Reading books about books is such a meta reading experience. There you are, immersed in a book featuring characters who are immersed in (compelled by, chasing after, or discovering) books. For some readers, it can be a bit too much, but for Libro Maniacs, these books on books have right amount of literary love to keep the home fires burning.
So, if you want to feed that fire, we’ve curated a list for you that features 20 books about books. They cover themes like how books carry culture, how they are affected by (and can affect) history, how they house family secrets and their ability to spark magic. These suggestions feature a wide range of genres that should appeal to just about anyone.
For this list, we’ve zeroed in on plots that are really focused on a book, text or manuscript which acts as the primary driver of the action.
But there are other angles at this, so you may also want to check out our article featuring books about libraries and librarians. It’s also super-meta and is focused on the library as a key setting or librarians as the lead character. We’ve also got something similar for books set in bookstores. And we also have a great list of books about reading life.
(This article contains affiliate links. This means that if you choose to purchase, I’ll make a small commission.)
Top 5 Books on Books
If you are into well-rated books, and want a short cut, then take a look at the following novels. They each has a rating of 4 stars and at least 10,000+ reviews on Goodreads.
|4.39||The Book of Lost Names|
|4.29||Cloud Cuckoo Land|
|4.15||The Dictionary of Lost Words|
|4.12||The Weight of Ink|
|4.07||Hell of a Book|
More Books About Books
The Book Thief, Marcus Zusak
This historical fiction is a book about books…and book burning…and how to save the books being burned. And also friendship, resilience and sorrow.
Set in Nazi Germany, Liesel finds a book in the snow, is taught to read by her foster parents and then goes on a mission to slowly steal books that are in the line of fire. At the same time, her foster family secretly houses a Jew. All of them are just doing what they can to survive a very bleak war.
What makes the book so brilliant is that the narrator is Death himself. His own exhausted point of view brings a melancholy to the story that is surprisingly touching.
Keep the Kleenex handy for this one.
People of the Book, Geraldine Brooks
When rare book expert Hanna is asked to work on a 5th century illuminated Hebrew manuscript, she is surprised by the little treasures, such as a butterfly wing and a wine stain, which she finds hidden in the book’s pages and binding.
The novel uses the treasures and Hanna’s research into their provenance as a device for chronicling the book’s travels through time. This manuscript has navigated the tricky waters of Judaism and its relationship to Christianity and Islam in World II Sarajevo, Vienna, Florence, and pre-inquisition Spain.
Rich and artful prose make the novel a riveting read, which is no surprise, because Brooks is a Pulitzer Prize winner. If you like reading prize winners, you can check out our reading guides for books that have won or been shortlisted for the Pulitzer, National Book Award and Booker.
The Weight of Ink, Rachel Kadish
If you’ve already read People of the Book, then Weight of Ink would make a great next read for you.
Helen is a 60-something historian who has come across a newly discovered genizah, a trove of Jewish writings from a 1660s Jewish-English household. She’s ill with Parkinson’s and she’s really motivated to dig into the story behind the manuscript while she still has the time and energy.
The book alternates between Helen’s current day efforts, her coming-of-age in Israel, and Ester, the 17th century scribe of the documents.
“This book is a journey – through time (1600’s, mid-1900’s and early 2000) and space (Amsterdam, Israel, and London) whose only requirement is that we give ourselves over to the story being told and flow with it.”
If you like the the exploration of women’s roles in religious society’s, then you may also be interested in The Book of Longings (for which we have a book club guide).
The Book of Unholy Mischief, Elle Newmark
It’s Venice circa 1498, and orphan Luciano is just trying to get by living on the streets, when he’s suddenly plucked off those streets by the Doge’s Chef Ferraro. Luciano is soon set to work in the palace kitchen.
During this time, there is a rumor flying around Venice about a magical book. Some say that it holds a key to alchemy, eternal life and gold production. Others think it contains the Gnostic Gospels. The palace Doge wants it, hoping for a cure for his syphilis.
As the book’s guardian, Chef Ferraro knows what the book is all about, but he’s not telling. There are a lot of political shenanigans and power plays afoot, even as the Chef and Luciano are busy making the most mouthwatering food you can imagine.
Newmark cleverly intertwines the magic of food with the mysteries of alchemy and the burgeoning age of enlightenment to tell a delicious story of food and the power of a book.
Hell of a Book, Jason Mott
The protagonist is on a successful tour to promote his book: “Hell of a Book”. He has an unnamed condition that makes it difficult for him to understand what is real and what is a figment of his imagination. Something happened in his past which brought on this condition and its effect is to bring out his creativity while allowing for an “alternative” universe to occur. And because of this, the author experiences some pretty madcap moments.
There is also a historic back-story of an African-American boy named “Soot”, who is schooled by his parents to be as invisible as possible in order to avoid conflict in his racist town.
The book is a “moving meditation on being Black in America”, told by a masterfully unreliable narrator.
This book has also been recommended by Jenna’s book club. If you like her pics, we have an article that lists all of Jenna’s book recommendations (with ratings).
The Thirteenth Tale, Diane Setterfield
“When I was a child, books were everything. And so there is in me, always, a nostalgic yearning for the lost pleasure of books. It is not a yearning that one ever expects to be fulfilled.”
Biographer Mia Lee has been commissioned by famous author Vida Winters. After many decades of spinning out fictional versions of her life, Vida is ready to tell her final, thirteenth tale. This tale will be the true story that uncovers her dark family secrets.
And there are so, so many dark family secrets. At the Angelfield mansion, you’ll find damaged souls, dead twins, forbidden romance, and more…all shrouded in a thick gothic fog.
Read it for book club and use our The Thirteenth Tale reading guide.
Cloud Cuckoo Land, Anthony Doerr
Doerr masterfully connects five characters, over hundreds of years through their relationship to a single book. That book tells of a shepherd, Aethon, seeking a magical, heavenly place in the sky– the “Cloud Cuckoo Land” of the title.
The characters range from a 15th century orphan who teaches herself to read, to a modern day teacher trying to stage Aethon as a play, to a women from the 22nd century who’s seeking an unspoiled home world on an interstellar ship. Their stories converge around the book and other shared experiences.
This could make a good book club book for it’s unique timeline, compelling characters and hybrid genre. Use our Cloud Cuckoo Land discussion guide to get the convo started.
The Binding, Bridget Collins
In this historical fantasy fiction, bookbinders don’t just make books, they sew your unwanted memories into the bindings of books, relieving you of the memory. At first glance, it seems like a kind way to relieve suffering from traumatic events. But bindings can also be used for more nefarious purposes, such as for political expediency or social convenience. And sometimes the books are bartered for the purpose of blackmail.
The protagonist Emmett has been having issues with his own illnesses when he is apprenticed to the bookbinder. Throughout the story, you learn about the secrets being kept by these books, get Emmett’s backstory and get a sweet story of forbidden love.
The concept is richly imagined and quite thought provoking.
The Book of Speculation, Erika Swyler
This is a dual-narrative story with a book squarely at center. The contemporary storyline follows Simon, a hapless librarian who has lost his job. He’s hunkered down in the family home, which is a dusty pile that’s slowly sliding toward the ocean cliff. An antiquarian sends Simon a book on spec, which features our other narrative.
The book is a log from the 1700’s which chronicles a traveling circus show that featured Simon’s ancestors.
What ties the two stories together are the mysterious drowning deaths of the circus mermaids. The deaths start during the historic timeframe, but carry forward to include the death of Simon’s mom. Simon begins to fear that the same will happen to his wayward carnie of a sister.
There are lots of threads tying the two storylines together and the book is full of vivid imagery and magical realism.
The Dictionary of Lost Words, Pip Williams
In this fictional account, Esme’s father works in the Scriptorium, which is a fancy word for the garden shed that James Murry and his team used to develop the first (and not fictional) Oxford English Dictionary (OED).
Esme spends time under the big table in the Scriptorium and she gathers word slips that are lost, discarded or otherwise don’t make the cut into the OED. Over time, she begins to realize that the discarded words tend to relate to women.
Esme discovers that the beauty of these words (even the vulgar ones), is that they relate to very valid women’s experiences. And for Esme, this is enough to confirm the importance of the words and merit for their preservation. And so, Esme decided to create her own dictionary consisting of the lost words.
With the suffrage movement’s rising and the Great War looming, Esme publishes her Dictionary of Lost Words.
Yes, this is a great novel about books, but it’s also fun for people who are mad for lexicography and dictionaries. And if you can’t get enough of that, then check out our non-fiction books about books further down, because The Professor and the Madman chronicles the development of the OED.
Read it for book club and use our Dictionary of Lost Words discussion guide.
The Dictionary of Lost Words was also a pick for Reese’s Book Club. If you like her picks, we have a whole batch of book club guides for Reese’s books.
The Book of Lost Names, Kristin Harmel
This story is also told in dual timelines, elderly Eva in the present day and a young Eva from the past. It’s a historical fiction inspired by true stories from WWII. During the war, Ava flees Paris and joins a forgery operation in which she helps hundreds of Jewish children flee the Nazis. She created a coded “book of lost names” to preserve the real names of the children.
In the modern day storyline, the book resurfaces at a library in Berlin, bringing Eva’s past rushing back to her.
The Book of Lost Names is a tense and compelling story of a community of people who risks their own lives to help save the lives of Jewish people in need.
The Reader, Tracy Chee
In this world, reading is unheard of and society is completely illiterate. After her father is murdered, Sefia goes on the run with her aunt. They keep it together by honing their survival skills and laying low in the forest. That is, until Sefia’s aunt is kidnapped.
When Sefia finds a book that was left behind by her father, she decides to go on a quest to find out what happened to her family why the book was worth killing for.
Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
Fahrenheit 451 is set in a dystopic future where books are banned, TV screens are the size of whole walls, and Firemen don’t put fires out, but rather they set fires (of books). Guy Montag is one such Fireman who goes through life never questioning why books have become illegal.
But then Guy meets his neighbor Clarisse and she teaches him the immense value that books bring to life and critical thought. He soon becomes someone who’s willing to risk it all for the sake of books.
America’s culture wars have caused a sharp increase in book challenges and in some cases, outright banning. So, this book raises important questions about the value of books and the range of discourse that they can stimulate.
In an ironic twist, Fahrenheit 451 has also received its own share of book challenges, usually for things like vulgarity and drug use. Although in a bizarre twist, Texas went after the novel for going against religious beliefs because of a scene in the novel that burns a bible. Ummm, Texas, we think you missed the whole point of the book.
You can learn more about challenged book at Banned Books Week.
The Eyre Affair, Jasper Fforde
In a complete 360 from the 2 above books, the world of The Eyre Affair is all about the love of books and reading. Every other dude is named John Milton, folks are still arguing about the real identity of Shakespeare and, in a magical twist, it’s possible to kill characters in books or pull them out of the books into the real world.
Ace literary detective Thursday Next works for the Special Operative. She’s called to duty when the world’s most notorious literary criminal pulls a stunt and yanks Jane Eyre out of Bronte’s novel.
The book is part of a series that features criminal shenanigans involving Hamlet, The Raven, Mrs. Marple, Sherlock Holmes, Miss Havisham and others. It’s a head twisting fantasy and a romp on the order of Mister Toad’s Wild Ride (a Wind in the Willows reference for you nerds out there).
The Book of Lost Things, John Connolly
Connolly is best known for writing his Charlie Parker detective thriller series. This book ain’t that. Instead, Connolly has used his dark and twistie storytelling skills to craft a rich fairy tale.
After the death of young David’s mother, his father remarries and they move into his step-mother Rose’s family home. David is given the bedroom which used to belong to Rose’s brother Jonathan. The room is full of old books featuring ancient stories and many of the books contain odd notes written by Jonathan.
Things take a dark turn when the books start whispering to David.
He goes through a hole in the garden wall and soon finds himself in a strange land populated with versions of classic fairy tale characters. Think, The Brothers Grimm, with an emphasis on grim. David embarks upon a perilous journey to find his way home.
This fantasy is somewhat reminiscent of The Wizard of Oz, and by that I mean the dark, book version. Not the technicolor movie version.
Beach Read, Emily Henry
If you are not in the mood for books about magical books or dusty historical books, then Beach Read will be a nice, contemporary option for you.
In it, January (a romance writer) and Gus (a “literary” writer) are holed up in neighboring beach houses, each suffering from writer’s block. They are long-time rivals from college, but they decide to help one another and make a deal to crack their writer’s block by writing in each other’s genres.
The result is a sweet romance with a beachy vibe that doesn’t shy away from serious adult issues.
We’ve also got a discussion guide for Book Lovers, which features a book agent and editor in a fun take on the city slicker/small town romance trope.
The Uncommon Reader: A Novella, Alan Bennett
What’s the Queen of England reading? Find out in this charming novella.
When the Queen and her corgi dogs stumble across the local mobile library, she checks out a book and it sparks a love of reading. She’s guided in the effort by Norman, a dude who works in her kitchens. Some of the more uptight palace staff clutch their metaphorical pearls at the thought of the Queen stepping out of her narrowly prescribed role.
But step-out she does, and she joins the rest of us book nerds with our noses firmly planted in the pages.
Have a listen on Audible. Try audio books for free for 30 days.
Non-Fiction Books on Books
The Man Who Loved Books Too Much, Allison Hoover Bartlett
This is the story of the rare book dealer Ken Sanders, and his search for the book thief John Gilkey.
Sanders, a self described “bibliodick”, noticed a pattern in book thefts around the country. He put together a network of rare book sellers to warn dealers about the rash of thefts.
For Gilkey’s part, he not only craved the rare books, but also the attention that came with having them displayed on his shelves. And he shamelessly stole rare finds from mom and pop book dealers.
Bennett covers the personalities involved in the story, with a strong true-crime whodunnit approach.
If you find yourself in Salt Lake City, you can visit Ken Saunders Rare Books, where he’s got dusty stacks of all sorts of oddball finds. He’s also given over the exterior walls of his building to bibliotastic muralists.
Reading Lolita in Tehran, Azar Nafisi
This book covers a period in Iran from 1978 to 1997, which was a time of cultural and religious turmoil. Nafisi was a professor of English and Persian literature at the University of Tehran and her memoir covers this time period.
In addition to her personal story, the narrative also centers around a book club that she formed with seven of her female students. They secretly read forbidden works of Western literature, such as Lolita and The Great Gatsby. She weaves her own story and her student’s experiences along with an analysis of the books themselves, by dividing the book into four sections: “Lolita”, “Gatsby”, “James”, and “Austen”.
“Do not, under any circumstances, belittle a work of fiction by trying to turn it into a carbon copy of real life; what we search for in fiction is not so much reality but the epiphany of truth.” – Nafisi
The Professor and the Madman, Simon Winchester
This is the story of two men who possessed sufficient passion, obsession and erudition to make the world’s first English dictionary happen.
The Professor was James Murray. He was tasked with creating the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) and, when finding it an utterly daunting task, decided to “crowd source” it by requesting submissions from learned readers around the world.
The Madman was Dr. W.C. Minor, a deluded, mentally ill man who submitted over 10,000 (accurate and well-substantiated) entries while housed in a prison for the criminally insane.
And while a book about how to make a dictionary has the potential to be as dull as dirt, the creative way that the OED came together and the strange relationship between Murray and Minor makes for a pretty compelling read…especially for word nerds.
This book has also been adapted into a Netflix move: The Professor and the Madman.
And if you can’t afford your own copy of the OED (and who can!), check the online catalog of your library because many have a subscription to the OED for use by their patrons.
Want More Book Lists?
- 20 books set in the winter.
- 18 books about elephants.
- Great audio book memoirs (read by the author).
Have a listen on Audible. Try audio books for free for 30 days.
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