Category Archives: Book Column

Books about Books, a short list

‘Books about books’ is my favorite category at the bookstore. It’s often a difficult section to find. Some shops place them in the ‘Collectibles & Antiques’ area. Others in the ‘Essays’ or ‘Reference’ sections. Some of the best book stores will gather all of the books about books under the heading of ‘Literary Non-Fiction’, which seems as appropriate, while the best shops do create a curated “Books About Books” section.

I’ve often wondered why this isn’t the first section every book shop stocks. One can pretty much guarantee that, while not every browsing customer will agree on which hot political book to read or which classic work is the best, every potential customer is someone who appreciates books. Right?

The folks at the LitHub have offered a five-book list The Best Books About Books. I’ve only read Dirda’s Browsings. But I like the sound of Tim Parks’ Where I’m Reading From, so it’s been added to my TBR list.

In hopes that you too are a kindred bookish type, I’d like to offer five books that I think are at the top of the ‘books about books’ category. These are all books I’ve read and continually recommend to folks. On LibraryThing, I keep a running list of the books about books I’ve read and have-yet-to read. My list includes both fiction and non-fiction. Please let me know if you have read a good one that I’ve missed.

Five Fantastic Books About Books

BooksAboutBooks_SMBSo Many Books: Reading and Publishing in an Age of Abundance by Gabriel Zaid – This one is only 160 pages and it outlines perfectly many of the challenges that modern publishers and readers face in today’s book world.



BooksAboutBooks_ELEx Libris : Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman – If there were to be one book on everyone’s books about books list I imagine this 162-page book honoring all that’s beautiful about words and books would be it.



BooksAboutBooks_YLBSThe Yellow-Lighted Bookshop: A Memoir, a History by Lewis Buzbee – I can’t quite put my finger on why this book rises so much higher than all the other ‘bookstore memoir’ titles out there, but Buzbee nails just about every feeling and thought I’ve had about bookshops.


BooksAboutBooks_LaNThe Library at Night by Alberto Manguel – By far the heaviest and deepest book on my list, Manguel relates the philosophies, histories and importance of book collecting and reading like no one else.



BooksAboutBooks_HwBAt Home with Books : How Booklovers Live with and Care for Their Libraries by Estelle Ellis – This is a big coffee table book full of the most gorgeous and inspiring images of home libraries running alongside great interviews with the people who own them.



Reading Ability Tied to Ice Cream

Ok, so this one has a bit of a “cars with umbrellas in them get into more wrecks, so umbrellas cause wrecks” kind of feel to it, but hey, it was reported by The Economist. Which is pretty legit and their paywall is more profitable than what I’m running here at Headsubhead, so I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.

But the numbers do track just about the same: countries that consume large amounts of ice cream treats also score very very well on literacy tests.


No doubt there are many other factors here, but doing a quick and dirty back of the napkin confirmation…

Business Insider lists these ten as the top ice cream eating countries:

  1. New Zealand
  2. United States
  3. Australia
  4. Finland
  5. Sweden
  6. Canada
  7. Denmark
  8. Ireland
  9. Italy
  10. United Kingdom

And according to a Washington Post article, the most literate countries in the world are:

  1. Finland
  2. Norway
  3. Iceland
  4. Denmark
  5. Sweden
  6. Switzerland
  7. United States
  8. Germany
  9. Latvia
  10. Canada & Netherlands (tie)

So that’s 50%. Of course, while it’s easy to count ice cream cones, it’s much harder to measure literacy. No doubt some formulas would track this trend higher or lower, but it’s still pretty fun.

So, averaging the info from Business Insider, in order to maintain a high level of literacy you should consume 13.5 liters (3.6 gallons) of ice cream per year.

All of that probably isn’t true, but it sure is fun to say. And there’s math behind it! Everything with numbers is true, right? Just ask any of these politicians running for office. However if science could tell us which flavors of ice cream help us most with reading comprehension…. then we’d be on to something.

Michael Chabon Has a New Book Coming

We’re about 10 weeks out from the release of Moonglow, Michael Chabon’s new book. It’ll be his most recent book since Telegraph Avenue four years ago.

I have to admit I am pretty excited about this one. While Telegraph Avenue did not exactly “crank my tractor” many of his others have been fan-freaking-tastic. I still find myself recommending The Yiddish Policeman’s Union as well as craving conversation about The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. I also enjoyed The Final Solution and The Mysteries of Pittsburgh.

moonglow_coverMoonglow follows the implications of a grandfather’s deathbed confession to his grandson as he recounts family tales and relationships. Many people are expecting to see much of Chabon himself in the novel as Chabon was bedside when his own grandfather passed away in the late 1980’s. We’ll see.

So far all we really know is that it’s 432 pages and jumps around from pre-WW II Jewish slums, to Florida to the birth of the U.S. space program. Though we’ve also gotten a glimpse at some of the text thanks to Chabon sharing on Instagram:


Hopefully it’ll be another good one. Chabon is one of those authors that I always look forward to reading and discussing with others. The book will be in bookstores on November 22, 2016.

Reading Analytics and Readers

Earlier this year Jellybooks, a digital book testing and data tracking firm, shared reading analytics they had captured while tracking readers.

I think the reading analytics get interesting when they turn their attention to completion rates. My favorite three points worth sharing and discussing:

  1. less than half of the books started were ever finished
  2. women seem more willing to give a book chance, quitting after 50-100 pages while men often bail after reading only 30-50 pages
  3. business books have really low completion rates

The NY Times has an expanded article on the report if you want to see charts, graphs and more details.

I have to admit that I am very pleased that folks are not afraid to put a bad book down. That used to not be the case. But there are so many good books out there, ‘life is too short’ and all that jazz.

As interesting as the reading analytics are things get really interesting when you start thinking how publishers will use this. Or even authors. That’s the scary part. How would the great books of the past have been shaped had the authors known when readers “get bored” or start to skip parts? Can you imagine how formulaic plots would have become? It’s bad enough as it is.

So the numbers are fun as it’s always interesting to see how people behave, but when it comes to creating art and novels that tell the stories of people, I hope authors will pause before peeking at the numbers.