The Joy of Reading

Lesser, Wendy. Why I Read: The Serious Pleasure of Books. Farrar. Jan. 2014. 240p. ISBN 9780374289201. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780374709815. LIT

Lesser (founder, editor, The Threepenny Review; Music for Silenced Voices: Shostakovich and His Fifteen String Quartets) takes the reader deep inside her romance with books and tackles various aspects of literature in essays on “Character and Plot,” “Authority,” and “Grandeur and Intimacy.” While Lesser is not an instructor or a scientist looking for the absolute, she is definitely a deep thinker. She admits in the introduction that she cannot find a complete answer as to why she reads, but inconclusiveness is perfectly fine, she says, owing to the mysterious draw the written word has for her. One of the most appealing aspects of this study is the author’s love of genres beyond the traditional (i.e., literature and poetry) including mysteries, sf, and memoirs. Lesser discusses well-known authors, but lesser-known writers also appear throughout. Voracious readers and book lovers will find the final list of “A Hundred Books To Read for Pleasure” especially enticing. VERDICT This work will stimulate conversation for reading groups, while it will also appeal to an academic readership and literary types. [See Prepub Alert, 7/22/13.]—Stacy Russo, Santa Ana Coll. Lib., CA

starred review star Nissley, Tom (text) & Joanna Neborsky (illus.). A Reader’s Book of Days. Norton. Nov. 2013. 432p. illus. index. ISBN 9780393239621. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9780393241495. LIT

The book seems simple, but what Seattle-based Nissley has done is a true labor of love. Not only has he collected dates that are auspicious for their fictional occurrences (as in Judy Reeves’s A Writer’s Book of Days: A Spirited Companion and Lively Muse for the Writing Life and Barry Moser’s The Book of Fictional Days), but he has combined those with events that the writers experienced in real life. For example, we learn that author J.K. Rowling’s birthday is the same as Harry Potter’s—she’s among many authors who slip their birthdays into their work—and that novelist Helene Hanff wrote her first letter to a London bookseller at Marks & Co. on October 5, 1949—beginning a 20-year correspondence that became her acclaimed memoir, 84, Charing Cross Road—the same date that Sylvia Beach of the London-based bookstore Shakespeare & Co. died in 1962. Delightful details abound, from how writers loved, lived, and celebrated, some to their peril, to publication dates, feuds, and facts about Ernest Hemingway’s many injuries, all gleaned from letters, journals, and news accounts. The entries can be read in big chunks or day-by-day as a desk calendar. For each month, there is a short introduction and a page of recommended reading, and each day includes four to six entries. VERDICT A completely addictive compendium of details on favorite writers and books. The title gives away Nissley’s real intent: this is also a spectacular reading list, with lovely pen-and-ink illustrations by Neborsky.—Linda White, Maplewood, MN