As a self-proclaimed book geek, I enjoy books and reading, but even more so when those books are about books, writing, reading, bookshops, and libraries, et cetera. The realm of printed matter has always enchanted me. I am truly enamored by the literature and publishing worlds. While there are umpteen selections in this genre (of fiction about books, etc.), there are 5 stories I’ve encountered in recent years that have particularly filled my book-loving little heart with literary joy.
These books are The Secret of Lost Things by Sheridan Hay, The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai, An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin, and Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan.
Aside from their contents, these books have something else going for them: those excellent book covers with depictions of books! Apparently, I am attracted to book covers with actual books on them. Though I keep in mind the old adage, “never judge a book by its cover,” but I always think, “well, good cover design never hurt!” This is certainly true of my compiled choices, described in further detail below:
The Secret of Lost Things by Sheridan Hay–bought new at Barnes and Noble, read spring 2010
After losing her mother, Rosemary moves from her home in Tasmania to New York City to start anew and ends up working at a vast bookstore (it had a “reputation for housing lost things: books once possessed and missed or never possessed and longed for”), populated with an eccentric cast of characters. Now, mix in Herman Melville, unrequited love, an albino man, and the unwavering friendship of the transsexual bookstore cashier, and you’ve got this beautiful coming-of-age story.
The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai–bought used on Amazon, read August 2015
Children’s librarian Lucy befriends 10-year-old Ian, a library frequenter looking to escape the strict parents who force him to attend anti-gay classes, and gives him books that Ian’s mom normally censors. Circumstances begin to take a far different turn when Lucy finds Ian camped out overnight in the library and he persuades her to help him run away; a wacky road trip commences that makes the reader question who is kidnapping whom and why.
An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine–bought new at the L.A. Times Festival of Books from the Skylight Books tent, read May 2015
72-year-old Aaliya’s world mainly consists of days spent in her apartment in Beirut reading, creating translations of books into Arabic (which she never shows to anyone), remembering episodes from her life, and observing the moments of daily life around her. Yet, she has lived an unconventional life (she also used to run a bookstore)–her spunk and spirit combined with her bookish musings make her an irresistible narrator–one whose seemingly small world turns out to be lush and complicated.
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin–borrowed from my aunt, I realized I had read an earlier book from the same author, Elsewhere, as an already compulsive reader in my teens, read September 2016
A.J. owns the only bookstore on a small island, which he opened with his now-deceased wife, and spends most of his time repelling others with his exacting and critical attitude until a relationship with a new publisher sales rep helps him to change his ways. The chapters, introduced with A.J.’s commentary on well-known stories beloved by the book’s characters, guide the reader through episodes involving a stolen rare Edgar Allen Poe edition, a toddler left in the bookstore, and a hodgepodge community built around a love of books.
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan–bought used at The Last Bookstore, read October 2016
Former web designer Clay finds himself without a job in the tech world in San Francisco and stumbles into a strange, vertical bookstore run by kindly Mr. Penumbra that sells almost no books, but lends obscure tomes to an odd club. Soon Clay finds himself, along with his band of friends–an artist, an entrepreneur, and a Google programmer, respectively,–in a Dan Brown-esque adventure involving a secret society, 15th-century printer Aldus Manutius, and a puzzle centuries of devoted followers have sought to unravel. Also, major props go to cover designer Rodrigo Corral for the cool glow-in-the-dark bookshelves that wrap around both covers.
All photos by Kristin Yinger