At the end of Blog #2: Who remembers Trixie Belden, I mentioned two books that came to mind as inspiring me to travel. Last time I talked about Michener’s The Drifter’s. The other was Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind. It is one of my all-time favorite books. Really, it belongs in the category of “books about books” or “gothic novels”, but it crosses over into travel for me because I have yearned to visit Barcelona since first reading it. And I’ve read it three times now! It is a book within a book, a book about books and a wonderfully written story with diverse and intriguing characters. Just writing this makes me want to start reading it again.
Another of my favorite “books about books” is A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Cosse. The love of good books is woven into an exciting mystery and tragic love story. I couldn’t ask for a more wonderful combination. I loved this book. I’ve read it twice and think it may be about time for another pass! It also contains one of my favorite monologues about fiction. I shared this partial quote in Blog #1: Calling All Bibliophiles:
“My grandfather left me a great deal more – a passion for literature and something additional, fundamental: the conviction that literature is important….Novels don’t contain only exceptional situations, life or death choices, or major ordeals; there are also everyday difficulties, temptations, ordinary disappointments; and, in response, every human attitude, every type of behavior, from the finest to the most wretched….There are grown-ups who will say no, that literature is not life, that novels teach you nothing. They are wrong. Literature informs, instructs, it prepares you for life.” (pg. 150)
I’ve shared this passage many times over the years, maybe as a way to justify my incessant reading, but also as a way to express the passion I have for reading and writing. And to know that I’m not alone. For so many years, growing up in a family of non-readers, I felt like Roald Dahl’s Matilda: out of place and misunderstood. In Cosse’s quote I feel a kinship with Matilda and all the other lovers of fiction and bookstores out there.
And then there is Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, a high school read that terrifies me to this day. Imaging not only a world without books, but also one in which thoughtful dialogue, critical thinking and the natural world are eschewed leaves me feeling more than unsettled. As horrific as it sounds, it makes me relate to the character of the old women who chooses to be burned alive along with her books. I can’t say this was an enjoyable book to me at the time, but I knew it was an important one.
Another book on my list of “books about books” is Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale. Like The Shadow of the Wind, it falls into the gothic (I feel a future blog emerging!) as well as suspense genres. Not to reveal too much, but it addresses issues of loss, identity and healing. Again, a great combination for me. I consider it another favorite in this category.
Some others I’ve enjoyed include Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian, Charlie Lovett’s The Bookman’s Tale, Gabriele Zevin’s The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, Shaffer and Barrows’ The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Alan Bennet’s The Uncommon Reader, Robin Sloan’s Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore, Markus Zusaks The Book Thief; Nina George’s The Little Paris Bookshop and The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler. (Ah, yes, Jane Austen. I have much to say there. I think that will have to wait until next time…)
Clearly, I seek out books about books and bookstores so if you have your own pick, I’d love to hear about it. What is your favorite “book about books”?