Outside of a Dog: a Bibliomemoir, By Rick Gekoski

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The Independent Culture

This wonderfully unhelpful title is presumably intended to have the book displayed on the popular "Your Pet" shelves in bookshops, which are guaranteed rather more customer traffic than the ones labelled "Quirky and Intriguing Literary Criticism". It derives from the Groucho Marx quote: "Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read."

What this book lacks in canine chit-chat it makes up for in provocative memories of volumes which Rick Gekoski has read - or in some cases hasn't actually read, but somehow remembers pretty well. Outside of a Dog is a "bibliomemoir" by a former Warwick University lecturer turned rare book dealer and broadcaster (most recently in his Lost, Stolen or Shredded Radio 4 series) - but it is more accessible than that sounds.

Although a later chapter includes a totally incomprehensible paragraph from the post-structuralist and leading linguistic mangler, Jacques Derrida, the first chapter begins with a close textual analysis of Horton Hatches an Egg, Dr Seuss's celebration of the amazing "elephant bird". Gekoski admits to hiding in the loo to finish another masterpiece for kids, Roald Dahl's Matilda - as an adult. He found Descartes "fun", while Yeats was "the most irritating poet since Blake".

He must have been the most eclectically-minded of judges for the Man Booker. He has written (not very well, to judge by the extract from it that he quotes and demolishes) a book on Joseph Conrad and another on the Premier League, Staying Up.

Outside of a Dog is like Nick Hornby's Fever Pitch without the football. Instead of chronicling his life via soccer, he describes what he has made of his books, and what his books have made of him. At high school in Long Island, he considered his best friend to be Holden Caulfield from Catcher in the Rye. Then young Rick became a living, breathing version of The Waste Land. Later The Divided Self became his Bible and, although Laingian psychiatrists turned out be more barking than their patients, he sat at the feet of RD Laing, growling.

Although there are too many inconsequential episodes featuring his family, one event after his divorce does pay its way in the literary saga. His ex-wife refused to grant him custody of his own library, which included a signed set of Graham Greene's Collected Works bought from the author himself. "Who am I," he asks himself, in italics, "with no books?"

The last page sees him waiting in hopes that his children will produce kids of their own, to whom he will happily read until the book of his own life is slammed shut by the Great Publisher in the Sky.

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