“Write what you know,” the cliche goes, and novelists certainly know books. They read them, they write them, and they write about them. This week’s theme is Books about Books — rescued books, secret books, book clubs, books with a past and books that demand to be read.
1. People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
The book mentioned in the title is the Sarajevo Haggadah, one of the world’s extant Jewish illuminated texts, which is being restored by an Australian conservator named Hanna Heath in 1996. Brooks’ novel begins with Hanna and then delves into the book’s long history — the Muslim man who saves it from Nazis, the Catholic priest who saves it from flames in the 15th century, its original Spanish illuminator and the many other people whose lives cross with the manuscript.
This is not Brooks’ first book about books — she won the Pulitzer Prize for her novel about the father of Little Women’s March family.
2. Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie
What isn’t there to love about the triumphant irony of a book about banned books? In Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, two city boys in Communist China are sent to the countryside to be re-educated. There they come across a pile of translated, banned Western classics and the beautiful daughter of a local tailor, a combination that leads inevitably to a lot of awakening — intellectually and otherwise.
3. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
A bookshop owner’s daughter interviews an aging, reclusive novelist and uncovers a complicated and gothic tale of creepy twins, love-addled governesses, insane asylums and mystery. Also, everybody is named things such as Emmeline or Vida, any name you would expect of a Victorian ghost or a tarot card reader. It’s like modern bookish Henry James, if you want something dark for a hot sunny day.
4. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
This one’s a little more relatable — to a certain point. Clay Jannon works in tech in San Francisco until he’s fired, a casualty of the Great Recession. The former web designer takes a job at a bizarre little used-book store, and there any relatability ends. Jannon finds himself embroiled in a weird and conspiratorial book club; we should probably be doing summer-session homework right now.
5. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
This one is about a book within a book. A young boy in postwar Barcelona, Daniel Sempere is brought to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books and becomes enthralled with a particular novel, Julian Carax’s Shadow of the Wind. He’s not the only one interested in Carax — somebody is systematically burning everything he ever wrote. And so Daniel uncovers the tragic, gothic love story that is Carax’s life, as he tries to preserve a literary legacy.
If you’re interested in a more romantic read, check out our Summer Lovin’ list.