The Written Word

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The Written Word

Novels about Books

While most of us choose to read books because we enjoy them, some of us really, really love books. So much so that we even want our books to be about books. If you are one of those bibliophiles who just can't get enough, this list focuses on novels in which books play a central role. With a variety of genres, formats and tones, there should be at least one book here which intrigues your inner librarian, literati or collector.

The Secret of Lost Things by Sheridan Hay 
This book is a combination of a coming of age story and a literary mystery. Rosemary emigrates from Australia to New York City, where she quickly lands a job at the Arcade, a vast used and rare book store. The entire staff, including the owner, creates a cast of memorable, eccentric characters. When an unknown person asks the store to locate a lost Melville manuscript, things in the store turn dark and uncertain. While most coming of age stories seem to pivot around whether a character will or will not do something, Rosemary's story takes more twists and turns with her trying some dead ends. The extra wrinkle of a search for a rare book that puts everyone on edge also makes this book more complex. The clues to finding the book are drawn from actual letters written by Melville, adding more realism to the story.

The Marriage Plot by Jeffery Eugenides
This is another book that focuses on young people exploring and figuring out who they are. In this case, it's three college students, Micheal, Madeleine, and Leonard, in the 1980s. A surprising amount of this novel focuses on the books the characters are reading and how they change their lives. They all have to make decisions about whether they are going to accept or reject the worldviews put forward by the writers they are engaging with. While I personally loved the ways the characters engaged with books, wrapped up in this story is also their engagement with fads and trends in academia, and this can be a bit tedious at times. Thankfully, the romantic center of the book, Michael's spiritual journey and Leonard's battle with mental illness all give the story more life and interest.

Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
When Clay loses his job in the recession, he ends up getting hired for the night shift at Mr. Penumbra's, an all-hours bookstore. It soon becomes clear that Mr. Penumbra's is not what it appears to be on the surface. This launches Clay and his love interest on a journey to solve a secret riddle using new technology as well as old. This book is a nice bit of fluff, and if you get the right edition, the cover glows in the dark!

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett
This short, witty novella follows an unnamed British Queen who loves corgis as she finds a mobile library and falls in love with reading. This troubling habit, along with her budding friendship with a fellow bibliophile who works in her kitchens, makes her advisers nervous. Easy to read in an afternoon or a day or two, this fun book tries to figure out what happens when reading transforms and liberates us.

The Night Bookmobile by Audrey Niffenegger
In this slim graphic novel, Lexi finds a magical bookmobile which holds every book she's ever read, every thing she's ever read. It randomly appears at different points in her life, though she never knows when or where it will show up. Its meaning in her life ultimately changes the course of her life and even her afterlife. This is a dark story, but also a deep reflection on how books build our identity. Even if you're not that into graphic novels, this is a pretty accessible one.