I’m a sucker for books about books. There are two on my horizon right now – Andrew Taylor’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.
Delving 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 a 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.