Recently, I decided I would spend some time reading books about books. I thought it would be a fun thing to see what other people think about books and how books shape the stories people tell.
What sophisticated method did I use to choose the books, you ask? I grabbed books with the word “book” or “reading” in the title. I’m not even kidding. As I walked around McKay’s and the library book sale, I just picked up stuff related to books and realized I had a book about books theme. I only had three, so most people probably wouldn’t consider that enough for its own special project. But I have since added two more books to my list, and I might look around for more to add. Not to mention, I do what I want. Because of my ingenious book choosing method, I have an interesting range of books: two memoirs, my first Christian romance title, and two fiction novels (one historical, one modern).
Part 1 is subtitled Road Trip not because these books have anything to do with road trips but because I happened to be on one while I read them.
So Many Books, So Little Time by Sara Nelson
I came across So Many Books, So Little Time at the library sale. It was a book with books on the cover and books in the title, so how was I going to just leave it there?
This book is a memoir about Nelson’s year of reading one book a week. It was written in either 2002 or 2003 (the exact year escapes me), and it’s interesting to see how being an American and a New Yorker affected her reading choices so soon after September 11, 2001. Don’t worry; the book is not overloaded with references to that time, but it does crop up, which works as a great example of how books, authors, and readers communicate with history.
What I Thought This Book Would Be
Mostly I thought it would be reviews and Nelson’s impressions of the books. I figured it would include a little of how she felt about reading different books at certain times.
What It Actually Was
Turns out this book was about reviews at all. It was actually a memoir of the author’s relationship with books that just so happened to be centered around a 52 week reading project. She discusses how she relates to books and how they remind her of different things, people, and times from her life. She talks about her growth as a reader, which I found extremely relatable as an avid reader not because we had the same journey but because we had similar conclusions.
I learned a lot about a variety of books, other people’s reading habits, and even a little about my own. In true memoir fashion, the book was funny sometimes, sad at others, and thought provoking for a lot of it. The author and I have vastly different reading tastes, but I actually found a couple of titles I thought looked interesting. Plus her book gave me some reasons to go back and explore books I’ve already read (the narrator in Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s is “obviously gay” according to her. I either missed something huge or am about to argue with Nelson in my head A LOT). The book was a lot of fun and very different from everything I’ve read lately.
Oddly, I don’t know if I will ever read the book again, but I know I’m keeping it. I might be keeping it as a decoration or to make use of her book lists in the back. I really don’t know. I just feel it should stay.
The Book of Madness and Cures by Regina O’Melveny
I picked this novel up at Dollar General for a wallet-busting $1. I decided to poke around in Dollar General’s tiny book selection because I realized I would finish Nelson’s memoir before I reached home or even before we got back in the car to start the drive home. (Side note: If you need something to read and you’re hurting money wise and don’t have a used bookstore, don’t scoff at Dollar General or Goodwill; they actually do have some incredible stuff hanging around all less than $5 and usually $1 or less.) This interesting little (It’s not. It’s 316 pages. I don’t know why I lied to you.) novel almost got put back by my foolish self because I found another book, one about Marie Antoinette. I desperately wanted to stick with my book about books theme, but I explained to myself that The Book of Madness and Cures was obviously a stretch and wouldn’t fit the theme anyway (wrong). I stood staring at both, and then asked my mother who reappeared at the exact right moment to give her sage and divine motherly advice and support. I held them up and asked which one I should get, and she said, “They’re a dollar. Get both.” with a look that clearly and affectionately said, “Why is my degree holding daughter actually an idiot?”
I followed her advice. Marie Antoinette awaits on the shelf, and I have now devoured O’Melveny’s novel.
The Book of Madness and Cures is about an Italian woman practicing as a doctor at the end of the 1500s who decides to go out across continents to find her father. The novel is actually about everything in the title: book, madness, and cures. Gabriella is forced to confront madness and administer cures (not to mention find some for herself) all while she works on a book started by her father, which she sees largely as his work in the beginning, but that idea changes in interesting ways throughout the novel. The way she thinks about The Book of Diseases, its authorship, her grief, and herself all change together. It’s a pretty amazing story about identity, family, and love with a little bit of history sprinkled throughout it. I ended up not taking any notes, which I’ve been doing for blog reasons, because I was too lost in the story to stop. I ended up reading most of it in one sitting in the car, and I only stopped because I was simply too tired. I finished it immediately after church on a day that turned out to be absolutely beautiful for reading outside. I really loved the novel, and I’m glad my stubborn brain decided to stick to my books about books mission. I will probably read it again. I’m actually debating on adding it to my bookshelf of favorites beside my bed.
I’m even more impressed with it because it is the author’s first novel; she has two published books of poetry, but that’s a very different game. The novel was so enthralling that I think I’ll actually give her poetry a shot, even though I typically only like poems whose authors are a couple centuries dead. I really hope she writes more novels in the future.
The beginning of my journey with books about books has been really successful thus far, and I’m excited for the rest. Just in case I haven’t said books enough to make you feel like books isn’t a word anymore: books.