Most readers love books about books. We also love snooping through other people’s bookshelves for the thrill of the possibility of discovering a whole person in a stack of books that they chose to read. Bibliomemoirs offer both. These books combine the confessional, intimate tone and personal approach of memoirs and autobiography with, well, books, and sometimes literary criticism. Bibliophiles can find in bibliomemoirs a sense of kinship like no other, and can have their own passions and oddities validated. They also remind us of how vast the bookish community is, and the range of difficult circumstances amidst which readers have turned to books for solace.
Most importantly, bibliomemoirs introduce us to new approaches towards reading. We discover new books and new ways of looking at old books. We discover connections between books and life that we didn’t know existed. A bibliomemoir is like an insightful, bookish dinner guest — and a recipe for an exploding TBR. Given the vast variety of books and their readers that exist in the world today, there is a good chance that you will be able to find one that is exactly suited to your reading preferences and the tone that you are after. Here are ten options to start with.
Packing My Library: An Elegy and Ten Digressions by Alberto Manguel
Alberto Manguel talks about the packing of his vast personal library for a move — an exercise most readers have to do at some point, albeit on a smaller scale. Those who have performed this delightfully engrossing task know how it inevitably leads to fond reminiscing about acquiring and reading (or not reading) the books that we own. Manguel weaves these musings into a book, with smatterings of informative discussions about the book world. I also loved his History of Reading, which is interspersed with stories of his personal reading experiences.
Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books by Azar Nafisi
Reading Lolita in Tehran is a memoir of an intrepid book club that meets to read and discuss western classics that have been forbidden by a fundamentalist government. This poignant book that interweaves the lives of the members of the group with the books they read is emblematic of the freedom that can be found between the pages of a book.
The Reading Cure: How Books Restored My Appetite by Laura Freeman
This is a touching memoir about a teenage girl battling anorexia gradually changing her relationship with food, and her broader approach to life, through books. The transformative power of reading is evident in its pages, and the meditations about the depiction of food in literature especially delicious.
Elif Batuman studied Russian literature in graduate school, and this is an account of her experiences studying the works of the greats of Russian literature and researching their lives. The book is laugh-out-loud funny, peppered with the uniquely weird shenanigans of graduate school. It is an ode to the sheer joy of reading, and a defense of the all-consuming curiosity about hidden meanings in the books that we love, about the people who wrote them, and the circumstances they wrote them in.
The Girl Who Ate Books: Adventures in Reading by Nilanjana Roy
Nilanjana Roy grew up constantly reading, and this book is a collection of essays about her trysts with books over the years. Roy focuses especially on Indian writing in English, and through her essays gives her readers an account of its evolution.
Tran moved to America with his family after the fall of Saigon. This coming of age memoir is about his struggles to fit into small town American life while juggling the expectations of his immigrant parents, told through the themes of great literary works — books that kept him company during this time of his life.
Any book by a reader who names the journal she tracks her reading in is bound to be a fun reading experience. Bob is Paul’s book of books, a record of all the books she has ever read, and this book is about her relationship with them, and about how someone’s reading choices can be a reflection of them and their life.
The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared by Alice Ozma
Alice Ozma made a pact with her father when she was in the 4th grade, that he would read aloud to her hundred nights straight. Only, they did not stop at hundred — they continued reading together until Ozma left for college. This book is a tender recollection of the books that they read together, and the bond between father and daughter.
The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe
From a casual question about what Schwalbe’s mother was reading as she waited for her chemotherapy session at the hospital, a tradition is born. Mother and son start reading the same books so that they can discuss them in the hospital waiting room. This memoir is about this little mother son book club, the love that they have for each other, and the comfort that books have to offer in trying times.
This is a collection of personal essays about one reader’s bookish experiences and fantasies. The essays, much like our adventures with books, combine the funny and the profound. The short book is an easy breezy read, and the writer’s tone open and conversational.
Can’t get enough books about books? Try these ones, too: