Book Reviews | September 2021 | Rebecca Rego Barry

Fall 2021 Editor’s Shelf: Books about Books

Courtesy of the individual publishers

Let’s dig into the crop of books about books featured in our fall issue’s Editor’s Shelf. As usual we have a mix of fiction and nonfiction, all with a bookish bent.

The Bookseller’s Secret: A Novel of Nancy Mitford and WWII by Michelle Gable tops the list — the perfect page-turner for bibliophiles. The dual narrative toggles between present-day London, where the search for a lost Nancy Mitford manuscript drives the action, and 1942, when Mitford worked at Heywood Hill bookshop (still a thriving Mayfair shop), carrying on a love affair and trying to write something new. Full of sparkling book chat and spunky characters, it’s a jolly good read.  

Tooth of the Covenant, a novel by Norman Lock, takes the reader on a pilgrimage of sorts, led by none other than Nathanial Hawthorne. Bold and imaginative, the story begins in 1851 and unwinds to 1692, where Hawthorne has traveled back in time to confront his great-great-grandfather, who sentenced several innocent people to death during the Salem Witch Trials. Probing into the dark corners of fear, guilt, and morality, Lock produces something unexpected.  

In nonfiction, we have The Reason for the Darkness of the Night: Edgar Allan Poe and the Forging of American Science by John Tresch, a smart and skillful take on the much maligned poet that puts the focus on his obsession with science, artifice, and quackery. Intriguing illustrations throughout add to this biography’s many merits.

There will be no spoiling Chasing the Thrill: Obsession, Death, and Glory in America’s Most Extraordinary Treasure Hunt, but, in brief, this is journalist Daniel Barbarisi’s vivid account of hunting for actual treasure buried by an eccentric millionaire art dealer. Absolutely fascinating and thoroughly entertaining!     

Because author and rare book dealer Rick Gekoski is so well known among fellow booksellers and collectors, we posted a longer review of his excellent new book, Guarded by Dragons, upon publication back in July.

And, in case you missed it, here is the summer edition of my Editor’s Shelf: Books about Books.