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the Complete Review
the complete review - books / fiction


A Die With Twenty-Six Faces

Louis Lüthi

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To purchase A Die With Twenty-Six Faces

Title: A Die With Twenty-Six Faces
Author: Louis Lüthi
Genre: Non/fiction
Written: 2019
Length: 96 pages
Availability: A Die With Twenty-Six Faces - US
A Die With Twenty-Six Faces - UK
A Die With Twenty-Six Faces - Canada
  • With numerous illustrations

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Our Assessment:

B+ : appealing little bookish volume, nicely done

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       A Die With Twenty-Six Faces is a semi-fictionalized essay about 'alphabet books' -- "that is, books with letters for titles" --, Lüthi writing about 'L.', who collects these.
       'L.' is a convenient stand-in for the author, but also otherwise an appropriate entity in this context, as:

     At present, L.'s collection of alphabet books amounts to thirty-four volumes. Two triples and five doubles means he has tracked down twenty-five letters so far, including the three that Stephen [Dedalus, in Ulysses] mentions by name: F, Q, and Q. The only letter missing is L
       The book-jacket nicely sums up and (semi-)completes the collection, with title, author, and publisher name on the thin spine; the list of the thirty-four titles of L.'s collection, by publication date, on the back cover; and, covering the entire front cover, an enormous 'L.' -- not quite enough for it to qualify as an alphabet book all its own, but at least in appearance fitting in with the fourteen other alphabetical covers which are presented, in full color, as an inset..
       The book -- taking its title from a Marcel Broodthaers' quote that is used as the epigraph, "L'alphabet est un dé à vingt-six faces" -- extends beyond L.'s own collection, considering and describing alphabet books more generally, as well as some variations beyond that.
       The focus is inspired by James Joyce's Ulysses, Stephen Dedalus imagining such 'alphabet books': "Have you read his F ? O yes, but I prefer Q. Yes, but W is wonderful. O yes, W." L. is not the only one to take inspiration from these passages and this idea, and Lüthi's discussion includes other considerations of and variations on Joyce -- including Andrew Lewis Conn's P (itself: "a crazy rewrite of Joyce's novel").
       The riffs extend beyond titles, too, to more strictly letter-focused observations, from Virginia Woolf's Mr. Ramsay, from To the Lighthouse, stuck at Q as he struggles towards reaching R (in the famous passage), to Kafka's K (and Roberto Calasso's Kafka-study of the same name, one of the titles in L.'s collection) -- introduced here by the observation that: "In 2012, the German edition of McCarthy's C was published, its title translated as K" --, to the 'V'-sign (complete with photographs, including both Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher flashing it).
       Others' variations on L.'s title-focus are also noted, from Paul Braffort's more loosely interpreted alphabetical library (found in (5.1)) (warning ! dreaded pdf format !) to that other form of literally alphabetical titles (e.g. Paul Valéry's Alphabet). And a variety of the alphabet books are considered more closely too, from Louis Zukofsky's A to Arnold Skemer's planned "twenty-six volume autobiographical novel" (two volumes of which are in L.'s collection, both autographed).
       With a generous offering of illustrations -- mainly but not only of covers and title-pages -- and approachable (though thorough, complete with helpful bibliography and index) presentation, A Die With Twenty-Six Faces is an entertainingly wide-ranging little survey-volume.
       L. mentions that in his own library the alphabet books: "are scattered throughout his shelves, immersed in an altogether different system of classification", and A Die With Twenty-Six Faces itself has the feel of a picking at stray pieces in a larger collection of literature, highlighting a few representative volumes and examples here and there with the awareness of the infinitude -- alphabetical and otherwise -- surrounding them. As such, it offers a neat (if very digressive) little look at one (or twenty-six ...) facet(s) of the enormity that is the book-world.

- M.A.Orthofer, 22 April 2019

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A Die With Twenty-Six Faces: Other books of interest under review: Alphabet books under review:
  • C by Tom McCarthy
  • F by Daniel Kehlmann
  • S., multiple authors

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About the Author:

       Louis Lüthi was born in 1980.

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© 2019 the complete review

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