There is no doubt about it, booklovers are sexy, fashionable people. So it should come as no surprise that books have become a popular subject of … books. From bookstore biographies to encyclopedic epics, here’s a half-dozen great books about the written word.
The King’s English: Adventures of an Independent Bookseller, by Betsy Burton
The King’s English is the best book about working selling books that I’ve read. Most heavy readers have heard of the fabulous King’s English Bookshop in Salt Lake City, and this book tells the story of the store from conception to today. Burton writes about the business as only an insider can, and covers everything from in-store events and difficult authors to competing with chains and staying afloat as an indie. If you’ve ever fantasized about a life in the glamorous world of bookselling, Burton tells you exactly what kind of things you’re in for.
I’ll admit something that I hate to say as a bookseller – there are a lot of classic books that I’ve never read. While I’ve read a respectable amount, there are far too many stories I only know from watching PBS’ Wishbone. After picking up Beowulf on the Beach on the recommendation of Michael Kindness, I’m determined to make time for some more classic literature this summer. Murnighan’s book is a compulsively readable guide to 50 classic books, and discusses why each book matters, what to read, what chapters to skim, and even which parts are sexy. The book is funny, easy to read, and accomplishes a sometimes-impossible task – making you want to go out and read some of those books you hated in high school.
A.J. Jacobs is one of my favorite writers, and the best of his four books is 2004’s The Know-It-All. In the book, Jacobs describes his year-long experience of reading the entire Encyclopædia Britannica – all 32 books, 33,000 pages and 44 million words of it. The book is consistently hilarious, and unconventionally structured. The chapters are the letters A-Z, and each is split up into sections (like an encyclopedia) based on words Jacobs found interesting or popped up in his life while reading. A thoroughly entertaining read from a-ak to zywiec, and a great source of trivia to boot.
Ultimate Teen Book Guide, edited by Daniel Hahn, Leonie Flynn and Susan Reuben
This book is a great resource for many different people – teachers, parents, teens, librarians, booksellers, and even adult readers. Rather than just typical teen and young adult series, the book lists adult fiction and nonfiction that is great for younger readers – books like Into the Wild and About a Boy. Entries are a mix of recommendations from teen reviewers, reviews from editors and authors and titles recommended from surveys of teen readers. Get a copy for your teen, and another for yourself.
Books, by Larry McMurtry
McMurtry is best known as an author of epic stories about the American West, including the award-winning novel Lonesome Dove and the screenplay adaptation of Brokeback Mountain. The author can also list bookseller among his occupations, since he worked as a rare book scout in college and later as a bookstore manager and owner. In his erudite memoir, McMurtry recounts his love of books, reading and writing over his seven decades of life. Books is a quick read, offering 108 chapters in less than 300 pages. Each chapter touches on different little ways that books changed the author’s life, and the book-loving reader can easily find parallels to moments their own lives were touched by books.
With a subtitle like that, there isn’t much more I need to say about this collection of essays from Hornby. The Polysyllabic Spree collects a year of the inimitable Hornby’s “Stuff I’ve Been Reading” columns from The Believer. In a move most of us can sympathize with, Nick lists both what he bought each month and what he actually read. In each column, Hornby joyfully bounces between reviewing what he’s read, talking about what’s going on in his life, and ruminating over how they connect. It’s a great read for everyone who has a to-be-read pile twice as high as the pile of books they’ve actually gotten to, and threatens to add a few more must-read books to your stack.