Thursday, July 16, 2009

Bibliophilic Booklist

Stefanie of So Many Books has an interesting post about books which feature bibliophilic themes; she highlights A.S. Byatt's Possession and Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose as good examples, after being inspired by an article in Library Journal entitled Bibliocentric Fiction. And she is asking for your favourites too... there are already many intriguing books in the comments on her post but as I was mulling this over, I realized I could think of so many that it was time for a Book List! I could probably also include my most recently read & reviewed, Martha Baillie's The Incident Report. But here is my own selection of some of my favourite bibliophilic reading -- perhaps because of my profession(s) it comprises books featuring both librarians and booksellers:

1. Parnassus on Wheels & The Haunted Bookshop / Christopher Morley
Two books about a peripatetic bookseller and his longsuffering wife, these are delightful, charming, amusing, clever, and any other period adjectives you could come up with. They are great fun and are both available in full text in various places around the internet. If you are a bookish sort, you will love them for sure.

2. Autumn Rounds / Jacques Poulin
A slim French Canadian novel about an older gentleman from Quebec City who drives a bookmobile around the more secluded areas of the province, this has a light and yet melancholy tone. He finds a new love interest when a street circus appears outside his apartment, and she travels with him on his final bookmobile rounds, where he worries about such things as new reading coordinators needing to be arranged once he's retired.

3. Club Dumas / Arturo Perez Reverte
Most people will have heard of this one; most will probably have read it. It features seedy antiquarian bookscouts, mysterious texts rumored to exist, murder, mayhem... and Johnny Depp as hero Corso in the (otherwise mediocre) movie. What is not to like?

4. Salamander & The Logogryph / Thomas Wharton
Thomas Wharton's bookish bent is obvious in both of these hard to find books. Salamander is a magical and dreamy journey, following printer Nicholas Flood through an 18th century carnival of experience. Books, reading, the library of Alexandria... many things make their appearance in this one. As for The Logogryph, its subtitle, A Bibliography of Imaginary Books, may say all that is needed. If you need more convincing, it meditates on the act of reading itself, and is stylistically influenced by Calvino and Borges. Try it.

5. The Ink Drinker / Eric Sanvoisin
A French children's book about a vampire who only drinks ink, this chapter book was wonderful. Odilon works in his father's bookshop and hates it, until a strange customer turns him into an ink dependent vampire. It is weirdly funny and very creative, perfect for young boys as well as easily entertained adults! ;) Followed up by A Straw for Two, in which Odilon finds a girl vampire to share his ink drinking with.

6. The Dido Hoare series / Marianne Macdonald
A mystery series set in the UK featuring antiquarian bookseller Dido Hoare, these mysteries revolve around either specific manuscripts, or take place within a bookish world. There are 8 books in the series, and Dido, single mother, antiquarian sleuth and general busybody is a likable main character.

7. The Grand Complication / Allen Kurzweil
Alexander Short is a young, stylish reference librarian. Despite appearances, his life is crumbling around him. In steps Henry James Jesson III, an old, eccentric bibliophile who appears in Alexander's library to offer him some afterhours work: tracking down the missing elements of a cabinet of curiosities Jesson has obtained. Alexander takes on the research, only to discover there is more danger, intrigue and mystery (not to mention erotic pop-up books) involved than he had anticipated.

8. The Silver Bough / Lisa Tuttle
A fantasy novel steeped in Celtic myth, this is a brief and lovely read. Kathleen Mullaroy leaves London for the small Scottish town of Appleton, to take up a new post as head librarian of the tiny locale. I loved this library, with its cupola and hidden rooms and stacks full of old and mysterious books. The rest of the story, populated with interesting human characters, randomly appearing kelpies, faeries, and magical apples was good too... but I adored the library. :) Here's Kathleen:
She loved the look, the heft, the weight, the smell, and the fact of books—all those miniature embodiments of other lives, other times. Thoughts and dreams preserved for posterity, to be summoned back to life through the act of reading.

9. Ships that pass in the night / Beatrice Harraden
Okay, this 1893 novel isn't strictly bibliophilic, in that a book is not at the centre of the story. But Bernardine meets a writer known only as The Disagreeable Man at a sanatorium in Austria, they eventually come to develop a cordial relationship, then Bernardine recovers and goes home to resume work in her uncle's bookshop in London. The Disagreeable Man follows where, alas, there is a very unsatisfying sentimental and melodramatic ending, very Victorian potboilerish. But it has a great quote with which to finish this topic:

"I should not be surprised if you were able to write a book after all. Not that a new book is wanted. There are too many books as it is; and not enough people to dust them. Still, it is not probable that you would be considerate enough to remember that. You will write your book."


  1. This is a great list. Roberto Bolano's "Nazi Literature in the Americas" and "Savage Detectives" are also great examples of bibliocentered books. "Nazi Literature in the Americans" is an a very funny satire of academic writing and incredibly inventive. To me it seems like something Voltaire might write if he were living today.

  2. It was mentioned at Stefanie's blog, but I just finished The Angel's Game and really enjoyed it. I haven't read anything on your list, though!

  3. I can see why you needed your own post! Great list, a number of the books you mention I have never heard of so this is very exciting. I love books that feature books and bookish people :)

  4. I cam across The Logogryph in a bookstore once -- it was a beautiful edition -- but I didn't buy it, and I'm still kicking myself for not getting it. I should buy books when I get the impulse, but I always regret it later if I don't!

  5. I just started a few days ago A.S. Byatt's "The Biographer". I have only read 30 pages but I see it as a great book about the reading life already. The only problem now is I have not got all her other 23 or so books on my TBR list now.

  6. mel - I want to read some Bolano, maybe I'll start with that one! And I agree about Byatt; her latest, The Children's Book, is also a good bookish story

    softdrink - my husband just finished The Angel's Game and he really enjoyed it too. Have you checked out the soundtrack at Zafon's website? It's great.

    stefanie - yes, thanks to you I now have a longer list of bookish books to get to! :)

    Dorothy - the Logogryph is a lovely publication. I always find that I regret not buying books more than I regret buying too many!

  7. Here is the order I read Bolano in
    1. Savage Detectives-really fun and neat account of the reading life.
    2. Nazi Literature In the Americas-a series of great stories about writers that sound more interesting than a lot of real ones.
    3. 2666 work of genius-too bad we dont know for sure how Bolano wanted it published-there is talk now there is a still to be published 6th part of it
    4. One Night in Chile-stream of consciousness of super erudite but corrupt priest.

  8. These all sound wonderful, and most of them I've never heard of! Whenever I come here, my TBR list gets a yard longer. Thank you!


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