November 27, 2005
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Lost Worlds: What Have We Lost, and Where Did It Go?

by Michael Bywater

A delightful, hilarious, and moving book. (I've read a slew of Bywater's bug reports on Tinderbox -- see the chapter on Gadgets in this volume -- but nothing in them led me to expect such inventive hilarity. Clearly, the bug report does not give one sufficient literary scope. Who knew?)

From the title, I'd expected a recitation of the wonderful things that people had killed off, torn down, thrown away, or otherwise neglected. Something like Douglas Adams' Last Chance To See. But Bywater's book is nothing like that.

This is a dictionary of lost things. The things are usually abstract: the phrase "old chap", the distinction between "poof" and "queer", the old Nottingham accent, the smell of Paris, Mister Golly. Others are more concrete, such as neighborhood shops (in which to leave one's belongings), handkerchiefs (to lose in those lost shops, or to fold inappropriately -- which would be common, except that being common has gotten lost, too), gloves (see handkerchiefs) Dunwich, and Finisterre. Lost Worlds is a marvelous little guide to the changes that Britain, the world, and all of us have undergone in the last generation.

Do not under any circumstances miss the story of Mickey With The Long Nose, filed here under Disney. Oh, and where did they put the last Auk, anyway? Surely they've found it by now?

Lost Worlds has a earnest, wise, and serious core, an extended meditation on what "loss" means, and therefore what really matters.