The Book of Prefaces, by Alasdair Gray, Bloomsbury, 640 pages, $24.95 softbound.
This is an absolutely amazingly delightful book. Gray is often called Scotland's grand old man of letters -- a prodigious novelist and scholar. He put in 16 years on this work, which is a compilation of prefaces and other explanatory documents published about and with a book, play or work of poetry. His definition of preface is generous; he includes, for example, the spoken prologues that open five of Shakespeare's plays. The works range from Beowulf to the poems of Wilfred Owen published in 1920. To them all, he adds observations -- many his own, others contributed by other distinguished writers --that to me are the glory of this extraordinary achievement.