books about books and the pleasure of reading
Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen (1818)
Austen’s posthumously published debut novel may not have as much finesse as his later more famous works, but Northanger Abbey is an archetype of contemporary teenage fan fiction, a book that chronicles the trials and tribulations of its heroine Catherine Morland as she grows, diversifies and learns from her mistakes. Influenced by her love of gothic romantic fiction, Catherine indulges in wild fantasies and imaginations, until harsh real-life truths bring her to her senses. Austen uses her heroine’s escapades to poke fun at the importance of her contemporary literary critics and their derogatory views on the novel. “It is only a novel … or, in short, a work in which the greatest powers of the mind are deployed, where the most profound knowledge of human nature, the happiest delimitation of its varieties, the most lively outpourings of spirit. and humor, are transmitted to the world in the best chosen language.
The princess to marry, William Goldman (1973)
Presented as an abstract of a fictional book, The princess to marry from S Morgenstern, Goldman’s fantasy romance novel takes the adventure stories his father told him as a child and repackages the “good parts” of his comedic tale of adventure and revenge. Set in the land of Florin, the beautiful Bouton d’Or and her farmer lover Westley battle princes and thieves in a picaresque epic that subverts her fairytale origins. Struck with middle-aged disillusionment, Goldman’s retelling of the stories that inspired him as a child is also an assessment of his own performance as a husband and a writer, and his desire to rekindle the spark. One of the most memorable characters in the book is the Spanish swordsman Inigo, who helps Westley fight the prince. Fans of the book and the 1987 film adaptation starring Mandy Patinkin will know her battle cry: “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die. “
The name of the rose, Umberto Eco (1980)
Cited by some as the intellectual reader The Da Vinci Code, Umberto Eco’s postmodern beginnings speak of a murder in a 14th-century monastery. Taking place in the north of Italy, The name of the rose combines the mystery of historical murder with literary criticism, medieval studies and semiotics. Traveling north to a monastery to attend a conference on the theological dispute, Franciscan Brother Guillaume de Baskerville and his novice Adso learn that they have committed suicide when they arrive at their destination. As more and more monks die under mysterious circumstances, William is tasked by the abbot to find the culprit. Equipped with a huge medieval library to help him, in addition to new clues following each murder, the hero of the novel by the Italian philosopher and semiotician sets out to unravel the mysteries, using the very postmodern point of view that all texts refer to other texts as a basis for deduction.
Mathilde, Roald Dahl (1988)
Like many adults in Roald Dahl’s fictional worlds, Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood are not nice people. Their daughter Mathilde, a misunderstood genius who is equally despised and despised by other members of her family, relies on her beloved books to escape. An extraordinary young girl endowed with magical powers, Mathilde’s intelligence is noticed by her kind teacher Miss Honey. Together, they battle the Wormwoods and the fierce director of Trunchbull in a classic Dahl story where book intelligence, intelligence, and kindness triumph over evil. The novel inspired many artistic ramifications, from memorable illustrations by Quentin Blake to a movie version starring Danny DeVito and a popular Broadway stage adaptation, Mathilde the musical.
Possession: a romance, AS Byatt (1990)
Written in response to John Fowles’ The wife of the French lieutenant, Byatt’s postmodern novel won the Booker Prize in the year of its publication. With a plot that follows two contemporary academics in their research into the previously unknown affair between famous fictional poets Randolph Henry Ash and Christabel LaMotte, the novel blends historical fiction and metafiction, falling into the lesser-known category of historiographic metafiction. Journal entries, letters, and poetry are among the meta-narratives that make up the book, which is concerned with the authority and veracity of textual narratives through the ages. Even the title points to British writer Byatt’s postmodern trends, drawing attention to himself as a love story that is far more than what it claims to be.
The reader, Bernhard Schlink (1995)
Concerned about second-generation guilt, Bernhard Schlink’s novel uses literature and literacy as a way to revisit the “incomparable” crimes of Nazi Germany. When teenage Michael Berg suffers from hepatitis and has to drop out of school to recover, he begins a relationship with an emotionally stunted older woman that will affect him for the rest of his life. A kind of intimacy develops between the two, with the physical part of the relationship coming after Michael’s role as a reader for Hannah. After training as a lawyer years later, Michael meets Hannah again and the importance of their reading sessions becomes horribly evident. Focusing on the ignorance that allowed a nation to commit atrocities, Schlink’s novel is an important commentary on the moral failure of a state.
Hours, Michael Cunningham (1998)
Using Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway to connect the lives of three women across the twentieth century, Hours transparent transitions between its protagonists and their heartaches. Readers get a window into Virginia Woolf’s bohemian lifestyle in 1920s England as she battles depression while writing her novel. In 1950s America, housewife Laura has her own issues and escapes into Woolf’s fiction rather than confronting them. At the turn of the 21st century, lesbian Clarissa throws a party for her gay friend Richard, who is dying of AIDS. Themes of gender identity, sexual repression and mental illness run through the parallel narratives of Cunningham’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, which mirrors Woolf’s original work in his mainstream style of conscience. Through it all, women look to the formidable Mrs. Dalloway as she goes on a trip to buy the flowers herself.
The blind assassin, Margaret Atwood (2000)
Three distinct stories combine beautifully in Margaret Atwood’s Booker Prize-winning novel, which tells the story of sisters Iris and Laura Chase. Iris Chase’s memoir details her decline from a wealthy debutante into a loveless marriage to a lonely old age. Her story is interwoven with excerpts from the posthumous novel by her younger sister Laura The blind assassin and, with another makeover, the pulp sci-fi escapades that Laura’s book hero Alex tells her lover in the dingy hotel rooms where they meet. The titles of both books come from one of Alex’s improvised series, where children from a dystopian planet are recruited as silent killers and forced to make rugs until they go blind.
The marriage plot, Jeffrey Eugenides (2011)
The vigorous and beautiful prose of Jeffrey Eugenides’ third novel is a continuation of the style used in his earlier works, The suicide virgins and Middle-sex, corn The marriage plot takes an altogether lighter tone to explore his subjects of marriage, relationships and literature. Opening with Hangover Heroine Madeleine on college graduation day, readers get a glimpse of her personality through a list of the favorite books lining the walls of her dormitory: The Carefully Arranged Novels of Edith Wharton , Henry James’ complete modern library, full of Dickens, Austen, Eliot and “the dreaded” Brontë sisters, not to mention Colette’s novels which she reads as guilty pleasures. After Madeleine and her relationship with the manic-depressive Leonard and the theology student Mitchell, The marriage plot is about the drama, the pain and the enlightenment of growing up.
Fangirl, Rainbow Rowell (2013)
A young adult novel set on the University of Nebraska campus, Fangirl tells the stories of sisters Cath and Wren Avery as they arrive for their first year, each with issues in tow. Told from Cath’s perspective, this coming-of-age story about fan fiction and relationships has at its heart the love of books and their remedial power. As Wren makes new friends in college, Cath increasingly relies on the fandom of her prized Simon Snow novels. American author Rowell cited the Harry Potter series and its author JK Rowling as the inspiration for the fiction Snow.