Sunday, 27 June 2021

Books about Books and never ending reading lists


Down the rabbit hole thanks to Norfolk Library and Information Service

I’ve become very meta at present and many of the books I’ve been reading have been about reading or books. I think that perhaps my (not so) inner bookworm is out of control…

First up was Reading the World by Ann Morgan. This book charts her experiences of spending a year, 2012, in trying to read a book from every country.

This wasn’t as easy as you’d think as there’s a lot of dispute about who does appear on such a list – as Morgan found this is an incredibly fraught issue with many possible answers.

Her next issue was finding books that she could physically read – not very much literature gets translated into English in the grand scheme of things.

Then there was the issue of  finding the books (not every nation has a proud written word culture) and then getting them to England for reading.

The book wasn’t so much about the books read for the project as the process around it, however all of Morgan’s reviews are still available on her blog – along with lists of other books that could have been chosen but weren’t.


Next was Stig Abell’s Things I learned on the 6.28: a guide to reading. In 2019 Abell decided to focus the reading he undertook on his morning commute in an attempt to expand his reading, and looks at genres in more detail. Each month had a different theme such as Poetry, Shakespeare, American Fiction, and then Abell mixes his thoughts on the books with his daily diary and his research in to the author/genre.

As the world changed so much in 2020 this book felt a little bit like a historical document as I read it but dipping in and out reading a month at a time I found I really enjoyed this book, and like the best books about books I have added a fair few new titles to my “I’ll read these one day” list.


The final book in this genre for now is Tom Mole’s The Secret Life of Books: why they mean more than words. Unlike the other two books this isn’t about specific titles but is all about what the book as a physical object means to a person.

The 8 chapters take themes like Book/Life or Book/Self and then explore what the book brings to each of these areas, a lot of what Mole says resonates with my thinking on the topic – especially in light of reading Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own last year. Spread through the book are also some works of art that feature books and Mole explores what the books have to say about the paintings which is fascinating and a topic I’d like to read more about!


Three very different books and ones that have made me think a lot about my own reading. I love translated fiction and so will definitely be using Morgan’s books to learn more about literature from other countries, and Abell’s focused reading was inspiring.

However I can’t see myself dedicating my reading time to such specific (and limiting) projects. I look at my ‘to read’ pile and think that I should read all of that before anything new comes along. I am trying to read more from it but I’d hate not being able to read something new and exciting that came my way, and it would stop me from taking part in some of the exciting projects that do cross my path.

Reading is a pleasure and I want to keep it that way, several times while reading Morgan and Abell I got the feeling that their projects had become a chore. I want books and reading to stay as personal and pleasurable as possible – for as Mole says, the book really is a wonderful item.

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