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?

Books About Books and Reading
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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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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Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader

Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader

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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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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84, Charing Cross Road

84, Charing Cross Road

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 →
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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Books: A Memoir

Books: A Memoir

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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The Uncommon Reader

The Uncommon Reader

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

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

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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Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading

Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading

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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73 comments | Comment


    • Aimee says:

      Seconding this one! I read it in two days and didn’t want it to end. It was totally a “Book that made me want to skip dinner, work and the rest of my life” ? His voice as a writer is so heartfelt and profound. Can’t recommend this one highly enough.

    • Lorrie Tom says:

      And also The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe. So moving and life-changing. Memoir as well. Precedes Books for Living.

  1. Kellie says:

    I’ve read a couple books I thought could fit this category. The first was The Professor and the Madman, about the creation of the OED. But for my reading challenge list, I ended up using The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend. There was also Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, which I thought was kind of like Ready Player One for book lovers.

  2. Kathy says:

    I would add ‘The Woman Reader’ by Belinda Elizabeth Jack. It charts the history of female reading over the centuries. A fascinating book!

  3. Loved Charring Cross. It’s a book I picked up after reading Honey for a Woman’s Heart — a book of recommended reading I heartily recommend. I made a list of hundreds of titles after working my way through it.

    The Howard’s End book sounds right up my alley! Maybe 7 years ago I did a Clear Your Shelves challenge, meaning I tried to read books I owned rather than going to the library / bookstore for new ones. In fact, last month I pulled a pile of books off my shelf with the intent of doing the same…after I finish the new ones I’ve committed to. 🙂

  4. Elizabeth says:

    I think you could count A Jane Austen Education by William Deresiewicz. I got a lot more from Austen’s novels (even though I already loved them) and it made me think about how novels both reflect real life and help to process it. I even appreciated Mansfield Park more which is my least favorite.

  5. Janet says:

    On Writing by Stephen King
    The Little Paris Bookshop
    The Storied Life of AJ Fikry

    I have read 5 of the titles on your list but saw more to add to my reading list!

    • Jennifer says:

      I happen to be reading “On Writing” by Stephen King. I have zero desire to be a writer myself but I’d heard positive reviews of the book and I like Stephen King’s writing. I am loving this book! It is funny, interesting….I’m having trouble putting it down.

  6. Pam Asbury says:

    My hands-down favorite in this category is “My Reading Life,” by Pat Conroy. Bonus points for the audiobook, which he narrated.

    • Kay Lyn Beauchamp says:

      I loved “My Reading Life” by Pat Conroy. Course, I have enjoyed most other books he has written, but this one was so different. Made me understand better where he was coming from in his novels.

  7. Brandyn says:

    I loved When Books Went to War by Molly Guptill Manning. It’s a fairly straight WWII history book that wouldn’t normally be my cup of tea at all, but finding out about Armed Service Editions of books and how important they were to war and how they affected education and the publishing industry after the war was very interesting.

    • Rebekah in Redlands says:

      I also loved When Books Went to War. It was a moving, true! tribute to the power of stories. It made me finally read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

  8. M.E. Bond says:

    I’m pleased to see how many of these books I’ve already read (I remember reading 84 Charing Cross Road aloud in the living room of my now-husband’s parents’ house and laughing hysterically!) and now I’ve added a few more to my TBR.

  9. I love books about books and reading and have read a bunch that I loved. Storied Life of AJ Fikry, Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore, My Reading Life by Pat Conroy, and Books for Living by Will Schwalbe come to mind!

  10. Linda says:

    The Rent Collector takes place on a trash heap in Cambodia and explores the power reading extends to the reader.

  11. Rachel says:

    I recently read, and loved The Lost Book of the Grail from the summer reading guide. I think it would fit into this category also.

  12. Kate Myers says:

    I second Steven King’s On Writing. It is one of my craft development for the year. This list gives me at least five for my reading craft list. So excited. I also read The Year of Reading Dengerously by Andrew Miller last year. His comparison of Dan Brown and Herman Melville will stay with me forever.

    Side question: I know I came across a list of books about librarian adventures (Jasper Fforde, Genevieve Coleman etc.) I can’t find it and I feel like I lost a treasure. Was it here?

  13. Lindsey says:

    Can’t wait to look up some of these! I’d add The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction by Alan Jacobs. I read that one almost once a year!

    • M.E. Bond says:

      I’ve read that once, and should read it again. I remember thinking it would make a nice gift for my book-loving friends and relations.

  14. Daniela says:

    I love books about reading! They confirm that I’m not the sole book nerd. I’ve already read several books on the list. I love Susan Hill’s book Howard’s End is on the Landing. I’d also like to add a few of my other favorites: The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller; Reading Like a Writer, by Francine Prose, and finally one of my favorite books this year: How to be a Heroine by Samantha Ellis.

  15. A book I discovered at a book sale many years ago is Louis L’Amour’s Education of a Wondering Man. It is the story of how he educated himself through his life by the books he read and how they shaped his writing. I highly recommend this seldom mentioned book.

    84 Charring Cross Road and its sequel are all time favorites.

  16. Bea says:

    Another wonderful book about books or rather about bookstores and their employees and customers…Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore! Scary and delightful! Fascinating for Denverites! A must-read!

  17. Susan says:

    I would love to add Parnassus on Wheels by Christopher Morley. A nice story about life and books!

  18. Jennifer says:

    Wow! My “books-to-read” list just tripled in length! Thank you to everyone. I can’t wait to get started on all these new suggestions 🙂

  19. Kate says:

    I just finished Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore and think it might fit in this category. A fun, literary-themed adventure, but got me thinking about the future of books with the evolution of the digital age.

  20. sharyn says:

    I second Parnassus on Wheels by Morley. The Haunted Bookshop by Morley is somewhat of a sequel, though not quite as engaging. People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks is another good one.

  21. Diane says:

    Books about Books that I’ve read lately… not in any particular order:
    The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan
    The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald
    Parnassus on Wheels by Christopher Morley
    The Reading Promise by Alice Ozma
    The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina Geoge
    The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
    Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

  22. I hate to say it, but every time I’ve thought about applying for your podcast, Tolstoy and the Purple Chair has been my top contender for the category of the dreaded “h” word 🙂

    • Anne says:

      Don’t be sorry! It keeps the conversation interesting. 🙂 I would love to hear more about why it wasn’t the right book for you.

  23. Claire Stammars says:

    I love books about books. I read Howards End Is On The Landing and although my reading likes/dislikes were almost always opposite to Susan Hill’s, I loved the idea of taking time out from book-buying to celebrate my TBR list. I tried it last year, discovered new favourites but I’m back filling the bookshelves and then some!!!

    I have Michael Chabon’s Reading And Writing Along The Borderlands but I haven’t read it yet – sounds perfect for this category!

  24. Corrie says:

    I would also add The Man Who Loved Books too Much by Allison Hoover Bartlett and Judith Brwckley. Basically about a man who steals rare books to collect. He “buys” them but with bad cheques or stolen credit cards. It’s been a while since I read it. Still a good (bad) example of a biblophele

  25. Joy B. says:

    Loved 84 Charing Cross Road!!
    Currently reading Howard’s End is on the Landing and really enjoying it!

    The Jane Austen Book Club is a fun book about Austen’s books.

  26. Dixie M says:

    Oh! If you like books about books, Used and Rare: Travels in the Book World by Lawrence & Nancy Goldstone is a great book!

  27. 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.

  28. 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.

  29. 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.

  30. 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.

  31. 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.

  32. 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.

  33. 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!

  34. 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.

  35. 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. 🙂

  36. 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.

  37. 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).

  38. 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.

  39. 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!

  40. 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.

  41. 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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