Books about books: the ultimate guide

October: the month of dark evenings, petrichor and woodsmoke, long days at the library fuelled by coffee and an impending sense of doom as your task list only ever seems to be growing, never diminished, in size. While the persistent rain and deadlines may not be going away, one can at least seek solace in literature, and I firmly believe there is no kind of book that provides more comfort than a book about books – a niche but golden genre that celebrates the joy of reading and storytelling, whether that’s through a bookish setting or wonderful book loving characters. Forget The Book Thief or Fahrenheit 451 – here is a hand-picked list of criminally underrated books about books that will make the perfect literary companions to carry with you through the cold months of autumn.



First up is The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (translated from Spanish by Lucia Graves). A compelling hybrid of gothic, mystery and historical fiction, this novel is an ode to the solace that can be found in literature, set against the haunting backdrop of 1940s Barcelona as it slowly heals from the wounds inflicted by the civil war. The novel gets its title from a book of the same name which Daniel, son of an antiquarian book seller, stumbles upon in a secret, labyrinthine library called the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. From there he becomes entangled with the fate of the book and its elusive author, embarking on a mission to uncover who has been out there destroying every single copy of every book the author has written. While there are plenty of twisted and vile personalities in here, The Shadow of the Wind ultimately takes you on a journey alongside a cast of wonderfully eccentric characters who begin to feel like old friends, sitting down with you by a fire and recounting their intimate histories, and whose love for stories oozes from the pages. It’s a book of wistful young love (and lust), dark brooding mystery, antique bookshops and the crumbling ruins of war. It’s also a complete masterclass in writing; Zafon’s prose is the kind that reminds you why you love reading so much, and I can only imagine reading the novel in its original language would reveal even more rich poetic nuance.



Continuing on the relentlessly cheerful theme of war (can you tell I’m a history student?), The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is one of the cosiest, most soothing books about books that you could possibly get your hands on.  Set in 1946, this is a short epistolary novel following writer Juliet Ashton who, seeking a subject for her new book, begins a correspondence with a man she has never met who lives on the island of Guernsey under German occupation. It is through him that she learns about the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, of which he is a member, and soon she becomes drawn into the world of this man and his quirky, larger-than-life friends whose love for literature is utterly contagious. Although a relatively short book, this is one of the most charming, humorous, and deeply human stories I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading, probably one of only a few in which you’ll find pig farmers as romantic leads or parrots who eat cuckoo clocks, and above all it’s a book lover’s dream – there are literary references sprinkled across almost every page, alongside quotes like this:


”Perhaps there is some secret sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers. How delightful if that were true.”


It’s a comfort blanket of a book to snuggle up with when university life becomes too overwhelming, and at its core, it’s a love letter to the magical potential books hold to encourage human resilience in the most harrowing of times. If, however, you’ve already seen the film starring Lily James, do not fear – I would highly recommend trying out 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff, an enchanting memoir that also takes an epistolary form and equally celebrates the unexpected friendships that can be formed through a love for literature. If you loved one, you’re guaranteed to love the other.



Last but certainly not least is Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale, a novel that feels like something Charlotte Bronte would have written had she lived in the twenty-first century. It’s a gothic, mysterious family drama with a format very reminiscent of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo but instead of Hollywood, make it a Victorian manor house in the heart of the Yorkshire moors where there resides an infamous author named Vita Winter. The story revolves around the uncovering of Winter’s childhood and the dark secrets of her past which emerge like the moors through the fog as she recounts her life to biographer Margaret Lea, while infused throughout this journey is a profound adoration for stories and the endless possibilities that lie within them. Like The Shadow of the Wind, what truly elevates this novel is just how lush and consumingly evocative Diane Setterfield’s prose is throughout, the kind that even the most unenthusiastic of readers would drool over, and I think it’s only fitting to round off this recommendations list with one of my favourite bookish quotes from The Thirteenth Tale:


“There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic.”


Featured image: Ricardo Esquivel on Pexels 

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