A Wicked Welcome to Cynthia Kuhn!

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

VanishingAlthough 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?


ck2x3Cynthia 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.

36 Thoughts

  1. Cynthia, what a fascinating and informed list! I confess to having read none of them (no, not even Don Quixote, but I might now). On the other hand, I have read your books and love them. And I happen to be writing a new series about a book group that only reads cozy mysteries. Does that count? ;^)

  2. Thank you. I loved 84 Charing Cross Road. There was a sequel I think written by the bookseller after the death of Helene Hanff.

  3. Amazing post, Cynthia! (And thanks a lot for adding so many new books to my toppling TBR pile.) The Princess Bride is one of my favorite movies but I never read the book.

  4. I haven’t read any of the books listed, but The Eyre Affair sounds very intriguing.
    A few books about books (or in some way associated with them) come to mind that I’ve read:
    The Booktown Mysteries series by Lorna Barrett.
    The Little Paris Book Shop by Nina George
    A Dark and Stormy Murder by Julia Buckley
    The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
    And my favorite: The House on Primrose Pond by Yona Zeldis McDonough
    I’m looking forward to reading Edith Maxwell’s new series about the book group.

    1. Love this list, Cozynookbks! Thanks so much. I am a big fan of the Booktown Mysteries too and also can’t wait for Edith’s. Adding the rest of your suggestions to the To Be Read pile, stat.

  5. I love the Eyre Affair and all the books in that series. Not only is it intriguing and quirky and funny, the characters are endearing.

  6. I’ve read some of these, and am inspired now to ad a few more ot my TBR list. It is worth mentioning that AS Byatt wrote another book that maybe has a place here, The Children’s Book. It is a long, rich, powerful,sad book about a bohemian crowd- writer and artists- before World War I.

  7. What a wonderful post! I’m inspired to read and/or re-read some of them! My favorite to add to the list is The Never Ending Story by Michael Ende.

  8. I loved The Princess Bride movie so much I got the book and, yes, it’s even better (as books usually are). I’m also a huge fan of the Thursday Next series even after meeting Jasper Fforde and finding him to be an utter jerk. 🙁

    1. Love that, Aimee. (About The Princess Bride, that is. Sorry to hear about the other part…sounds like quite a story in there.) Thanks!

  9. I must confess I find that The Princess Bride is better as a movie than a book. I find the asides dull and the plot a bit wandering in the book. The scene were Humperdink proposes to Buttercup is about the only thing the book does better than the movie.

    I read the Eyre Affair years ago and enjoyed it, but I never did make it back to the rest of the series. I’ve even got copies of them around here somewhere.

    1. *GASPS*

      Just kidding. I know some people prefer the movie. 🙂

      I’ll be interested to see what you think about the other Eyre Affair books!

  10. I’m with Mark in that I think The Princess Bride is one of the few times the movie outshines the book – but maybe that’s because I was young and impressionable the first time I saw it and thought Westley was just too cute. 🙂

    I read Don Quixote in the original Spanish in college. Sadly, I think I struggled too much with the translation to enjoy the story.

    I read one Thursday Next book – I recall enjoying it, but being so confused I never got around to reading any of the others. But the premise was so cool.

  11. I loved 84 Charing Cross Road so much that I made a pilgrimage to the address on my first trip to London. I wish I remembered the result! Great post, Cynthia.

  12. Many years ago, I stumbled upon Jasper Fforde in The Sleuth of Baker Street mystery book store in Toronto, I loved him so I bought everything he’s ever written. My husband is entranced, too. Thursday Next REALLY gets into the books – literally. She fights evil doers who change the text which automatically changes all the books in print. They are a gas.

    Yeah, I’m a real metafictionphile (did I just make up a word?) in general. John Dunning has written a lot of books about books and printing. Very well researched and, thus, educational.

  13. I loved The Eyre Affairs — such a brilliant take and so different. But now I’m going to have to add some of these others to my reading list! Thanks for joining us today.

    1. Thanks for having me, Sherry! Agree about The Eyre Affairs being so different. Always exciting to find something we haven’t seen before, you know? 🙂

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