I’m a book person: I read them, I write about them, and I like reading about how great they are. Deep meta. The following are novels that have, as a central theme, the importance of books, stories, reading, and writing.
I’ve written about this novel several times before because not only is it written through a series of rich, expressive, often tongue-in-cheek letters sent between various characters, but the whole story revolves around a community’s love and appreciation of literature. This communal enjoyment of books and reading sees them through the end of the second world war, and becomes a community endeavour that spans islands and hardships, creating friendships and even romance.
This story follows the fantastic journey of the Sarajevo Haggadah, a medieval Jewish prayer book of unknown authorship. The narrative unfolds with the book in the modern day as it is carefully dissected and restored by Hanna Heath, an expert in ancient books. Each imperfection she finds within the book – a cat hair, an insect wing casing, a small stain – links to a person in another time and place who encountered it. Their story then unfolds: how they came to have the book, the pains they took to protect it, and how it passed on in its journey. Hanna’s interactions with the book are told incrementally as the book’s entire history unfolds backwards to its very conception and creator.
This story spans an enormous amount of time, space, and conflict, from Australia to medieval Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Every character is fascinating, their experiences and interactions with the book profound and often life-changing.
The protagonist of this story, Willa, is attempting to understand and reconnect with her intersex child, who was raised as a daughter. She discovers the case of Little Jock, a body found dismembered at a lonely campsite called the Sinkings in Albany, Western Australia a hundred years ago. There is some confusion as to the gender of the remains, and Willa sets out on a research journey to discover what she can about the individual, and along the way re-examines how she raised her child and how they can reconnect as adults. Willa’s research takes her to the archives and libraries of Scotland and Ireland, and after finding out the bare facts of Little Jock’s life – birth, transportation, death – begins to reconstruct her own version of their story.
Eva Luna is born a poor servant girl, but her extraordinary talent for telling stories takes her to new places, creates friendships and family where she least expects it, and gives her the power to love deeply and passionately. The Stories of Eva Luna is a sort of companion book, a collection of Eva’s stories that feature characters, settings, and other elements of her amazing life. Told in the tradition of Scheherazade, and with the rich language of South American magical realism, both Eva Luna and The Stories of Eva Luna celebrate the incredible power of storytelling to connect, heal, grow, and expand one’s mind and life.
Whether you’re a fan of the movie, the book, or both, it’s clear from the outset that books, or in this case the book, are at the heart of this story. In The Princess Bride a father (or, for the movie, grandfather) reads the book of The Princess Bride to his son/grandson who is captivated by the action, drama, true love, and revenge. Golding’s method of framing a book within a book is infuriatingly clever, and the whole exercise makes the importance of the book of The Princess Bride undeniable.
A core point of the story of Holes is the friendship between Stanley Yelnats and his fellow juvenile prisoner, Hector Zeroni. Their friendship begins and then grows when Hector sees Stanley writing letters to his mother and asks Stanley to teach him to read. Stanley does his best, despite their daily punishment of digging holes in the desert, and Hector’s newfound skill proves pivotal to the conclusion of the story.
This is just a small sample of novels that celebrate the joy and importance of books, stories, reading, and writing. What books would you include?