Category Archives: Books about Books

Not To Read by Alejandro Zambra. Translated by Megan McDowell

Not To Read by Alejandro Zambra Title: Not To Read
Author: Alejandro Zambra
Translated by Megan McDowell
Publisher: Fitzcarraldo Editions
ISBN: 978-1910695630
Genre: Non-Fiction, Literary Essays
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I discovered, “Bonsai” by Alejandro Zambra in 2014 and since then I have never looked back. I’ve read all his books and all I can say is that I am glad he exists in the same universe as we do and continues to write. This time it was a collection of essays, some old and some new, collected in a book “Not to Read” and published by the very erudite folks at Fitzcarraldo Editions.

The thing about Zambra’s writing is the high level of engagement he was with his readers, even without meaning to I guess. You instantly relate to what he has to say about libraries, personal libraries and books in general. At the very superficial level it is this, but at a more constant and deeper level it is his writing which seems so effortless thanks to the translation really. McDowell has done a spectacular job of giving words to his thoughts and words of course in another language so smoothly, that you almost want to read the original (written in Spanish).

The essays are spread over three sections and each section, without a doubt is a joy to read. Zambra makes you travel with him, through his literature and also through his pieces on literature. I will for one never forget how he and his friends photocopied books as they were (and still are) very expensive to buy when they were students. What is most endearing is that even when he could afford to buy the originals, the photocopy stacks still remained on the shelves. Or the time when he visits a friend’s house and comments on the shelving of books and the technique used (a hilarious piece by the way).

Zambra’s writing connects with the reader in all of us and that’s why it is so accessible. Another thing about reading books about books is the discovery. Just by reading “Not to Read”, I have chanced upon a dozen or more writers I would’ve never known. Well, the glitch is that most of them aren’t translated to English but hey, I hope wanting to read them will finally make me enroll for Spanish classes. Anything that would make you read new authors, I suppose.

Alejandro Zambra has not praised or touched on the big Chilean writers – either because he doesn’t admire their writing, which is fair or because he sincerely feels there are alternatives (which I was glad to know of). This is a very important aspect of a book about books in my opinion – giving alternatives to what already exists. The cannons of literature will remain and revered, but we need something else to hold onto as well.

“Not to Read” can be read in one sitting (like I did) or better yet dip into it time and again, read an essay or two and mull over its magnificence. I am only too happy that more authors are writing about books and reading. One of my favourite genres so far. I strongly recommend everyone to read this book.

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Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks: A Librarian’s Love Letters and Breakup Notes to the Books in Her Life by Annie Spence

Dear Fahrenheit 451 by Annie Spence Title: Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks: A Librarian’s Love Letters and Breakup Notes to the Books in Her Life
Author: Annie Spence
Publisher: Flatiron Books, Macmillan USA
ISBN: 978-1250106490
Genre: Non-Fiction, Books about Books, Bibliophile
Pages: 256
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

Dear, Dear Fahrenheit 451,

You are a book about books and the love of reading. With this in mind, let me tell you how much I then love you, just by this fact alone. I loved you the moment I saw you on Amazon (you aren’t available in bookshops in India, yet) and knew I had to read you. You were sent by the publisher for an honest review and here we are!

Your author is a librarian (I think still is) and you are an ode to reading and books in the form of letters to each of them – not all books she has read – but the ones she thinks of fondly, the ones she doesn’t like all that much and the ones that really must go. It is also a book from a librarian’s perspective which I enjoyed very much. I must say Annie has written you very well. Your language is simple, and what is great is that one can discover more books through you. I love such books and in effect, I ended up loving you.

There is a letter inside of you to Grey which I thought was hilarious of the lot. Also, another one to, “To Kill a Mockingbird” about her sister’s love of reading which reminded me of my siblings and their love for books. You know the one addressed to “Fahrenheit 451” felt as though Annie knew that the end of books was near but the way she turned it on its head gave me so much hope for the future. Also, before I forget the letter addressed to the children’s section of the public library was most heartening, because if children do not read now, then how will they read when they grow up? Children must read. Don’t you agree?

Annie’s writing is funny, heartwarming and so true to the heart, given she works with books, readers and the love of reading. That is why you must know how much I love books about books. I could also understand why she broke up with a couple of books – I mean come on, we do move on in life and sometimes we just don’t have it in us to read books that weren’t made for us. You understand that too, isn’t it? Well, you are a book about that. But you are a book above all, about the joy of books, of book lists (in the last section, which I loved to the boot, by the way) and to tell the world to go away, since one is reading. You would understand that, Dear, Dear Fahrenheit 451. You so would.

I would love everyone to pick you up and read you. To chuckle at the letters to books inside of you. This is my rather insipid letter to you but I know you will not mind it. After all, I loved you and devoured you in three days!

There is a letter inside you, written by Annie to The Fledgling, where she says, “When people say books are full of wonder, we don’t take it seriously enough. You are over thirty-five years old. You smell like old paper and smudged fingertips. You’ve lain dusty and untouched for decades. And you’re magic.” This filled me with so much sunshine. Thank you for this book. Thanking Annie for this.

Yours,
A lover of books, a lover of books about books and a lover of reading.

 

Baking with Kafka: Comics by Tom Gauld

Baking with Kafka by Tom Gauld Title: Baking with Kafka
Author: Tom Gauld
Publisher: Canongate Books Ltd.
ISBN: 978-1786891501
Genre: Comics, Graphic, Humour
Pages: 160
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

Till now, I have just read one book by Tom Gauld and that is “Mooncop”, which I absolutely loved and couldn’t stop raving about for a long time. And now, the same is the case with “Baking with Kafka”. This one is a series of comics, some of which have been previously published in various publications and most of which focus on books and reading. There are some here and about on pop culture references, but essentially, this one is a treat for all booklovers.

Baking With Kafka - Image 1

Gauld has this minimal sense of drawing which works wonders for me (it isn’t for all, let me also tell you that). The words may not have that kind of impact (mostly, they do) but the drawings most certainly do and sometimes I thought to myself that maybe the words weren’t even needed. I found myself smiling a lot at the literary cartoons. It reminded me of the times when I was growing up and would wait eagerly for the newspaper, only to read the comics page.

Baking with Kafka - Image 2

For instance, there is this cartoon on Jonathan Franzen and how he is averse to any kind of marketing to how a romance novel should be written to when the book is adapted to a movie and the book’s reaction to my most favourite one of how books are classified on bookshelves. As a reader, I could connect to most of what is there in this book. I had never read any of these strips before, so the experience was new and refreshing and did not seem jaded at all.

Baking With Kafka - Image 3

“Baking with Kafka” is a funny, wry book that will leave you with a lot of laughs. If you are having a bad day or in general a grim time, this is the book to go to. Will cheer you like no other.

Lit Up: One Reporter. Three Schools. Twenty-four Books That Can Change Lives by David Denby

Lit Up Title: Lit Up: One Reporter. Three Schools. Twenty-four Books That Can Change Lives
Author: David Debby
Publisher: Picador
ISBN: 978-1250117038
Genre: Literary Non-Fiction, Books about Books
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

How does a teacher ensure that children read? How does he get teenagers who are constantly on social media and on their phones to get to pick up a book and explore the world in its pages? As an English teacher, that was the biggest task in front of David Denby. It would be an awkward start for sure – one to convince them to read, get them interested in books, which were an alien concept to them and second how to go about that.

“Lit-Up” is a story. It reads like that for sure. How David went about doing this not in just one public school but three of them, sure is motivating. For me, it was the honesty of the writing that came through and stuck. David talks about his challenges with the same enthusiasm as he highlights the small successes. How his encounters with students shape him as a teacher and a person and through that how he started enjoying some books a little more filled me with so much joy.

What is interesting also is the selection of books – the twenty-four books are quite diverse – from Faulkner (very challenging you think? Not for Denby’s students) to Plath to Huxley and Orwell (both seem so relevant as of today) and more. At the end, what Denby really has to say is “choose what you want to read and read as much as you can”. This level of engagement with students is what will suck you into the book.

“Lit-Up” is one of those rare books that makes you want to get up and make a change – no matter how small or big. It just makes you want to do something worthwhile with your life and teachers do it so well. They just reach out to you and make that one difference in your life. Denby chose to do it with books and reading. A read that hits all the right chords.

The Novel of the Century: The Extraordinary Adventure of Les Misérables by David Bellos

Title: The Novel of the Century: The Extraordinary Adventure of Les Misérables
Author: David Bellos
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 9780374223236
Genre: Non-Fiction, Books about Books, Literary Criticism
Pages: 307
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

41aWIV8ySAL._SX336_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

I love books about books. There is something magical about them that cannot be ignored, say what you will. Books talking about books is almost surreal – not even meta, it is just something that makes you want to pick up the books that are being spoken about and reread them or read them if you haven’t already. This is what happened to me when I finished reading “The Novel of the Century” by David Bellos.

This book is about Les Misérables and how it came to be. I remember watching Les Misérables – the movie when it released (the one starring Anne Hathaway) and crying. I couldn’t get enough of it and surprisingly I hadn’t read the book. I had to change that. I did read the book soon after and was mesmerised by it. I mean the characters – Inspector Jarvet, Jean Valjean, Fantine, Cosette and even the minor ones that play such an important role in this book of power, politics and love. I can see how it came to one of the greatest novels of the 19th century or the greatest, I think.

David Bellos takes a leap and writes about this book. How did it come to me? Why was it written? What was Victor Hugo thinking when he wrote this? How did he come about such characters? What Bellos also does is explain why this novel fascinates us (most of us at least) and how it places itself so beautifully in the modern context. To me, that was the most favourite parts in the book.

Bellos’ research is spot on. I was reading a lot about the book and the times in which it was set while reading The Novel of the Century and that to me is the best thing an author can do to you while he is writing about another book. The writing then is truly powerful. This is also not a biography of Victor Hugo but of course it has to trace his life briefly and how he came to write Les Mis. The angle of prostitution in those times, religion playing such a major role and also just how women survived is fascinating when Bellos brings it to the fore.

“The Novel of the Century” isn’t for everyone, that’s for sure. It is for people who love Les Misérables or perhaps want to really read it sometime in the future. Having said that, I couldn’t get enough of Bellos’s writing – crisp, to the point and very meticulous with his research. At times, I almost felt like I was watching the movie or reading the book again. The characters I went back to welcomed me back and I for one felt so nice meeting them after all these years. A book for book lovers and of course of the classic as well.