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Built of Books: How Reading Defined the Life of Oscar Wilde
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Built of Books: How Reading Defined the Life of Oscar Wilde

3.92  ·  Rating Details ·  145 Ratings  ·  24 Reviews

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 th

Hardcover, 384 pages
Published April 27th 2009 by Henry Holt and Co. (first published September 4th 2008)
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Richard Derus
Sep 03, 2010 Richard Derus rated it liked it
How very much I loved the idea of this book! I can't imagine why no one ever thought to analyze the content of Wilde's character through the lens of his library before. I think it's brilliant!

I like the author's delicate, clear sentences, leavened with a good dose of irony, in the best Wildean tradition. He is forced to rely on supposition and probability in many places in this a volume came into the subject's library, what the effect of a particular book probably was on Wilde absent
Jan 15, 2013 James rated it liked it
Another book that was good enough to make me wish it had been a little better. I had a girlfriend, once, who thought I should spend less time reading and more time experiencing 'real' life. I didn't cut down on my reading, but, I suppose, I reluctantly agreed with her until a friend with whom I'd shared her disapproval asked me, "How is reading less 'real' than any other human experience?" Yeah, huh? So, when I heard about Built of Books I thought the conceit was an exceptionally promising appro ...more
Nesa Sivagnanam
Aug 29, 2012 Nesa Sivagnanam rated it it was amazing
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 significa
Aug 13, 2013 Sandi rated it really liked it
A light biblio-biographic of Wilde's book-filled life. It maps his influences from school days to death, and, in so doing, is a far more interesting biography than those that just focus on his homosexuality, or the injustice of his case. In my opinion--we are interested in the man because of what he wrote, and so a biography of his literary influences seem more apropos than other feature of his character.

But that's not to say the Wright's narrative is devoid of these details or is so dry that he
Jan 18, 2013 Rozonda rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The concept of this book attracted me from the beginning and I have to say, it has not disappointed me in any way. As a book lover and an Oscar Wilde admirer,I found the idea of a biography of Wilde which centered on books and how they defined his life simply wonderful.

And it is indeed wonderfully executed: far from being pedantic, the pace is agile and at the same time the narration is deep, revealing so many aspects of Wilde through every book he read, reviewed, loved or hated; his beloved Gr
Jul 05, 2010 Cari rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Hardcore Wilde fans/book nerds
An interesting, original approach to biography that wasn't nearly the heavy read I was expecting. Unfortunately, the author makes a lot of jumps from the material to what may have motivated Wilde, and it seems that this is more a biography of the author's romantic idea of Wilde, rather than the man himself. Nevertheless, an easy, entertaining read that's simultaneously intriguing for Wilde fans.
Jun 01, 2009 Bradley rated it really liked it
"Hermes was the Olympian god of orators, wits and poets, and the inventor the lyre. He was also the deity of liars of thieves. In most legends he is depicted as a cheeky trickster, who becomes embroiled in scrapes out of a love of mischief and extricates himself from them through marvelous eloquence, a prodigious gift for telling stories and a genius for playing the lyre. This is the god whose shadow was cast across Wilde's writing-desk."
Jul 30, 2009 Steven rated it really liked it
Interesting look at the books in Wilde's library and how they impacted his work, life, etc.
Jul 15, 2013 James rated it really liked it
I finished this last night.

I’ve come across a number of books about the libraries of the famous, though not enough to suit me. They usually contain a catalogue of the books, along with additional biographical, historical, bibliographical, and analytic texts ranging from brief introductions to lengthy, detailed chapters.

Sometimes you might in these books a discussion of the more important items in the collection, be they finely-bound editions, association copies, or books with annotations by the
Oct 07, 2016 Corey rated it it was amazing
My sister recommended this book to me, and I'm glad she did. I didn't know much about Oscar Wilde outside of the usual stuff, and really wasn't all that interested in another biography. But to trace his life and his ups and downs through all the books he read? Yes please! It was a very good book and I'd highly recommend it!
May 19, 2009 Bonnie rated it liked it
The main point of this book (that I gathered) was that Wilde had a very unique approach to readership, that in turn heavily influenced both his view of the world and his authorial identity. For Wilde, one of the most important things about a book was the aesthetic appeal. The irony of Built of Books is that, in my opinion, it had almost none. The author was dealing with incredibly interesting content, but I found the presentation and organization to be incredibly boring. It didn't pick up for me ...more
James Smith
Aug 04, 2010 James Smith rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Bibliophiles and fans of Oscar Wilde
Recommended to James by: New York Times Book Review
This is the sort of book that Wilde afficianados, like myself, will gobble up. But Wright's premise/conceit is of interest beyond that: he considers the way in which Wilde's work and persona were the product of his (voracious) reading from his boyhood, reminding us especially that Wilde was a first-rate classicist. Thus we'll fail to understand Wilde if we fail to appreciate his indebtedness to the Greeks (as well as Pater's revival of "Platonic" love). A really delightful read. And Wright inclu ...more
Jul 05, 2010 Murphy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was an extremely fun book. The author Thomas Wright tries to read all of the books that Oscar Wilde had in his library and then he explains how these titles effected Wilde's life and work. It's a fun idea-that the books we are attracted to reflect a bit of our personality. Oscar did not write a diary but he did write marginalia in his books so those writings really show what he thought of the book and are memories of what was going on in his life at the time.
Jun 09, 2011 Emmett rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Such a lovely, lovely book. It was enjoyable, while reading, to note common favourites shared with one of my favourite authors, and to discover new ones. This is a different take on biography, and I thoroughly appreciate the angle from which that author took to narrate Wilde's life and the influences which shaped him.
Janet Windeguth
The only book I’ve read by Wilde was The Portrait of Dorian Grey, but it was very interesting to hear Wright discuss the rest of Wilde’s work. Not being familiar with Victorian literature as a whole, I had never heard of most of the books Wilde read. I knew a couple Dickens, and some Matthew Arnold and that was about it. My next goal is to go find a copy of Wilde’s Salome.
Margaret Sankey
Jul 23, 2011 Margaret Sankey rated it it was amazing
By reconstructing the personal library of Oscar Wilde, tragically auctioned after his arrest, the author painstakingly traces all of his literary influences, from Irish folks tales, Greek poetry and trashy 19th century Gothic novels. It makes me wonder, as I post my own reading list on Facebook, what you can tell about people from what they read.
Kitty Moore
Jan 20, 2016 Kitty Moore rated it it was amazing
This is hands-down one of the best biographies I have ever read. Meticulously researched but just imaginative enough to be very engaging. The biographer's feelings about Wilde resonate so strongly with my own that it was, at times, a surprisingly intense experience. Absolutely amazing.
Aug 07, 2009 Ellen added it
Shelves: want-to-read
As seen in the New York Times.
Jul 08, 2014 Kaethe rated it did not like it
There's nothing wrong with it, but the idea paled pretty quickly for me. Not a big reader of classics, I just didn't care too much about all of Wilde's classic textbooks.
David Steven
Jan 16, 2017 David Steven rated it it was amazing
An intellectual biography of Oscar Wilde that tells his story through the books that influenced him. One of the most engaging biographies I've read recently.
Stephanie Reynolds
May 30, 2009 Stephanie Reynolds rated it really liked it
Can't wait to start this book! I learned about it through the Post's book review section and hope that it is as good as it sounds.
Feb 14, 2016 Aileen rated it really liked it
For Book Riot's 2016 Read Harder Challenge, task 6- read a biography. (6/24 completed)
The Literary Chick
Jan 21, 2014 The Literary Chick rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
Novel idea, building a biography of a man through his books, set into the context of a biography. Heartbreaking when Oscar Wilde was broken into one Sebastian Melmouth.
XESCIE rated it really liked it
Jun 16, 2009
Grainne rated it liked it
Jun 14, 2009
Nikki rated it liked it
Jul 21, 2013
Steven Eldredge
Steven Eldredge rated it really liked it
Sep 27, 2014
Ena Rusnjak Markovic
Ena Rusnjak Markovic rated it it was amazing
Jul 09, 2010
Patricia Cherry
Patricia Cherry rated it it was amazing
Jan 13, 2015
Sheikh Tajamul
Sheikh Tajamul rated it really liked it
Oct 27, 2016
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“When Wilde composed his works he surrounded himself with books. A friend remembered him writing a poem ‘with a botanical work in front of him from which he . . . [selected] the names of flowers most pleasing to the ear to plant in his garden of verse’.5 Aubrey Beardsley’s caricature of Wilde, ‘Oscar Wilde at Work’, shows the author at his desk surrounded by mountains of books.” 0 likes
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