Read this book and weep
The book of my title is The Book of Lost Books by Stuart Kelly. It’s subtitle is very appropriate:
An incomplete history of all the great books you’ll never read.
The author looks back through the history of literature and tells us what is known of great lost books. The history of literature is a long one – going back to the earliest days of writing in places like Sumeria, Egypt, China – and the opportunities for even famous books to vanish are numerous.
The classical age in Europe is one of the best known, partly because the authors who have survived commented on their colleagues and predecessors who haven’t. But even the very literary Greeks and Romans produced many Mr and Mrs Anonymouses not to mention Mr Who-was-Homer?.
We leave the realm of this vagueness the nearer we approach the present. It’s interesting to read about what we haven’t got of Lord Byron, Jane Austen and other well-known people. Most of them are Westerners but Asia has its own ‘lost’ catalogue and a few chapters introduce us to it.
The last author dealt with in the book is Philip K Dick. Three of his known works have vanished. I suspect that Dick himself was responsible for this; by the 20th century he should have had access to ways of not losing things if he didn’t want to.
The works Kelly covers are just the ones we know about – how much more has turned to dust over the centuries?