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Book Review

Rick Gekoski Bares All (Well, Almost All)

Groucho Marx sets the tone for this charming bibliomemoir: “Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.” By John Windle John Windle is an antiquarian bookseller in San Francisco.

Cover image of The Art of American Book Covers by Richard Minsky.

Outside of a Dog: A Bibliomemoir

Rick Gekoski; Constable (UK); 278 pages; Hardcover (£9.52 from Amazon UK); Kindle ($9.99). Unpublished in book form in the U.S.

Rick, as I have always called him, when it isn’t Ricky or Der Rickster or Rickerooni or Rikki-tikki-tavi (that may be too obscure for some of you but you can Google it or ask Dave Richards, nudge nudge), has the intellectual chops to tangle with some of the greatest philosophers of the twentieth century, the emotional fragility of a six-year old when he describes his therapy sessions or his familial relationships (these are closely related, quel surprise), the cojones to turn down an invitation for him and his wife to live with Germaine Greer (who, Rick thinks or perhaps hopes, was probably after his wife), and the outlandish ego to imagine that through that most transparent of excuses, “Authors and Titles I will cite to make you drool,” he can regale us with tales of his athletic prowess (who knew he was a top-ranked tennis player, winning his Varsity Blue at Oxford), his erotic fantasies (absolutely no comment, buy the book), his neurotic conflicts with friends and relatives, his belated discovery of how much he loathed academia and vice versa, and (finally at last thank God) anecdotes about entering the book trade and making double his professorial salary in his first year in business. Through it all, Ricky, you crazy dreamer, actually daring to think we’d be interested or even (gasp) care.

Well Ricardo, me old friend, me old darlin’, you were right damn your eyes. I picked up Outside of a Dog and read it straight through, cursing Rick when not laughing out loud or being infuriated by his opinions on William Blake, whom he seems to like except when he doesn’t, sharing his bafflement with Derrida (the paragraph he quotes is simply hilarious) but not his delight in Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hatches An Egg or Roald Dahl’s Matilda, the reading of which he accomplished while locked in the loo ignoring the increasingly desperate pleas of his family to vacate the facility. All the while wishing he would stop the endless name dropping, trying not to be impressed by the remarkable number of remarkable people he has known, and longing for him to start writing about the rare books he has won and lost with his business partner Peter Grogan—himself an esteemed bibliophile, oenophile (that’s a wine connoisseur, children), and author in his own right whose forthcoming memoir Gekoski Geschmoskoi is how I learned what TMI means. I await it with the proverbial bated breath.

Twenty-five titles, twenty-five rants, you pays your money and you takes your choice. Salinger, Eliot (T. S. not George, sadly), Freud (yawn), R. D. Laing (we called him Ronnie too but I didn’t realize there were actual Ronnies other than the two on the telly), Descartes, Hume, Yeats, Greene: I kept waiting to hear all about the daring auction bid, the lucky find in a Glasgow bookshop (it’s been known to happen, a few dollars for some Blake-like watercolors that turned into twenty million dollars’ worth of real Blake), the little old lady who wants to pay you to take away the dusty old books her late husband hoarded, a flat-out steal on the last day of a book fair from the stand right next to you, but not this time. For that, go back to Tolkien’s Gown (a.k.a. Nabokov’s Butterfly and Other Stories of Great Authors and Rare Books), which I also reviewed back in the day (“Gekoski and Me,” July/August 2005 edition of FB&C.)

You’re probably getting the message that this book fascinated, infuriated, amused, and depressed me by turns. You have to read it to get it and vice versa—and sadly that entails ordering it from the UK (my copy arrived from amazon.co.uk in about a week) or downloading it on to your Kindle. It’s worth it, trust me. No, really.

John Windle is an antiquarian bookseller in San Francisco.

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