Summer is just about here, and for many people that means at least a few days of vacation, preferably with a tome or two in tow (sorry). If you're in need of a recommendation for a great book about books, here are four new arrivals -- two fiction and two non-fiction -- that I heartily enjoyed.
The Dante Chamber by Matthew Pearl
Readers of FB&C will be familiar with novelist Matthew Pearl from Nick Basbanes' profile of him in our summer 2016 issue, and many will also recall his bestselling 2003 debut, The Dante Club. Now, fifteen years on, Pearl delivers another riveting Dante-inspired thriller, this time set in merry Old England in 1870. And while The Dante Club murderer drew from Dante's Inferno for inspiration, the culprit in this case envisions a new Purgatory. Poets to the rescue! Christina Rossetti corrals Robert Browning, Alfred Tennyson, and Oliver Wendell Holmes to help her find her brother, painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti, who has gone missing. Full of historical detail but never dull, Pearl's new novel is, in a word, killer. Dare we await Paradise?
The Lost for Words Bookshop by Stephanie Butland
"There's nothing wrong with wanting to own every edition of every book by a particular writer..." We couldn't agree more! The Lost for Words Bookshop seems to masquerade as a light bookshop tale, but plumb the depths and some grim themes emerge. Loveday Cardew is a twentysomething clerk in a used bookstore in York, England, who goes to great lengths to hide her past, which included a long stretch in a foster home. Just as she begins to let her guard down, maybe even fall in love, books from her childhood begin to surface at the shop. Less a standard mystery than a dramatic novel whose characters have deep dark secrets, it is relatable and charming.
Selling Dead People's Things: Inexplicably True Tales, Vintage Fails & Objects of Objectionable Estates by Duane Scott Cerny
Over twenty-eight chapters of varying length and subject matter, readers will literally 'laugh out loud,' while reading this memoir of life in the antiques business by Cerny, co-owner of Chicago's Broadway Antique Market. He pairs behind-the-scenes dirt on the antiques biz with his nitty-gritty experiences in 'picking' and scouting. Cerny is a fantastic storyteller, and while his tone is somewhere between entertaining and downright zany, some of the chapters are nonetheless oddly endearing, e.g. one about a childhood experience visiting the house of neighbors who hoarded religious relics (and were rumored to have a connection to Mussolini) or his quest to buy a two-headed taxidermied lamb.
Medieval Bodies: Life, Death and Art in the Middle Ages by Jack Harnell
Go ahead and judge this book by its spectacular dust jacket -- or its decorative endpapers, numerous illustrations, and ribbon bookmark. In scholarly and engaging prose (akin to Christopher de Hamel's Meeting with Remarkable Manuscripts, another favorite of ours) Hartnell demystifies the Middle Ages by examining the physical and the figurative body, from head to toe. Abundant illustrations of manuscripts, paintings, and relics surprise and delight at nearly every page turn. It isn't right to call this book a beach read because it's too handsome to handle with greasy or wet hands, so take this one elsewhere, ideally on a flight to Florence.
But don't stop there! Here are 9 more summer reads of bibliophilic interest, as featured on our summer issue's Q&C page:
The Library: A Catalogue of Wonders by Stuart Kells
Anywhere That is Wild: John Muir's First Walk to Yosemite, edited by Peter and Donna Thomas
Packing My Library: An Elegy and Ten Digressions by Alberto Manguel
Camp Austen: My Life as an Accidental Jane Austen Superfan by Ted Scheinman
The Infinite Future: A Novel by Tim Wirkus
Pasta for Nightingales: A 17th-Century Handbook of Bird-Care and Folklore by Giovanni Pietro Olina
Mr. Lear: A Life of Art and Nonsense by Jenny Uglow
Confessions of the Fox: A Novel by Jordy Rosenberg
Readers' Liberation by Jonathan Rose
Images courtesy of the publishers