cover image A Wild Tumultory Library

A Wild Tumultory Library

Mark Valentine. Tartarus, $55 (288p) ISBN 978-1-912586-21-9

The 34 brief essays in this delightful collection from British author Valentine (Haunted by Books) showcase his omnivorous reading habits and bookman’s curiosity. Subjects include guides to tea-cup reading popular in the early 20th century, books on the botanical discoveries of Far East explorer Frank Kingdon-Ward, and the Holy Grail theme as it occurs in the fiction of Arthur Machen and other writers over the centuries. Some of the most rewarding selections are appreciations of writers popular in their day but now largely forgotten—among them 19th-century aesthete Richard Le Gallienne and 20th-century allegorist Rex Warner—and less well-known works by better-known writers, such as the crime novels Philip MacDonald wrote following the success of The Rasp (1924). Valentine’s essays brim with fascinating insights and details, as in his historical unpacking of the definition of “antiquary” as it pertains to the antiquarian tales of ghost-story master M.R. James, and they are laced with wit and gracious humor, as in one account of “bibliomancy” involving Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray as a possible summoning text. Book lovers will find this volume’s contents compulsively readable and will almost certainly be driven to seek out the many books and authors cited with whom they are not already familiar. The photographs of vintage books that illustrate the text are a nice bonus. (Dec.)