Category Archives: Books about Books Reading Project

Seven Kinds of People you Find in Bookshops by Shaun Bythell

Seven Kinds of People You Find in Bookshops by Shaun Bythell

Title: Seven Kinds of People You Find in Bookshops
Author: Shaun Bythell 
Publisher: Profile Books, Hachette UK 
ISBN: 9781788166584
Genre: Books about Books and Reading, Nonfiction 
Pages: 144
Source: Publisher 
Rating: 3/5 

I love books about books, reading, bookshops, and libraries. Bythell’s earlier two books have been delightful – anecdotes, stories, and his encounters with different kinds of people in his bookstore, called The Diary of a Bookseller, and the Confessions of a Bookseller. Seven Kinds of People You Find in Bookshops is an extension of that. From the bearded pensioner to the whistler, to the one that will never buy, Bythell covers them all.

He speaks of various quirks – of how people sometimes leave their children in the bookshop and perhaps just saunter away, returning only after an hour or two. Or how people who are experts at some topic and will bore you endless, and also the ones who just want to get their book published and the poor bookseller has to listen to all of them. Of also the erotica browsers, the ones who think their old books are collectors’ editions, the farters, and everyday shoppers.

The book makes fun of people and that’s alright. I quite liked that in most parts. For me, the only problem was that it got over too fast. I wanted it to give me more, explore more characters and prototypes, discuss or speak about books in general, and a whole lot of charm as was in the earlier two books.

Read the book for its writing. It is eccentric, sharp-witted, and spot on about what it has to say. It will make you smile or even laugh in some places. Read it if you like books about books and bookshops and reading like me.

The House of Paper by Carlos María Domínguez. Translated from the Spanish by Nick Caistor

The House of Paper by Carlos Maria Dominguez

Title: The House of Paper
Author: Carlos María Domínguez Translated from the Spanish by: Nick Caistor
Illustrations by: Peter Sís
ISBN: 978-0151011476
Publisher: Harcourt
Genre: Novella, Literary Fiction
Pages: 103
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

Books about books have always fascinated me. There is something so relatable about them that it breaks my heart and also repairs it at the same time. They are love letters to books – almost love stories between books and collectors – I am sure most will agree with me when it comes to this. A reader and his or her books can never be apart.

“The House of Paper” is one of those books you just cannot get enough of. It is a short book – a novella of 106 pages or so but every page and every sentence and every word gleams in it. This one was a reread for me and I had actually forgotten how much I loved this book, till I read it now. The story is of a Cambridge professor who is killed by a car while reading Dickinson (or so it is assumed). A book is sent to her – a dirty, dusty copy of Conrad’s “The Shadow-Line”. A colleague of hers travels to Uruguay, determined to know the connection between these two people and instead ends up hearing a very strange story – of the man Carlos Brauer and how he has built himself a house from books by the sea. The rest is for you to read and find out – the why, what and the how that is.

“The House of Paper” is magic realism and a lot more than just that in my opinion. Books and reading form such a core of this read that you wished it were longer and that it would not end at all. The book raises questions of mad bibliophiles and the length they will go to for their love of books. At the same time, it doesn’t make it too philosophical or dreary. This book is perfect to the ones obsessed with the written word and for one I cannot stop recommending it. I must also add here that the translation by Nick Caistor is tongue in-cheek, lively and not to forget the beautiful illustrations by Peter Sís. My copy by the way is from The New York Public Library and I was delighted that it came to me in India from there. Only book-lovers will understand this. Also this book. So read it. Please.

The Bookseller’s Tale by Martin Latham

 

The Bookseller's Tale

Title: The Bookseller’s Tale
Author: Martin Latham
Publisher: Particular Books, Penguin UK 
ISBN: 978-0241408810
Genre: Books about Books, Books and Reading 
Pages: 368 
Source: Publisher 
Rating: 5/5 

This is one tale that Chaucer forgot to include in The Canterbury Tales. This is perhaps the only tale from the book that I would have actually read. I think books about books and reading do that to me. They make me understand what others feel about books – just the way I do, and so many others just like me. They make us a collective – a tribe of the crazy, the insane, the lost, the dreamers, the ones who are forever seeking the new, but are also quite content with the old.

The Bookseller’s Tale is essentially about Martin and his love for reading, and in that he takes us through a brief history of the book so to say, along with his reading, his thoughts on authors and everything bookish. Martin Latham, the service manager (bookseller really) at Waterstones Canterbury for over three decades now and this book is his dedication to books, the art of reading, selling books, and meeting people who love the written word.

As soon as I started reading the book, I was immersed in a world that was not mine and I was so glad for that. In such tough times, we need more book such as this one to transport us to times and places where it all seemed so simple and just to know that there is this pure comradeship that books provide. Latham speaks of marginalia – about how beautiful it is, he goes on to speak about chapbooks and book pedlars and the role they have played in shaping cultures, with some charming anecdotes of writers visiting the store and customers who lend to the stories.

My most favourite parts of the book were the ones about comfort reading and reading in adversity, and both seemed so perfect for the times we are living in. We need to read without judging, without being judged. We need that safety need of books when all else is taken away from us, which is happening as I write this. We need books and reading to survive this time.

The Bookseller’s Tale is about a shared love of books that transcends it all. It doesn’t take into account gender, age, background, caste, nothing at all. It is just the written word and you. No matter the language, and no matter the place. Latham’s writing is like a dream – like I said, it transports you to another world and place. The historical references are plenty – reading between wars, the invention of reading terminology, the old books he speaks of, and the art of collection. At the same time, he makes you see the reality of independent bookstores, of online buying, of the booksellers of France and New York and London and Bombay. I wish there were more stores and more countries to cover, but maybe that is for another book.

The Bookseller’s Tale is a book to be read and enjoyed by every reader. For me it was the best read of the year. Hands down!

Ex Libris: 100+ Books to Read and Reread by Michiko Kakutani

Michiko Kakutani

Title: Ex Libris: 100+ Books to Read and Reread
Author: Michiko Kakutani
Publisher: William Collins
ISBN: 978-0008421953
Genre: Books about Books, Essays, Literary Theory
Pages: 304
Source: Personal Copy 
Rating: 2.5/5 

I love books about books. I do. I’m a sucker for them. I was excited for “Ex Libris: 100 Books to Read and Reread” by Michiko Kakutani, the former chief book critic of The New York Times. I was excited given the kind of reading she has done and the books she must have connected with over the years, but I was mildly disappointed to see only most “white” writers on this list, and more than anything else no variety as such.

There’s the same old Donna Tartt, the good old Tolkien, Steinbeck, Atwood, Orwell, Tara Westover, and David Foster Wallace. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but I expected more. There is Jhumpa Lahiri, the Márquez, the Zadie Smith, and Colson Whitehead. It somehow doesn’t make me discover or yearn to read a particular title. Some I won’t even bother reading cover to cover. I wish this was a varied and more diverse list. It just didn’t do anything for me. Yes, it’s produced beautifully. The illustrations are quite amazing and all of that. But I wish there was more substance. But by all means pick it up, if you love lists (like I do). I might even try a reading project of this to read and reread all these books (well, or maybe not).

Why Read? by Charles Dantzig. Translated from the French by Renuka George

Why Read by Charles DantzigTitle: Why Read?
Author: Charles Dantzig
Translated from the French by Renuka George
Publisher: Yoda Press
ISBN: 978-9382579564
Genre: Books about Books, Bibliophilia
Pages: 206
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 stars

Why does one read? Why does anyone read at all? What is the purpose and point of it all? Is it a pointless activity? Does it add to our knowledge or does it enhance us as people? If we think about the other spectrum, then why do writers write? What is the point of it all?

Charles Dantzig was a revelation to me this month. Thanks to Yoda Press for publishing him in English and sending me a copy of delightful essays penned by him, answering the one elusive question in various ways: Why Read? I love books about books, books about reading, books about readers and writers, and writing in general. Why Read? is a book that will stay with me for a long time to come.

Dantzig is hilarious. He is real, and therefore oh so relatable. There are about seventy-odd essays in the book and each of them ponders about the pleasures, woes, ill-effects (you must have to embrace his humour as well), joys, complexities, and sometimes also the pains of reading. Dantzig’s world is all about books and that is seen most clearly, as you turn the pages. Whether he is speaking of his childhood reads, or how people read to show off (just too funny), how reading is a tattoo, the joys of marginalia, reading on the beach (what and how), every essay shines. Well, most of them at least.

Renuka George’s translation is perfect. She lets some French reside in the book so it doesn’t feel too translated (if there is something like that). The book is honest in the sense that Dantzig just says it the way it is, almost in most parts not romanticising the act of reading. While I did not agree with him when it came to those portions, I certainly felt that it made sense and rightly so. At the same time, there is a sense of solidarity when it comes to readers and books about books that speak to them.

Reading Why Read? is almost like hearing a friend speak about books, authors, and readers. Why Read? is comforting, hilarious, makes you think about what you want to read next, makes you also want to pick up a book on an unknown impulse, but above all it cements the relationship we have with books, authors, and reading stronger and does so with great joy and splendour.