Publication Date: 01 October 2020
Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK
Strong Point: The illustrations included are a very important contribution, without which the book wouldn’t have been such a joy.
Weak Point: Any!
Books on Tour Rating: (4/5)
Goodreads Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (4.33/5)
“THE MADMAN’S LIBRARY: THE STRANGEST BOOKS, MANUSCRIPTS AND OTHER LITERARY CURIOSITIES FROM HISTORY”
I understand that this book is not for everyone. To start with, it doesn’t have a plot, nor human characters…
The protagonists are objects, books to be more specific. They fill the entirety of the story. Its pages are full of them. Some are very crazy, some are simply weird. Others terrifying and others simply disgusting…
Here is the thing: I love books, and I love reading about books. The weirder they are, the better. I like to read about how they were made in the past, and how they are made now, the different techniques, materials, etc. So “The Madman’s Library” was made for me.
Furthermore, I collect books. I don’t have much money (in fact, I am quite broke!) so it is quite complicated for me if not impossible to find rare books on a daily basis. But in my years of visiting second-hand bookshops I can proudly said I have found a couple of little treasures.
The author himself, Mr. Edward Brooke-Hitching, (apart from being a renowned best-seller author) is the son of an antiquarian book dealer as well as a collector of rare books himself. His love for them has fuelled him to compile the most amazing collection of unusual and weird books ever under a single title.
The book is nicely structured under thematic sections: books that aren’t books, books made of flesh and blood, cryptic books, literary hoaxes, curious collections, works of the supernatural, religious oddities, curiosities of science, books of spectacular sizes and strange titles. Through these sections, he tells the history of literature, but from the perspective of the bizarre and with a curious eye.
The story is full of data, the level of which blows my mind. I don’t know how many hours the author has invested in compiling all this information, but it must have been an insane amount of time. For this reason, I have read some reviews which say it can be a very arid and boring reading, but in my opinion it was not so. Plus Brooke-Hitching has quite a sense of humour!!
CURIOSITIES & SURPRISES
So by reading this book, I was most shocked to know that there are books lying around in the world written, for example, with the blood of Saddam Hussein, donated by him with the exclusive purpose of making that book.
Or that the skin of a famous body-snatcher served as cover for another book. This man and his story, by the way, I came to know by reading another book called “The Resurrectionist” and I was quite surprised to know that you can see such a book displayed in a museum in Edinburgh as well as his skeleton. That is something!
The reader can also learn about books which were considered to be “damned” or as having magical powers, or simply written by the Devil himself. Other books can kill the reader, as they are written with a poisonous ink.
Apart from discussing books by their topic, the author also talks about the sizes of books, presenting the reader with the biggest book ever written (for which one needs a crane in order to turn its pages) or the smallest, tiniest one, whose reading has to be done with a sort of microscope.
Special attention deserve the dozens of photos which accompany the text. They are very much appreciated. Without their inclusion in the book, it wouldn’t have been such a pleasure to read it. So thanks to the author for his effort to collect and add them.
FINAL THOUGHTS ABOUT “THE MADMAN’S LIBRARY”
I have never learnt so much about books and so many interesting facts about the history of literature as with “The Madman’s Library”. It is a special one. And as I said, it is not for everyone. You have to be interested in books as objects, not only as a means of entertainment.
But, if you do decide to read it, you would love it as much as I do. I found myself thinking about different books I have learnt about in its pages, even weeks after I had finished reading it. And this fact, I consider a sign that this book has indeed trapped me.
Plus I have laughed a lot with it, because some of the stories narrated are just hilarious due to their absurdity and being so incredible.
As I only own it in digital format, “The Madman’s Library” would be one of the few ebooks that I would love to physically own a copy of.
So go for it. Read it. It is just fascinating.