On the Reading of Books About Books



James Archer - "The Picnic" - detail

James Archer – “The Picnic” – detail

When I’m not reading books, I’m reading books about books. Ditto books about or featuring librarians, the history of books and reading, book making (not as in gambling, only because I don’t have the money because I spend it on books), book art, book cover art, paper making, and anything even remotely connected to the subject of books. Single-minded much?

Why yes. Yes, I am.

And because this is a post about books, I’ll leave notebooks and pens and Post Its and fountain pens and other paper products out of it, showing admirable restraint. Though, when I’m not reading or reading about or writing about books, I’m dreaming of stationery…


Stationery, about which I am not talking.

Stationery, about which I am not talking.


According to Goodreads, the books I’ve listed at the bottom of this post are the top 10 most popular books about books (the list goes on pages and pages, have a look). The majority are popular books, crossing into the mainstream becoming the go-to titles you see everywhere, yet it’s still surprising they’re popular because we’re constantly told no one reads anymore.

If that’s the case, why are books about books popular at all?

I thought as much.




Beyond this, there are hundreds of titles too esoteric for the loud world of popular books. I know, because I collect them and never see them beyond reviews in highly literary periodicals, or by happening upon them while browsing Amazon, or in my bookshelves. There are books about favorite books of writers both popular and literary, books about peripheral topics like the history of the circulating library and popular bestsellers, books that are lists of books so you can add more books to your reading list. Actually, they’re all that.

It’s a shame I don’t have my books in this sub-genre listed anywhere, otherwise I’d be able to pass titles along to other obsessives. Mental note: update my Goodreads library.


Recent Book News published in The New York Times


As soon as I catch sight of a forthcoming title of a book about books I run to Amazon. If it’s not yet published, it either gets pre-ordered or I throw it on my Wish List – as in I wish I had the money to buy it. Inevitably, I break down and my Buy it Now finger sends it careening out the door of Amazon’s warehouse and onto my credit card, though occasionally titles slip through and I miss them altogether.

Even the best of us.

Half Price Books is another incredible source for serendipitous finds of these little lost lambs. Born with the fore-knowledge they ‘ll wind up remaindered, books about books are destined for used/re-sell bookstores. Bad for the publishers, but very good for me.

Online, there’s also Hamilton Books. Have a look: their range is phenomenal, mostly for difficult to find books. If you’re a total nerd like me, your specialty genre is probably there. Shipping is $ 3.50 per order, 40 cents per item.



And like the dope-fiend who cannot move from place to place without taking with him a plentiful supply of his deadly balm I never venture far without a sufficiency of reading matter. Books are so necessary to me that when in a railway train I have become aware that fellow-travellers have come away without a single one I have been seized with a veritable dismay. – W. Somerset Maugham


If you’re outside the U.S, and don’t have access to a HPB, I hope you have the equivalent because my dear God above. Most used bookstores peddle excess copies of Patterson and Sparks and Mitch Albom in indecent numbers; HPB has those, but also obscure works by major authors, beautiful editions and imports you’d never find elsewhere, especially not at these prices.

Older books about books – those out of copyright – can be found in Kindle editions, often for free. Some are delicious little beauties it’s unlikely you’d have heard of, both long form and short pieces in story collections. Coming across those makes my stomach flip.

Now that I’ve broached the topic, I should be a good egg and list these somewhere, shouldn’t I.

Meanwhile, enjoy this from Goodreads:


10 Most Popular Books About Books

The Book Thief – Marcus Zusak (own, haven’t read – I KNOW)

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry – Gabrielle Zevin – (read)

The Thirteenth Tale – Diane Setterfield – (review copy, read)

The Eyre Affair (# 1 Thursday Next) – Jasper Fforde – (own, read)

84, Charing Cross Road – Helene Hanff – (own, read and read)

Farenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury – (own, read, chose for Community-Wide Read for my library, read again)

Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader – Anne Fadiman (own, read)

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – Mary Ann Shaffer (own review copy, haven’t read)

The Uncommon Reader – Alan Bennett (own, read)

Inkheart (Inheart #1) – Cornelia Funke (own, read)


2 thoughts on “On the Reading of Books About Books

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