This week we’re going meta and discussing books about books. Now of course there are many literary essays that address the content of specific books but what I am referring to are works of fiction and non-fiction that delve into books in their tangible, physical form, as well as their literary content.
Books read in parks on picnic rugs or high in the Alps of Switzerland (as in the case of Johanna Spyri’s ‘Heidi’ who, though slow to gain the skill of reading, eventually delighted in books and read aloud to others such as her grandfather and her friend Peter’s grandmother), books read in cosy book clubs (as they were in Karen Joy Fowler’s ’The Jane Austin Book Club’ and Liz Byrski’s ‘A Month Of Sundays’), books shared in small, secretive exchanges (such as those read to Hanna by Michael Berg and the children of Auschwitz in Bernhard Schlink’s ‘The Reader’ or the book stolen from gravediggers that Hans teaches Liesel to read from in Marcus Zusak’s ‘The Book Thief’), those discussed by covert groups (like the after-curfew literary club in Mary Ann Shaffer’s ‘The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society’), banned books read in solitude (such as Guy Montag's frenzied night of reading in Ray Bradbury’s ‘Fahrenheit 451’) or books read peacefully snuggled up in blankets or comfy chairs with warm drinks nearby. ‘The Bookish Life Of Nina Hill’, for instance, is a work of fiction by Abbi Waxman that features an avid bibliophile who works in a book store, turns down dates in favour of home reading time and socialises by attending Jane Austin movie marathons and local bar quizzes where she specialises in the quiz category of books. That sounds like too many books you might say, but Nina’s bookish lifestyle sounds wonderfully wholesome and fulfilling to us here at Dorothy Dickens.
Nina is not the only bookseller to grace the pages of books either. Norwegian journalist Asne Seierstad’s ‘The Bookseller of Kabul’ is a non-fiction work that traces the history of the Khan family bookshop under Soviet and Taliban regimes and the way it prospered under periods of liberation, while British author Shaun Bythell has penned a series of amusing memoirs that chart his own experience as a bookshop owner and bookseller. ‘Confessions Of a Bookseller’, ‘Diaries Of A Bookseller’ and ‘The Seven Kinds Of People Who Work In Bookshops’ are sure to offer some insights and giggles and a chance to spot yourselves as bookshop customers amidst the pages.
And one shouldn’t forget private and public libraries as an appropriate backdrop for books about books either. Libraries form the focus of books such as Matt Haig’s motivational novel ‘The Midnight Library’, Janet Skeslien Charles’s historical novel ‘The Paris Library’ and Haruki Murakami’s curiously illustrated novella ‘The Strange Library’. Meanwhile Agatha Christie gets in on the act by establishing the library as the literal scene of the crime in her crime novel ‘The Body In The Library’.
Speaking of death and situations unsolved, a particularly heartbreaking scene in a book about books for me was the post-death arrival of Mr Brundish’s copy of Ray Bradbury’s freshly published ‘Dandelion Wine’ in Penelope Fitzgerald’s ‘The Bookshop’. What could be more tragic than the death of a man who stood for art, literature and culture, the small town of Hardborough’s crusader against censorship and defender against philistines, not to mention also knowing that a first edition copy of of a great novelist’s work would remained untouched and unread by it’s rightful owner. So deeply was I moved by the scene that upon reading it I promptly ordered my own copy of ‘Dandelion Wine’ and devoured it’s dreamy pages of nostalgia and youth on the character’s behalf.
Books offer wisdom, truthfulness and grounding or sometimes fantasy, transcendence and escape. They can make us laugh, cry, ponder, fear, regret, hope or dream. We can fall in love with characters or despise them. We can finish a book in a day, a month or leave it forever unconquered. We can leave books pristine in treasured collections, once read and stored neatly on shelves , sold or given away to others, or dog-earred, creased and stained, re-read a thousand times and cherished or carelessly discarded. Not every book touches us but few of us can claim that of all the book we’ve read, we have never been left unchanged, for as the reader molds their books so too books mold their readers.
What’s your favourite book about books? What books do you believe influenced your life the most? When was the last time you lost yourself in a read? For these and other great titles why not check out our great range of fiction and non-fiction in-store.
Relevant Titles In-Store:
The Body In The Library - Agatha Christie
The Bookish Life Of Nina Hill- Abbi Waxman
The Bookseller of Kabul - Asne Seierstad
The Bookshop - Penelope Fitzgerald
The Book Thief - Marcus Zusak
The Confessions Of A Bookseller - Shaun Bythell
Dandelion Wine - Ray Bradbury
The Diary Of A Bookseller - Shaun Bythell
Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury
The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society - Mary Ann Schaffer
Heidi - Joanna Spyri
The Jane Austin Book Club - Karen Joy Fowler
Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
The Midnight Library - Matt Haig
A Month Of Sundays - Liz Bryski
The Paris Library - Janet Skeslien Charles
Reading Lolita In Tehran - Azar Nafisi
The Reader - Bernhard Schlink
The Seven Types Of People You Find In Bookshops - Shaun Bythell
The Strange Library - Haruki Murakami
Happy Reading from the Team at Dorothy Dickens Books and Music!