Historical Fiction

10 of the Best Historical Fiction Books About Books

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Rachel Brittain

Contributing Editor

Rachel is a writer from Arkansas, most at home surrounded by forests and animals much like a Disney Princess. She spends most of her time writing stories and playing around in imaginary worlds. You can follow her writing at rachelbrittain.com. Twitter and Instagram: @rachelsbrittain

If there’s one thing I love, it’s books. So books about books are therefore twice as good. (Trust me on this: I once received a math award in the seventh grade.) Not only that, you can find books about books in just about any genre, from cozy fantasy to mysteries. Historical fiction books about books is such a popular subgenre, in fact, that I could probably fill a hundred lists — or at least a list of one hundred books — on the subject. Instead, I’m going to highlight ten that are particular standouts. But my point is, if you love books about books, there’s really no limit to the amount of stories you can find.

These historical fiction books about books span the ages, from seventeenth-century London to mid-twentieth-century Tehran. There are WWI and WWII books for the World War obsessed as well as books set in libraries, book clubs, and book binderies. Follow authors, librarians, or dictionary definition writers as their love of the written word leads them toward incredible journeys. Whatever your interests, whatever your taste, you can find a historical fiction book about books that is perfect for you among these titles.

The Bookbinder book cover

The Bookbinder by Pip Williams

A bookbinder working in Oxford during WWI longs to do more with her life but worries that if she follows her dreams, she’ll be leaving her twin sister behind. Maude is content with the routine and repetition of bookbinding, but Peggy has always harbored a not-so-secret desire to attend one of Oxford’s prestigious colleges. When Belgian refugees and wounded soldiers begin arriving by train, Peggy is exposed to horrors and desires she never could’ve imagined before — and she finally realizes that the only one holding her back from her dreams is herself.

the war librarian book cover

The War Librarian by Addison Armstrong

As a volunteer librarian, Emmaline finds herself on the frontlines of WWI in France. But it’s when she joins a book club sharing banned books that she finds her courage truly tested. Years later, a young woman joining the first coed class at the United States Naval Academy struggles against the belief that women shouldn’t be allowed in the military. That would be challenging enough without losing her beloved grandmother. But when Kathleen faces charges of treason and a court-martial, she’ll have to reach out to someone from her grandmother’s past to help her clear her name.

personal librarian book cover

The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray

J. P. Morgan’s personal librarian, Belle da Costa Greene, has become one of the most influential people in the book and art scene of New York. She’s also hiding a potentially life-altering secret: Belle is the daughter of the first Black man to graduate from Harvard. It’s a fact worthy of pride, but if anyone found out, her position and the power it grants her could all be lost in an instant. In order to protect herself, her family, and her legacy, Belle will have to go to great lengths to preserve her identity as a white woman in a racist society.

The Library of Legends book cover

The Library of Legends by Janie Chang

It’s 1937, and Japanese bombs are falling on the city of Nanking. Forced to flee, Hu Lian and her fellow classmates at the Minghua University set out on a dangerous 1,000-mile walk to China’s western provinces. But it’s not just their lives that are in danger. Lian and her fellow students have also been entrusted with the safekeeping of a priceless 500-year-old tome known as The Library of Legends. Shepherding it to safety is a task that will change Lian’s life for good.

The Liar's Dictionary book cover

The Liar’s Dictionary by Eley Williams

In this dual timeline story, a man writing definitions for the first edition of Swansby’s Encyclopaedic Dictionary begins adding his own entries just to make life a little more interesting. Many years later, an intern digitizing the encyclopedia realizes there are fake entries while simultaneously contending with repeated threatening phone calls directed at Swansby’s. It’s a story of life’s little — and big — absurdities.

The Stationery Shop book cover image

The Stationery Shop by Marjan Kamali

A teenager trying to escape the political turmoil of 1953 Tehran finds a surprising sanctuary in the neighborhood stationery shop full of books and pens. The shop owner, Mr. Fakhri, has an eye for matchmaking and introduces her to his other favorite customer, a boy with a passion for justice and love of the poet Rumi. But when violence erupts on the eve of what would have been their wedding, the two are torn apart, not to meet again for decades. When fate finally brings them back together, what answers will these two find about the love — and choices — of their youth?

The Wildest Sun book cover

The Wildest Sun by Asha Lemmie

Delphine Auber’s obsession with Hemingway goes deeper than that of a typical aspiring writer. It’s not just her writing she wants his approval of; it’s everything. That’s because she believes him to be her father. In an attempt to escape postwar France and finally meet the man she thinks holds the key to both her past and future, Delphine sets out on a quest that takes her from Paris to New York, Key West, and Cuba. The journey may teach her more than finding him ever could.

the weight of ink book cover

The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish

A young immigrant is permitted to work as a scribe for a blind Rabbi in seventeenth-century London. Ester writes for the Rabbi under the pseudonym “Aleph,” leaving behind a mysterious existence that sparks another woman’s interest hundreds of years in the future. Helen is a historian with a passion for uncovering Jewish history. When a former student introduces her to a cache of newly discovered Jewish documents from the 1600s, Helen becomes determined to find out who exists behind the pseudonym.

The Titanic Survivor's Book Club book cover

The Titanic Survivors Book Club by Timothy Schaffert (April 2, 2024)

A librarian meant to be on the Titanic discovers that he’s not the only one who narrowly escaped death when he receives an invitation to join a group of ticket-holders who didn’t board the ship that day. Haunted by their near miss, they decide to form a book club to confront their fears and feelings through literature. Yorick discovers friends and lovers amongst his fellow book club members, but with the First World War looming, the group’s time together is already ticking down.

The Library Thief book cover

The Library Thief by Kuchenga Shenjé (May 7, 2024)

Abandoned by the father who took her from Jamaica as a baby, Florence uses his reputation as a bookbinder to get work restoring the rare book collection at Rose Hall. Whispers of what happened to Lord Francis Belfield’s last wife fill the stacks. But when the library is broken into one night with only the half-burned diary of Lady Belfield left behind, Florence is determined to uncover the truth.

If you’re like me and can’t get enough of books about books, these other lists may also tickle your fancy:

20 Must-Read Books About Books

12 Books That Every Bibliophile Will Love

10 Books about Books for the Serious Bibliophile