I'm very keen on "books about books" and have just finished reading one that is an absolute gem. It's early days, but if I read a more entertaining book about books in the whole of 2013, I'll count myself extremely fortunate. I'm talking about a little volume called Invisible Ink: How 100 Great Authors Disappeared. The publisher - not previously known to me - is Strange Attractor Press, and the author is Christopher Fowler.
Chris Fowler is someone I've only met very briefly in person, though we do share an agent, but I've been delighted to receive a couple of brilliant short stories from him for CWA anthologies, featuring his series characters Bryant and May. His writing is distinguished by a combination of intelligence and wit that is very much to my taste, and these qualities are constantly in evidence throughout this little book.
The title really is self-explanatory. It's based on a long series of articles Chris Fowler wrote for The Independent, and at times the pieces show their journalistic origins. There are a few errors of fact, of the kind that crop up in all books like this. For instance, Harry Keating did not produce "the definitive biography of Agatha Christie", but rather edited a book of essays about her. It is also a pity that not only does the book lack an index, there isn't even a list of contents. But at least this meant that it was a pleasant surprise to keep reading and find such great choices of author and so many fascinating and unexpected anecdotes.
There are far too many good lines for me to quote them all, but I really loved the description of Ronald Firbank as "a sort of polar opposite to Andy McNab." Quite a lot of interesting crime writers are featured (but is Harry, who died less than two years ago, really forgotten? it's a grim thought), including the likes of Gladys Mitchell, John Dickson Carr and Austin Freeman. However, there are some people I confess I've never even heard of and some of their personal stories were gripping. Fowler's gift is to make you want to read what his chosen hundred (or at least, most of them) have written, even though each of his pieces is short as well as snappy. All I want now is for him to find another hundred equally fascinating authors to tell us about. In the meantime, I am sure many readers of this blog will enjoy this book as much as I did.