Books about books

Books about books

As an unabashedly bookish person, I find it hard to resist a good book about books. Reading about another person's take on a book can lead me to re-examine my own perspective or inspire me to broaden my horizons and delve into works I otherwise would have skipped.

Also, as an avid reader, it always fascinates me to learn about the reading habits of other people and how their relationships with books have impacted their lives.

Kevin Smokler's "Practical Classics: 50 Reasons to Reread 50 Books You Haven't Read Since High School" takes the reader back in time to the days of assigned chapters and pop quizzes.

Smokler revisits the books often assigned in school and argues that many of them offer greater rewards (or at least different ones) when read from an adult perspective.

I resented many of the books I was assigned to read in school because it made a chore out of something I loved to do on my own. These essays, however, present a compelling and entertaining argument for dusting off the classics and giving them another chance. I've been convinced to add several classics, some I've read and some I haven't, to my list of books to check out.

I do, however, draw the line at my high school nemesis, "The Scarlet Letter," a book Smokler includes but notes that even as an adult, it "drove him into the arms of household chores."

Nick Hornby is one of my inspirations when it comes to writing about books. His monthly column in the literary magazine The Believer, titled "Stuff I've Been Reading," is the column I wish someone would hire me to write.

Each month, he lists the books he has bought and intended to read in one column and the books he actually read in another and then informally discusses the books and his reading life over the past month. These columns have been published in four collections, the most recent being 2012's "More Baths Less Talking."

Hornby's reading interests are eclectic, and his writing about them is insightful and often hilarious. He manages to be entertaining whether he's talking about something light (such as a history of "Saturday Night Live") or something much drier ("Austerity Britain, 1945-51").

He even does the unthinkable and makes me enjoy reading about the work of Charles Dickens, one of his favorite authors and one I've never been able to fully appreciate.

In "Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader," one of my favorite books about reading, Anne Fadiman pays tribute to the joys and quirks of being a lifelong bibliophile and word nerd.

Each essay in this collection focuses on another aspect of her literary life. One theme that emerges is the way that a shared love of books and reading can inform relationships among family, friends and lovers.

One essay focuses on merging libraries with her husband (after five years of marriage) and another on her family's shared habit of compulsively proofreading menus.

Another frequent topic is the relationships readers have with physical books. She describes people's relationships with books as either "courtly love" or "carnal love" depending on their habits. Fadiman (as well as myself) falls into the carnal category, dog-earring pages and writing in margins — although never in library books!

Fadiman's essays are charming and shot through with her dry humor, and I laughed out loud often while glimpsing a bit of myself in her anecdotes.

Whether you are an obsessive book lover or just someone in need of ideas on what to read next, books about books can be both entertaining reads and invaluable sources of inspiration. As a reader, it's fascinating to get a glimpse inside the way others experience an activity that feels so deeply personal but is in some ways universal.

Books like these are a welcome reminder to bookworms everywhere that they will always be in great company.

Kasia Hopkins is an adult services librarian at the Urbana Free Library. She can be reached at khopkins@tufl.info.

Topics (1):Books

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