10 books about books and reading

10 books about books and reading

The sixth category for the 2017 Reading Challenge—for those of you who want to put the “oomph” back in your reading life—is “a book about books or reading.”

Why? This is your nudge to step back and view your reading life at a little bit of distance, so you can better appreciate what you read, and why.

(Alternate answer: because it’s good nerdy fun.)

There are all kinds of choices here. You could try an instructional book, like a book that aims to show writers how to improve their craft. You could pick up a book about the pursuit of reading—what to read, why to read, how to get more out of your reading.

You could try a memoir—a huge number of authors of both fiction and non have at some point put pen to page to explain what reading means to them.

Or you could try a book about publishing, bookstores, book clubs, the study of English literature … you name it.

Need ideas for this category? These ten titles cover a lot of ground, and they’re on here either because I loved them, or because they’re high on my personal TBR list. There are thousands of titles that could fit this category—and I can’t wait to hear what you pick.

What are you reading for this category? What titles would you add to the list?

Series: Books About Books and Reading
The Uncommon Reader: A Novella

The Uncommon Reader: A Novella

Author:
When an unnamed (but not well-disguised) Queen goes for a walk, her corgis stray into a bookmobile library parked near the Palace, so she feels obligated to take a book out of politeness. The Queen finds a newfound obsession with reading and begins to neglect her duties as monarch. You can read this one in a few hours, but power of reading to transform even the most uncommon of lives, and the numerous book recommendations (from Jean Genet to Ivy Compton-Burnett to the classics) will stay with you much longer. More info →
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The Memoir Project: A Thoroughly Non-Standardized Text for Writing & Life

The Memoir Project: A Thoroughly Non-Standardized Text for Writing & Life

This slim volume (114 pages) is well worth spending an afternoon on. Memoir readers everywhere will thank Roach for her no-nonsense rules for writing your own story: you can write about anything, but just because something happens, doesn’t make it interesting. Have no fear: Roach will help you make it interesting. Entertaining and dead-practical: if you're a writer, you'll learn to write better; readers will learn to better appreciate the genre—and know how to spot a good specimen when they see it. More info →
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The Well-Educated Mind: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had

The Well-Educated Mind: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had

The book provides a roadmap aka The Mother of All Reading Lists for adults who long for the classical education they never had. Bauer provides numerous suggestions for reading across 5 genres—fiction, autobiography, history, drama, and poetry—as well as numerous hows and whys. This is the grown-ups’ counterpart to The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home (one of the books I read over and over again). More info →
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Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading

Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading

Author:
You may know Nina Sankovitch as a Book of the Month judge. In her 2011 memoir, she channels Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking and embarks upon a personal reading project while grieving the death of her sister. This is extreme bibliotherapy: she resolves to read one great book, every day, for a year, so she could figure out how to live again without her sister in the world. More info →
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How to Read Literature Like a Professor: A Lively and Entertaining Guide to Reading Between the Lines

How to Read Literature Like a Professor: A Lively and Entertaining Guide to Reading Between the Lines

I love this book and am so glad I finally read it at your all's urging—this is one of those books that could change the way you read EVERY book for the rest of your life. In this short, enjoyable read, Foster explores literary symbolism in a wide variety of texts old and new: in a solid work of literature, rain isn't just rain, sex isn't just sex, a journey is more than a journey. TBR alert: he uses a wide variety of texts to show the reader what he's talking about, and if you come away with many new additions to your to-read list, you won't be the only one. More info →
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Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader

Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader

Author:
If you’re crazy about reading, you'll recognize yourself on the pages of this essay collection. Perhaps you've experienced the pain/pleasure of merging libraries with a new spouse ("Marrying Libraries"), or utilize questionable bookmarking strategies ("Never Do That to a Book"), or self-identify as a compulsive proofreader ("Insert a Carat"--my favorite!). Smart, interesting, and laugh-out-loud funny. More info →
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Howards End Is on the Landing: A Year of Reading from Home

Howards End Is on the Landing: A Year of Reading from Home

Author:
In this book about books, author and book-lover Susan Hill resolves to spend a year abstaining from NEW book purchases and devotes herself to a new project: reading through the books already on her shelves. (I've absolutely dreamed of doing that myself.) After her year is up, she draws up a list of the 40 books she'd need for the rest of her life—not the best ever written, but the ones that mean the most to her. Heads up: Hill drops a lot of names in this book: this will either delight you or drive you insane. More info →
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Books: A Memoir

Books: A Memoir

Author:
Many writers have gone the memoir route to share the books that have shaped them as a writer. But Lonesome Dove author Larry McMurtry harbors a more unusual form of bibliomania—he has been a lifelong buyer, collector, and seller of antiquarian books. In these pages he traces his roots all the way from the bookless Texas home he grew up in (twenty miles from the nearest library!) to the passionate collector he is too. (That he's a passionate reader as well goes without saying.) A very interesting take on the reading life. More info →
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84, Charing Cross Road

84, Charing Cross Road

Author:
A must-read for bibliophiles, and you'll feel compelled to discuss the heartwarming way books bring people together with all your book-loving buddies. This is the story of the twenty-year relationship between a New York writer and a gentlemanly London bookseller, as told through their correspondence. More info →
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Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

The title sounds fancy and staid, but Prior had me in hysterics with her chapter that linked Thomas Hardy with her teenage attempts to lose her virginity. In this memoir, Prior opens her most beloved books to the reader. "Beloved" not because of sentiment or nostalgia, but because of the profound difference they've made in her life. Her favorites are likely to be yours, as well: Jane Eyre, Charlotte's Web, Gulliver's Travels. (Okay, so actually I know very few fellow readers who name Gulliver as a favorite—but I do love Prior's chapter on it.) More info →
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73 comments

  1. Jamie says:

    The Bookshop Book by Jen Campbell – favorite or notable bookstores, arranged by country around the world. Definitely inspires some wanderlust and book-envy.

  2. Claire Lawrence says:

    “Lit, a Christian guide to reading books,” was great. Tony Reinke articulates the value of all kinds of stories, how to read more, how to raise readers, how not to idolize reading. It is concise and covers a lot.

  3. I think this is my favorite category for the 2017 Reading Challenge. I read the Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer for this category.

  4. Jennifer N. says:

    I read “The Shadow of the Wind,” which I’m sure I first heard about here, so I don’t think much description is necessary. I think this would be a good pick for anyone that enjoys a good murder mystery in a historical setting.

  5. Debbie says:

    Three of my favorites are, “So Many Books, So Little Time” by Sarah Nelson; “How Reading Changed by Life” by Anna Quindlen; and “My Reading Life” by Pat Conroy. All 3 are stellar books about books & reading.

  6. Megan says:

    The Reading Promise: My Father and the books we shared by Alice Ozma. Alice and her Father decide to read together every night for 100 nights starting in 4th grade but they continue throughout her teen years. And interesting read that fits the theme.

  7. Shay says:

    I love books about books so I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that I already own quite a few of these. Still, a few new ones to check out!

  8. Dorothy K says:

    My personality leans toward making definite decisions then sticking with them, except when it comes to reading – ugh! So, I have a whole bookshelf of books about books (lots are targeted for children and teens) – yay! Here are a few suggestions: “Book Lust” and “More Book Lust” and “Honey for a Woman’s Heart”. Thanks for your post on this topic which is near and dear to me.

  9. Nancy Carey says:

    Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. LOVED this one! Though it’s a fiction novel so a bit different than your picks.

    • Leira says:

      This was going to be my suggestion, too! I absolutely love that book. But I’ve already read it so I’ll be looking for a new one for my list this year…I think I’ll look for another fiction, though. 🙂

  10. CarolS says:

    If you like “84 Charing Cross Road,” you might like “Q’s Legacy,” also by Helene Hanff. Hanff couldn’t afford college so she used the published lectures of Oxford professor Sir Arthur Quillery-Couch called “On the Art of Writing” as a springboard for her own literary education.

    A couple of older titles by Christopher Morley, “Parnassus on Wheels” and “The Haunted Bookshop,” would do the same if one could only read all the books referenced in the stories. I especially like POW. Set before WWI, a sister tires of being cook-and-bottle-washer for her absentminded author/brother and buys a caravan to ride around the countryside selling books.

    • “Parnassus on Wheels” is an absolute delight! I curled up on a rainy afternoon and read the whole thing. I wasn’t so enchanted with, “The Haunted Bookshop,” which felt more like a vehicle for some political and social commentary, but there were still a few nice passages that went into my commonplace book.

  11. noga says:

    What a fun, fun post (and comments)!
    My addition to the list is Mary Karr’s “The Art of Memoir”. Fantastic book.
    Also, Natalie Goldberg’s less known book “The True Secret of Writing” is also very much about reading (including a reading list in the end).

  12. Karen Floyd Shepherd says:

    Thank you for all the wonderful suggestions for my TBR list! Here are a few books I’ve loved and didn’t see: “Ten Years in the Tub: A Decade Soaking in Great Books” by Nick Hornby; “A Novel Bookstore” by Laurence Cosse; “A City of Bells” by Elizabeth Goudge (The little cathedral city the hero visits to recover from a war injury is determined he should open a bookstore.); “Readings” and “Browsings” by Michael Dirda. Anything by Michael Dirda, actually. “The Merry Heart” by Robertson Davies; “Publishing” by Gail Godwin.

  13. Lisa Gelber says:

    I read “Parnassus on Wheels” for this category. It was a wonderful story and I was surprised to find myself on the edge of my seat at some points!

  14. Erin Dominy says:

    I read The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe. I adored it and was surprised by how “unputdownable” it was.The growth of my TBR list was an added bonus.

  15. Em G says:

    I can’t understand the love and constant praise for 84, Charing Cross Road. I heard it lauded on about 4 book-y podcasts so I picked it up. The only thing going for it is that it is short. I really don’t get it. It’s twee and smug and very enamored of itself. It’s perfectly fine. But so oversold. I saw the tweet and KNEW it was going to make the list. I actually get annoyed now when I hear it get praised. I haven’t seen the movie but suspect that it has a lot to do with the good will around this.

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