You might think this is a book called The Ship of Theseus written by V.M. Straka, but you would be mistaken. The Ship of Theseus is the book at the heart of the story, but it is not the story. This is S., a novel by Doug Dorst and J.J. Abrams. Take the classic story-within-a-story structure and reverse it–S. is a story-around-a-story. I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, because figuring it out is part of the delicious mystery. But here’s the bare minimum: A book is left in a study room at a university library. Two people who have read and loved the book begin writing notes back and forth in the margins. (Side note: As a librarian, I feel compelled to point out that it is not a library book, but belongs to one of them, and that you should NEVER write in a library book, because then someone like me will have to discard it.) The real story in in their correspondence.
As an artifact, it is very convincing. I don’t see how this can ever be made into an audiobook version. The additional dimension demands an extra layer of engagement from the reader (I think I read most pages 3 times so I wouldn’t miss anything), and in return, it provides an unusual sense of involvement in the story. This is more than a book–it is an experience.
Recommended for fans of literary criticism, librarians, intellectual rebels, and conspiracy theorists.
Read if you enjoyed: The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco, Night Film by Marisha Pessl.
Find S. at Multnomah County Library
The name Sylvia Beach, perhaps better known in Oregon for the hotel named in her honor on the coast, was once synonymous with English-language literature in Europe. Beach opened her bookshop in Paris in 1919, as the world recovered from World War I, and ran it through the Second World War. Her clients and friends included Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, and of course James Joyce, whose Ulysses she published when no other English-language publisher would take the risk. Joyce emerges as something of a diva here, but in Beach he found his staunchest supporter. Hemingway’s reputation as a man’s man seems to have been earned. This book is not superbly written–Beach was a friend of writers, but not really one herself. But the history it relates is refreshingly personal as well as legendary in its literary scope. Required reading for all fans of the Lost Generation.
Read if you enjoyed: A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway, Time Was Soft There by Jeremy Mercer.
Find Shakespeare and Company at Multnomah County Library.
The Club Dumas is a rich, intriguing trip down the literary rabbit hole. Lucas Corso, a rare book dealer in Spain, finds himself drawn into two mysteries: one involving a lost chapter from Alexandre Dumas’s Three Musketeers, and one centering on an old book that is rumored to have been written by the devil. The reader is thrown into a whirlpool of literary history, romance, sinister characters, and the occult—be careful not to drown.
Read if you enjoyed: The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas, The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco, The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón.
Look for The Club Dumas at Multnomah County Library.
This early nonfiction work by novelist and travel writer Paul Theroux recounts his journey by rail from Boston to the far reaches of South America in 1977. Each stage is documented in detail, from the ride on the Lake Shore Limited between Boston and Chicago to the titular train in Patagonia. Theroux’s constant complaints about delays, bad food, poor lodgings, and his fellow passengers are irritating and may discourage some readers from sticking with the book. Luckily, it improves considerably when he arrives in Argentina. He stops for several days in Buenos Aires and forms an acquaintanceship with Jorge Luis Borges, the giant of Argentine literature. And his grouchiness mellows in the final stages of the journey, leaving room for some moments of startling inspiration.
Read if you enjoyed: The Motorcycle Diaries by Ernesto “Che” Guevara, The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux
Look for The Old Patagonian Express at Multnomah County Library.
Emma Larkin’s extraordinary nonfiction book examining the influence of Burma on George Orwell’s literary legacy was first published in 2005, when the political opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was still under house arrest. Though the political landscape in Myanmar (formerly Burma) has become ever-so-slightly more democratic with her release and election to parliament, this look at literature in a totalitarian state remains relevant and utterly captivating. Larkin’s premise for this hybrid work of literary criticism/travelogue/political science is that the time Eric Arthur Blair (aka George Orwell) spent in Burma as a young man and member of the imperial police had a profound influence on his later writing, and that the books Burmese Days, Animal Farm, and 1984 form an unintentional trilogy about Burmese politics. A grim, intelligent book, and a must-read for fans of Orwell.
Read if you enjoyed: Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi, Burmese Days by George Orwell
Look for Finding George Orwell in Burma at Multnomah County Library.