first, though it could indeed serve as one. Gray designed this attractive book right down to its quirky dust jacket and drew sketches of many of the contributors. A truly outstanding book; recommended for public and academic libraries.DPeter Dollard, Alma Coll. Lib., MI
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By "scottish_lawyer" on June 2, 2000
Format: Hardcover
For many years in catalogues of forthcoming publications Alsadair Gray's Anthology of Prefaces has been referred to. Some suspected a Gray type joke as the book failed to appear year on year. Was it a post modern joke? Gray after all was the man that had an erratum slip inserted in an earlier book reading "This erratum slip was inserted by mistake." The apparent joke was taken too far when one catalogue of second hand books published almost a decade ago suggested that the book had not appreciated in value and was worth roughly £20 second hand. This was not a bad sum for a non-existent text. Snippets of text appeared occasionally, and while the book remained unpublished it became apparent that Gray was beginnning to make serious progress on the work. It then became known that others were assisting Gray in his task of glossing the prefaces including crucially important Scottish writers such as Jim Kelman, Tom Leonard, Janice Galloway, and Alison Kennedy.
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.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By "lexo-2" on June 7, 2000
Format: Hardcover
After a decade and a bit of footling around with pleasant but whimsical novels and the occasional killer short story, Alasdair Gray has finally delivered his long-promised anthology of English-language prefaces. And what a treasure it is. Designed and presented with the author's characteristic loving care, it's a mighty selection of beginnings-of-books from Anglo-Saxon down to 1920 or so (more recent prefaces being excluded because of copyright laws.)
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Sye Sye on March 7, 2009
Format: Hardcover
What a wonderful book in so many ways. Mr Gray has always known how to produce a visually and physically appealling book. His playfulness in this wide reaching book makes the history of literature human: which, of course, it is. Alasdair Gray has not been recognised, outside his native Scotland, for the amazing talents he has; he is one writer who will last for a very long time.
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0 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Mr Bounce on December 23, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I'm not sure why it took 16 years to create this book, as the majority of the text was written years if not centuries ago. Perhaps it was all the typesetting and design that took a long time to create? It does look very nice indeed. I found this book kind of boring if I'm honest, mainly because I'm not really into History or Language. That's my problem though and not a fault of the book. My dog wants to go out. Bye
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2 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Judith C. Kinney on February 5, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I picked this book up at the library because it had an interesting look to it. It is unusually designed and weirdly illustrated. It's great to have all these wonderful prefaces in one handy volume, but Gray, who supplies an introduction and many of the glosses, writes in a kind of shorthand, staccato style that is unpleasant, and he has weak control of comma usage. I might have bought this book except for Gray's writing style.
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