It’s no secret that I love to read–and my very favorite thing to read is books about books! I have a section on one of my bookshelves that’s devoted to books on this topic. Here are my top ten titles from that shelf–in no particular order. (These are all nonfiction titles. Fictional books about books is a whole separate category–and maybe a separate Tuesday Ten list for another day!)
1. Forgotten Bookmarks: A Bookseller’s Collection of Odd Things Lost Between the Pages by Michael Popek
This is my go-to gift for friends who are booklovers. It’s filled with photos of objects found in used books—photos, notes, clippings, postcards, receipts, old letters, and more—it’s fascinating to imagine who these books and objects originally belonged to, and how they all ended up in the author’s used book store. Each object is paired with a photo of the book where that particular item was found. This would be a great book to use for short story prompts!
2. Used and Rare: Travels in the Book World by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone
I simply LOVE this couple’s writing style! Written in the years before the internet made locating a particular book something you could do at home in your pajamas, this is an account of Larry and Nancy’s initial adventures in rare book collecting. They explore used and rare bookstores up and down the east coast, meeting a variety of interesting and eccentric fellow book collectors along the way, and finding a number of treasures as well as being introduced to new authors and genres. They’ve since written two sequels to this book, but I think that this first one is by far the best. If you’ve ever searched for—and found!– a well-loved, long lost title in a used book shop, you’ll love this book!
3. 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
I love books made up of correspondence almost as much as I love books about books—so this small book is the best of both worlds for me! Made up of a series of real letters written during WWII between Helene, a freelance writer in New York City, and the staff of a used-book dealer in London, these letters are filled with humor and a shared love of books. Originally published in 1970, this book was also made into a movie starring Anne Bancroft, but I’ve never seen it—I’m too afraid that it will ruin the movie that I’ve got inside my head! If you haven’t discovered this little book yet, please do yourself a favor and pick it up. It’s a quick read, but the characters will stick with you.
4. So Many Books, So Little Time: A Year of Passionate Reading by Sara Nelson
Sara Nelson set a goal: To read 52 books in 52 weeks, and to document the experience—including how a person’s reading life mixes with marriage, parenting, and the rest of “real life”. This is her story of that year. She covers the pros and cons of lending books to friends, the books you’ve pretended that you’ve read but really haven’t, the hidden stress of recommending books to others, and how books tend to choose you at just the right time. When I read this book for the first time, I kept stopping to write down titles that I wanted to read—and some of my favorite books have come from titles that I learned about in this book.
5. My Bookstore: Writers Celebrate Their Favorite Places to Browse, Read, and Shop edited by Ronald Rice
If you’re a book lover, odds are you have a favorite bookshop. This book is a collection of essays (written especially for this book!) by 84 contemporary authors about the independently owned bookstores that hold a special place in their hearts. From the bookstores of childhood, to bookshops that helped to launch careers, and everything in between, the essays in this book are true love letters to the brick and mortar stores that are becoming increasingly rare in the online age. A special bonus to me was that one of the bookstores featured in this book is located in my home town!
6. Shelf Life: Romance, Mystery, Drama, and Other Page-Turning Adventures From a Year in a Bookstore by Suzanne Strempek Shea
I can’t emphasize this enough: I love this book! The author (who is also a novelist) began volunteering at a local independent bookstore in order to get out of the house and to help her recover after a serious illness. That volunteer job turned into a year of living and breathing books as she took part in all aspects of the bookstore business. I spent seven wonderful years working in a bookstore, and found that this book matched up with my experiences perfectly. If you’ve ever shopped in a bookstore, worked in a bookstore, dreamed of owning a bookstore, or anything in between, this book is for you!
7. Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman
This collection of thoughtful essays covers the author’s lifelong love affair with books and language. She grew up in a family who placed a high value on education, reading, and the physical books themselves. She writes about her love of long words, the joys of proofreading, favorite book inscriptions, and more. My favorite is the essay covering the process of “marrying” her personal library with her husband’s books. This is another book that I regularly buy for friends who are fellow booklovers.
8. An Alphabetical Life: Living It Up in the World of Books by Wendy Werris
Wendy Werris begins with a temporary job in a well-known Hollywood bookstore that starts her on a 35-year adventure in the book business. The majority of her career was spent as a publisher’s sales rep in what was originally a male-dominated industry. As a former bookseller, I found her stories of selling books to bookstore owners a real eye-opener. A plus is her account of doing what was then thought of as a man’s job in the 1970s-80s. If you’ve ever wondered what goes on behind closed doors in the book business, you’ll enjoy this book.
9. The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared by Alice Ozma
When the author of this book was in the 4th grade, she and her father made a pact to read out loud together for 100 straight nights. When they reached that goal (they called it “The Streak”) they kept on going—until the day she entered college eight years later! This book not only traces their reading journey, but also tracks the growth of the relationship between father and daughter. It’s a great testimony to the power of books and the joys of raising a reader. It also includes a partial list of the titles they read together over the years, and I’ve gotten many good ideas for my own TBR list from those titles.
10. Sorted Books by Nina Katchadourian
The author is a conceptual artist who sorts and stacks books to create short poems, sentences, and phrases from the titles on their spines. This book compiles a selection of her work. This is another great gift book for the the book lover who has everything. Browse the photos on these pages and be prepared to look at the books on your shelves in a whole new way!
What about you? Have you read any of these? Do you have a favorite book about books that isn’t on my list? Please feel free to share!