12 of the best books about books that capture the joy of reading
There’s just something about reading books about books. Maybe it’s because I love hearing about other people’s favourite books, or that I always enjoy connecting with other fond readers (even literary ones).
I’ve been keeping a mental list of books about books for some time now, and it’s only now that I’ve turned it into pixels.
From The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek to Ruth Shaw’s memoir of her wee bookshops in the deep south of New Zealand, recently there have been so many books that have made me think, “yes! that will go in the books post!”
So without further ado, here are my favourite books about readers, librarians, bookshop owners, and, of course, books…
The best books about books for people who love reading
1. Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
“As I gaze at the vacant, birdless scene outside, I suddenly want to read a book – any book. As long as it’s shaped like a book and has printing, it’s fine by me. I just want to hold a book in my hands, turn the pages, scan the words with my eyes.”
Kafka on the Shore, a fan favourite from Murakami (and one of my all-time favourite books), is an immersive and otherworldly book to get lost in when you want an escape from everyday life.
It’s also a wonderful book about books, and contains one of my favourite libraries in literature.
Comprising two distinct but interrelated plots, the narrative runs back and forth between the life of fifteen-year-old Kafka Tamura, who has run away from home, and an aging man called Nakata.
2. The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan
The Bookshop on the Corner is a wonderfully cozy book about books, packed with musings on the joys of reading.
It’s also a book about librarians: namely, Nina, a literary matchmaker and librarian with the gift of finding the perfect book for her readers.
However, after losing the job she loves, Nina must make a new life for herself. Nervous but determined and ready for a new start, Nina moves to a sleepy village in Scotland where she buys a van and transforms it into a mobile bookshop.
She drives her bookmobile from neighborhood to neighborhood, changing one life after another with the power of storytelling. With every new reader she meets, Nina slowly realises that this place might just be where she can write her own happy ending.
3. The Bookseller at the End of the World by Ruth Shaw
The Bookseller at the End of the World, one of my favourite new books for 2022, is Ruth Shaw’s immersive, heartbreaking, yet charming story of running two wee bookshops in the remote village of Manapouri in the deep south of New Zealand.
In this beautiful book for booklovers (that is sure to make you want to read even more books), Shaw weaves together stories of the characters who visit her bookshops, musings on the books that have shaped her life, and bittersweet stories from her full and varied life of adventure.
4. The Secret History by Donna Tartt
The Secret History is one of my all-time-favourite books about books; 30+ of them, in fact (if I counted correctly), from The Iliad to The Great Gatsby.
It’s an excellent novel to spark a hunger for classics and mystery-solving, beginning with some of my favourite opening lines in literature: “The snow in the mountains was melting and Bunny had been dead for several weeks before we came to understand the gravity of our situation.”
(For more book inspiration for fans of The Secret History, I’ve also curated a list of Donna Tartt’s favourite books.)
5. The Velocity of Being by Maria Popova
Like everything else from Maria Popova, the mind and heart of The Marginalian (formerly Brain Pickings), The Velocity of Being is a gorgeously curated book celebrating the joys of discovery.
Here, Maria Popova brings together some of the most wonderful culture-makers – writers, artists, scientists, entrepreneurs, and philosophers — to reflect on the joys of reading, how books broaden and deepen human experience, and the ways in which the written word has formed their character.
A beautiful illustration accompanies each letter about how books have shaped a contributor’s life, with stories from figures as diverse as Jane Goodall, Neil Gaiman, Shonda Rhimes, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Elizabeth Gilbert.
6. The Library Book by Susan Orlean
On the morning of April 28, 1986, a fire alarm sounded in the Los Angeles Public Library. The fire reached two thousand degrees and burned for more than seven hours, consuming four hundred thousand books and damaging seven hundred thousand more by the time it was extinguished.
More than thirty years later, the mystery remains: did someone purposefully set fire to the library—and if so, who?
Weaving her lifelong love of books and reading into an investigation of the fire, The Library Book is Susan Orlean’s love letter to libraries and a dazzling reflection on their past, present, and future in America.
7. The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson
Inspired by the true blue-skinned people of Kentucky and Roosevelt’s Pack Horse library service of the 1930s, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is a story of raw courage, relentless kindness, and one woman’s belief in the transformative power of books.
In this historical fiction novel (which I loved listening to as an audiobook), the hardscrabble folks of Troublesome Creek have to fight for everything. However, what they do have is their very own travelling librarian.
Cussy Mary Carter travels by packhorse to bring books – including Peter Pan, Doctor Doolittle, and The Call of the Wild – to the Appalachian community she loves. But with her skin a shade of blue unlike most anyone else, Cussy has to contend with prejudice and suspicion as old as the mountains she navigates.
8. The Diary Of A Bookseller by Sean Bythell
If you’ve always dreamed of owning a bookshop, The Diary of a Bookseller is the perfect book to indulge your bookish fantasies.
Shaun Bythell owns The Bookshop, Wigtown – Scotland’s largest second-hand bookshop. It contains 100,000 books, spread over a mile of shelving, with twisting corridors and roaring fires, and all set in a beautiful, rural town by the edge of the sea.
In these wry and hilarious diaries, Shaun provides an inside look at the trials and tribulations of life in booklover’s paradise, from struggles with eccentric customers to wrangles with his own staff.
Along the way, he recommends books and evokes the charms of small-town life in delightful detail to inspire your own literary self-care and reading rituals.
9. The Reading List by Sara Nisha Adams
The Reading List is a wonderfully heartwarming book about books and connection. In this debut, a chance encounter with a list of books in the back of To Kill a Mockingbird helps forge an unlikely friendship between two very different people in a London suburb.
Mukesh lives a quiet life in Wembley after losing his beloved wife, now worrying about his granddaughter, Priya, who hides in her room reading. Aleisha is a bright but anxious teenager working at the local library and trying to escape the painful realities she’s facing at home.
Slowly, as the reading list brings these two lonely souls together, fiction becomes their key to escape their grief, forget about everyday troubles, and even, with time and gentleness, find joy again.
10. The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman
The Bookish Life of Nina Hill is a marvellously joyful and lighthearted book about books to get lost in.
Shortlisted for the Comedy Women in Print Prize, Abbi Waxman’s charming and quirky romance follows introvert and bookworm Nina Hill as she discovers if real life can ever live up to fiction.
Nina has her life just as she wants it: a job in a bookstore, an excellent trivia team and a cat named Phil. And plenty of time for reading.
So when the father she never knew existed dies, leaving behind innumerable sisters, brothers, nieces, and nephews, Nina is horrified. And if that wasn’t enough, Tom, her trivia nemesis, has turned out to be cute, funny and interested in getting to know her.
11. Ex Libris: 100+ Books to Read and Reread by Michiko Kakutani
What are your five-star reads, the books that shaped who you are and how you see the world?
Ex Libris is literary critic Michiko Kakutani’s personal selection of over one hundred works of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, sharing passionate essays on why each has had a profound effect on her life.
From Homer’s The Odyssey to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Ex Libris covers a rich and vast range of old and new classics, accompanied by gorgeous illustrations from lettering artist Dana Tanamachi.
12. What Writers Read: 35 Writers on their Favourite Book by Pandora Sykes
What do writers read? In this captivating, beautiful collection curated by the author of How Do We Know If We’re Doing it Right, a host of beloved authors from Elizabeth Strout to Derek Owusu and Ruth Ozeki to Elif Shafak reveal their favourite books.
Available as a gorgeous hardcover, What Writers Read is a stunning book about books and the joy of reading that’s perfect to gift to booklovers.
Still looking for new books to read? For more books to retreat into, complement this with the coziest books to read on a quiet night in or the best books to read on vacation in 2023.
Enjoy more from me
- Retreat into my new book, Your Life in Bloom: Finding Your Path and Your Courage, Grounded in the Wisdom of Nature.
- I'm also the author of Mountain Song: A Journey to Finding Quiet in the Swiss Alps, a book about my time living alone by the mountains.
- If you love books, are feeling a little lost right now, and would love some gentle comfort and guidance, join The Sanctuary, my seven-day course to rebalance your life.