It’s not much of a stretch to assume that most people who are writing books are somewhat bookish themselves. But I don’t think it’s always true. I heard an interview with Katherine Neville last year, when the sequel to her bestselling novel The Eight was published, and I was struck by how unwriterly, and by how utterly UNbookish, she seemed. She wanted to tell a story and she wrote and published, but I didn’t have the impression that even one room of her home was lined with books that she loves.
On the contrary, however, I can imagine bookstuffed rooms in any of the following authors’ homes based on having read only a single book from each of their oeuvres. My apologies for the short summaries: I read each of them too quickly to take proper notes, which, however, is a recommendation in-and-of-itself.
Martha Baillie’s The Incident Report
Pedlar Press, 2009
Pedlar Press presents The Incident Report as though it is exactly what it purports to be: physically it looks like an unadorned notebook, one that it’s easy to imagine using for recording the incidents that occur in a library, incidents often revolving around books, but also around the people who care for them (in this case, specifically librarians). Doncha love it when you KNOW that a book designer read the book?!
The opening pages of Martha Baillie‘s book offer a blank incident report, complete with illustrations so that the perpetrators can be properly and fully described, and the later pages contain just the text of the reports. And, as with any document, it’s reading between the lines that’s more interesting (and, arguably, more informative) than anything recorded.
As such, we learn more about the person who is choosing to fill out the incident report, which details are included and excluded, the references made to aspects of her life (and, even more so, the references not made, the omissions, the cursory summaries where details would have been more useful to the reader), than the facts which the incident report was designed to collect and retain. If you don’t like your reading to be a participation exercise, this probably isn’t the book for you, but either way The Incident Report is a memorable read.
Andrew Kaufman’s The Waterproof Bible
Random House, 2010
I’d never’ve thought to be carrying a Bible with me on the subway, but if I were to adopt the habit, it would be Andrew Kaufman‘s waterproof one I’d opt for.
Although you’d never know it, because I started it one morning and finished it the next, so very few observers would have spotted my freshly adorned reverence. Yes, I read the book that quickly. It was a wholly delightful read (albeit the sort that could get your reader’s brain turning in more philosophical ways if you were so inclined).
With its multiple threads, it reminded me of the spirited energy of Nikolas Dikner’s Nikolski which I so enjoyed earlier this year; however Nikolski was even more overtly bookish with its second-hand bookshop and the treasured book that makes its rounds.
Actually, The Waterproof Bible, despite ostensibly being a Bible, which would have made it two books in one, seemingly extra-bookish, really isn’t that bookish, so I am cheating by including it here. However, I don’t have a day of the week for waterproof reads that might more appropriately include Andrew Kaufman’s second novel (the first, All My Friends Are Superheroes, apparently also includes Aby, so now I must read that too), so I must gush about it here.
The threads in The Waterproof Bible are more intricately drawn and cinched than those in Nikolski which might make this a more satisfying read for some readers (although I thought the looser approach worked with Dikner’s novel because it was a novel about wandering after all).
There are pilgrimages and vigils, purges and callings, altars and catechisms: all the stuff you’d expect in a book with the word ‘Bible’ on the cover, but in none of the forms that you would expect them to take.
Oh, it’s wonderful. And there are frog people. Yes, that’s right. And it all works.
Shelf Monkey is an overtly bookish book, and another that I read far too quickly to properly consider it.
But there are still some simple questions you can ask yourself to determine whether you’d want to read it so ferociously yourself.
Have you ever debated with a bookish friend the merits of the Oprah Bookclub (on either ‘side’)?
Marvelled at/poked at/envied the tell-tale sticker that branded those books?
Perhaps even lost sleep over what you’d’ve done if you’d been Jonathan Franzen?
Have you pre-selected the Fictional Character Name by which you would rather be known in a parallel-overly-bookish dimension in which the work-a-day-you fades into the background and the bookish-you bursts forth?
Written your new fictionally-inspired name in different colour inks, perhaps even pairing it romantically with a similarly-fictionally-inspired lover’s name?
Have bookish politics ever raised your blook-pressure suddenly and dangerously when news of an indie shop’s closing has reached you, or following the announcement of a popular but talentless celebrity author’s latest foray into the world of letters?
Have you felt your eyes well up in sympathy with John Steinbeck (even though many would deny your assertion that you, as a stranger to him, have the right to claim such a strong emotional reaction to his plight) whose works are inevitably overshadowed by the contemporary oeuvre of Danielle Steele mounded upon the bookshelves of bookstores around the world?
Give yourself one point for every ‘yes’ and find yourself a copy of Corey Redekop‘s novel for three points or more.
I fell hard for Firmin, the rat and the book.
It was an unexpectedly exhilarating affair and as I cannot be assured that Firmin would receive a love letter through the post I will have to settle for sending something to Coffee House Press.
Like a teenager with a gigantically bookish crush. Actually, maybe that crush is not so gigantic.
It might be smaller. It might be, say, rodent-sized. But powerfully so.
My only regret is that I didn’t get to read the copy that Sasha read, with a bite taken out of it. But I can’t complain of that when it was simple bookish luck (or was it fate?) that I happened upon this slim volume on an evening’s wander.
In some ways I feel as though my comments should be more incisive, but with an attraction this strong, sometimes it’s hard to be articulate, y’know?
See you next Friday for more bookish non-fiction. And ‘fess up if you’ve been reading bookish books yourself.