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  • Writer's pictureNicole Stewart

Sages Read Book List: Books about Books

Last week, we launched the 2019 Sages Read community reading challenge. The brain child of famed local book champion, writer and language arts teacher, Katherine Sokolowski, Sages Read is a true community-wide activity in which I am so grateful and excited to participate.

I'm stoked about the list of categories we've put together and will definitely share what I'm reading as I complete my own challenge sheet. Over the course of the year, Hartfield will also put together lists of recommendations to help you check those categories off your own challenge list (you can download the PDF here and we'll have hard copies available soon). We'll share our book lists online and through social media, put them on display in the store and, generally, try to make it as easy as possible for you to find great books to complete your 2019 reading challenge. You'll also get fantastic recommendations from teachers, our local library and by following the Sages Read Facebook page and #SagesRead. I hope you'll share your own recommendations there, as well!

So, to kick things off, what better category for a bookstore to tackle than Books about Books?? The only difficulty was narrowing down my recommendations. It should be no surprise that I have read and loved many, many books about books, reading, bookstores, and libraries... It should also not be a surprise that writers are often also passionate readers who love books, bookstores and libraries and write amazing books about them! I finally managed to edit my list down to 10 fiction and 10 non-fiction picks and that was seriously hard to do! Many of these books are on our shelves right now (call or stop by if you're interested in a particular title), and all are available online (click any of the cover icons below to see that book in our web store) or through the library system.

Hartfield Recommends: Books About Books

(Sages Read Challenge 2019)


Gabrielle Zevin

A curmudgeonly bookstore owner loses his wife and a valuable first edition that was supposed to be his retirement plan, but winds up finding love and community in some very unexpected ways.

Robin Sloane

An ancient, secret society dedicated to the creation and protection of sacred texts? I'm here for it! There's something for every bibliophile here - mystery, code-breaking, fandom, romance, friendship, and a pretty interesting look at how bookstores (and book people) survive in a world of modern technology.

Matthew Sullivan

A young patron commits suicide in the bookstore and leaves all of his worldly possessions to the owner, setting her down a path to solve the mystery of his death, his life, and her own... A smart, dark and twisty thriller set in a bookstore.

Jasper Fforde

Thursday Next is a literary detective (dream job alert) in an alternate reality version of London where someone has kidnapped Jane Eyre - literally plucked her right out of her own novel. Thursday and her partner travel in and through the pages of literary masterpieces to find her. If you've ever dreamed of being able to physically enter your favorite story and interact with its characters, then this book is for you. Thursday's world is a book nerd's dream and there's a whole series to binge if, like me, you just can't get enough of it.

The Book That Matters Most

Ann Hood

“Hood offers the parallel stories of Ava, who is struggling to build a new life after the end of a long marriage, and her daughter, Maggie, living in Paris and descending into addiction. Ava is invited to join a book club whose members each suggest the book that matters most to them. In Ava's case, a book remembered from her childhood leads to the unraveling of family secrets and a chance to move forward without old sorrows. Hood is a master at revealing the nuances of family interactions and exploring the fine line between love and pain.” — Jenny Stroyeck (W), The Homer Bookstore, Homer, AK

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend

Katarina Bivald

Two book lovers strike up an international pen pal friendship. When Sara, whose Swedish, finally decides to make the trip to Broken Wheel, Iowa, to meet her long-distance friend, Amy, she arrives just in time for Amy's funeral. With two months until her flight home, she decides to take Amy's massive collection of books and open a bookstore in this small Midwestern town, full of quirky characters, gossip, hijinks... everything you expect (and love) about this kind of cozy, bookish story.

The Bookshop of Yesterdays

Amy Meyerson

A warm, poignant and clever novel about a woman who, upon inheriting a bookstore, discovers a series of clues hidden inside the books that lead her to uncover long-kept secrets about her family's past. This was a debut novel for Meyerson, so could check two categories off your challenge sheet!


Rainbow Rowell

Technically, YA (young adult), but I wholeheartedly recommend this for adults, as well. Cath is a superfan of the Simon Snow book series - she's practically memorized every book, posted to every online forum, she and her sister have dressed up as characters for every movie premiere. It's not hard to conjure up a real-life comparison here. Now that she's in college, does she have to leave Simon behind and write something more "important" than fan fiction in order to become a successful adult? This is a great coming-of-age story told in Rowell's trademark style.

Murder is Binding (Booktown Mystery #1)

Lorna Barrett

Another two-fer, this is a cozy mystery set in a fictional east coast town that has cultivated a downtown full of bookstores with different themes and pun-tastic names in order to market itself to tourists as an American "booktown." You totally want to visit this place, right?! When the owner of The Cookery (you guessed it, a cookbook-themed bookstore) is mysteriously murdered, Tricia Miles, owner of the mystery bookstore, puts her love of detective novels to god use as she tries to solve the case.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Mary Ann Shaffer, Annie Barrows

A potential triple category checker-offer! This is an epistolary novel and a book about love, set in England and the Channel Islands during WWII. You get a real glimpse into the reality of living through war, in addition to a classic romance, and an utterly likable cast of villagers. If the story itself doesn't make you cry, the real-life story of how the book came to be will!


Shaun Bythell

Ever fantasized about owning a charming, old bookshop in Europe? Live vicariously through Shaun Bythell, owner of The Bookshop, Scotland's largest used bookstore. You'll get the good, the bad and the quirky in this fun and hilarious, year-in-the-life memoir of a real-life bookseller. Could also count as a humor book.

Annie Spence

Everything you need to know is right there in the title. Charming, funny and totally relatable for bibliophiles. Bonus: Spence includes lots of recommended reading lists, so by the time you finish you'll have checked off one category and discovered a pick for the next one (or next several)!

The Library Book

Susan Orlean

“There is no one better at investigating the fascinating stories hiding in plain sight than Susan Orlean. The vivid descriptions of the fire that engulfed the Los Angeles Central Library in 1986 are burnished by the meticulous research she did on the history of libraries and on the shocking event that resulted in the destruction and damage of over one million books. Orlean has crafted a love letter to the importance of the written word and those who devote their lives to its preservation.” — Luisa Smith, Book Passage, Corte Madera, CA

A Velocity of Being: Letters to a Young Reader

Maria Popova (Editor)

This is a beautiful collection of letters from well-known authors, illustrators and cultural figures. When I say beautiful, I mean stunning to look at (each letter is paired with an illustration capturing the artsist's response to it) and stunning to read and absorb. This is the kind of book you will hug tightly to your chest and count among your most treasured possessions.

Reading Lolita in Tehran

Azar Nafisi

One brave teacher and a group of incredible female students in Iran gather to read and discuss forbidden Western classics in her living room. A bold act of rebellion in the increasingly fundamental climate. If you're looking for some inspiration, a reminder of the transformative power of learning and literature, this book will deliver all of that and more.

My Life in Middlemarch

Rebecca Mead

If, for you, there is a seminal piece of literature, one book that is woven inextricably into the fabric of your life, that has been and meant different things to you at different points in your existence, but has always been The Book, then this is a story you will understand. For Rebecca Mead, the book is George Eliot's Middlemarch, and this story is a blend of memoir and history that will almost certainly inspire you to read (or re-read) this classic yourself. If Middlemarch was an assigned book you never finished, then you've got your next challenge category!

Well-Read Black Girl

Glory Edim

One of the magics of reading is that it provides the unique opportunity for one to experience life in someone else's shoes. There's something so powerful, though, about seeing yourself reflected in a story - another person who sees and experiences the same kind of world that you see and experience. That feeling of belonging is much easier for some of us to find than others. This poignant collection of essays reminds us why it is so important for everyone, regardless of gender, race, religion, to see themselves in stories.

I'd Rather Be Reading

Anne Bogel

A light and fun collection of reflections on a life of reading. Bogel will invite you to remember when you fell in love with reading, to think about how you integrate reading into your life, and she shares some fun insider info on the book world. Her popular podcast, What Should I read Next?, is one of many great book podcasts out there that are also an excellent resource for finding great books to complete your reading challenge!

The End of Your Life Book Club

Will Schwalbe

If you like a book that makes you laugh and cry on the same page, this one is for you. Schwalbe and his mother form a sort of book club for two while she is undergoing treatment for cancer. The books they read provide the context for conversations about life, love, death, all of the things that otherwise might seem too difficult to talk about. In addition to being a tribute to books and the power of discussing books with others, this is a lovely and loving portrait of a mother by her son.

When Books Went to War: The Stories That Helped Us Win WWII

Molly Guptil Manning

For history lovers and book lovers alike. This is the true story of how librarians and publishers put millions of books in the hands of troops fighting in WWII. Soldiers carried these paperbacks across Europe. The stories and the authors helped them endure some of the most hellish aspects of war and, perhaps more surprisingly, those soldiers turned some of those books on the brink of obscurity into the classics that we know today. A truly fascinating story.

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