10 Nonfiction Titles That Will Change the Way You See Books

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Giovanna Centeno


A polyglot reader, Giovanna Centeno is best described as a traveling book hoarder. Born and raised in the Amazonian region of Brazil, she studied Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies in Switzerland, before moving to her current home in Lisbon, Portugal. Gi is always traveling and reading, and you can tag along on her next bookish adventure by following @gcreads on Instagram.

I am the kind of reader who has a deep passion for my books. I have spent hours reorganizing my personal library and looking online to find the perfect edition. In short, I love books. Not just the stories they carry but the physical object of a book. Don’t get me wrong I have an ereader, and I love it, too, but what fascinates me about it is what it represents. Just like an excellent worn-out paperback or a pristine hardcover, all book forms hold a particular place in my heart. And that is because of what they represent to me.

A book tells the story of thousands of people; not just its readers but its writer, its editors, and everyone that touched it, from booksellers to the cover designers, all in one neat package. To sum it up, I believe deeply in the words of French author François Mauriac: “‘Tell me what you read, and I’ll tell you who you are’ is true enough, but I’d know you better if you told me what you reread.”

Books touch all of our lives. And I am genuinely fascinated by how they have impacted individuals as well as humanity as a whole. Because of this, books about books have been one of my favorite tropes. So, I have throughout my life collected stories that pay homage to books and reading. These books not only help me understand myself as a reader but also the reading culture I cherish so much. So, if you, like me, could spend hours staring at your shelves and falling down many Wikipedia rabbit holes about the books you own, I have a great list for you.

Sit back, surround yourself with books, and enjoy your reading time!

Packing My Library: An Elegy and Ten Digressions by Alberto Manguel

From one of the most prolific writers on books of our age, this is Manguel’s short and subtle memoir about packing up his library. While he moves with it across continents and oceans, it holds much more than it seems. Full of deep self-observations as well as cultural commentary, Manguel outlines how the books we collect during our lifetimes not only shape us as readers but define our paths as members of society. With wonderfully insightful observations and quotes, full of luscious descriptions of a reader’s formative experiences, Manguel takes you on a journey that intimately traces his own life and that of his books. In combining the two, he makes profoundly moving observations on the role of literature in modern society.

Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks by Annie Spence

A sweet and cozy book, Dear Fahrenheit 451 is perfect for when you find yourself in a book slump. Each chapter is dedicated to a title that has shaped the author’s reading life. A librarian, Spence has spent most of her life around books, curating and caring for some of the most precious assets of humanity: stories. With intricate interludes and background stories, Spence associates each book with a meaningful cultural moment, and how the book impacted that moment.

The Art of Reading  by Damon Young

By Australian philosopher Damon Young, The Art of Reading is a witty and funny exploration of how a person becomes a reader. Exploring everything from Simone de Beauvoir and Sartre’s café conversations to Virginia Woolf’s diaries, Young seeks the answer to what makes a person a life long reader, with each chapter dedicated to a specific virtue he believes all readers posses. This book is a beautiful ode to book culture everywhere.

The Art of the Publisher  by Roberto Calasso

An in-depth look at the life of Italian publisher Roberto Calasso, this volume includes his personal writing from half a century in the publishing world. Founder of Adelphi Edizioni, Calasso writes about the trials and tribulations of the book publishing world with unflinching honesty and deep poetic thought. With essays ranging from the more personal to the history of the paperback, Calasso takes the reader on a journey through the 20th century European publishing world.

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much: The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession:  by Allison Hoover Bartlett

A true crime heist that expands years and thousands of dollars worth of rare books, Bartlett explores the life and crimes of John Gilkey, a man utterly obsessed with the books he loved. Gilkey stole hundreds of rare books, from fairs, dealers, and bookshops around the globe. Still, he never attempted to sell a single one, his crimes simply motivated out of his sheer passion for the books he owned. Also following the book dealer Ken Sanders, who eventually brought Gilkey to justice, Bartlett explores the fascinating world of rare book trading, what led Gilkey to dedicate his life to stealing books, and the investigation that ensued.

The Novel Cure: From Abandonment to Zestlessness: 751 Books to Cure What Ails You by Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin

Half medical dictionary, half book recommendations, authors Elderkin and Berthoud compiled a massive list of literature for any possible ailment of humanity. Expanding the possibilities of what a novel can be and mean in our lives, each separate symptom or illness is combined with a reading list and an explanation of why this book can help you feel better. Whether you’re dealing with anything from a reading slump to existential ennui to a broken leg, there is a book that can at least keep you company through it, and The Novel Cure has just what you need.

The Republic of Imagination: America in Three Books by Azar Nafisi

From the author of Reading Lolita in Tehran comes an exploration of American literary culture and how specific books can be formative elements of the way a country regards itself. After moving from Iran to the U.S., Nafisi was told by a skeptical reader that Americans didn’t care about literature. In this book, Nafisi accepts the challenge of proving this to be a wrongful assessment of modern America, setting out to find and define U.S. culture through the books that have shaped it.

Well-Read Black Girl coverWell-Read Black Girl: Finding Our Stories, Discovering Ourselves Edited by Glory Edim

A collection of essays by Black women writers on the importance of representation and their formative experiences as readers. Well-Read Black Girl explores the many challenges faced by Black authors and readers when it comes to industry and literary representation. An ode to the importance of stories and how they shape the individual perception of oneself, Well-Read Black Girl tackles everything from religion, sexuality, and femalehood and, most importantly, showcases the power of uniting through a community to enact change through books.

The Book: A Cover-to-Cover Exploration of the Most Powerful Object of Our Time by Keith Houston

This is an in-depth microhistory into one of the most essential objects created by humanity, the book. From the ink, paper, and glue that make a book, Houston explores the evolution of the book as a medium and how it mirrors and informs the speed of ideas, news, and information across the world. With over 2,000 years of history, The Book will take you all the way from Cuneiform tablets to the digital age.

The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books: Christopher Columbus, His Son, and the Quest to Build the World's Greatest Library by Edward Wilson Lee book coverThe Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books by Edward Wilson-Lee

Following the life and bibliomania of Hernando Columbus, Wilson-Lee outlines world history through the catalog of the Biblioteca Colombina, created in 1539 in Seville. Full of everything from official documents, novels, pornography, and ancient artifacts, the Biblioteca was the first of its kind and expanded to hold objects from Christopher Columbus’s travels to the new world, The Enlightenment, and the reformation. But who was its creator and curator? How did he become one of the most central figures in European book collecting? The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books, follows the life of the mysterious Hernando Columbus through his most beloved possessions, his books.