January can be gloomy, can’t it? Like many others at this time of year, I turn to books to lift my spirits and help combat the post-festive malaise. Novels have always been my go-to escapism, and there’s one type of fiction I find more comforting than most: uplifting books about books, and I’m about to share some of my favourites with you.
I adore the stories I’m recommending not just because they are about books, but because they also have fascinating, original characters on a journey to become more fulfilled individuals. I also love that they often find the support of a community along the way.
Community is an important theme in my own book about books, The Memory Library. It’s a theme shared by one of my favourite reads of last year, The Air Raid Book Club by Annie Lyons; a beautiful, warm-hearted book set in London at the start of WW2. The story begins with Gertie, who is grieving for her husband and struggling to face running the bookshop they opened together. She’s tasked with taking care of a teenage Jewish refugee from Germany, and together they discover that books have the power to unite a community, however dark times become.
Another historical fiction which has community at its heart is The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer. This life-affirming read is about an author with writer’s block who’s given a new lease of life when she starts to correspond with the members of the extraordinary society, learning about their time living under German occupation and their love of books.
A satisfying ending where the character has undergone significant personal growth always gives me a welcome book hangover. I find these delightfully common in books about books. In The Memory Library, Sally hopes to teach her daughter, Ella, some of life’s most important lessons through inscriptions she writes in the novels she adds to her library each year on Ella’s birthday. In The Giver of Stars, by Jojo Moyes – a brilliant novel set in the Kentucky mountains in the 1930s – Alice and her fellow sisters of the trail discover friendship, freedom and inner strength during their mission to spread the wonder of books to the poor and lost.
The message that solidarity, connection and wholeness can be found through the sharing of stories is one that never fails to make my heart swoop.
Becoming the person you were always meant to be is one of the most uplifting elements of The Lost Bookshop by Evie Woods. This magical story about three strangers who learn about themselves through a vanishing bookshop and the stories it holds is a wonderful example of how a book about books can lift our spirits and make us feel like anything is possible.
No discussion about the joy of books about books would be complete without mention of fiction set in libraries. Like most avid readers, the library is my happy place. The Memory Library is partly set in West Greenwich Library, a beautiful Carnegie Library in South London. Another heart-warming gem of a novel set in a library is Phaedra Partrick’s The Library of Lost and Found, in which a librarian goes on a journey of self-discovery after she finds a mysterious book.
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig might not be directly about books but is a glorious metaphor for how many different lives we can experience when we walk through the doors of a library.
The importance of our own individual stories is beautifully portrayed in Sally Page’s poignant novel, The Keeper of Stories, in which Janice learns to tell her own story after years of collecting everyone else’s.
From the dawn of time, telling stories, real or imagined, has been a key way of communing with other human beings. Stories are how we say, ‘I feel like this. Do you feel it too?’ So, what better way to feel connected than to read someone else’s story… and if that story is uplifting and includes other brilliant books too, I’d argue that’s a doubly rewarding read.
The Memory Library is published by Avon on 1 February 2024