Quality Of The Invisible
Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 8/1/03 

  Here’s 1 of the few positive book reviews you’ll ever read from me- yet it’s a book that celebrates the little noticed aspects of the book trade- things like marginalia, epigraphs, prefaces, 1st lines, etc. It came out in 1999 under the Picador imprint of Macmillan Books, & is called Invisible Forms, A Guide To Literary Curiosities by Kevin Jackson & is 300+ pages of informative & humorous writing.
  I’ll give a brief chronological fingering through the book, & then opine a bit. Each chapter is a winner- discussing both the history of & the philosophical underpinnings of the form it tackles- but some stand out especially. The chapter on titles has a nice riff on what makes a title work. It goes on to inform us that War And Peace was originally 1825, A Farewell To Arms was (among others) Love Is Hunger, East Of Eden was The Salinas Valley, Gone With The Wind was (among others) Pansy, & Paradise Lost was Adam Unparadized. It also has a nice riff using Henry James’ novel’s titles to show how fashion also affects titling. He also debunks the idea that great titles fall from the heavens like manna. A point worth probing would be how many writers spend so much effort on a title while the book is really bad. The pseudonyms chapter lets us know Anthony Burgess’s real name is John Wilson- his nom de plume is made of his 2 middle names, as well as a host of other real names for famed authors. The heteronyms chapter is all about the psychotic Fernando Pessoa. The marginalia section comes replete with faux examples of that form. The blurb section lets us know that those detestable acts of fellatio were once merely the authors’ own descriptions of themselves. KJ’s editor apparently encouraged him to delete some of the blurbs he’s culled to show as examples of how this form is so vile. A minor quibble is that KJ does not delve into the modern version of that form- the literary rimjobs that adorn many a backcover. The epigraphs section tackles Edgar Allan Poe’s & T.S. Eliot’s obsession with the form. The 1st lines chapter reveals KJ’s nomination for best ever- from an obscure 1940s novel whose author he does not name: ‘Bang! Bang! Bang!, three shots to the groin and I was off on the greatest adventure of my life.’, as well as 1 of the briefest- ‘London.’ from Charles Dickens’ Bleak House, as well as the deliberately shocking- ‘It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me.’ from Burgess’s Earthly Powers, & a later chapter deals with Imaginary Books, Imaginary Authors- such as hoaxer Kent Johnson’s Araki Yasusada hoax, & the Ern Malley nonsense. He does leave out such forms as errata, neologisms, & metagraphs; but- again- a quibble.
  The magazine The Independent said this of KJ’s book: ‘The first reaction of many people in the literary world on first picking up Invisible Forms will be a muffled curse. It's such a good, simple idea, carried out with such aplomb; yet, nobody thought of it before. The bastard!’, & I agree. In this review I’m tempted to go on & on about the many little nuggets that nettle a curious mind- but fear that if I give 1 I’ll not stop at just 1. Instead- let’s hit the review of the reviews:

Jackson is a wonderfully clever and literate fellow, and it a pleasure to read his digressions, observations, and explanations. One might not believe there would be so much to say on these subjects, but there clearly is -- if anything, the book left us thirsting for much more. Certainly recommended.
-from www.complete-review.com

The book is crammed with wonderful oddities and shrewd observations; but the larger point is that there is no such thing as a neutral literary apparatus, invisibly supporting the text. Every bit of a book has its own complicated meanings and pleasures and, as Jackson repeatedly shows, in literature the scenery has a way of coming to the centre of the stage.
- Sean French, The Independent

It is appropriate that one of the book's own paratexts should supply the justest measure of its performance. Invisible Forms is, as the jacket copy declares, "the perfect companion for literature lovers everywhere".
-Simon Jarvis, Times Literary Supplement

  Suffice to say that this is a fine little book- & 1 of the few works that can be read in multiple modes- as a reference book it is on target. Yet, it also reads well as a humorous text, even if 1 is not familiar with the authors or the works referenced within. Even more, it also serves well as a primer on the art to the unnoticed little aspects of writing. I hope that 1 day KJ will return to the book, greatly expand it, & give many more examples of these forms: how they are used, who used them well, who did not, & how those choices impacted the sundry works.
  Also, a more scholarly approach might be needed, above & beyond mere expansion. While KJ’s little book is a light-hearted jaunt through the subject matter, there really is alot to be gleaned from a more sober & detailed study of these forms. The analyses of such might help to quantify just what it is that makes some writers. & some works, more memorable than others. At least it’s a place to start. & in doing so, KJ need not get so weighted down with pretensions that he ends up another Isaac D’Israeli- whose rise & fall he charts, due to his 19th Century Curiosities Of Literature, a sort of precursor to KJ’s book- whose mania is recounted in the next century’s take on such matters. All he need do is what he did- & do it some more. I just realized- for the 1st time in my adult recall I am actually advocating that a book be longer. Not bloated- just more of the good stuff, lest his fine book itself become invisible on some used bookstore’s shelves.

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