The disappearing invisible library

by John Q on July 8, 2009

My Icerocket self-search (admit it, we all do it), led me to this marvellous project. The Invisible Library is a collection of books that don’t exist, except in the pages of other books. It is physically manifesting at the Tenderpixel Library in London, but will resume invisibility after 12 July.

The connection?

The Library catalog includes Unburnt Boats by JG Quiggin, a book that is not only fictional but, for a long time imaginary, even in its own fictional universe, that of Anthony Powell’s Dance to the Music of Time. As the narrator, Nick Jenkins observes of the author (part of this quote, which I’m reproducing from memory, graces the testimonial section of my sidebar)

I long believed Quiggin to be one of the hardest working men I knew. But I gradually came to realise that his work was to be talked about rather than done, and that his chief delight was drinking cups of coffee at odd hours

It is perhaps Quigginesque, that I am writing about a book about a non-existent book by a fictional namesake, when I should be writing the book I have just announced.

Via (Londonist, via As I please



StevenAttewell 07.08.09 at 10:49 pm

Is the Invisible Library part of the Invisible College?


Salient 07.08.09 at 11:45 pm

Hm, I was anticipating that House of Leaves, Hitchhiker’s Guide, and/or Fall of the House of Usher would’ve contributed a significant chunk of the books on the list — well, 1/3 isn’t terrible. But I do like the idea of housing the Invisible Library in the House of Leaves house that’s larger on the inside than it is on the outside.

It would be fun if an author made reference to a fictional book already put forth in a different author’s work in order to imply the stories occupied the same universe. Since there’s no absolute way to ascertain the mentioned fictional book is indeed the same book in the same universe, would the Invisible Library then shelve two copies?


Quicksand 07.09.09 at 12:24 am

Sounds interesting. Can I order an invisible copy?


Cranky Observer 07.09.09 at 1:39 am

> PENROSE, Robin:
> Domestic Angels and Unfortunate Females: Woman as Sign and Commodity in
> Victorian Fiction
> The Industrious Muse: Narrativity and Contradiction in the Industrial Novel
> —from David Lodge’s Nice Work

That’s a tough one, since both of those books essentially exist within _Nice Work_ (as is typical of Lodge novels). So do they not exist, or do they exist?



Jim Harrison 07.09.09 at 1:48 am

How about “Unauthorized Leaks: Enuresis in the Late Novels of Henry James” by Luigi Albedo or “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Constipated” by Tom Stoppered.


Mo MacArbie 07.09.09 at 3:24 am

Only two Kilgore Trout titles? I could have sworn there were many more than that.


Shawn Crowley 07.09.09 at 4:41 am

Do invisible dissertations count?

Cultural Patterns of Migrant Brooklyn Apple-Pickers with Reference to the Prevalence, Utility, Adaptability and Social Standing of Ecdysiasts Within the Group-Standard Milieu.

Published as an illustrated children’s book under the title “She Stripped for Cider.”

from the author’s biography in The Unicorn Girl by Michael Kurland


Hermester Barrington 07.09.09 at 5:06 am

Dear gentles,

This is only the latest incarnation of The Invisible Library. Mr. Brian Quinette, founder and curator of the original Invisible Library, writes: “The Invisible Library is a collection of books that only appear in other books. Within the library’s catalog you will find imaginary books, pseudobiblia, artifictions, fabled tomes, libris phantastica, and all manner of books unwritten, unread, unpublished, and unfound.” The original Invisible Library was open from sometime in Spring 2001 to Summer of 2006; fortunately, archives of the catalog during that time exist at The Internet Archive Wayback Machine, with its most recent snapshot of the site dating to July 14, 2006.

After making many efforts to contact Mr. Quinette, Fayaway & I decided, with Mr. Quinette’s tacit approval, to open a branch in Malibu Lake, CA. Currently housed in the (recently rewallpapered) rec room in the basement of our geodesic dome, we hope to move these invaluable volumes to a more secure facility in the near future.

In August of 2007, I discovered that a Mr. James H. Hay has also archived this wonderful catalog; he is to be commended for his efforts!

Monsieur le_trombone created The Invisible Library, Live Journal Branch on November 10, 2007.

On August 17, 2008, Mr. Ed Park and Mr. Levi Stahl founded their own branch of The Invisible Library.

All of these are linked from the website above.

Doubt not, o archivists, but persist!


Hermester Barrington,
Chief Archivist, Law Offices of Petty, Smilodon, & Ruth (ret.)


David 07.09.09 at 5:20 am

Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. Such a library, and they are all one-offs, is introduced in the first few pages. A must read.


Zach 07.09.09 at 7:00 am

This is fantastic. Also, I will second David in wishing that some of the fictional books from Shadow of the Wind had been included. Although, I suppose it’s an odd case since Shadow of the Wind is the title of a book within the book, although it is made clear that they are not the same book.

Wow, that sentence really ran away from me but it’s 2:00 AM and i’m leaving it.


joel hanes 07.09.09 at 7:50 am


An inexcusable omission.
The Hipcrime Vocabulary by Chad Mulligan
from John Brunner’s superb, entirely real, and too-little-known Stand On Zanzibar


MikeN 07.09.09 at 8:31 am

Plus “You: Beast” by the same author.

Does the Red Book of Westmarch qualify?

How about “Men, Monks and Gamekeepers: A Study in Popular Myth”?


micah 07.09.09 at 9:04 am

I don’t think the Red Book of Westmarch qualifies; its English translation is far too well-known.

I would have liked to see at least something from the oeuvre of Richard Madoc.


ajay 07.09.09 at 10:46 am

It includes Pytheas of Marseilles, which isn’t a non-existent book but a lost one; slight problem there.
Q: should it include Book II of the Poetics? After all, this book unquestionably existed once. But a fictional version pops up in “The Name of the Rose”. Same with “Cardenio” – Shakespeare definitely wrote it, it’s lost, but it’s a plot point in one of Jasper Fforde’s books…


ingrid robeyns 07.09.09 at 11:20 am

this is a fascinating project – thanks for the link. Now that you know that this exists, you should insert a few references to nonexisting books in your soon-to-be-real book . It can’t be too hard imagining books which economists could have written but did not write… if only the course of history had been slightly different.


Richard J 07.09.09 at 11:26 am

I hate to bring the tone down, but isn’t this a plot point in one of the Sandman comics?


Ginger Yellow 07.09.09 at 11:47 am

Somewhat strange that there’s only one entry from If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller, and of course it’s arguable that IOAWNAT should itself be included.


Stuart 07.09.09 at 11:48 am

It would be fun if an author made reference to a fictional book already put forth in a different author’s work in order to imply the stories occupied the same universe.

Would the Necronomicon count?


ajay 07.09.09 at 1:44 pm

Are there crossing loops? Where a character in a novel by A is seen reading a novel by B; and a character in a (different) novel by B is seen reading a (different) novel by A?


Pete 07.09.09 at 1:59 pm

Stand On Zanzibar is brilliant, and remarkably up to date for a book written decades ago.


Doug T 07.09.09 at 2:09 pm

Would Pierre Menard’s version of Don Quixote qualify?


Phil 07.09.09 at 2:23 pm

Doug @20 – Would Pierre Menard’s version of Don Quixote qualify?


Donald A. Coffin 07.09.09 at 2:45 pm

Youse guys are all highbrows. Rex Stout (in his Nero Wolfe mysteries) frequently has authors as clients or as victims. In “Plot It Yourself,” the clients are a committee of writers who are accused of plagiarism. (Unfortunately, my copy is elsewhere, so I cannot provide author and title references.) In “The Mother Hunt,” the client is the widow of novelist Richard Valdon, among whose novels include “Never Dream Again” and “His Own Image.”


Nexxus9 07.09.09 at 3:40 pm

Good stuff, but the lack of Borges is shocking. Only one entry?


joel hanes 07.09.09 at 3:47 pm

> Stand On Zanzibar is brilliant, and remarkably up to date for a book written decades ago.

I deeply fear that we’re all about to find out the hard way that The Sheep Look Up is Brunner’s most prescient work (worldwide ecological change proves painful).


roac 07.09.09 at 3:55 pm

22: I remember that one of the books in “Plot It Yourself” was called “The Moth who Ate Peanuts.” Wolfe didn’t like it, but he did like “Why the Gods Laugh,” by Philip Somebody. The novels Stout wrote before he came up Wolfe and Archie had titles a lot like “Why the Gods Laugh.”

The other Wolfe I can think of that turns on a missing manuscript is “Murder By the Book”: “Put Not Your Trust,” by Leonard Dykes. But that one was never published, so I don’t know if it counts.

Also missing are ‘Negations” and “_______” by Enoch Soames, from “Enoch Soames” by Max Beerbohm.


roac 07.09.09 at 3:56 pm

“came up with Wolfe and Archie”


JK 07.09.09 at 4:26 pm

Given Borges’ library of Babel, wouldn’t it be the case that the Invisible Library should contain every possible work so long as it has never been published in reality?


George W 07.09.09 at 4:51 pm

Reminds me of David Foster Wallace’s riff about MTM Productions.


ajay 07.09.09 at 5:01 pm

Borges makes it clear that the LoB, though it consists only of volumes of 410 pages, contains even books longer than a single volume; it just has them spread among several volumes. Once you’ve found the volume containing pages 1-410, you have to look for the one with 411-820.

Of course, this means you could represent the library with 27 volumes, each containing a single character. Every possible book’s there, you just have to know what order to read them in.


dsquared 07.09.09 at 6:07 pm

Of course, this means you could represent the library with 27 volumes, each containing a single character

verbosity, thy name is Ajay. Just tattoo a dot on your left wrist and a dash on your right, and by looking back and forward you can read the whole lot in Morse Code.


roac 07.09.09 at 6:25 pm

This is fun.

Somewhere it is stated that Stephen Maturin wrote books. I think one of them was “On the Diseases of Seamen.” Of course, like Jack Aubrey’s battles, this may well have been an actual book by a real person — if so, would it be eligible?


Donald A. Coffin 07.09.09 at 6:40 pm

And, of course, in a very early Nero Wolfe book (“The League of Frightened Men”), Stout created Paul Chapin (who was allegedly a stand-in for a real author whose name I have forgotten), who wrote books in which characters die horrendous deaths. I don’t recall, though, if any of the titles of Chapin’s “books” were provided, although one of them was (in TLOFM) involved in an obscenity trial, and Wolfe ordered all the books from his favorite bookseller, remarking that an obscenity trial was of no use unless it promoted literature.

I also always assumed that “Why the Gods Laugh” (from “Plot It Yourself”) was a veiled reference to Stout’s own book (very real, very bad), “How Like a God.”


Donald A. Coffin 07.09.09 at 6:54 pm

This is more fun than I’ve had in a while.

Rosie Banks (wife of Bingo Little) wrote a series of novels mentioned in P. G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster books.

Frances and Richard Lockeridge’s Mr. and Mrs. North books make reference to a huge number of authors and books (ranging from a work of paleontolgy to a latter-day Thomas Wolfe/William Faulkneresque southern novel), largely because Jerry North is North Books, Inc.

And “The Man in the High Castle” is a book in Philip K. Dick’s “The Man in the High Castle.”


Salient 07.09.09 at 7:07 pm

And “The Man in the High Castle” is a book in Philip K. Dick’s “The Man in the High Castle.”

I hear Russell was working on an encyclopedic volume containing all the books that do not contain themselves…


roac 07.09.09 at 7:24 pm

Rosie Banks (wife of Bingo Little) wrote a series of novels

“Mervyn Keene, Clubman”!

The fiancee of one of Mr. Mulliner’s nephews wrote a best-seller called “Parted Ways.” Can’t remember their names.


johnrobert 07.09.09 at 7:45 pm

Not to bring the tone down even further, but my favorite imaginary book came from Heavy Metal magazine, way back in the Seventies. For a few months they ran a very funny serial named “Tex Arkana” which was an occult Western. At one point we were treated to a large panel showing the office of the town doctor, which was filled with imposing and bizarre volumes of medical lore, among which was “The Big Book of Snot.” That title has served me ever since as a shorthand symbol for all of the books in the world that I actually have no interest in reading.


roac 07.09.09 at 8:02 pm

Oops. Should have checked. “Parted Ways” (by Evangeline Pembury) is on the shelf already. As is “Offal” by Stultitia Bodwin, which has a walk-on in the same story (“Best Seller”).


joel hanes 07.09.09 at 8:33 pm

I would add A History of English Prosody by Miss Lydgate,
the enormous, untidy, and never-finished manuscript of which is an important element in
Dorothy Sayers’ wonderful Gaudy Night


Tim Wilkinson 07.09.09 at 9:54 pm

Gordon Comstock’s slender volume of verse (title undetermined?) and his work-in-progress London Pleasures spring to mind.

As does Don Quixote.

At the holiday-reading end of the spectrum, Adam Lang (Tony Blair)’s ghostwritten memoir in Robert Harris’s entertaining and oddly plausible The Ghost.


LFC 07.09.09 at 10:43 pm

Apologies if someone has already mentioned this, but The Invisible Library does not appear to include the untitled magnum opus that one of the characters is writing in Iris Murdoch’s The Book and the Brotherhood. (Perhaps b/c it is untitled?)


Jeff R. 07.10.09 at 12:02 am

Child Heist, by Richard Stark.

Also, Telemachus Sneezed, although I can’t recall who the fictional author of that one was supposed to be.


y 07.10.09 at 12:40 am

Let’s not forget William Ashbless.


joel hanes 07.10.09 at 1:14 am

The Giant Rat of Sumatra by John. D. Watson, M.D.


David 07.10.09 at 1:16 am

Ditto re comments on “Stand on Zanzibar” and “The Sheep Look Up.” To which should also be added “The Shockwave Rider.”


Martha Bridegam 07.10.09 at 1:36 am

Gordon Comstock’s poetry book is called “Mice.” Ten years ago, when was a good conversation, resident classicist Tom Deveson identified it as a reference to a joke in Horace. See



roac 07.10.09 at 1:58 am

Just got around to reading the whole list (Maturin’s “Diseases of Seamen” is in there). I found this:

LAMONT, Antony: Rayon Violet, Baltimore Chop (“they both got crucified, but then slowly he started to get a reputation”), Synthetic Ink (pub. Crescent and Chattaway), Three Deuces
—from Gilbert Sorrentino’s Mulligan Stew and Odd Number

I haven’t read Sorrentino, but I understand that this is the very same Antony Lamont who appears, and writes books, in “At Swim-Two-Birds.” If so, isn’t that a remarkable achievement for an imaginary author, to write imaginary books in real books by two different people?


Phil 07.10.09 at 7:07 am

Perhaps not that remarkable – Sorrentino is published by the Dalkey Archive Press.


ajay 07.10.09 at 7:50 am

On the subject of Robert Harris, I suppose “The Diaries of Adolf Hitler”? Would they count, or are they fake but existent, rather than imaginary?

verbosity, thy name is Ajay. Just tattoo a dot on your left wrist and a dash on your right, and by looking back and forward you can read the whole lot in Morse Code.

Very clever, Mr Davies, but not quite clever enough. First, you’d need to tattoo a space somewhere as well – an unbroken stream of dots and dashes isn’t readable Morse. (You could just tattoo a 0 and a 1 and read it all in binary, I suppose). And second, I can’t read Morse.


Peter Erwin 07.10.09 at 9:37 am

The Assassin’s Tragedy, a previously unknown play by Christopher Marlowe, plays an important role in John M. Ford’s The Scholars of Night.


Tim Wilkinson 07.10.09 at 11:09 am

@48 – in the single-minded pursuit of semiotic parsimony, why not go for unary rather than binary? I suppose it would be like Roman numerals before V etc were introduced.


Salient 07.10.09 at 1:13 pm

@48 – in the single-minded pursuit of semiotic parsimony, why not go for unary rather than binary?

Where the only distinguishing characteristic is the length of the string of characters? Oh, man. If you think War and Peace is long now


Shawn Crowley 07.11.09 at 5:17 am

“The Courier’s Tragedy” by Richard Wharfinger in Pynchon’s the Crying of Lot 49.


David 07.11.09 at 7:53 pm

Or, for that matter, the whole series of “Chums of Chance” boys adventure books in Against the Day.


Dan 07.11.09 at 10:52 pm

Wikipedia, of course, has this covered.


Salient 07.12.09 at 1:06 am

“Wikipedia, of course, has this covered.”

This teaches me that James Branch Cabell is awesome. An abridged list of books that truly ought to really exist, invented by JBC:

* The Terrible and Marvellous History of Manuel Pig-Tender That Afterwards Was Named Manuel the Redeemer

* System of Worshipping a Girl

* Le Cocu Rouge (The Red Cuckold; disputed attribution)

* Tentative Restoration of the Lost Books of Elephantis


John Desmond 07.12.09 at 4:37 am

Salutations, gentlefolk,

I’m surprised that Jack McDevitt’s short story, _The Fort Moxie Branch_ – – has yet gone unmentioned.

‘Tis worth reading.

Yours, John Desmond


lemuel pitkin 07.13.09 at 3:25 am

They also left out Yankee in a Skullcap: My Day and Night in the East Bronx and The Moment of Pff: An Urban Boyhood, both by Shmul Klein, from Grace Paley’s “In Time Which Makes a Monkey of Us All.”

Does anybody read Paley anymore?


John Quiggin 07.13.09 at 6:40 am

Over at my blog, a different kind of imaginary book was mentioned, Keith Windschuttle’s The Fabrication of Australian History, Volume 2.

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