As an avid reader and someone who is not particularly constrained by genre/time period or author, I love to keep track of trends that I notice in the books that I pick up. Lately, I’ve been fascinated with the phenomenon of books about..well, books! On the surface, it doesn’t seem to be a particularly keen concept. But, there are dozens of books out there about small book shops and book sellers and people who have interesting relationships with and because of books.
As book lovers, this trend probably appeals to us right away. We love books and the ways they transport us, teach us and inspire us, so why wouldn’t we love a story about a book that maybe actually transports someone somewhere or has a major impact on someone’s life and story.
So first, in what stories have I seen this trend? It goes back many years, but more recent publications still feature this concept, too. Here are a few that have come my way over the past few years.
- The Shadow of the Wind and subsequent stories by Carlos Ruiz Zafon features a special book store and a hall of forgotten books.
- Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan also features a unique bookshop.
- The Little Paris Book Shop by Nina George is about a floating bookstore and a man who recommends books to cure people of what ails them.
- The Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde is an alternate history universe where people can travel in and out of books and interact with famous characters. Even the writing process is not in the hands of the author in this world and the book jokes and word puns are thick. I love this series.
- The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin is another story about a book owner.
- The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow tells the story of a young woman who goes on a spectacular journey after coming across a very special book. This book is incredibly smart and well written. I highly recommend reading it! It’s pretty new as well, published in 2019.
Okay. You get the idea. There are lots of books about books out there! But what is it about books that makes people want to tell stories about them? And who, besides devout English majors, do these stories appeal to?
Books about books feel almost meta in a way, like the picture of someone taking a picture. But, this storytelling device is much more than a stunt and, of course, it appeals to many more people than those of us who studied literature in college. Perhaps its because books have a way of capturing us and changing us, so reading a story about how a book, or a book shop changes someone is really not that far of a stretch. It also drives into the whole magic nature of a book. Books are portals and are transformational. Knowing this, why WOULDN’T we write about books?
For me, reading a story that incorporates a book is an opportunity to experience the wit and creativity of the author. Books are pretty standard items. But, the doorways they become as plot devices and catalysts and the dozens of ways people think about this very everyday item is inspiring. After finishing The Ten Thousand Doors of January last week, my mind has been on constant overdrive, envisioning how books (and other everyday items) can be reimagined into something spectacular and fantastical.
Books about books is a literary trend that I’m not sure I will ever be tired of. It’s smart, clever, whimsical and your story can go so many different directions. What literary trends have popped up in your reading lately that you like? Please share!