These Nonfiction Books Are All About... Books
The only bibliophiles love more than reading books is talking about books. From our collective favorites, to those duds we'd rather forget; our all-time favorite authors and the ones we steer clear of; our favorite ships, our least favorite tropes, TBRs and DNFs...the topics are endless when you get two book lovers in a room together. So, it stands to reason, that any reader worth their weight in pages would be obsessed with books about books. And luckily, there are many. These reads, written by readers, authors, creatives, and plainly, people who just love books, explore the many ways that books and being a reader can change someone's life.
From Anne Fadiman's thoughts on everything from combining book collections with her husband to whether or not one should dog-ear pages, to Samantha Ellis's exploration of whether the literary heroines of her childhood stand up to the test of time, these 11 nonfiction books about books will give you all of the literary feels. If you've ever wanted to think (even more) about the huge role books have played in your life, these reads will be the jumping off point for more bookish conversations than ever. Just make sure you share these with an equally book-obsessed friend when you're done.
1. 'Ex Libris: Confessions Of A Common Reader' by Anne Fadiman
Anne Fadiman is, by her own admission, the sort of person who learned about sex from her father's copy of Fanny Hill, whose husband buys her 19 pounds of dusty books for her birthday, and who once found herself poring over her roommate's 1974 Toyota Corolla manual because it was the only written material in the apartment that she had not read at least twice. This witty collection of essays recounts a lifelong love affair with books and language.
2. 'Nabokov's Favorite Word Is Mauve: What the Numbers Reveal About the Classics, Bestsellers, and Our Own Writing' by Ben Blatt
Statistician and journalist Ben Blatt brings big data to the literary canon, exploring the wealth of fun findings that remain hidden in the works of the world’s greatest writers. He assembles a database of thousands of books and starts asking the questions that have intrigued curious word nerds and book lovers for generations: What are our favorite authors’ favorite words? Do men and women write differently? Are bestsellers getting dumber over time? Which bestselling writer uses the most clichés? What makes a great opening sentence? How can we judge a book by its cover? And which writerly advice is worth following or ignoring?
3. 'Ten Years in the Tub: A Decade Soaking in Great Books' by Nick Hornby
At the end of 2003, in the first issue of The Believer, Nick Hornby turned in the inaugural installment of a monthly column that immediately became a reader favorite. For the next ten years, Hornby’s "Stuff I’ve Been Reading” chronicled a singular reading life — one that is measured not just in "books bought” and "books read,” as each column begins, but in the way our feelings toward Celine Dion say a lot about who we are, the way Body Shop Vanilla Shower Gel can add excitement to our days, and the way John Updike might ruin our sex lives. Hornby’s column is both an impeccable, wide-ranging reading list and an indispensable reminder of why we read.
4. 'The Books That Changed My Life: Reflections by 100 Authors, Actors, Musicians, and Other Remarkable People' Edited by Bethanne Patrick
Leading authors, politicians, CEOs, actors, and other notables share the books that changed their life, why they love them, and their passion with readers everywhere. Regan Arts has teamed up with the literary charity 826National, which will receive a portion of the book’s proceeds to provide students ages six to 18 with opportunities to explore their creativity and improve their writing skills.
5. 'How Reading Changed My Life' by Anna Quindlen
A recurring theme throughout Anna Quindlen's How Reading Changed My Life is the comforting premise that readers are never alone. "There was waking, and there was sleeping. And then there were books," she writes, "a kind of parallel universe in which anything might happen and frequently did, a universe in which I might be a newcomer but never really a stranger. My real, true world." Indeed, Quindlen's essays are full of the names of "friends," real or fictional..Anne of Green Gables and Heidi; Anthony Trollope and Jane Austen, to name just a few...who have comforted, inspired, educated, and delighted her throughout her life.
6. 'Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading: Finding and Losing Myself in Books' by Maureen Corrigan
“It’s not that I don’t like people,” writes Maureen Corrigan in her introduction to Leave Me Alone, I’m Reading. “It’s just that there always comes a moment when I’m in the company of others—even my nearest and dearest — when I’d rather be reading a book.” In this delightful memoir, Corrigan reveals which books and authors have shaped her own life—from classic works of English literature to hard-boiled detective novels, and everything in between.
7. 'How To Be a Heroine: Or What I Learned From Reading Too Much' by Samantha Ellis
While debating literature’s greatest heroines with her best friend, thirty-something playwright Samantha Ellis has a revelation—her whole life, she's been trying to be Cathy Earnshaw of Wuthering Heights when she should have been trying to be Jane Eyre. With this discovery, she embarks on a retrospective look at the literary ladies — the characters and the writers — whom she has loved since childhood. From early obsessions with the March sisters to her later idolization of Sylvia Plath, Ellis evaluates how her heroines stack up today.
8. 'The Shelf: From LEQ to LES: Adventures in Extreme Reading' by Phyllis Rose
Can you have an Extreme Adventure in a library? Phyllis Rose casts herself into the wilds of an Upper East Side lending library in an effort to do just that. Hoping to explore the “real ground of literature,” she reads her way through a somewhat randomly chosen shelf of fiction, from LEQ to LES. In The Shelf, Rose investigates the books on her shelf with exuberance, candor, and wit while pondering the many questions her experiment raises and measuring her discoveries against her own inner shelf — those texts that accompany us through life.
9. 'The Year of Reading Dangerously: How Fifty Great Books (and Two Not-So-Great Ones) Saved My Life' by Andy Miller
Andy Miller had a job he quite liked, a family he loved, and no time at all for reading. Or so he kept telling himself. But, no matter how busy or tired he was, something kept niggling at him. Books. Books he'd always wanted to read. Books he'd said he'd read that he actually hadn't. Books that whispered the promise of escape from the daily grind. And so, with the turn of a page, Andy began a year of reading that was to transform his life completely.
10. 'Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading' by Nina Sankovitch
After the death of her sister, Nina Sankovitch found herself caught up in grief, dashing from one activity to the next to keep her mind occupied. But on her 46th birthday she decided to stop running and start reading. She spends one year savoring a great book every day, from Thomas Pynchon to Nora Ephron and beyond. Nina ultimately turns to reading as therapy and through her journey illuminates the power of books to help us reclaim our lives.
11. 'Book by Book: Notes on Reading and Life' by Michael Dirda
While books contain insights into our selves and the world, it takes a conversation—between the author and the reader, or between two readers—to bring them fully to life. Drawing on sources as diverse as Dr. Seuss and Simone Weil, P. G. Wodehouse and Isaiah Berlin, Pulitzer Prize–winning critic Michael Dirda shows how the wit, wisdom, and enchantment of the written word informs and enriches nearly every aspect of life, from education and work to love and death. Organized by significant life events and abounding with quotations from great writers and thinkers, Book by Book showcases Dirda's capacious love for and understanding of books.