Category Archives: Books about Books

Read 221 of 2021. The Reading List by Sara Nisha Adams

The Reading List by Sara Nisha AdamsTitle: The Reading List
Author: Sara Nisha Adams
Publisher: William Morrow
ISBN: 9780063115040
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 384
Source: Publisher
Rating: 2/5

I like books about books and how reading heals and how it helps cope with life. I was eagerly looking forward to “The Reading List” but it disappointed me quite early on, and yet I went on with it, hoping there will be some redemption. I was wrong.

The characters are predictable and the writing quite uninteresting.   I mean I like the idea and maybe it could’ve gone somewhere, but that wasn’t explored. Both Mukesh and Aleisha are not relatable. Books are the common factor between them and there’s a reading list (but of course) but that’s that. The reading list however is interesting and can be talked about a lot more than the book of which it is a part.

Like I said, the writing doesn’t lead you to imagine, it doesn’t make you empathise with the characters, nor does it excite you. I can see why it might work for other readers, but it just didn’t do anything for me.  

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).