A short summer reading list from Fine Books & Collections magazine. Save 43% on a subscription to Fine Books & Collections. Learn More

If you haven’t read the classic books about books, like Helene Hanff’s 84 Charing Cross Road, Nicholas Basbanes’ A Gentle Madness, Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair, and John Dunning’s Booked to Die, what are you waiting for? When you’ve finished the standard books, we recommend Fine Books & Collections magazine, and these five lesser-known but compelling books about books, all available in editions cheap enough to take to the beach. When you’re done reading them, you might even want to buy the first editions.

 

Nabokovís Butterfly and Other Stories of Great Authors and Rare Books

Rick Gekoski

Nabokov's Butterfly

American Rick Gekoski, who specializes in high-end modern first editions in London and on AbeBooks, describes buying and selling twenty great books in this charming memoir of the book trade. Gekoski is an excellent writer who has handled extraordinary copies of books like Nabokov’s Lolita, Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, and Orwell’s Animal Farm. For a bookseller, Gekoski is remarkably candid, which makes Nabokov’s Butterfly refreshing reading. If you do buy the first edition, be sure to get the original British version - Gekoski hates the American title.

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The Island of Lost Maps: A True Story of Cartographic Crime

Miles Harvey

The Island of Lost Maps: A True Story of Cartographic Crime

A decade before E. Forbes Smiley made headlines for brazen map thefts, Gilbert Bland Jr., a Florida map dealer, perpetrated a string of cross-country slash-and-dash heists. Author Miles Harvey recounts Blandís crimes and his capture in this cartographic adventure. Ignore the fact that Harvey thinks map collectors are a bit weird and enjoy the fun, particularly his descriptions of colorful AbeBooks dealer W. Graham Arader III.

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Who Murdered Chaucer: A Medieval Mystery

Terry Jones

Who Murdered Chaucer

It might be hard to take Terry Jones seriously. He was, after all, a member of the British comedy group Monty Python’s Flying Circus. But in this extensively researched and wonderfully illustrated book, he breathes life into the Middle Ages and Chaucer’s poetry. The Guardian newspaper called it “an unashamedly partisan, hell-for-leather attempt to balance a million arguments on the non-existent head of an invisible pin.” And that, they said, is what makes it so exciting. When you’re done reading it, you might not be convinced Chaucer was murdered, but you’ll wonder why the 14th century seemed so boring in school.

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The Man-Eater of Malgudi

R.K. Narayan

The Man-Eater of Malgudi

R.K. Narayan, the first successful novelist from India, wrote this comic novel about a timid printer who has to face down his blustering upstairs neighbor, a hunter-taxidermist. The book is lighthearted, but beneath the surface it addresses the question of caste and the role of women in Indian life. Book lovers will enjoy Narayan’s comic set pieces about hapless authors and life in a small town print shop that still relies on hand-set lead type.

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A Chance Meeting: Intertwined Lives of American Writers and Artists, 1854Ė1967

Rachel Cohen

A Chance Meeting

This is one of those terrific books that garnered stellar reviews but didn't seem to catch on with the public. That's a shame because A Chance Meeting is a terrific and original book about the connections between writers and artists. Cohen imagines small but captivating vignettes, like Willa Cather walking up Fifth Avenue in New York to have her portrait taken by Edward Steichen, and James Baldwin and Norman Mailer circling each other “warily” at a party. In the space of 36 chapters, Cohen links great 19th century writers like Henry James and Mark Twain, with Robert Lowell and Marianne Moore late in the twentieth century. It’s sort of a literary six degrees of separation game.

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