The Book List

The case of the 'invisible' books: 10 titles 'written' by Sherlock Holmes

Every Wednesday, Alex Johnson delves into a unique collection of titles

Tuesday 23 October 2018 20:37
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From the culture of bees to the variability of human ears, invented books feature heavily in Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective series
From the culture of bees to the variability of human ears, invented books feature heavily in Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective series

Some books are not merely difficult to track down, they are literally impossible to find. Because they don’t exist.

Practical Handbook of Bee Culture, with Some Observations upon the Segregation of the Queen
Upon the Distinction Between the Ashes of the Various Tobaccos
Upon the Tracing of Footsteps
The Influence of a Trade upon the Form of the Hand
On the Dating of Manuscripts
Upon the Polyphonic Motets of Lassus
Secret Writings
A Study of the Chaldean Roots in the Ancient Cornish Language
Upon Tattoo Marks
On the Variability of Human Ears (two monographs)

One of the earliest descriptions of these “invisible books” is by Thomas Browne in his late 18th century Musaeum Clausum, a fake catalogue of items including Aristotle’s de Precationibus, Pytheas’s account of travels beyond Ultima Thule, and a history of Hannibal’s expedition through the Alps which is better than Livy’s. Around 50 years later, Charles Lamb describes such things as “biblia a-biblia” in his essay “Detached Thoughts on Books and Reading”.

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