Stories About Stories | The Reader’s Shelf, March 1, 2017

From Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran to the film You’ve Got Mail, stories influenced by books, magazines, and authors are unfailing joys. The six works of fiction and nonfiction below further prove the point.

impossiblefortress.jpg3117The quest for a completed version of nightocean.jpg3117Jane Austen’s novel The Watsons sends a doctor named Rachel and actor-turned-scholar Liam traveling back in time to 1815 to befriend Jane, find the manuscript, and bring it to the modern age. Sprightly written and wonderfully detailed, The Jane Austen Project (Harper Perennial. May 2017. ISBN 9780062651259. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062651266), Kathleen A. Flynn’s debut novel, creates a vivid sense of Regency England and the fish-out-of-water feeling experienced by her protagonists. Never do Rachel and Liam appear to be entirely on steady ground, with the former almost getting run over by a buffoon racing horses down a London street, and the latter worrying about passing off their forged money. Then they meet Jane, an opportunity—fictional though it may be—that will make Austen fans green with envy.

Ann Morgan’s The World Between Two Covers: Reading the Globe (Liveright: Norton. 2015. ISBN 9781631490675. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9781631490682) is a thoughtful gazetteer to global literature and the issues involved with its dissemination. In an effort to overcome her limited bookish boundaries, Morgan seeks the answer to the dearth of international works on our shelves, discussing matters from book production to the problems of translation. Her account of searching for a broader reading experience provides a fascinating meditation on the book business, while her engaging tour of the world of books simply delights. A list of titles Morgan read offers those wanting to follow in her footsteps an excellent starting point.

The Impossible Fortress (S. & S. Feb. 2017. ISBN 9781501144417. $24; ebk. ISBN 9781501144431), a debut by Jason Rekulak, has the charm of the movie The Goonies, the geek chic of Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, and even a touch of Anne Alexander’s The Pink Dress—which is to say it is a bright, fun, empathetic coming-of-age story set to the beat of Phil Collins when the Commodore 64 was cutting edge. Billy is programming a game on his computer, while his two best friends are hatching a plot to acquire an issue of Playboy—at first because Vanna White is on the cover but then to rake in cash by copying the photos and selling them to nearly every boy in school. The what-could-go-wrong plot puts Billy into contact with Mary, who codes better than he does and whose father owns the only store in town with the coveted magazine.

With a sharp and beguiling voice, Paul La Farge blends intrigue and literary speculation in The Night Ocean (Penguin. Mar. 2017. ISBN 9781101981085. $27; ebk. ISBN 9781101981108), which twists and winds over decades. Readers are introduced to Marina Willett, a psychotherapist on a mission. Her husband, Charlie, has disappeared, escaped from a psychiatric hospital and now presumed dead at the bottom of a nearby lake. Marina is not buying it as it ties too closely with Charlie’s interest in H.P. Lovecraft and figuring out what happened the summer the author spent with a teenage fan named Robert Barlow. As Marina searches for what really happened—to them all—the novel weaves a fantastical tale and ponders the command of stories.

The pleasures and powers of genre fiction form part of the impetuousness of The Romance Reader’s Guide to Life (Flatiron: Macmillan. Apr. 2017. ISBN 9781250101754. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250101747) by Sharon Pywell, a compelling mix of mystery, love, family dynamics, and growing up. Smart and smartly told, it recounts the story of sisters Neave and Lilly. Lilly is dead and narrates from the afterlife (alongside the beloved family pet, who can talk). Meanwhile, Neave wonders what happened to her sister and is intent on solving her death. A pirate romance novel, as unlikely as that seems, plays an important role, revealing to Neave some of the secrets of life.

In Books for Living (Knopf. Dec. 2016. ISBN 9780385353540. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385353557), Will Schwalbe returns after the success of his memoir, The End of Your Life Book Club, with a work that further delves into the importance and process of reading. For those who do not participate in book clubs, Schwalbe serves as a stand-in member—thoughtful, rambling, interested, and more than happy to share what he thinks about a range of titles and what they might help one accomplish beyond the pleasures of reading itself. Paula Hawkins’s The Girl on the Train teaches a bit about trust, Herman Melville’s Bartleby, the Scrivener, gives guidance to those thinking about quitting, and Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon is a chance to talk about keeping books and the greatness of a stellar read.

Neal Wyatt compiles LJ’s online feature Wyatt’s World and is the author of The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Nonfiction (ALA Editions, 2007). She is a collection development and readers’ advisory librarian from Virginia. Those interested in contributing to The Reader’s Shelf should contact her directly at

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Neal Wyatt About Neal Wyatt

Neal Wyatt compiles LJ's online feature Wyatt's World and is the author of The Readers' Advisory Guide to Nonfiction (ALA Editions, 2007). She is a collection development and readers' advisory librarian from Virginia. Those interested in contributing to The Reader's Shelf should contact her directly at