Thursday, September 17, 2009

Book Review: "Outside of a Dog"

I loved Rick Gekoski's Nabokov's Butterfly (review), so when I read that he'd a new book coming out, I immediately ordered a copy (from the UK, no less, since there's not yet an American edition). Outside of a Dog: A Bibliomemoir (Constable, 2009) is Gekoski's attempt to know "how my books have made me. To recall, to reread, and to re-encounter the books that filled my mahogany bookcase, and continue to fill my present self" (p. 9). In nineteen chapters and an epilogue, Gekoski takes his reader through his life, using books as jumping-off points to discuss other aspects of his life, loves, longings, and careers.

Perhaps it is the inherent self-indulgence of the memoir genre that threw me here, or perhaps it's Gekoski's willingness to share so much (I certainly did not need to know some of the things about the teenaged Gekoski that I unwittingly learned in the second chapter), but I didn't enjoy this book as well as I did the last. It is at its best in the final chapters, where Gekoski writes about his rare book business. These anecdotes I enjoyed. But much of the book, taken up as it is with the intimacies of thought processes (some of which seem entirely too well-recollected to me, but maybe that's just because I can barely remember what I had for lunch), the trials and tribulations of family life, career angst, &c., just didn't do much for me.

The humorous moments managed to at least partially compensate for the slog down memory lane; I laughed at Gekoski's story of holing himself up in the bathroom on Christmas morning, refusing to relinquish Roald Dahl's Matilda to his children until he'd finished reading it himself. And his writing remains as pleasing and well-formed as it was in his previous book. I'm sure others more attuned to the genre will find this book fascinating and delightful; I suppose I just wanted more of the books and less of the man (probably not very fair of me, that, but it's true).