Top Ten Tuesday: Books About Books
Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish, a weekly meme that now resides at That Artsy Reader Girl. The meme first came about because of a love of lists. Who doesn’t love lists? The original creators also wanted their lists to be shared with fellow book lovers and to ask that we in turn share ours with them and connect with other book bloggers. To learn more about participating, stop by their page dedicated to it and dive in!
This week’s topic: Top Ten Books About Books
Since this week’s topic is all about our favorite tropes (commonly used themes or plot devices), I’ve decided to just focus with one today, and it’s one I find simply irresistible: Books about books! These are the stories that give books, libraries, and bibliophiles who love them a starring role. Is it any wonder that, as bibliophiles ourselves, we find them greatly appealing?
Speaking as someone who loves to read, I just can’t help but get these warm fuzzy feelings for books about libraries. After all, what could be better for an avid bookworm, than being immersed in a story about a place filled with books, books, and more books? Well, Genevieve Cogman’s The Invisible Library series does one even better. Oh, it features libraries, all right—interdimensional libraries, established across multiple worlds, all interconnected and run by a secret society of librarian spies! Collectively, this network is known as the Invisible Library, and their members are tasked with the utmost important mission: to procure and archive important works of fiction from all of the different realities, for the purposes of preservation and research. As soon as I heard the premise, I just knew I had to check it out! This novel ended up being an incredibly fun book which uses the idea of parallel worlds to great effect, allowing the reader to ponder its infinite possibilities. This particular story takes us to an alternate London with magic and paranormal creatures, but then who knows what might come next? The potential here is simply staggering. And of course, the Library itself is also fascinating concept, with librarians who can work magic by using a secret Language. (Read the full review…)
By the author’s own admission, this Middle Grade series is very different from his normal style and they tend to be a source of contention among his readers. But don’t let that stop you if you think this might be something you’ll enjoy! Personally, I jumped into this first book with reservations, but I ended up loving it to bits. Alcatraz vs. The Evil Librarians is the first in a fantasy adventure series featuring its eponymous protagonist who is narrating this book as its writer—“Brandon Sanderson” is just a front, you see. The real person behind this novel is a young boy named Alcatraz Smedry. He is thirteen years old and lives with his foster parents. He is also great at breaking things. It all began with an old bag of sand, mailed to Alcatraz on his birthday—the only inheritance left to him by his birth parents. But before you can even say “Gee, thanks mom and dad”, the bag is stolen by a member of the Librarians, an evil cult that knows the sand is more than it seems. For centuries, they have been controlling information and spreading lies to keep everyone blind to their dastardly plans of world domination, but now that Alcatraz has learned the truth of his birthright, he and his new allies are going to strike back at the heart of the enemy—by planning a daring mission to infiltrate the central downtown library. (Read the full review…)
I was totally blown away by The Reader. Yes, I’d wanted to check it out after learning that it was a “book about books”, but what I got was simply far beyond anything I expected or imagined. The story introduces us to Sefia, a young girl traveling with her Aunt Nin through the wilderness of Kelanna. The two of them have been on the run for years, after the brutal murder of Sefia’s father at the hands of a mysterious group of assassins. They’ve survived so far by living off the land, hunting for meat and furs, trading at towns, and just plain stealing. That is, until one day Sefia makes a mistake, and attracts the attention of the guard. This also alerts the assassins who have been hunting them, and as a result, Aunt Nin is captured and taken away. For the next few years, Sefia tries to track down her aunt, using the only clue available to her—an odd, rectangular object that her father left to her after he died. Somehow, Sefia knows that this thing is the reason why she and Nin had been targeted. Later, our protagonist learns that this strange object is called a book, and struggles to remember the lessons that her parents had taught her when she was little. In a world where the written word means magic, and magic means power, there are those whose best interest lies in keeping society illiterate. But through painstaking effort, Sefia is able to piece together the mysteries of her past and begin comprehending the writing in the book, reading the stories within. (Read the full review…)
We begin this tale at the Great Library of Summershall, which has been a home to our protagonist Elisabeth Scrivener for as long as she can remember. Abandoned on its doorstep as a baby, she was raised among its shelves of magical tomes to be an acolyte by the librarians who work there. As a result, she grew up with a natural thirst for knowledge that frequently got her into trouble with her caretakers, who quickly became used to her way of being too curious for her own good. But one day, during her explorations of the library, Elisabeth stumbles upon a troubling discovery that points to a possible act of sabotage. An enchanted grimoire has been corrupted, turning it into a monster. However, with no other witnesses to the incident, Elisabeth herself is blamed for the crime and is consequently sent away to the city to face trial. Enter Nathaniel Thorn, the sorcerer tasked to escort her to the capital. Of course, while he’s heard of Elisabeth and her history with mischief, nothing could have prepared Nathaniel for the challenges to come. But with every new obstacle they face together, the two of them gradually warm to each other and learn how to cooperate. As they try to uncover the conspiracy threatening the Great Library, Elisabeth and Nathaniel are drawn into a dangerous web of lies and deceit. (Read the full review…)
Ink and Bone tells a tale of alternate history. As we all know, the invention of the printing press had an enormous impact on humanity, revolutionizing the way information is acquired, processed, and spread. But what if that never happened? Imagine a world where Johannes Gutenberg’s creation never came to light, a world where great minds like him were systematically silenced every time a new proposal for a method of printing came close to being realized. Imagine no ink plates, no moveable type, no presses – all innovations that were deemed too dangerous by an all-powerful ruling class that seeks to gather and control all knowledge, deciding who should have access to it, how and when. Protagonist Jess Brightwell lives in such a world, where the only books that exist are original works or copies painstakingly written out by hand. By law they are all property of the Great Library of Alexandria, that powerful bastion of knowledge that never succumbed to destruction in this reality. The scholars of the Library strictly govern the distribution of books to the public, using a complex alchemical process to deliver content instantly to an individual’s personal Codex or blanks. As a result, traditionally bound books have become very popular on the black market, as has the illegal trade of smuggling them into the hands of private collectors and other rare book hunters. It’s risky, but the Brightwells have prospered in this business, and Jess’ father has decided to take it to the next level by sending his son into the Library’s service, hoping that having an inside man will benefit the family in the long run. (Read the full review…)
Seventeen-year-old protagonist Alice Proserpine has never stayed in one place for long. Most of her childhood memories involve being on the road, staying with one family friend or another until her mother Ella decided that they had to move on. Alice has no idea, though she can guess from Ella’s tight-lippedness about her past that it might have something to do with the Hazel Wood, a magnificent home nestled somewhere in the woods of upstate New York. The estate belonged to Alice’s grandmother Althea Proserpine, an author who achieved cult celebrity with her book of fairy tales titled “Tales from the Hinterland”. It was probably no coincidence that no sooner had they received news of Althea’s death, Ella finally decided that they could settle down in the city and start a normal life. But Alice has trouble fitting in at the posh school she’s now enrolled in, where the closest thing she has to a friend is Ellery Finch, a somewhat geeky and awkward boy who happens to be an Althea Proserpine superfan. Alice, however, has never even read “Tales from the Hinterland”, for Ella had always forbidden her to seek out her grandmother or her work. NNut then one day, Alice comes home from school to find that her mother has been stolen away, and the only clue she left behind was a message: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.” Getting a sick feeling that this has everything to do with her grandmother and her fairy tales, Alice turns to Finch, the only person she can think of who might be able to help her rescue Ella. (Read the full review…)
While The Night Ocean explores the life of H.P. Lovecraft, it does it in a most unconventional and bizarre manner, weaving fiction and history into a far-reaching chronicle that also ties in the lives of many other characters. It all started with The Erotonomicon. Said to be the erotic diary of H.P. Lovecraft but later claimed to be a hoax, almost all copies are said to be destroyed back in the 50s, but somehow Charlie manages to track one down. As a life-long speculative fiction fan and a writer by trade, Charlie wants to make his next book an investigative piece about the diary, a decision that ends up plunging him into an all-consuming obsession with Lovecraft, much to his wife Marina’s dismay. At the heart of Charlie’s project is a particular entry written in The Erotonomicon about a summer in 1934 involving Lovecraft and his friend Robert Barlow, a gay sixteen-year-old fan with whom the author stayed for a number of weeks while on a visit to Florida. Later known as the author and anthropologist R.H. Barlow, Robert also ended up collaborating with Lovecraft on several stories including “The Night Ocean”, which this book is named for. All told, I had a shockingly good time with this book. Because of its tangled nature, I doubt it going to be for everyone, but still, I highly recommend it if the description interests you. (Read the full review…)
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I don’t really do well with “weird.” I personally prefer stories that are more grounded, and anything that flirts with the abstract or pushes those metaphysical boundaries will give me pause. The first warning bells were raised when I read several reviews for this book mentioning a rampaging psychopath going on a killing spree clad in a purple tutu. Okay fine, maybe the bit with the purple tutu actually made me want to read this book even more. Still. Regardless, I was definitely prepared for some bizarre WTFery. Suffice to say, The Library at Mount Char isn’t exactly a book I can neatly summarize; the story is much bigger than the sum of its parts and it would be impossible to describe the scope of it in a couple paragraphs. Like I said, it’s weird, it’s strange, and more than just a little bit disturbing. If there’s a central character here, it would be Carolyn. She is a Librarian, but not in the way you would expect. Years ago, a mysterious man they call Father “adopted” twelve orphans and made them all his Librarians, much like apprentices of a sort, giving each child a catalog to study and become an expert in. Father’s methods were dark and cruel, and to his charges, he was like a god…a god they feared. But now Father is missing, and no one is quite sure what to make of the power vacuum he left behind. Just a word of warning here: this book contains extreme violence and gory content. If you know you don’t like that, best stay away. (Read the full review…)
I’m a big fan of Django Wexler’s work, and well, I think it’s official: Wexler excels at pretty much any genre he tries his hand at. I was initially curious and maybe a little skeptical as to how he would handle a children’s novel, but this book was truly excellent. The story itself is fantastic, and as an avid bibliophile it’s hard for me to resist anything to do with libraries or reading about the wonderful books that take us to faraway places. As you’ll see, the metaphor of books as portals to new worlds is actually quite literal in this case. The plot follows main protagonist Alice, a young girl who discovers she has a very special power. Called “Readers”, people like Alice possess the ability to enter the worlds of certain books, which might seem great at first, until you realize these books serve as prisons to nasty creatures and the only way out again is if the Reader can defeat them. However, if a Reader is successful in defeating and binding a creature, he or she will escape and also have access to its abilities. Their spells are achieved by calling upon the creatures they control to channel it for them, and presumably a Reader can grow more powerful by defeating more creatures in “prison books” and taking control of their abilities. I thought this was a very sophisticated and inventive idea to explain how people like Alice derive their magical powers, and in many ways The Forbidden Library was more complex than I would have expected from a middle-grade novel. (Read the full review…)
The Book of Hidden Things is a story about four childhood friends from a small seaside town called Casalfranco in southern Italy. After high school, they all left home to pursue their individual dreams, but before they parted, each of them agreed to a pact: that no matter what, the four of them will meet up in their hometown at the same place at the same time on the same date every year. Except this year, one of them doesn’t show. Concerned about their friend Art, the three others–Tony, Mauro, and Fabio–go around town, checking his house and asking people about him, only to find that Art has seemingly vanished into thin air. Worse, it appears he had been involved in some very dangerous activities just before his disappearance, like having an affair with a married woman, and growing and selling marijuana in an area where that kind of thing is heavily controlled by the local mafia. This unfortunately rules out going to the police for help. Instead, our three concerned friends take it upon themselves to carry out the investigation, discovering that Art had been in the middle of writing a book before he went missing. Whatever Art has gotten mixed up in, the answer seems to lie in untangling the strange kinds of research he has been doing for this secret project, a mysterious field guide called “The Book of Hidden Things.” I don’t think this book would be for everyone, but I for one found myself utterly captivated, and to say I was deeply invested in the plot and characters would be an understatement. (Read the full review…)