Blog Archives

Hello Goodbye Hello: Famous Writers Who Met Each Other

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle discovers the extraordinary meetings of famous writers

J. D. Salinger met Ernest Hemingway. Ernest Hemingway met Ford Madox Ford. Ford Madox Ford met Oscar Wilde. Oscar Wilde met Marcel Proust. Marcel Proust met James Joyce. Some of the most famous writers of the last century met each other, but they also met the great and good from beyond the literary world. And the not so great and not so good. H. G. Wells, for instance, met Josef Stalin.

Craig Brown’s book Hello Goodbye Hello: A Circle of 101 Remarkable Meetings, which was published in 2011, is an interesting ‘dipping’ book: each encounter between two notable people is given a short entry, a mini-essay, outlining the details of the meeting. This makes it a fascinating book to read in fits and starts (probably the best way to read a book like this), since you effectively learn something new, and surprising, about two famous people at once. It’s also a great premise for a book, the sort that must have had writers of such non-fiction books kicking themselves for having failed to come up with such a neat conceit. Each meeting documented in the book is linked by one of the contributors, so that Maxim Gorky’s encounter with Tolstoy leads into Tolstoy’s meeting with Tchaikovsky, just as George Read the rest of this entry


A Dictionary of Unusual and Preposterous Words

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle revels in the arcane lexicography of Mrs Byrne’s Dictionary of Unusual, Obscure and Preposterous Words

The word deboswellize means ‘to deprecate someone in a biography’. It’s derived from James Boswell, the celebrated biographer of Samuel Johnson. Anaxiphilia means ‘the act of falling in love with someone entirely inappropriate, by someone who should know better’. More emotive, and dripping with unspoken and tragic hopelessness, is the word anacampserote, which refers to ‘something which can bring back a lost love.’

None of these three words is likely to be on the tongues (or in the minds) of the average reader, and they were new to me until I recently encountered them, in Mrs. Byrne’s Dictionary of Unusual Obscure and Preposterous Words: Gathered from Numerous and Diverse Authoritative Sources, which may just be the most endlessly fascinating and entertaining lexicon I’ve yet encountered. (I’ll except the Oxford English Dictionary here, and possibly Johnson’s dictionary, on the grounds that they are beyond question in the fascination stakes for the sheer vastness of their achievement.) Read the rest of this entry

Michael Moorcock’s Dorian Hawkmoon: Fast-Paced Fantasy

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle revisits the deftly plotted fantasy novels of Michael Moorcock

It’s not as well-known as it should be that C. S. Lewis nominated his fellow Inkling, J. R. R. Tolkien, for the Nobel Prize in Literature. In 1961, the Chronicles of Narnia author put forward the author of The Lord of the Rings, and his one-time Oxford colleague, for the award. Although the two writers did not see eye to eye when it came to each other’s work, Lewis thought highly enough of Tolkien’s fiction to recommend him for this prestigious honour. However, the Nobel Prize committee rejected the nomination, stating that Tolkien’s work ‘has not in any way measured up to storytelling of the highest quality.’

Tens of millions of readers would disagree, but I’ve always found it difficult to enjoy The Lord of the Rings as pure storytelling. As an epic in the tradition of the Nordic and Icelandic sagas it is vast and well-realised, and the world-building – especially when it comes to Tolkien’s métier, languages and philology – is often wonderfully detailed and believable. But the Read the rest of this entry