an unofficial Alasdair Gray website
The Book of Prefaces (2000)
Gray's ambitious Anthology of Prefaces finally came into the world in the year 2000, after 16 years and a change of title. The work had been so confidently predicted for so long that several books on the subject of collecting modern first editions had listed it as published in 1989 and gave suggested values. Fortunately, for a project so long in gestation, it was (on the whole) very well received by the critics. The book was worth waiting for. Not only can it be used as a genuinely interesting collection of work by great writers, but the glosses written by Gray and others are always worth reading (and usually opinionated) and, if that wasn't enough, Gray adds a series of essays that present the history of English literature in a pretty convincing neo-Marxist socio-political framework.
Endpapers, front and back, are beautifully decorated in black ink on blue paper with the same illustration: elements taken from Lanark and the hardback dust jacket of Old Negatives. A man ponders his own head on a board, a woman gives birth, both overseen by a crowned skeletal Death, either side of these figures are a list of alternatives (e.g. Commonwealth v Empire, Co-operate v Compete, Freedom v Force), framing it all are the two giant nudes from the cover of Old Negatives. The blue boards are embossed in gold (front, back and spine) with the flags of England, Scotland, Ireland and the USA. Front and back also have the quote 'Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation'.
The dust jacket consists of thirty-two ink portraits of writers whose prefaces are featured in the book. The front flap has a self portrait of Gray, with thistle horns, above the caption 'Our Editor Confronts Critics': there follows the Author's Blurb ('Only the rich and illiterate can afford to ignore our anthology. With this in their lavatory everyone else can read nothing but newspaper supplements and still seem educated.'). The back flap has the same self portrait, but from the rear, above the caption 'Our Editor Evades the Critics': there follows the Publisher's Blurb ('This book is NOT a monster created by a literary Baron Frankenstein.').
Inside, the book is heavily illustrated, including 43 ink portraits of some of the key contributors to the book. Throughout, both black and red ink are used. Within the 176 prefaces small typeface in red ink climbs the margins, giving the book the look of a Bible. In his Advertisement, Gray gives four main reasons for enjoying reading his prefaces, one of which is 'Seeing Great Writers in a Huff'.
Some copies of the 1st hardback edition included not one but two erratum slips, both introduced in rhyme and printed in red and black ink to match the volume itself. The first, entitled 'An Appeal to the Reader', goes thus:
When this book was printed and boundThe second, entitled 'Editor's Postscript To The First List Of Errors', goes thus:
Twenty-two errors were found.
The volume is therefore defective
Unless YOU supply a corrective.
Please take a pen in your fist
And mend these mistakes that we missed.
I regret and deplore
that I've found fourteen more
and probably you
will find several too.
for the book were written by:
Christopher Boyce (Sprat and Cowley) ; Angus Calder (Pope, Cook and Tennyson) ; Allan Cameron (Winstanley, Pope and Hume) ; Susan Castillo (Hawthorne, Stowe and Longfellow) ; Bruce Charlton (Malthus) ; Robert Crawford (Ramsay and Burns) ; Michael Donnelly (Paine) ; Marcella Evaristi (Austen and Wilde) ; Janice Galloway (Brönte C. and Eliot) ; Robert Grant (Mandeville) ; Archie Hind (Jefferson) ; James Kelman (Berkeley and Dickens) ; A L Kennedy (Sterne and Darwin) ; Elspeth King (Owen R.) ; Frank Kuppner (Carroll and Hopkins) ; Bruce Leeming (Franklin, Bentham and Mill) ; Tom Leonard (Midsummer Cushion, Anon) ; Liz Lochhead (Shelley M.) ; Andrew Lothian (Coke, Blackstone, Stair, Thackeray and Mayhew) ; Carl MacDougall (Swift, Webster, Macaulay and Ruskin) ; Bernard MacLaverty (Synge) ; Aonghas MacNeacail (Hardy) ; Willy Maley (Wycherley and Congreve) ; Catriona Montgomery (Herrick) ; Edwin Morgan (Dryden,Wordsworth, Poe and Whitman) ; Stephen Mulrine (Urquart) ; George Orwell (Smollett) ; David Petrie (Marx) ; Adam Piette (Stevenson and Owen W.) ; Paul Henderson Scott (Smith, Scott and Galt) ; Roger Scrutton (Burke) ; Iain Crichton Smith (Keats and Conrad) ; Alan Spence (Vaughan and Traherne) ; Virginia Woolf (Behn) ; Duncan Wu (Paley, Coleridge, Shelley P., Arnold and Browning R.)
BUY THIS BOOK