- Joy O'Toole
For those of us who love books and reading, there are few things more pleasurable than meeting other readers and bibliophiles. Swapping books, book suggestions, and perhaps even going on a reading retreat are all a thrill to those of us who are avid readers.
There are times, though, when a fellow book lover isn’t available, or you are tired and just want to be alone, but yet you’d still love to discuss books. Did you know that there is an entire genre written for those times? I like to call them books about books, and there are many that have been written, both fiction and nonfiction, just for people like us.
The first book about books that I encountered was 84 Charing Cross Road, by Helene Hanff. It is a story told in letters between a young woman in New York City who wanted to find affordable used volumes and the bookseller in London who found them and mailed them to her. By the time I finished the book, I had a long list of new books that I wanted to read. When I read Anne Fadiman’s Ex Libris, I knew I had found another bookish friend. In this series of essays, she discusses the “marriage” of her books with her husband’s, how 19 pounds of dusty, old books can be a lovely birthday present, reading whatever is at hand even if it is a car manual, and more.
Several years ago, I “discovered” Michael Dirda, who is a fellow book lover and a Pulitzer Prize-winning book reviewer. He has written several books about books, all of which will cause your To Be Read pile to grow alarmingly. My favorite of his is Bound to Please, although his newest book, Browsings, may end up ousting it for first place in my heart.
But, you say, I prefer fiction. Never fear. There are many wonderful novels for those of us who love to read about reading. My favorite by far is The Uncommon Reader, by Alan Bennett. In this slim volume, Bennett tells the story of the Queen of England as she discovers the pleasures of reading and how it enlarges and enriches her world, while causing her staff to panic at the frequent deviations from her familiar pattern of behavior.
Several other books that I have especially enjoyed are The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, The Name of the Rose, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, and The Thirteenth Tale. Right now, I have The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend at home so that I might delve once again into a world in which books and reading are central themes.
If you love books about books, or you’d like to add two or ten books to your reading list, or you simply want to try something new, take a look at my book list, Bibliophiles, Real and Imagined.