18 October, 2012

{Insert Title Here}

Gary Dexter

This is just the sort of thing i ought to love: A collection of essays gathered around a particular topic, in this case a very limited topic, the titles of books, by a man who knows the subject well and evidently loves it too ~ the two not always going together. Apparently Dexter drew on a column he writes or wrote (i don't know the appropriate tense) for The Telegraph on the subject of titles. One might think that such a topic would be too limited to sustain a series or make a book; it would appear not. 

 And yet.... I have to admit to a little dissatisfaction with this book because it does not seem to properly fulfil or stand by its premise. Plenty of the essays are, indeed, fascinating, learned, and i have learned from them about some of the more obscure titles ~ and the better known (Winnie-the-Pooh) ~ in literature. Unfortunately, on too many occasions Dexter strays from his self-appointed rĂ´le as explainer of titles and starts offering an exploration or criticism of the book under question itself. I don't say that he does this poorly ~ in fact he's quite an interesting writer, both skilled and, as i mention above, immersed in a subject he enjoys ~ but i do say that it is not what his book is supposed to be about, and thus he could have used some strong guidance from an editor not afraid to say, “Gary, stick to the titles ~ or change your whole concept!” To take but one example, the chapter (21) on Around the World in Eighty Days spends more time on the subject matter than the title, even acknowledging that Verne gave no indication that he was aware someone had actually attempted to make that journey. Unfortunately, there are a number of chapters in which Dexter makes this or a similar mistake, writing about either the book or its subject matter rather than its title. Thus, i fear, this is a superb conception, not brought quite properly to fruition.

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