Review: Tolkien’s Gown and Other Stories of Famous Authors and Rare Books

Tolkien's Gown and Other Stories of Famous Authors and Rare Books
Tolkien’s Gown and Other Stories of Famous Authors and Rare Books by R.A. Gekoski

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I saw Rick Gekoski speak at the 2014 Perth Writers Festival and was struck by his joviality, his quick wit and his passionate attachment to the book as what editor Ellen Datlow describes as ‘objects of adoration’; that is, the love of the book as an objet d’art in its own right, even before opening it to read the text within.

This book is a further examination of this passion, but without Gekoski’s unique spoken voice it takes some effort to uncover the wit behind the anecdotes. Well-written it certainly is, and the majority of stories are engaging, but it becomes plan very early that Gekoski’s main passion is the trading and economic system surrounding something he sees as nothing more than a commodity– occasionally beautiful, often startlingly unique, with rich histories and provenances, but ultimately no different to a piece of furniture or a vase, with value aligned only to the balance of payments it attracts. This is not necessarily a bad thin– you don’t have to love houses to sell real estate– but it does change the nature and flavour of the book as it is being read.

The stories are, largely, entertaining, and the anecdotes suitably intriguing if, like me, you are a geek for writers as much as you are for their works.Part memoir, part gossip column, part catalogue, it’s a diverting volume, perfectly pleasant for reading while lying in bed or relaxing at the end of the day. I just wish Gekoski had come across as more of a lover of books for themselves, as well as someone proud of his ability to spot profit in an obscure art object. But that’s my failing, not his.

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