Annie Spence is a librarian living in Michigan, USA, and this is her first book. She has had a lifelong love affair with books and reading, hence her career choice and, in this volume, she wants to tell readers what particular books have meant to her. The chosen format of letters puts me in mind of the book 84 Charing Cross Road, a 1970 book by Helene Hanff which details the correspondence between a London bookseller and a New York reader over many years.
Spence discusses books she has read and enjoyed and includes some that she has never managed to read such as Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. I think there are probably many of us who think we should read books like this but lay aside ‘a bleak 864-page novel translated from Russian’ in favour of Megan Abbott mysteries, just as this author does (page 10).
I’m not sure I can forgive her for not liking The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien which is close to the top of my all-time favourite books – although I suppose it would be a boring world if we all liked the same thing and there would be far fewer books for us to choose from. As Spence says in her letter to this book ‘We just want different things’ (page 67).
What this book will do for we readers is perhaps pique our interest and introduce us to some new titles and authors we haven’t yet read. One of the longer letters is a love letter to The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides marking its fifteenth year as the author’s favourite book. I’m intrigued by the idea of a book with no plot and on such a bleak subject (see above for Spence’s comment on bleak books) being so popular and will now seek out the book to judge for myself.
At the end of the book there are interesting sections on excuses for friends when you want to stay in and read; books that go together; books that lead on to more books; books for keeps; and then the section Collect Them All which lists the author’s favourite biographies and memoirs.
I can recommend this book for all you keen readers out there as a great way to broaden your reading horizon.
Reviewed by Jan Kershaw
Rating out of 10: 8
Distributed by: Allen and Unwin
Released: March 2018
RRP: $24.99 hardcover