Book Review: Dear Fahrenheit 451

dear fahrenheit 451Dear Fahrenheit 451 – Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks: A Librarian’s Love Letters and Breakup Notes to the Books in Her Life
by Annie Spence
Book about Books
244 pages
Published 2017

Dear Fahrenheit 451 was recommended to me by Doing Dewey in the comments to my last book about books, My Life With Bob. I’m very glad they recommended it, because I enjoyed this book immensely!

In Dear Fahrenheit 451, each chapter is a letter to a different book. (Except the last few chapters, those are letters to the reader.) The letters range from disappointment (Wicked) to adoration (The Fledgling) to creeped out (Principles of Bloodstain Pattern Analysis) – but they’re all entertaining, and usually pretty funny. Some letters are explaining why she’s culling them from the library’s collection (too many copies, or bad condition, or haven’t been checked out in years.)

The author has a wonderful writing style that makes me want to grab coffees and gab about books with her. It’s also a great book to read when you don’t have long periods of time to read – the chapters are short and self-contained, so there’s no rush to find out what happens next. It will most likely add things to your TBR, though, as most books about books tend to do!

I really enjoyed this one – it’s way better than My Life With Bob. Probably because it’s actually about the books, where My Life With Bob was more of a memoir.

From the cover of Dear Fahrenheit 451:

If you love to read, and presumably you do since you’ve picked up this book (!), you know that some books affect you so profoundly, they forever change the way you think about the world. Some books, on the other hand, disappoint you so much you want to throw them against the wall. Either way, it’s clear that a book can be your new soul mate or the bad relationship you need to end.

In Dear Fahrenheit 451, librarian Annie Spence has crafted love letters and breakup notes to both the iconic and the eclectic books she has encountered over the years. From her breakup letter to The Giving Tree (a dysfunctional relationship book if ever there was one) to her love letter to The Time Traveler’s Wife (a novel less about time travel and more about the life of a marriage, with all of its ups and downs), Spence will make you think of old favorites in a new way. Filled with suggested reading lists, Spence’s take on classic and contemporary books is very much like the best of literature – sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, sometimes surprisingly poignant, and filled with universal truths.

A celebration of reading, Dear Fahrenheit 451 is for anyone who loves nothing more than curling up with a good book . . . and another, and another, and another!

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Book Review: How to Find Love in a Bookshop

how to find love in a bookshopHow to Find Love in a Bookshop
by Veronica Henry
Contemporary Fiction
340 pages
Published 2016

From the title, you’d think this is a love story – and it kind of is – but not a traditional one. We don’t have a center couple with side characters, and the plot doesn’t revolve around their misunderstandings. No, the main character here is Emilia Nightingale, entrusted with her late father’s book shop, and the romance is with the town. There are several side characters, and while Emilia does get a romance, it’s the side characters’ love lives that we spend the most time with. We have the heiress to the local estate and her devoted gardener, the property developer’s minion and his estranged wife, the housewife longing to be a career woman again and her career husband who wants to stay home, the shy but sweet chef and the cheesemonger. (That one’s my favorite! Bonding over books and food? Girl after my own heart!)

The main conflict in the book comes from the financial straits of the bookshop and Emilia’s efforts to stay afloat – everything else revolves around that. We dip back in time to Emilia’s father’s life to learn about the founding of the shop and his own romances, which helps us see how some characters are emotionally invested in Emilia and the current status of the bookshop.

This is a sweet, gentle book that’s perfect for a rainy day and a cup of tea. Combining characters who love books, the enchanting magic of a good bookshop, and the (mostly) serene atmosphere of a quiet English village, the book is just cozy and comforting and I absolutely loved it.

From the cover of How to Find Love in a Bookshop:

The enchanting story of a bookshop, its devoted new owner, its loyal customers, and the extraordinary power of books to heal the heart.

Nightingale Books, nestled on the main street in an idyllic little village, is a dream come true for book lovers – a cozy haven and welcoming getaway for the literary-minded locals. But owner Emilia Nightingale is struggling to keep the shop open after her beloved father’s death, and the temptation to sell is getting stronger. The property developers are circling, yet Emilia’s regulars have become like family, and she can’t imagine breaking the promise she made to her father to keep the store alive.

There’s Sarah, owner of stately Peasebrook Manor, who has used the bookshop as an escape in the past few years; now it seems there’s a very specific reason for all those frequent visits. Next is roguish Jackson, who, after making a complete mess of his marriage, looks to Emilia for advice on books for the son he misses so much. And the forever shy Thomasina, who runs a pop-up restaurant for two in her tiny cottage, has a crush on a man she met in the cookbook section, but can hardly dream of working up the courage to admit her true feelings.

Enter the world of Nightingale Books for a serving of romance, long-held secrets, and unexpected hopes for the future – and not just within the pages on the shelves. How to Find Love in a Bookshop is the delightful story of Emilia, the unforgettable community whose lives she has touched, and the books they all cherish.

Book Review: My Life with Bob

my life with bobMy Life with Bob – Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues
by Pamela Paul
Memoir
240 pages
Published 2017

I need to read more books about books, because the few that I’ve read, I’ve really enjoyed! Earlier this year I read Tolstoy and the Purple Chair, and loved it. I have holds on Voracious: A Hungry Reader Cooks Her Way Through Great Books and The World Between Two Covers: Reading the Globe. (I also have a hold on The Man Who Loved Books Too Much, but I’m not sure that quite counts.) And, in looking up the links for those books, I just put holds on three more books about reading, since this is a genre I apparently enjoy!

My Life with Bob is about the author’s reading life. Bob is a notebook she uses to keep track of what she’s read. Just title and author, and whether or not she’s finished it. Very simple. But in looking back through what she’s read, she recalls where she was, and what she was doing or going through at the time. So the real story is how her reading choices fit into her life, and how being a bookworm affected her life.

I enjoyed the book, with the slight irritation (in the latter part of the book) of her insistence on calling Young Adult literature, Children’s Lit. Children’s books are picture books and books for young readers, not The Fault in Our Stars and The Hunger Games. Those are Young Adult, and there’s a pretty big difference in my opinion. Maybe not in the professional world; she is the editor of The New York Times Book Review. But it’s frustrating to hear her talk about Kid Lit and lump Harry Potter in with a 36-page autobiography of a teddy bear written for kids under 10.

I was also a little shocked to learn (in the book!) she wrote a book about how porn is destroying the American family, and testified before Congress about it, sponsored by Senators Orrin Hatch and Sam Brownback. I normally don’t have a problem reading Republican authors – I often don’t know the exact political leanings of authors – but I’m reading about her reading choices, and suddenly they are all suspect. (She disliked Ayn Rand, at least, so that’s something.) The book was published in May of last year, so after the last presidential election. Anyone who acknowledges working with the GOP at this point, and isn’t embarrassed by it, immediately gets a black mark in my book.

So ultimately I’m torn on this book. I liked reading it. I dislike the author. (I will never even try to be non-political on this blog. Sorry-not-sorry.)

From the cover of My Life with Bob:

Imagine keeping a record of every book you’ve ever read. What would this reading trajectory say about you? With passion, humor, and insight, the editor of The New York Times Book Review shares how stories have shaped her life.

Pamela Paul has kept a single  book by her side for twenty-eight years – carried throughout high school and college, hauled from Paris to London to Thailand and from job to job, safely packed away and then carefully moved from apartment to house to its current perch on a shelf over her desk. It is reliable if frayed, anonymous looking yet deeply personal. This book has a name: Bob.

Bob is Paul’s Book of Books, a journal that records every book she’s ever read, from Sweet Valley High to Anna Karenina, from Catch-22 to Swimming to Cambodia. It recounts a journey in reading that reflects her inner life – her fantasies and hopes, her mistakes and missteps, her dreams and her ideas, both half-baked and wholehearted. Her life, in turn, influences the books she chooses, whether for solace or escape, information or sheer entertainment. 

But My Life with Bob isn’t really about those books. It’s about the deep and powerful relationship between book and reader. It’s about the way books provide each of us the perspective, courage, companionship, and imperfect self-knowledge to forge our own path. It’s about why we read what we read and how those choices make us who we are. It’s about how we make our own stories.

Book Review: Tolstoy and the Purple Chair

tolstoy purple chairTolstoy and the Purple Chair
by Nina Sankovitch
Memoir
236 pages
Published 2011

So first off, can we talk about this cover? I want this chair so bad. Though the purple chair the author actually sits in to read is nowhere near this pretty, from her description of it. I haven’t got a good reading chair yet; I have one corner of a couch, next to a bookshelf, that is my current favored reading spot (reading lamp, blanket, and end table included). But eventually I will find myself the perfect reading chair and make myself a nook.

That aside. The premise of this book is the author trying to come to terms with the death of her older sister, who she idolized. Her sister died of cancer, so they knew it was happening, but it was still a shock when she passed. For a few years, Nina pushes her grief aside and throws herself into being busy, but she eventually decides to full process she’s going to dedicate a year to reading a book every single day. She reasons that at her reading speed, she can reasonably finish a 300 page-ish book each day, giving herself time before her sons get up, while they’re at school, and after everyone else goes to bed.

I saw one reviewer mention Nina’s unrecognized privilege, and it’s true. Nina is very privileged. She can afford not to work, and not to worry too much about chores, cooking, and the general running of a home. Her sons and husband all seem fairly self-sufficient, and her husband’s job keeps them quite well, it seems. (I don’t even want to think about how much the Christmas tree she describes actually cost, considering it reaches the chandelier hanging from the second-floor ceiling.)

But the book is about the books she reads, not how privileged she is. And in that respect I quite liked it. Her criteria for picking books are that she can’t have read them before, though they can be authors she’s read before, no author could be read more than once, and she had to review every book she read. There’s a list in the back of the book of every book she read during the year. I’ve only read three of the books she read in that year: Neil Gaiman’s Stardust, Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart, and Octavia Butler’s Kindred. All fantasy, of course, and none of which she actually mentioned in the text of the book! (I’ve also read Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which she mentions in the beginning of the book, but wasn’t part of her year of reading.)

I love the way she talks about the books she reads. She relates them to her life, or her father’s memories of World War II. She draws lessons from the stories, and does, in time, begin to heal from her sister’s death. The way she talks about reading, and her books, really struck a chord with me, and I think I’m going to buy myself a copy of this book. I want to refer back to it when I’m feeling uninspired with my reviews, and this might be a book I re-read often to encourage me to dive deeper into my books.

This is my pick for PopSugar’s 2018 prompt “favorite color in the title” and I think it’s also going on my personal Best of 2018 list. I just loved it that much. It’s not a “I have to tell everyone about this and encourage everyone to read it!” kind of book. It’s more a “this really touched on a deep passion of mine and has words I’ll carry with me going forward” kind of book. It was just lovely.

From the cover of Tolstoy and the Purple Chair:

Nina Sankovitch has always been a reader. As a child, she discovered that a trip to the local bookmobile with her sisters was more exhilarating than a ride at the carnival. Books were the glue that held her immigrant family together. When Nina’s eldest sister died at the age of forty-six, Nina turned to books for comfort, escape, and introspection. In her beloved purple chair, she rediscovered the magic of such writers as Toni Morrison, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ian McEwan, Edith Wharton, and, of course, Leo Tolstoy. Through the connections Nina made with books and authors (and even other readers), her life changed profoundly, and in unexpected ways. Reading, it turns out, can be the ultimate therapy.

Tolstoy and the Purple Chair also tells the story of the Sankovitch family: Nina’s father, who barely escaped death in Belarus during World War II; her four rambunctious children, who offer up their own book recommendations while helping out with the cooking and cleaning; and Anne-Marie, her oldest sister and idol, with whom Nina shared the pleasure of books, even in her last moments of life. In our lightning-paced culture that encourages us to seek more, bigger, and better things, Nina’s daring journey shows how we can deepen the quality of our everyday lives – if we only find the time.

Book Review: My Ideal Bookshelf

bookshelfMy Ideal Bookshelf
Edited by Thessaly La Force
Art by Jane Mount
225 pages
Published 2012
Books/Libraries

So this is a bit of an odd, but fascinating, little book. In My Ideal Bookshelf, just over a hundred people were asked what was on their ideal bookshelf. I didn’t recognize a lot of the people interviewed, but I did see a few. James Patterson, David Sedaris, Alice Waters, Tony Hawk, James Franco, these were all people that I knew. Even the people that I didn’t know had interesting books and interesting things to say about them, though. Each person has a two page spread – one page is an illustration of their ideal bookshelf, and one page is an excerpt from their interview talking about why those books. There’s almost a voyeuristic pleasure in reading this book. (I can’t be the only one that always peruses my friends’ bookshelves when I go their houses, right?)

I find myself getting both inspired and depressed by books like this – books about good books. Depressed in that there’s so many things I haven’t read! I haven’t read Nobokov, or Lolita, or Austen’s Emma. The only Steinbeck I’ve read was The Grapes of Wrath in high school. I’ve never read Hemingway or Frankenstein (though the latter will be getting rectified shortly). I haven’t read Dickens, or Tolstoy, or Pride and Prejudice (I read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, does that count?) or To Kill a Mockingbird (another one that I’ll be reading soon). But inspired, at the same time, for the same reason. There are books that appear again and again in this book, like A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, or Lolita, or Nobokov. Books that make me think I should find them at the library to see what everyone is so excited about. I consider myself fairly well read – I love Shakespeare, Jane Eyre, Dracula, The Comte de Monte Cristo. I’ve read The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Anne of Green Gables; Heinlein, Neil Gaiman, George R. R. Martin. There’s still so much to read, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The very last page of the book is bookshelf with ten blank books on it. The book asks you to create your own ideal bookshelf and submit it to them via their website or Twitter with the hashtag #myidealbookshelf. They have an online template which I think I’ll be filling out, talking about here, and then submitting. So stay tuned for my Ideal Bookshelf!

From the inner cover of My Ideal Bookshelf:

The books that we choose to keep and display – let alone read – can say a lot about who we are and how we see ourselves. In My Ideal Bookshelf, more than one hundred leading cultural figures, including writers Chuck Klosterman, Mary Karr, Junot Dias, and Jonathan Lethem, musicians Patti Smith and Thurston Moore, chefs and food writers Alice Waters and Mark Bittman, Hollywood figures Judd Apatow and James Franco, and fashion designers Kate and Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte, share the books that matter to them most – books that define their dreams and ambitions and in many cases helped them find their way in the world. 

Jane Mount’s original paintings of the colorful and delightful book spines and occasional objets d’art from the contributors’ personal bookshelves showcase the selections. Each painting is accompanied by a short first-person essay drawn from interviews with Thessaly La Force that touch on everything from the choice of books to becoming a writer to surprising sources of inspiration.