Review: Rob Doyle’s Autobibliography is a reader’s book and a writer’s dream
“You want to know about a person, look at their bookshelves”, is a phrase my mother frequently says to me. Well, Rob Doyle has read 52 books in 52 weeks, reviewed them… and then written because of them.
Rob Doyle without any doubt is a bibliophile. His new book, Auto-bibliography is very much a testament to just that. It is a readers’ book and a writer’s dream.
No genre has been overlooked, from science fiction great Phillip K. Dick to the philosophical writings of Marcus Aurelius. Doyle has used the worldwide pandemic to create a wonderful compilation of his reads and recollections, that he cites with charming and intellectual delight.
He reviews books by Martin Amis, Max Frisch, Carl Jung, Valerie Solanas, Norman Mailer, Angela Carter, Michel Houellebecq, Sigmund Freud, Virginia Woolf, among many more esteemed, and noted writers with ease and elegance giving brilliant insights into the works. He wants you to pick up those books if you haven’t already, pour a giant glass of wine so you can join him in discussing ideas and philosophy, particularly if it’s Friedrich Nietzsche. Then as swiftly as he does this, Doyle gives you an honest glimpse into his life. These miniature conversations easily drop on the pages, effortlessly he picks you up, entertains you with more details about his adventures from Berlin to San Francisco. Before you know you’ve drunk all the wine, covered a dozen books, and a bunch of European destinations.
I found myself eager to absorb the reviews to get to the good stuff by halfway through the book; to be entertained and intrigued by what Doyle had done, captivated by his writings. Even by Doyle’s admission he never finished and discarded some of his writings. I would hope that he would go back and revisit some of these writings. Doyle’s words are touching, filled with emotion, and brutally honest. Some passages will strike a chord with us having been confined to our homes during the worldwide pandemic more than some works of the sage authors that he reviews. The writings here ebb and flow with despair and hope, he takes you on a tour of his history, a little heartbreak, a psychedelic bookshop in Berlin, his friendship with Geoff Dyer to lonesome thoughts on a Rosslare beach view. There were times I found myself endeared, enthralled, and smiling to myself at Doyle’s self-deprecating style and humour.
While Doyle tackles some big names in literature, I genuinely cower at the weight of some of the 52 chosen books and his year-long challenge. At college, I lost the will to live at some of the selected books we had to study (Ahem, Bronte with Jane Eyre… why just why Dear writer would Jane marry a man who shoved his wife in the attic?), I admire and horrifically recoiled at the sheer gravity of Herman Melville; Moby-Dick; or, The Whale. It made me pour another glass of wine, grab a pen, and list those I knew had read it – Rob Doyle, my father throughout several summer holidays and that guy whose name somewhat alludes me.
I particularly loved Doyle’s writing extract straight after Melville’s review, which I am going to call ‘that’. Those of us who are staring at the approaching forty-year-old birthday will find so much of it ringing true and to me was probably the most poignant writing that Doyle shares. Laced with some regret, some serious stock-taking of who he is. It gave the greatest insight into what it means to be 37-year-old Rob Doyle, the writer and the man. I wonder if he was aware of his own philosophical or therapeutic glimpses of himself while he wrote this section, and how impacting it is for a fellow writer to feel the anguish in his admissions. ‘That’ seemed to be the depths of Doyle’s heart and beyond his thoughts, ‘that’ is believing “art can be a kind of redemption.” I hope writing ‘that’ gave Doyle a sense of freedom.
For the readers among you, then understand that this bookworm knows his stuff and you should be consulting him regularly, or better yet just buy Autobibliography as your Christmas guidebook for your own 52 book challenge for 2022.
His previous book, Threshold, has now been added to my own Christmas gift list and I know my copy of Auto-bibliography is likely to be whipped away by my mother, whose bookshelves probably rival Doyle’s for her own consultation and comparison of notes.
Rob Doyle is the perfect bookshop companion; he will give you a completely concise review and share why he suggested the book in the first place, and it made me genuinely excited about the prospect. So, Rob Doyle, where shall I start while I wait for you to write another book? I’ll get the wine; you bring the literature.
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