2

The Book Trail: The Very Bookish Edition

I am focusing upon books about books here, one of my favourite genres to read.  I have used as my inspiration an absolute gem which I re-read back in September, Helene Hanff’s charmingly witty 84 Charing Cross Road.  We go through a host of wonderful books, some of which I have read, and some of which are high on my wishlist.

97807515038451. 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
It all began with a letter inquiring about second-hand books, written by Helene Hanff in New York, and posted to a bookshop at 84, Charing Cross Road in London. As Helene’s sarcastic and witty letters are responded to by the stodgy and proper Frank Doel of 84, Charing Cross Road, a relationship blossoms into a warm and charming long-distance friendship lasting many years.

 

2. Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman
Anne Fadiman is–by her own admission–the sort of person who learned about sex from her father’s copy of Fanny Hill, whose husband buys her 19 pounds of dusty books for her birthday, and who once found herself poring over her roommate’s 1974 Toyota Corolla manual because it was the only written material in the apartment that she had not read at least twice.   This witty collection of essays recounts a lifelong love affair with books and language. For Fadiman, as for many passionate readers, the books she loves have become chapters in her own life story. Writing with remarkable grace, she revives the tradition of the well-crafted personal essay, moving easily from anecdotes about Coleridge and Orwell to tales of her own pathologically literary family. As someone who played at blocks with her father’s 22-volume set of Trollope (“My Ancestral Castles”) and who only really considered herself married when she and her husband had merged collections (“Marrying Libraries”), she is exquisitely well equipped to expand upon the art of inscriptions, the perverse pleasures of compulsive proof-reading, the allure of long words, and the satisfactions of reading out loud. There is even a foray into pure literary gluttony–Charles Lamb liked buttered muffin crumbs between the leaves, and Fadiman knows of more than one reader who literally consumes page corners. Perfectly balanced 9780140283709between humor and erudition, Ex Libris establishes Fadiman as one of our finest contemporary essayists.

 

3. A Passion for Books: A Book Lover’s Treasury… by Howard Rabinowicz
“When I have a little money, I buy books. And if any is left, I buy food and clothing.” — –Desiderius Erasmus — Those who share Erasmus’s love of those curious bundles of paper bound together between hard or soft covers know exactly how he felt. These are the people who can spend hours browsing through a bookstore, completely oblivious not only to the passage of time but to everything else around them, the people for whom buying books is a necessity, not a luxury. A Passion for Books is a celebration of that love, a collection of sixty classic and contemporary essays, stories, lists, poems, quotations, and cartoons on the joys of reading, appreciating, and collecting books.  This enriching collection leads off with science-fiction great Ray Bradbury’s Foreword, in which he remembers his penniless days pecking out Fahrenheit 451 on a rented typewriter, conjuring up a society so frightened of art that it burns its books. This struggle–financial and creative–led to his lifelong love of all books, which he hopes will cosset him in his grave, “Shakespeare as a pillow, Pope at one elbow, Yeats at the other, and Shaw to warm my toes. Good company for far-travelling.”  Booklovers will also find here a selection of writings by a myriad of fellow sufferers from bibliomania. Among these are such contemporary authors as Philip Roth, John Updike, Umberto Eco, Robertson Davies, Nicholas Basbanes, and Anna Quindlen; earlier twentieth-century authors Christopher Morley, A. Edward Newton, Holbrook Jackson, A.S.W. Rosenbach, William Dana Orcutt, Robert Benchley, and William Targ; and classic authors such as Michel de Montaigne, Gustave Flaubert, Petrarch, and Anatole France.  Here also are entertaining and humorous lists such as the “Ten Best-Selling Books Rejected by Publishers Twenty Times or More,” the great books included in Clifton Fadiman and John Major’s New Lifetime Reading Plan, Jonathan Yardley’s “Ten Books That Shaped the American Character,” “Ten Memorable Books That Never Existed,” “Norman Mailer’s Ten Favorite American Novels,” and Anna Quindlen’s “Ten Big Thick Wonderful Books That Could Take You a Whole Summer to Read (but Aren’t Beach Books).”  Rounding out the anthology are selections on bookstores, book clubs, and book care, plus book cartoons, and a specially prepared “Bibliobibliography” of books about books.  Whether you consider yourself a bibliomaniac or just someone who likes to read, A Passion for Books will provide you with a lifetime’s worth of entertaining, informative, and pleasurable reading on your favorite subject–the love of books.

 

4. The Anatomy of Bibliomania by Holbrook Jackson
Inspects the allure of books, their curative and restorative properties, and the passion for them that leads to bibliomania. This title comments on why we read, where we read – on journeys, at mealtimes, on the toilet (this has ‘a long but mostly unrecorded history’), in bed, and in prison – and what happens to us when we read.

 

97815559124065. Biblioholism: The Literary Addiction by Tom Raabe
‘A hilarious guide for book lovers that brings book addiction out of the closet.  Have you ever… awakened, the morning after a book-buying spree, unable to remember how many you bought or how much you spent?
been reprimanded or fired for reading on the job?
purchased or rented additional living space… just for your books?
You are not alone. Your complete recovery awaits you — just buy one more book!

 

6. Slightly Chipped: Footnotes in Booklore by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone
More than a sequel, Slightly Chipped: Footnotes in Booklore is a companion piece for Used and Rare. A delight for the general reader and book collector alike, it details the Goldstones’ further explorations into the curious world of book collecting. In Slightly Chipped, they get hooked on the correspondence and couplings of Bloomsbury; they track down Bram Stoker’s earliest notes for Dracula; and they are introduced to hyper-moderns. Slightly Chipped is filled with all of the anecdotes and esoterica about the world of book collecting that charmed readers of Used and Rare.

 

7. Shelf Life: Romance, Mystery, Drama, and Other Page-Turning Adventures from a Year in a Book Store by Suzanne Strempek Shea 9780807072585
Suzanne Shea has always loved a good book-and she’s written five of them, all acclaimed. In the course of her ten-year career, she’s done a good bit of touring, including readings and drop-ins at literally hundreds of bookstores. She never visited one that wasn’t memorable.  Two years ago, while recovering from radiation therapy, Shea heard from a friend who was looking for help at her bookstore. Shea volunteered, seeing it as nothing more than a way to get out of her pajamas and back into the world. But over next twelve months, from St. Patrick’s Day through Poetry Month, graduation/Father’s Day/summer reading/Christmas and back again to those shamrock displays, Shea lived and breathed books in a place she says sells’ideas, stories, encouragement, answers, solace, validation, the basic ammunition for daily life.’ Her work was briefly interrupted by an author tour that took her to other great bookstores. Descriptions of these and her memories of book-lined rooms reaching all the way back to childhood visits to the Bookmobile are scattered throughout this charming, humorous, and engrossing account of reading and rejuvenation.  For anyone who loves books, and especially for anyone who has fallen under the spell of a special bookstore, Shelf Life will be required reading.

 

8. An Alphabetical Life: Living It Up In the World of Books by Wendy Werris
Little did Wendy Werris imagine that when she began a temp job at a Hollywood bookstore in 1970 at age nineteen, she had embarked on a thirty-five year career that would stretch into a journey of self-discovery and literary enlightenment. In An Alphabetical Life, Werris reflects upon how she came to embrace the book culture as her singular way of being in the world. Her career began when the book business was conducted amid an atmosphere of civility and wry humor, and her memoir captures the essence of this time and the people she met along the way. The challenges she faced, in what was then a male-dominated industry, are also discussed — particularly in 1976 when she was one of only two women repping books in the entire country. In describing the hilarious, eccentric characters that were her colleagues, lovers, and partners in crime, the essence of retail bookselling comes alive. Among the figures she profiles are Henry Robbins, editor of The World According to Garp; Alan Kahn, then of Pickwick Bookshop in Los Angeles, now President of Barnes and Noble Publishing; and many great and memorable retail bookbuyers and authors.

Purchase from The Book Depository

0

‘The Complete Review Guide to Contemporary World Fiction’ by M.A. Orthofer ****

Loving translated and ‘world’ fiction as I do, I took a chance on downloading The Complete Review Guide to Contemporary World Fiction from Netgalley.  It is a Columbia University Press publication, and for a recommended reading book it is vast; in its physical form, it runs to almost 500 pages.  The Complete Review itself was founded in 1999, and the advent of the Internet made it far easier to compile such a book, focusing as it does upon ‘global inclusivity’.  This is undeniably wonderful news for the bookish amongst us.

In his introduction, M.A. Orthofer writes: ‘Because American authors provide an enormous amount and variety of work, American readers are arguably spoiled for choice even before resorting to fiction from abroad.  With novels and stories set in every imaginable locale… and styles ranging from the most accessible to the wilfully experimental, American fiction could well cover it all’.  The importance of fiction in translation is highlighted from the outset.  Orthofer goes on to add, ‘… foreign literature can offer entirely new dimensions and perspectives’.  Indeed, it is a manner with which to learn about the world, whether in terms of paths untrodden in different locales, or with regard to the history of a particular area.
9780231146753

The Complete Review Guide to Contemporary World Fiction is organised geographically – which, of course, throws up its own problems at times – but it is perhaps the best, and most comprehensive, way of arranging such a collection.  Each geographical region has been split into sections; for instance, if a country had a particular literary movement as part of its history, it has been included.  An introduction to each chapter has been given, which briefly discusses the literary tradition in each country or region, and leads seamlessly into the recommendations themselves.  Whilst Orthofer does mention the more obvious choices, new authors are never far behind, be they cutting edge, or just forgotten in the depths of time.

A broad range of reads have been included, and the quantity of them is so vast that one wonders how Orthofer himself has managed to read them all.  He often talks about 1,000+ plus works which are well worth checking out.  Many different genres have been taken into account, and also included are the recommended starting points for some of the more prolific authors available in English translation.

storefrontTo give you an idea of some of the recommendations, we shall take France as our starting point.  A country with a rich history, one already knows that French literary output is strong within its English translations, and I am sure that many of us could name several contemporary authors, such as Muriel Barbery and Michel Houellebecq, for instance.  Orthofer goes one better, drawing interesting and original novellas and short story collections by the likes of Jean-Marie Gustave de Clezio, Boris Vian, Albert Cohen, Philippe Sollers, Herve la Tellier, and Anne Garreta to the fore.

The only two discrepancies about this book are that ‘contemporary’ is used loosely, and seems to contain any author writing from the early twentieth century on, and that it places such emphasis upon translated fiction in its introduction that one would think such fiction was the only genre incorporated.  Not so.  In fact, there is an extensive section written about the United Kingdom, Ireland, and America, which I did not expect to find at the outset.

Despite these two small qualms which I had with the whole, The Complete Review Guide to Contemporary World Fiction is invaluable for any serious reader.  It is possible to fill rather a large notebook with its recommendations, and makes one itch to track down books which have particularly caught their attention.  Clearly a labour of love, Orthofer’s book is well written and far-reaching, and will be a welcome addition to any bookshelf (or Kindle).  It is in the vein of the Bloomsbury series of recommended reading books, but it goes so much further than any effort I have previously seen.  The Complete Review Guide to Contemporary World Fiction is the perfect companion for armchair travelling, and its quirky inclusions – including such things as ‘Greek mathematical fiction’ – will make any reader want to broaden their horizons.

Purchase from The Book Depository

1

Books About Books

Whether fictional trips for the imagination, or non-fiction accounts of reading lives, if I see a book about books, I am sure to pick it up.  Books, for me, are eternally fascinating, and I have had the opportunity to read some wonderfully bookish works over the years, which I thought I would share with you.  In no particular order, and without further ado, here are the books about books which I would heartily recommend.

Fiction:

  1. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak 9780552773898
    ‘1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier. Liesel, a nine-year-old girl, is living with a foster family on Himmel Street. Her parents have been taken away to a concentration camp. Liesel steals books. This is her story and the story of the inhabitants of her street when the bombs begin to fall.’
  2. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
    ‘Angelfield House stands abandoned and forgotten. It was once home to the March family – fascinating, manipulative Isabelle, brutal, dangerous Charlie, and the wild, untamed twins, Emmeline and Adeline. But Angelfield House hides a chilling secret which strikes at the very heart of each of them, tearing their lives apart…Now Margaret Lea is investigating Angelfield’s past – and the mystery of the March family starts to unravel. What has Angelfield been hiding? What is its connection with the enigmatic writer Vida Winter? And what is the secret that strikes at the heart of Margaret’s own, troubled life? As Margaret digs deeper, two parallel stories unfold, and the tale she uncovers sheds a disturbing light on her own life…’
  3. 9780747598800The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer
    ‘It’s 1946. Juliet Ashton, a 32-year-old writer, has found a certain recognition through her light-hearted column for the Spectator which lifted the spirits of her readers during WW2, but she can’t think what to write next. But then Dawsey Adams writes to her from Guernsey – by chance he’s acquired a book Juliet once owned – and, emboldened by their mutual love of books, they begin a correspondence. Dawsey belongs to the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and as Juliet investigates the strange-named reading group, soon she stumbles upon a whole number of islanders eager to write and tell her of their experiences of the German occupation of Guernsey. Entranced by her new friends, Juliet decides to visit the island to meet them properly. A moving tale of friendship, tolerance and forgiveness in the wake of a period of unthinkable hardship and horror, this is set to become a classic.’
  4. Inkheart by Cornelia Funke
    ‘Meggie loves books. So does her father, Mo, a bookbinder, although he has never read aloud to her since her mother mysteriously disappeared. They live quietly until the night a stranger knocks at their door. He has come with a warning that forces Mo to reveal an extraordinary secret – a storytelling secret that will change their lives for ever.’

 

Non-fiction:

  1. Howards End is on the Landing by Susan Hill 9781846682667
    ‘Early one autumn afternoon in pursuit of an elusive book on her shelves, Susan Hill encountered dozens of others that she had never read, or forgotten she owned, or wanted to read for a second time. The discovery inspired her to embark on a year-long voyage through her books, forsaking new purchases in order to get to know her own collection again. A book which is left on a shelf for a decade is a dead thing, but it is also a chrysalis, packed with the potential to burst into new life. Wandering through her house that day, Hill’s eyes were opened to how much of that life was stored in her home, neglected for years. Howards End is on the Landing charts the journey of one of the nation’s most accomplished authors as she revisits the conversations, libraries and bookshelves of the past that have informed a lifetime of reading and writing.’
  2. Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman
    ‘Anne Fadiman is the sort of person who learned about sex from her father’s copy of “Fanny Hill”, and who once found herself poring over a 1974 Toyota Corolla manual because it was the only thing in her apartment that she had not read at least twice. “Ex Libris” wittily recounts a lifelong obsession with books. Writing with humour and erudition she moves easily from anecdotes about Coleridge and Orwell to tales of her own pathologically literary family.’
  3. 978186049850384, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
    ‘This book is the very simple story of the love affair between Miss Helene Hanff of New York and Messrs Marks and Co, sellers of rare and secondhand books, at 84 Charing Cross Road, London.’
  4. The Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby
    ‘In his monthly column “Stuff I’ve Been Reading,” Hornby lists the books he’s purchased that month, and briefly discusses the books he’s actually read. Nick Hornby’s Polysyllabic Spree includes selected passages from the novels, biographies, collections of poetry, and comics discussed in the column.’

 

The best thing is that there are so many books about books left for me to enjoy that I feel I have barely scratched the surface.  Which are your favourite books about books?

Purchase from The Book Depository