Built of Books

Built of Books

How Reading Defined the Life of Oscar Wilde

Book - 2009
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An entirely new kind of biography, "Built of Books" explores the mind and personality of Oscar Wilde through his taste in books

This intimate account of Oscar Wilde's life and writings is richer, livelier, and more personal than any book available about the brilliant writer, revealing a man who built himself out of books. His library was his reality, the source of so much that was vital to his life. A reader first, his readerly encounters, out of all of life's pursuits, are seen to be as significant as his most important relationships with friends, family, or lovers. Wilde's library, which Thomas Wright spent twenty years reading, provides the intellectual (and emotional) climate at the core of this deeply engaging portrait.

One of the book's happiest surprises is the story of the author's adventure reading Wilde's library. Reminiscent of Jorge Luis Borges's fictional hero who enters Cervantes's mind by saturating himself in the culture of sixteenth-century Spain, Wright employs Wilde as his own Virgilian guide to world

literature. We come to understand how reading can be an extremely sensual experience, producing a physical as well as a spiritual delight.

Published: New York : Henry Holt and Co., 2009.
Edition: 1st U.S. ed.
ISBN: 9780805089936
0805089934
Branch Call Number: 828.809 WRI
Characteristics: xiv, 370 p. :,ill. ;,25 cm.

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BethHMW
Sep 15, 2011

A literary biography of Oscar Wilde exploring the books that surrounded him and informed his development as an individual and as a writer. Wright's work is well-researched and contains elegant prose that strives to evoke the world and the books that were such a major part of Oscar Wilde's life. There are plentiful end notes in each chapter, citing sources and noting additional sources. The occasional footnotes are also highly informative, adding interesting details and asides. However, this book should not be approached strictly as a biography of Oscar Wilde. While the basic details of Wilde's life are sketched out, Wright's focus is primarily on the texts in Wilde's life, as his thesis argues that books were one of the major influences that made Oscar Wilde the man he was. While relatively well-supported throughout, Wright't tremendous emphasis on life imitating art in that many events in Wilde's life mirrored those in some of his favourite works, he carries it too far for my taste in one section citing the works as portents for Wilde's life. I was also disappointed by Wright's choice to conclude the book by citing quotations from "Wilde" from a seance in the 1920s, which is insufficiently authoritative for my tastes. However, Wright is passionate about his subject, which is evident not only in the body of the book but also in the afterword in which he glosses his experiences researching and writing the book. Not a traditionally styled biography, but Wright's exploration of the books that surrounded Wilde and his argument about the influence of these works is worth a read for those interested in the intellectual life of Oscar Wilde.

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