Reading About the Reading Life

This post originally ran in Shelf Awareness for Readers. Reprinted here with permission.

Like many readers, I'm incapable of leaving a bookstore without at least one shiny new read. There's something about an entire store dedicated to the reading life that is impossibly alluring, no matter how large or small the store, no matter how rambling or curated the collection.

That magic has been captured by Gabrielle Zevin in her heartfelt The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry. On its surface, it's a novel about a widower struggling to keep his bookshop in business--and his life in one piece--after the unexpected death of his wife. But as the story unfolds, Zevin packs the book with odes to the power of books, bookstores and reading to bring together a family and an entire community.

Parnassus on Wheels, a 1917 novella by Christopher Morley (available as part of Melville House's Art of the Novella series), also explores the idea of bookselling as a life-changing activity: "When you sell a man a book,... you sell him a whole new life. Love and friendship and humour and ships at sea by night--there's all heaven and earth in a book." Morley makes bookselling as influential for the bookseller as for the reader, as Helen McGill decides to reinvent her life by buying a traveling bookshop.

Robin Sloan's Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookshop presents a bookshop very much of our time. His witty novel explores the intersection of printed books and technology, as a new bookseller at Mr. Penumbra's shop starts to explore the store's centuries-old secrets. A bonus: the dust jacket glows in the dark.

Lewis Buzbee, author, bookseller, writing professor, has written about the power of books and his experience as a bookseller in The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop. The short volume is packed with history and detail about publishing and the power of books and what it is like to spend one's life immersed in them--something we've all dreamed of.


  1. I loved Mr. Penumbra! And I really should read The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry., I feel like I would definitely love it.

  2. I really enjoyed Parnassus on Wheels (so charming!) and I need to read the rest of these! They sound excellent.

  3. I enjoy reading non-fiction about the reading life (The Polysyllabic Spree and such), but I should really start looking into fiction like this. I think I'd love these.

  4. Emma @ Words And PeaceOctober 19, 2014 at 1:49 AM

    funny, I have devoured and loved #2 and 4, and #1 and 3 are on my TBR!

  5. I love reading about reading. I have Parnassus on Wheels on my kindle and I need to get to it!


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