cover image Past Lives of Old Books and Other Essays

Past Lives of Old Books and Other Essays

R.B. Russell. Tartarus, $45 (282p) ASIN B088QLGPJ6

Lovers of obscure authors and literature will welcome this eclectic collection of mostly previously published essays from British editor Russell (Occult Territory: An Arthur Machen Gazetteer). An expert on Arthur Machen, best known for The Great God Pan and other tales of supernatural horror from the 1890s, Russell writes with authority about collecting Machen rarities and the many landmarks around Britain—residences, taverns, and churches—associated with that author. Russell discusses with sensitivity Christopher Millard, a champion of Oscar Wilde, and Quentin Crisp, of Naked Civil Servant fame, who as gay men suffered from the prejudices of their day. Though Russell covers mainly minor British authors from decades ago, he does offer a refreshing defense of contemporary American novelist Donna Tartt, whom some critics have dismissed as not being sufficiently literary. Such distinguished American bookmen as critic Michael Dirda and rare book dealer Henry Wessells receive favorable passing mention, and a few pieces offer insights into music, poetry, and films of particular interest to Russell. His easy, accessible style is a delight to read. This is the perfect companion volume to Mark Valentine’s A Wild Tumultory Library and Christopher Fowler’s The Book of Forgotten Authors. (Sept.)