Books about Books

  • Speaking and Language

    Paul Goodman

    I can’t remember how this book arrived on my to-read list, but I went through the trouble of tracking down a used copy, so it must have been a convincing recommendation.

    The “Defense of Poetry” subtitle is largely a tease — a reference to other works with similar titles that Goodman was apparently thinking about when he wrote this. Most of the book is about linguistics and speech, and it’s not uninteresting, but I still struggled to get immersed in the ideas presented. Eventually he proceeds to looking at language in literature (not just poetry), and I found a little more to latch on to there, but only in disparate pieces. Strangely Goodman himself explained exactly my experience in reading his book...more

  • Joseph Anton

    Salman Rushdie

    Recounting nine years of living in protective custody after the Ayatollah Khomeini sentenced him to death, Rushdie’s memoir is befittingly hefty at over 630 pages. About three-quarters of the way into it, the tediousness of his ongoing fight to live freely comes through all too clear. In addition to describing the particulars of living constantly with a team of security personnel and the various meetings to try to force Iran to overturn the fatwa, Rushdie also covers general life stories including his several marriages and infidelities as well as his writing process and various parties he attended and celebrities he met, despite the restrictions to his personal freedom.

    Though I’ve only read Midnight’s Children years and years ago, it...more

  • Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

    Robin Sloan

    I imagine this quirky novel would be a talking point for people interested in the “digital humanities,” as it pits dusty, old books and their creaky scholars against shiny, electronic devices and their optimistic geeks. That’s definitely both exaggeration and simplification as there are characters that walk the analog-digital line, but then it’s also a lighthearted narrative in which many of the characters are archetypal.

    Set amidst a hyperrealistic San Francisco, the bookstore of the title appears to a young, unemployed web designer who is eager for any work and takes the night shift. He soon realizes the store also functions as a library for a collection of mysterious books that seem to written in code. And, because it wouldn’t...more

  • Americus

    MK Reed & Jonathan Hill

    I found this story centered around a fight to ban a series of fantasy books about witches to be rather black-and-white — and not just because it’s a graphic novel that is drawn that way. The characters are all clearly set into one camp or another, and there is no one in between. There is little sympathy to be found for those on the pro-ban camp, and the extent of their outrage is difficult to understand, especially as none of them admit to reading an entire book. But it’s not hard to be enamored of the various “good” characters, from the bookworm hero Neil to his kind, single mom to the defiant librarian, though they get a more nuanced portrayal. The Apatha...more

  • Reading Lolita in Tehran

    Azar Nafisi

    An intriguing concept, pairing a memoir about living through the Iranian Revolution and the resulting totalitarian regime with literary criticism of Western literature as an attempt to put it all into perspective. Unfortunately Nafisi’s effort fell flat to me, mostly because the writing feels too weak for the task.

    The structure of the book itself is confusing, as she shifts around just enough that it’s hard to follow the sequence of events, plus there are many little digressions within chapters that don’t seem to add to the story. Though the book is ostensibly centered around the reading group she begins with some students after leaving her teaching position at the University of Tehran when the veil is imposed on all female...more

  • Print is Dead : Books in our digital age

    Jeff Gomez

    A few months ago I listened to some excerpts from this book, and finally got around to actually reading the whole thing.

    There’s something in the way Gomez has written this book that kept eliciting these knee-jerk, argumentative responses, and I’d find myself angrily relating some piece of what I read nearly every day that I was reading this book. I suppose even from the title, it’s apparent that he’s taking an incredibly provocative stance. The crux of his thesis is an analogy between music and books, and he aims to prove that books will inevitably follow music into the purely digital world. The comparison doesn’t sit so cleanly with me — recorded music is so different from books. Music existed for...more

  • Print is Dead : Books in our digital age

    Jeff Gomez

    I have to preface this by saying that I haven’t actually read this whole book yet, but rather listened to some excerpts. I will appreciate the irony (noted by Gomez) that I will be reading a book about how reading paper books is dead when the time comes, but I wanted to put down some thoughts before I lost them.

    Gomez submits here that the debate over the coming demise of printed books is moot, as print is already dead, much in the way that global warming may have already been tipped too far to be corrected. Basically, we are all just waiting for the technology that will free us from bound paper.

    Part of his proof is that we already read...more

  • Ex Libris: confessions of a common reader

    Anne Fadiman

    I got this book out from the library the same day as The Book of the Bookshelf, and Petroski makes several references to this book, so that was a kind of odd coincidence. I can’t remember now what made me seek out these two books specifically. Then I was also thinking about “books about books” and whether I should integrate it as a category. This one ends with a short chapter of recommending reading that begins, “Most good secondhand bookstores have a shelf labeled ‘Books About Books.’” Not particularly earth-shattering, but it’s always interesting when synchronicity abounds, especially around a common locus.

    Fadiman’s collection of personal essays about reading were originally published in the Library of Congress magazine Civilization—which...more

  • The Book on the Bookshelf

    Henry Petroski

    Possibly you’ve read something by Henry Petroski before, as he is quite prolific: writing about the pencil, useful things in general, as well as more abstract concepts like Success through Failure.

    In this book he begins staring at his bookshelves and wondering how much he really sees them or just the books on them, or some combination of the two entities in which they are fully dependent on each other being there to be seen at all. It segues into a history of bookshelves through the book itself, but not just the progression from scroll to codex, but also how books were used and stored and organized. From the earliest scribed volumes to later printed...more

  • Book One

    Chip Kidd

    One of the great advantages to designing book covers is that you don’t ever have to have an idea, much less a thought, ever, in your head. That is the author’s job. Through a manuscript, he or she will give you all the ideas and thoughts that you could possibly need to design a jacket.

    If you’ve heard of Chip Kidd before, the phrase “the closest thing to a rock star in graphic design” will probably ring a few bells, if not a huge gonging irritation for the inordinate ubiquity of the quote. That said, Kidd is probably one of the few contemporary designers well-known both in and outside of the design world. This monograph collects his work from the last...more

Pages