Chocolate chip cookies have their national day of celebration and so do love, yoyos, and handwriting. And bookworms do to. This past Saturday, August 9th was National Book Lovers Day, but fellow bookworms will agree the day is worth celebrating the whole year through!
For me, as I suspect for some of you, every day is a book loving day, but in honor of the official designation, here are 10 books about books. Let's consider it a starter list...
"How Reading Changed My Life" by Anna Quindlen
To read Quindlen's memoir about being a lifelong reader is to find a friend between the pages of a book, a fellow reader (i.e. traveler) through books. Both a novelist and former journalist, Quindlen writes with authority and verve about the bookish life. It's a slim volume that can be read in one pleasurable sitting while still tapping into what are, for many readers, core truths and experiences.
As evidence, consider that the book is the source of endlessly quoted (and re-quoted ad infinitum nuggets of wisdom about books and the reading life. Just see if you don't recognize these gems:
"In books I have traveled, not only to other worlds, but into my own. I learned who I was and who I wanted to be, what I might aspire to, and what I might dare to dream about my world and myself."
"There are some of us who have built not a life but a self, based largely on our hunger for what are series of scratches on a piece of paper."
"Books are the plane, and the train, and the road. They are the destination, and the journey. They are home."
"Lost for Words" by Edward St. Aubyn
St. Aubyn's satirical novel is a send-up of a well-known British literary award and revolves around several of the players involved: an author whose publisher accidentally sends the wrong book to the prize committee, a judge mired in scandal, and a writer spurned from the short list and eager for revenge.
The plot can best be described as madcap with an underlying tenderness at its core, especially as regards the characters, whose story-propelling flaws are treated gently, and the affectionate if at times ridiculous portrait of those who believe in the power of books. I can only hope St. Aubyn had half as much fun writing as I had reading it.
"A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship, and the Things That Really Matter" by William Deresiewicz
Deresiewicz's memoir was part of my 2013 Year of Jane Austen, my personal celebration of the 200th anniversary of "Pride and Prejudice" that consisted of reading Jane Austen, Jane Austen fan fiction, and Jane Austen memoirs. Good times!
"A Jane Austen Education" tells Deresiewicz's story through the lens of his reading her novels. Each novel corresponds with a stage of his adulthood and provides lessons learned. He includes copious and engaging literary analysis and history, and his reading of the novels was, in particular, insightful and interesting. Also, it's inspiring to see a 21st century dude relating to and learning from the experiences of early 19th century female heroines.
If this doesn't illustrate the power of literature to connect us, I just don't know what will.
"Sorted Books" by Nina Katchadourian
"Sorted Books" fulfills a book lover's insatiable appetite for pictures of books, but with so much more. For 20 years, conceptual artist Katchadourian has entered public and private libraries to sort through their titles, arrange them into found poems, and photograph the results. A poetry-sculpture-photography hybrid, "Sorted Books" documents her work with beautiful photos of artfully arranged books, accompanied by the poetry created from the titles and reflections on her process. You don't have to be a poet or poetry enthusiast to appreciate her work or to look at your own collection with fresh eyes.
Katchadourian's results are at times moving, philosophical, revealing, and humorous, and her project has inspired writers and bibliophiles around the world to experiment with her method.
"My Ideal Bookshelf" edited by Thessaly La Force with art by Jane Mount
Book lovers probably won't want to hide this book on a shelf. La Force interviewed 100 chefs, food writers, cultural figures, fashion designers, musicians, and authors and collected their reflections on the books that have inspired them. To accompany each entry, Mount created stunning original paintings of each contributor's selected titles, rendered in eye-popping colors with hand-lettered book spines.
Besides being beautiful, the book inspires readers to think about the books that have inspired them and what reads they would select for their ideal bookshelves.
"Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading" by Nina Sankovitch
Among the lessons Westport author Nina Sankovitch learned during her year of reading and reviewing a book a day, on which her memoir is based: while we often think of it as solitary, reading is actually a deeply connecting and social experience.
Sankovitch undertook her reading project as a tribute to her sister, who died after a brief illness at the age of 46, and as a way to answer for herself why she had been given "the life card." In the process, reading became the foundation for a common experience that connected her not only to friends and family but also to readers from around the world who wrote to her, to distant cultures, and to the past. And her year of reading brought her back to a place of hopefulness about the future.
Though the memoir reveals how Sankovitch, a wife and mother of four sons, managed to get through a book a day—she stuck, for the most part, with books fewer than 300 pages—and includes extensive discussion of the books she read, it is not a collection of book reviews. Talking about books becomes an occasion for her to examine her life and relationships, past and present. Good books, she discovers, illuminate universal human experiences and, through this, connect readers across time, culture, and history.
"Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore" by Robin Sloan
In Sloan's debut novel, after art school graduate Clay Jannon loses his job designing logos for a bagel company, he accepts a job working the late shift in the titular 24-hour bookstore whose most requested inventory is books written in a mysterious, indecipherable code. As Clay works to uncover the relationship between his quirky customers and their books, he draws on the resources of his friends, wrestles with the limits of technology, and discovers the nature of immortality.
The book reads like a delightful mystery (meaning no one is killed), with a cast of imperfect but kind and ethical characters pooling their knowledge and traveling across the country to help Clay discover the secret behind the bookstore's existence. But what they really find is the meaning of life. If you like to feel good after you finish the last page of a book, you will probably adore this novel.
I think I actually hugged this book after I read the last line, and then I wanted to turn back to the beginning and start all over again. Also, it's helpful to know or look up the meaning of the word "penumbra."
"My Bookstore: Writers Celebrate Their Favorite Places to Browse, Read, and Shop" edited by Ronald Rice
Passionate readers tend also to be passionate about where they shop. Rice's collection celebrates independent bookstores, the books within them, and the relationship among writers, the books that inspired them, and the shops that provided them. Over 80 beloved writers contribute short essays describing his or her independent bookstore, the pivotal one that supported their growth and development.
The essays are beautifully crafted, funny, moving, and they may quite possibly inspire readers to drive to their nearest indie straightaway. The book begs to be browsed through, just as one would in a bookstore. Each entry includes a black and white sketch of the bookstore under discussion, so it's pretty, too!
"Fictitious Dishes" by Dinah Fried
Book and foodie cultures meet between the pages of Fried's book, which began as a project she did while a student at the Rhode Island Institute of Design, in which she imaginatively re-created and photographed five meals from famed novels. The concept blossomed into the 50 featured in her book, from a children's picture book ("Blueberries for Sal") to capital-L-Literature ("Lolita," "To Kill a Mockingbird," "Confederacy of Dunces"). Included with the photos are the quotes that inspired her tableaux and facts about the food, author, and/or book.
Here, literary interpretation manifests visually, in the intricate settings Fried envisions and enacts. The book also offers inspiration for pairing food with books in a meaningful way.
"The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry" by Gabrielle Zevin
Zevin's most recent novel is a love letter to reading, books, and booksellers. Set on fictional Alice Island in Massachusetts, the story revolves around the eponymous A. J. Fikry, a 39-year old widower with very precise literary tastes, his life and loves, heartbreaks and joys. He's a loveable character in his bookish way, but I see him largely as model of the book loving bookseller—one whose life revolves around reading and who connects with others through books—at a particular moment. Indeed those closest to A.J. are a diverse, multi-generational set of readers, writers, and aspiring writers.
The novel touches on a number of the key issues bookish types obsess about—author events, the relationships between memoir and truth, the shift to e-readers, the future of the book business—and concludes on an optimistic note about the latter in a way that feels not only hopeful but true.
What are your favorite books about books?"