I am in St Andrews, and most of my books are in London, so I tend to pick up books I have read before.
One of my all-time favourites is Michael Bywater’s Lost Worlds, subtitled What have we lost, and where did it go? This extraordinary book (a collection of essays on topics including Bayko, Fug, God, Noddy, and Sandwich, Ham, the Railway) is by turns witty, poignant, learned, and baffling. I can’t just quote bits from it to give you the flavour, since I would end by transcribing the whole thing; so instead here is the second index entry under each letter (except X, where there is only one entry, Xanadu).
- aardvark, deployment of for competitive advantage
- baby clothes, giant
- Cairo, the Geniza of
- Daily Mail: desire to be editor of; making readers feel fat; measured views on asylum-seekers; mistaken lynchings by readers of; not a known cause of cancer; snobbery of its readers
- Earth, the End of the, commemorated in snuff
- facial hair, the musical influence of
- gadgets, author’s embarrassing collection of
- hair, men’s: consequences of running your hands through; lost guide to the care of
- idiots, the contemptibility of
- Kayser Bondor
- Lady Chatterley trial
- mackerel, new, melodious
- The Name of the Rose, possibly a mistranscription
- oblivion: certainty its inevitable precursor; paradox of; personal, inevitable, celebrity a struggle against
- paedophilia, unwarranted cries of
- Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, serious competition for, ecclesiastical
- racks, multiple, fretwork, essential in 1930s home
- saddened, Microsoft feeling
- Tanner, Dr Michael, the sensory persistence of, see also Rhinoceros
- uncle, satisfying nephew’s wife, on lavatory door
- values, Victorian, unsurprising
- waiters, Chinese, deracinated
- yearnings, paradoxical, songs of, Portuguese
- zlotys, soggy, rumpled
(Actually I cheated on a couple of those.) Give yourself a point if you can make a good guess about what they refer to!
You will not be surprised to learn that the author was a friend of Douglas Adams, and even claims to be the inspiration for Dirk Gently. The last item in the book, “Zone, the Dead”, contains a poignant story about Adams, not named in the text but identified in the index.
A final note: in describing the final prayer of Compline, Bywater remarks that perfect “loses the soft and telling resonance of the Latin: that perfectus itself comes from the verb perficere: to carry out, to finish or complete.”