Books about Books: bibliophile heaven

I’m a sucker for books about books. There are two on my horizon right now – Andrew Cover imageTaylor’s Books That Changed the World and Gabrielle Zevin’s The Collected Works of A. J. Fikry, set in a failing bookshop. I even kick-started my reading year with a novel called Books in which Charlie Hill lampoons everyone, from publishers to booksellers, literary editors to authors, bloggers (how dare he!) to publicists and adds a swipe at performance artists for good measure in a Jasper Fforde meets Black Books kind of satire. Mr Fforde’s own The Eyre Affair which saw the first outing of Thursday Next fighting the good fight against Acheron Hades who is kidnapping characters from books and holding them to ransom had me chuckling my way through the first few days of a holiday in Slovenia much to H’s annoyance. Then he got his hands on it, and I wished I’d brought the second instalment. One of my 2013 favourites for its sheer invention and for reducing me to surprised tears with its revelation of the puzzle’s solution was Robin Sloan’s Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore which playfully meshes the old reading world that most of us still inhabit with new technology in a quirky edge of your seat story of bookish folk. Then there’s Sophie Divry’s The Library of Unrequited Love in which a librarian finds a young man who has been locked in overnight – surely a bibliophile’s dream – and treats him to a passionate, if slightly scolding, soliloquy about her colleagues, the Dewey Decimal system and bookish conspiracies while unwittingly spilling the beans about her yearning for a young researcher.

Cover imageDelving back further into reading past, Sheridan Hay’s The Secret of Lost Things is a booky highlight. It’s set in the Arcade, a rambling New York bookshop – suspiciously like the legendary Strand – staffed by a bunch of eccentrics who are joined by a young woman fresh from Tasmania. When she opens a letter offering a ‘lost’ Melville manuscript the fun begins. I’m sure some of you will remember Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind, a bestseller set in Barcelona’s ‘cemetery for lost books’ where, aged ten, Daniel finds the book that will intrigue him, bedevil him and ultimately shape his life – The Shadow of the Wind by Julián Carfax. On his sixteenth birthday, Daniel sees a stranger smoking a cigarette from his balcony, instantly recognising a scene from Carfax’s novel. Sadly, another bestseller – Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief narrated by Death who tells the story of Liesel, the nine-year-old eponymous book thief whose family has been taken to a concentration camp – didn’t quite do it for me although now I’m quite unable to remember why.

There are vast numbers of non-fiction books about books and I’m sure you’re becoming aCover image little weary of the subject but I can’t finish without mentioning Lewis Buzbee’s memoir The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, so wonderful that Tetbury’s excellent independent bookshop borrowed the name. If you’ve ever worked in a bookshop – or shopped in one – this book’s for you.

There are many, many more books about books, some I’ve left out so as not to bore on and some I should have read but haven’t got around to – Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Bookshop is a glaring omission – and quite a few more I know nothing about, I’m sure. Given that there’s no such thing as too many recommendations, let me know what your favourite books about books are.

 

10 thoughts on “Books about Books: bibliophile heaven

  1. Rebecca Foster

    Hi Susan, I also adore books about books. A few of my favourite nonfiction takes are Sixpence House by Paul Collins (a quirky memoir about moving to Hay-on-Wye, the Book Town in Wales), Anne Fadiman’s essay collections, Diana Athill’s memoirs of the publishing world, Nick Hornby’s books of reading diaries (collected as Ten Years in the Tub), and The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe. I also recently enjoyed By the Book: A Reader’s Guide to Life, by Ramona Koval.

    Reply
    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      Hi Rebecca, Definitely a fan of the Athill, Hornby and Fadiman books. Perhaps I should write a post on non-fiction books about books. Thanks for the tip about The End of Your Life Book Club and By the Book – two more to add to the ever-expanding wish list.

      Reply
  2. Rachel

    I bought The Yellow Lighted Bookshop in Heffers in Cambridge a few years ago for the simple reason that it looked so beautiful and I loved the title. And when I read it I was very glad I had bought it. It was displayed all on its own on a shelf on the stairs and I had to have it. That would never happen on Amazon. That same visit I spent a small fortune in the crime section simply because the bookseller there was so enthusiastic and knowledgeable.

    Reply
    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      And I bought it because you raved about it! Spot on about enthusiastic booksellers. Lists will only get narrower with out them.

      Reply
  3. Annecdotist

    Hi, Susan, I’ve recently been reading How to Be a Heroine, a kind of memoir in which Samantha Ellis revisits a lot of her favourite novels from childhood and early adulthood. In some of the hype about it it’s pitched as a battle between Jane Eyre and Cathy Earnshaw, but it goes a lot deeper than that IMO, and coming to my blog in time for international women’s day on 8 March.

    Reply
    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      I like the sound of that, Anne. I’ll look out for your post which I’m sure will be more interesting the the hype.

      Reply
  4. Alex

    Oh, do read ‘The Bookshop’, Susan, it was my first Fitzgerald and the reason I fell in love with her writing – although it is not a happy tale and even more miserable when you realise that it was based on her own firsthand experience. Like you I’m a sucker for any books about books. I very nearly bought ‘The Library of Unrequited Love’ when in Waterstones the other day but somehow it didn’t quite make the pile – possibly because adding even such a slim volume as that would have caused a disaster of tipping proportions. Like you ‘The Book Thief’ didn’t quite do it for me but I love Jasper Fforde. Have you met the Unitary Authority of Warrington Cat yet? Absolutely my favourite character.

    Reply
    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      I know, I really must get around to it – although perhaps best read when the weather improves if its unhappy read. I haven’t read The Warrington Cat yet, either. May be it would counterbalence the Fitzgerald sadness.

      Reply
  5. litlove

    The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop is a book I’ve been meaning to read for years, and Mr Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore is one that also caught my eye recently. Ooh how tempting – I do feel book lust coming on.

    Reply
    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      I think the YLB is particularly enjoyable if you’ve worked in a bookshop, as I know that you have, and Mr Penumbra exceeded the sky-high expectations I had of it.

      Reply

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