August 25, 2002
5:52 AM   Subscribe

The Invisible Library is a catalog of books that appear only within other books: in other words, a collection of imaginary books. With such names as "Growing Flowers by Candlelight in Hotel Rooms", "How Beautiful are Thy Feet" and "The Bitch Pack Meets on Wednesday", though, some of these books are just begging to be written. (more...)
posted by taz (39 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
A number of real books ("Cryptonomicon", "House of Leaves", "The Blind Assassin" and "The Garden of Forking Paths", for example) are even titled after the imaginary books within them, and certain authors show a decided fondness for this device - Peter Greenaway, Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, Frank Hebert and Douglas Adams, to name only a few. If you spend some time looking, you will surely find some "easter eggs", such as Paul DiFillippo's imaginary book "Exceptional Creatures" (in his real book "Steampunk Trilogy"), containing information about the "Giant Rat of Sumatra", which happens to be the title of a non-existent book appearing in Conan Doyle's "The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire", a book written by one Dr. John Watson, imaginary author. Some have even gone to the trouble to review imaginary books, while others have promised to auction rare editions of them. Finally, a completely silly imaginary book game.

Note: Excerpted from the book "Meta-Lit for Me-Fi-ers: Am I Hot or Not?" by
Aya Waight Flaimingh, PhD., F. King Knewbie, PhP., et al, edited by F.P.P. Feirs.

posted by taz at 5:54 AM on August 25, 2002

Oh, this is just delicious, thanks muchly for the link!

I'm especially glad to see that the large number of books invented by James Branch Cabell haven't gone unnoticed, like all those salacious tomes by 'Gowlais' in Jurgen: Historia de Bello Veneris, the Pornoboscodidascolo, to say nothing of the Thirty-Two Gratifications and System of Worshipping a Girl.
posted by Slithy_Tove at 6:16 AM on August 25, 2002

Where's "Will There Ever Be a Rainbow?'' by C. Montgomery Burns?
posted by RavinDave at 7:37 AM on August 25, 2002

Reminds me of that vintage 1995 net art project The book you would like to be written

Calling Borges? Is Dr. Borges in the house?
posted by jeremias at 7:40 AM on August 25, 2002

Fabulous link! Thank you for this. I'm in heaven.

I just have to read House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski. After seeing the sheer amount of fake books he alludes to, I read some reviews of the book and it sounds like it's right up my alley.

The first chapter of The World According to Bensenhaver is contained within the pages of The World According to Garp, by John Iriving. My favorite imaginary book so far.
posted by iconomy at 7:44 AM on August 25, 2002

What about the Necronomicon? I haven't heard of the Cryptonomicon but it sounds like a rip-off of the original--an ancient book full to the brim of, well, various evil-type subjects, written about by H.P. Lovecraft in his horror stories. The best part is, many people think it's real, partly because he's so convincing, and partly because various occult publishing outfits have published their own versions of it.

Surely I'm not the only Lovecraft fan here? ^_^
posted by cyrusdogstar at 7:58 AM on August 25, 2002

cyrusdogstar: It's there. Look under the alphabetical index of authors. (No, Cryptonomicon isn't a rip-off of Necronomicon, trust me.).
posted by taz at 8:13 AM on August 25, 2002

Yes, cyrusdogstar, one of the most infamous invisible books is the Necronomicon (invented by H.P. Lovecraft). Mention of the book is de rigeur in cheesy horror flicks and the Necronomicon meme is so pervasive that there are many folks who think that there's a "real" Necronomicon. There is a Necronomicon you can buy, but it's just a sham filled with Babylonian mythology. Flames have raged across usenet about this issue to the point where someone finally wrote a book debunking the whole thing and laying out the history of the fictional Necronomicon.

Less well known, but from the same tradition is The King in Yellow, a play
referred to in Robert W. Chambers' short horror fiction. Like the Necronomicon, there have been a fair number of attempts to write the actual play. Unlike the Necronomicon, however, one of these was actually a good effort. I quite like James Blish's "More Light", wherein is written an entire script for the play, save the last line.
posted by ursus_comiter at 8:44 AM on August 25, 2002

Another fictional work that managed to get itself written is Venus on the Halfshell by Kilgore Trout. Kilgore Trout is a conceit of Kurt Vonnegut who appears as a hack SF author in many of Vonnegut's works.

Philip Jose Farmer, a fine author in his own right, was such a fan of Vonnegut that he asked and got permission to write one of Kilgore Trout's novels that Vonnegut had referred to. And so it was that Venus on the
Halfshell by Kilgore Trout
(Farmer published it under that name at first)
was born.

I found it forgettable, but I do enjoy these kinds of games.
posted by ursus_comiter at 8:55 AM on August 25, 2002

Great link :)
posted by Foosnark at 9:13 AM on August 25, 2002

How To Disappear Completely And Never Be Found is an intelligent novel for older children that includes a library that only stocks unpublished books (disclosure: a friend of mine wrote it).

Also, I'm surprised that no one has yet mentioned the Sandman graphic novels, in which the library in the realm of dreams contains such classics as "The Redemption of Dr. Faustus, a Merrie Comedie by Christopher Marlowe."
posted by bingo at 11:47 AM on August 25, 2002

Kudos to taz, who did mention Gaiman, author of the Sandman, in the very first comment. My bad.
posted by bingo at 11:50 AM on August 25, 2002

How bout Lucien's library of unwritten dream books in Sandman? I always loved that idea.
posted by Kafkaesque at 11:52 AM on August 25, 2002

"House of Leaves" is fucking amazing. Go read it.

Poe's most recent CD "Haunted" makes a couple of nods to the book as well, mostly in song titles.
posted by jaded at 11:52 AM on August 25, 2002

oh hehe

Me and you both bingo.

posted by Kafkaesque at 11:52 AM on August 25, 2002

I've always wanted to read Timon Afinske, the Zemblan translation of Shakespeare's Timon of Athens, alluded to in Nabokov's Pale Fire. It's supposed, if I remember aright, to have been contaminated by the fictional translator into a parody of the fictional strife within the fictional Zemblan royal family.

(Anyone with Zemblan for Travelers audiotapes they can send me will be endlessly idolized.)

This is a particularly 20th-century type of game, with masters from Nabokov to Calvino and Borges all using it frequently, and has even reached the masses in books such as The Celestine Prophecy, which is sort of a low-rent Name of the Rose -- Eco's novel about a real lost manuscript of Aristotle's Poetics, which in the novel is extant and ... shall we say ... politically important.
posted by dhartung at 11:56 AM on August 25, 2002

A brief digression (& possible "Name of the Rose" spoiler):

dhartung ... Charles Beaumont (probably neck-n-neck with Matheson as the greatest "Twilight Zone" writer) was said to have been working on a novel or a screenplay before his much too early death that touched on a theme similar to the one Eco used in "Name of the Rose". Beaumont imagined a brutal dystopian regime that outlawed all forms of comedy, since it was viewed as subversive to the authority of the State. (Boy, what a high-concept movie for someone like a Robin Williams, eh?) All of a sudden, the humorless and hypersensitive PC-types in our own society who grow pale and scant of breath in the presence of the slightest off-colored remark -- all of a sudden, they make sense. They're scared.

Anyway, I don't wanna derail a fascinating discussion. Just had to toss in a quick bit of TZ trivia. So ...

... back to our previously scheduled thread.
posted by RavinDave at 1:32 PM on August 25, 2002

Also begging for mention is Posession: A Romance, my favorite novel, an amazing tapestry of fictional voices, including poetry, letters, and literary criticism.

Also of interest to Asimov fanatics is the out-of-print Murder at the ABA (American Booksellers Association), in which Asimov appears as a suspect. The story is told by a fictional author who resents Asimov's success and renowned egomania.
posted by bingo at 1:40 PM on August 25, 2002

Kafkaesque: Lucien is the greatest.
Have you read any of those other recently released comics which are set in the Sandman universe but do not involve Morpheus? Like "The Corinthian", and some others whose name I cannot recall..

I'm a huge Dune fan, and that series must have thousands of invisible books. Anyone read the prequels?
posted by ac at 2:48 PM on August 25, 2002

Borges needs a site of his own.
posted by Hall at 3:30 PM on August 25, 2002

I'm a supporter of the idea that Only a Factory Girl by Rosie M Banks should be nominated (and if possible shunted up) every available Greatest Ever Books list (it did quite well in a poll a few years ago).

Stanislav Lem is a genius.

Some might say that Borges doesn't need a web site, since he has the Internet (it is, if nothing else, eminently Borgesian).

And The Celestine Prophecy is the worst book I have ever, ever read. It's scary how many people possess a copy, though. I saw it on someone's shelves the other day and it filled me with dread, the way that a copy of Kitten Strangler's Gazette left casually on the coffee table would.
posted by Grangousier at 3:50 PM on August 25, 2002

"Conversations with Muad' Dib" by Princess Irulan! keke :)

my fave tho has to be "The Hipcrime Vocab" by Chad C. Mulligan, context (4)! altho "You: Beast" and "You're an Ignorant Idiot" have a better ring to them :)
posted by kliuless at 5:23 PM on August 25, 2002

Currently, I can't get to the page...but my favorite "Imaginary Book" is "The Book Of Counted Sorrows"

It's referenced/quoted in almost every Dean Koontz novel.
posted by lasthrsman at 5:37 PM on August 25, 2002

I ran across this link some time ago and never got a chance to really look through it. Thanks for posting it, taz--I'm glad I took the time. Nobody here's mentioned Jonathan Carroll's The Land of Laughs, which is an interesting example of the genre. Jack Vance is also a worthy practitioner.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 5:39 PM on August 25, 2002

There are two out-of-print books by Frank Herbert I really want to get my hands on - Songs of Muad'Dib and something called Notebook of Dune or something like that. Dune is the greatest book ever written. Ever.
posted by ac at 5:48 PM on August 25, 2002

"my fave tho has to be "The Hipcrime Vocab" by Chad C. Mulligan, context (4)! altho "You: Beast" and "You're an Ignorant Idiot" have a better ring to them"

kliuless, you are now my hero.

To add to the list, might I suggest "Journal of a Working Boy, or Up From Sloth!" by Ignatius Reilly?
posted by mkhall at 6:23 PM on August 25, 2002

In Preston Sturges' Sullivan's Travels, the hero is a comedy director who plans to make a serious and socially responsible film. He wants to call it O Brother, Where Art Thou?
posted by muckster at 9:07 PM on August 25, 2002

lasthrsman: the Invisible Library says "The Book of Counted Sorrows" is its most suggested volume, and Koontz has said that he receives about 3,000 requests a year asking about this book. He responded by reproducing it in e-book format (available here. You can find a collection of the BofCS poems found in his books so far here.

BTW, all: the Invisible Library is asking for help with incomplete listings; info on the librarian's page under "Most Wanted".
posted by taz at 10:07 PM on August 25, 2002


>Surely I'm not the only Lovecraft fan here? ^_^

No, cyrusdogstar, you are not alone:

Ia-R'lyehl Cihuiha flgagnl id Ia!

posted by cup at 11:30 PM on August 25, 2002

....mmm....Chuck Beaumont.

I just finished reading Salamander, by Thomas Wharton, and it described some slightly impossible volumes of literature. The book itself tells about a man commisioned to create an infinite book, and his quest to gather the materials needed to truly make it great. Definitely worth a read, if you're interested in things like typestting, printing presses, and puns involving fonts.
posted by redsparkler at 2:31 AM on August 26, 2002

"Salamander" looks great, redsparkler; slight problem with the link, though. Here you go.
posted by taz at 3:10 AM on August 26, 2002

Some might say that Borges doesn't need a web site, since he has the Internet (it is, if nothing else, eminently Borgesian).

(I heart Grangousier)

This thread reminds me of one of my favorite novels, From the Realm of Morpheus, which features a library with, for instance, the novels of David's a bit hard to find, though. Robin McKinley's Beauty has (besides a Greek-reading ugly duckling whose nickname is a bit of a joke) a library which contains books that haven't been written yet. Wasn't able to check the Invisible Library to see if either of those are included, though.

I saw [The Celestine Prophecy] on someone's shelves the other day and it filled me with dread, the way that a copy of Kitten Strangler's Gazette left casually on the coffee table would.

(I still heart Grangousier)
posted by redshoes3 at 9:48 AM on August 26, 2002

Richard Brautigan's The Abortion: A Historical Romance, which is just a beautiful, gentle story, features a unique library: anybody who writes a book can bring it and place it on the shelves (with assistance from the friendly hippie librarian).

The Invisible Library lists the titles here. It's the descriptions of people bringing in their books that is truly priceless, though. There's a small exerpt here.
posted by cps at 11:10 AM on August 26, 2002

I always wanted to read The Secret Goldfish, by Holden Caulfield's brother D.B.
posted by SisterHavana at 12:26 PM on August 26, 2002

Thank you, Taz!
posted by redsparkler at 1:48 PM on August 26, 2002

hey i was just looking around for more fictional apparitions, here is what i found!i am a hero. YES! will i use my powers for good? no :) well maybe, just not necessarily for good, and sometimes for evil :)
posted by kliuless at 4:18 PM on August 26, 2002

Yes, Sir Kliuless, you are indeed a hero! I especially liked the fictional toys. And who knew there were so many imaginary cereals? The site even has a page that helps you to create your own imaginary cereal (my new cereal? Fruity Frosted Flaky Flakes.)

What I googled for, but didn't find (with one minor exception), was imaginary book covers. I am fascinated with book cover art, and hoped to find some thrilling examples of designs for non-existent books, but no luck. Anybody?
posted by taz at 1:28 AM on August 27, 2002

Poe's most recent CD "Haunted" makes a couple of nods to the book as well, mostly in song title
Poe is Danielewski's sister, for those who are interested. It's a great book.

There is a great Borges site at (one of my favorite sites) the Modern Word.

taz: some covers of Borges' non-existent books should be here, although the link is down for me at the moment.
posted by sonofsamiam at 10:09 AM on August 27, 2002

Same problem for me, though I will keep trying - I'd love to see them.
posted by taz at 12:34 PM on August 27, 2002

« Older The old switcheroo:   |   A Lost Tribe in the Land of Broken Promises. Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments