Friday, July 10, 2015

Books on Books: My Favorites

I love "books on books," be they fiction or nonfiction, and I suppose that most of you guys do also.  Over the years, I've read and collected books such as Celebrating Pride and Prejudice (Susannah Fullerton), Sixpence House: Lost in a Town of Books (Paul Collins), A Pound of Paper: Confessions of a Book Addict (John Baxter), Slightly Chipped: Footnotes in Booklore (Lawrence & Nancy Goldstone), and Among the Gently Mad (Nicholas A. Basbanes).  What they have in common is that they celebrate books, and more importantly to me, people who love books with a passion that nonreaders usually find amusing, or even off-putting.

I also enjoy books about specific authors whom I have read and admired from afar.  But though I enjoy well written, comprehensive biographies, it is novels about authors that particularly intrigue me because fiction places me so much more deeply into their world than a bio ever manages to do.  Among my favorites of this type are: Patricia O'brien's The Glory Cloak (about Louisa May Alcott), John Pipkin's Woods Burner (about Henry David Thoreau), Therese Anne Fowler's Z (about Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald), and Glyn Hughes's Bronte (about the entire Bronte family).  

I am lucky enough to have one of those huge Half Price Books stores near my house, and the first section of the store I always visit is the special marked one guessed it..."Books on Books."  Sadly, though, this kind of book does not seem to be particularly popular with the general reading public, so it's been slim-pickings in that section lately.  I did find an oversized paperback there this week, however, that I couldn't resist taking home.  It's a book by Kevin Smokler called (bear with me because I'm going to give you the full title here) Practical Classics: 50 Reasons to Reread 50 Books You Haven't Touched Since High School.  Smokler writes in such a clear, straightforward style that I can already tell that each of the pieces are going to be a pleasure to read.  

In Practical Classics (2013, Prometheus Books), Smokler contends that books we HAD to read in high school came along with lots of baggage: study guides, quizzes, essays, and final exams, for instance - things that can suck all the pleasure right out of the reading experience even for avid readers.  Now, he says, let's go back and read these same books for pleasure, just as if they are something brand new that you just stumbled upon in your local bookstore.  Among the books covered are ones like: Huckleberry Finn, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, The Age of Innocence, Pride and Prejudice, Cannery Row, The Bluest Eyes, The Joy Luck Club, Slaughterhouse-Five, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, and Animal Farm. 

(Time for full disclosure: I have been out of high school for so long that I really DID discover a bunch of the books in Practical Classics in bookstores.)

I am always searching for titles similar to the ones I've mentioned in this post, so if you have some favorites of this type, please do pass the titles on to me in the comments.

Post # 2,507


  1. Have you read Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman? Marvelous little book of essays. Also, Reading in Bed edited by Steven Gilbar is a wonderful collection of essays by lots of different people.

  2. I've read Ex Libris but not Reading in Bed...looking for that one now. Thanks.

  3. I share your love for books on or about books. Thanks for your examples that included several I haven't read.
    Some of my favorites include Anatole Broyard's When Kafka Was the Rage; Six Walks in a Fictional Woods by Umberto Eco; My Reading Life by Pat Conroy; 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Halff; The Books in My Life by Henry Miller; and, Education of a Wandering Man by Louis L'Amour.

    1. James, My Reading Life and 84 Charing Cross Roads are favorites of mine, also. I remember trying the Henry Miller book a while back and could just never get into the rhythm of Miller's prose for some reason. The other three are a lot less familiar to me, so thanks for mentioning those.