I’m thrilled to welcome Cynthia Kuhn back to the blog. The second book in the Lila Maclean Academic Mystery series, The Arts of Vanishing, came out this spring. I love academic mysteries–they speak to my years working at different colleges, and the folks I thought about. . . well, that’s another blog post. Welcome back Cynthia!
Books About Books
Although I love all kinds of books, those about books/reading/writing seem doubly satisfying. If you’re like me, always looking for more books about books, perhaps this will come in handy: a brief list of great reads that focus on texts in one way or another.
The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure
by William Goldman
The story about Princess Buttercup and Westley is purportedly the “good parts version” of a much longer history by “S. Morgenstern.” Goldman created a structure in which a fictionalized version of himself discusses what he’s “left out” of the other book in hilarious editorial asides throughout the text (which appear in red print in certain editions and in italics in others…I know this little factoid because my family loved the book so much that we bought various editions to give as gifts…before the film came out, even). It’s simply superb. The asides are just as fabulous as the rest.
Possession by A.S. Byatt
Possession is not focused on a single book—it’s more about a love of writing in many forms, mixed with a blossoming romance (multiple romances, to be precise). Things advance through the discovery of texts (letters, poems, etc.); the main characters are always reading and interpreting things they find, and the past and the present are woven together into one delicious tale.
The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
This book features Thursday Next, a literary detective (what a dream career) who embarks on a case where characters are disappearing from texts. It is something like alternative history meets fantasy meets mystery meets humor and the plot is so creative as to be almost indescribable, but I promise that it’s a very fun read!
Book: A Novel by Robert Grudin
Book is as meta as it gets (metafiction is fiction about fiction: texts that draw attention to themselves as texts). From the title itself to the ongoing encyclopedia entries discussing the history of bookselling throughout to the footnotes that cheekily stage a revolution and so much more, the focus is squarely on bookishness. And it’s an academic mystery, with some delightful satire to boot!
Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
Don’t let the “classic” label throw you—although it’s been called the first (modern) novel, this is as readable and hilarious now as it must have been back in the early 1600s when it was written. It’s almost impossible to imagine how Cervantes conceived of writing such a brilliant text, with multiple levels of authorship and playfulness (very meta), without much in the way of predecessors. Not to mention that the unforgettable Don Quixote, Sancho Panza, and Dulcinea del Toboso have become cultural icons.
City of Glass by Paul Auster
This Edgar-nominated book is highly metafictional and complex. The protagonist Daniel Quinn (whose initials are not the only allusion to Don Quixote and that’s not the only name of the main character, either, but for the sake of this discussion, let’s leave it there) is a writer-slash-private-investigator caught up in a mysterious case that bends back upon itself in surprising and compelling ways. His efforts to solve the case raise all kinds of questions about identity, knowledge, and mystery. There’s a graphic novel version too, by Paul Karasik and David Mazzucchelli, that offers a terrific noir-y adaptation.
84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
This is not fiction but a memoir presenting a series of letters between a bookseller in London and a reader in New York City who become friends over time through their epistolary exchanges. They talk about books and think about books and send each other books/gifts and, well, you’ll have to read it to find out the rest. The film adaptation is incredibly charming and wonderful too (Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins star—case closed).
There are so many more…what are your favorite books about books?
Cynthia Kuhn writes the Lila Maclean Academic Mystery series, which includes The Semester of Our Discontent (nominated for an Agatha Award) and The Art of Vanishing. She teaches in Denver and serves as president of Sisters in Crime-Colorado. For more information, please visit cynthiakuhn.net.