16 Must-reads: Books about Books
When bookstores, mysterious manuscripts, and all manner of bibliophiles are at the center of a story, it doesn’t get much better than that!
By Jessica Dukes
If you’re reading this, you’re probably a passionate reader. Who else could fully appreciate books with plot lines related to… books? We’re diving straight down the self-referential rabbit hole with these incredible novels (and one nonfiction tome), dedicated to the magic that happens when bookworms read stories about their favorite thing.
A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
This is the first book in the All Souls trilogy, along with Shadow of Night and The Book of Life. The saga begins when Diana Bishop, a witch, uncovers the long-lost Ashmole 782, a hexed manuscript that pulls her into the underworld. In this series, Bishop travels through dimensions, a cast of allies and enemies in tow, to find the crucial missing pages of the enchanted book that started it all.
The Labyrinth of the Spirits by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
Labyrinth is the final novel in a series that began with 2004’s bestselling The Shadow of the Wind, about a bookseller who stumbles into a plot to destroy all books by one author, Julián Carax. Zafón’s marathon series concludes with one more journey to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, as a rare manuscript leads investigators to a Franco-era prison for writers in Barcelona, and challenges them to expose history’s most terrifying secrets.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
In a dystopian future, all books are illegal. Can an underground rebellion and one open-minded police officer restore their cultural significance? This classic is one of the most distressing novels ever written about the importance of the printed word and the dangers of censorship.
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
Clay Jannon hasn’t worked for Mr. Penumbra very long before he realizes that there’s something strange about his tiny, 24-hour bookstore. Among the books (which no one buys, but borrows), the regulars uncover clues to a 500-year-old secret society. It’s a bookish adventure of every bibliophile’s dream.
The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler
Simon Watson comes from a circus family, one cursed with bad luck since his mother, a mermaid, drowned mysteriously. Now, a brittle, enigmatic book shows up on his doorstep suggesting that his mother’s death may have been foretold, and worst of all, his tarot-card reading sister could be next.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
It’s 1939 on the outskirts of Munich, and Liesel Meminger is fortunate to land in foster care after her parents were taken away by the Nazis. Among the items Liesel steals to survive: books, which she eventually shares with the Jewish man her foster parents are sheltering in the basement. If ever there was a story about the power of books to sustain our humanity in dark times, this is it.
First Impressions by Charlie Lovett
Jane Austen fans will fall in love with plucky Sophie Collingwood, an antique bookseller on the trail of a rare copy of A Little Book of Allegories. It’s a petite book with big consequences, as it threatens to expose Pride and Prejudice as a fraud.
The Last Bookaneer by Matthew Pearl
Oh, how we love smart thrillers with main characters described as “literary pirates.” A bookaneer is a thief and a smuggler, selling unpublished novels on the black market to cut the legs out from under traditional publishers. When Pen Davenport, the best bookaneer around, hears that Robert Louis Stevenson is writing one last novel, he sets sail for Stevenson’s writing retreat, intent on scoring one last, huge heist.
The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
After his wife dies suddenly, the only thing A. J. Fikry can tolerate is books, and even that interest is wearing thin, as sales at the bookstore he owns are in free fall. He pushes everyone away until an abandoned child appears at his store—one that thaws his heart, and invigorates his life, and exposes why humans have such a lasting affection for books.
The Great Library Series by Rachel Caine
Imagine that the legendary Library of Alexandria still exists, and rules the world of information with a lethal force of robots and soldiers. In Ink and Bone, Paper and Fire, and Ash and Quill, Jess Brightwell is a former book thief who reluctantly registers for the Alexandrian army only to discover a web of corruption. Can Jess and a band of exiled rebels ultimately restore the soul of the great Library?
The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
William of Baskerville is tapped to investigate heresy charges against his Franciscan brothers in 1327. A manuscript in the colossal library at the Italian abbey is the key to solving this mystery, if only he can find it before more bewildering deaths happen during his stay. An international success, this is Eco’s debut novel.
Misery by Stephen King
Be honest. There’s a tiny part of you that understands Annie Wilkes’ (over)reaction to her favorite book series character being killed off. Yes, she should never have kidnapped and tortured the author, but at least he got an amazing new book out of the experience, right?
People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
Inspired by a true story, this novel traces the journey of the Sarajevo Haggadah, a 14th-century Hebrew text. What Hanna Heath, a rare book conservationist, finds embedded in its binding—stray human hairs and tiny insect wings, for example—tells the story of the people who ensured its survival.
The Library Book by Susan Orlean
We can’t let this list end without mentioning Orlean’s beautiful love letter to local libraries. When the Los Angeles Public Library caught fire in 1986, 400,000 books were lost and 700,000 were damaged. The Library Book is part true crime and part literary history, as it investigates whether this tragedy was an accident or arson, and it introduces readers to the fascinating locals who established and supported the LAPL since its founding in 1926.