Last night, I finished reading In the Distance with You, by Carla Guelfenbein (review pending) and it set me to thinking about books in which the protagonists dig up the buried secrets of authors they love. The more I think about it, the fact that I really enjoy books about people diving into authors’ lives to understand this books is odd. When I read, I deliberately try not to learn about authors’ lives or processes because I feel like a book needs to stand on its own. But that’s literary criticism and this is reading books with layers of bookishness.
If you’re looking for booky books about people who write books, here are my favorites:
The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield
This one was really popular when it came out and, every time I talk to someone who’s read it, readers gush about this disturbing Gothic tale. I’ve read this book several times and I still get sucked into the twists and turns. In this book, a biographer is summoned to the remote home of an enigmatic author. This author has told a bunch of different stories about her past as a smoke screen, but now that she’s gotten very old, she’s finally going to tell the truth.
The Rabbit Back Literature Society, by Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen
This thriller gets more sinister by the chapter. It blows the cover off a bunch of authors’ secrets by following a group of Finnish writers as their circle disintegrates after their mentor disappears. The plot revolves around the question of where authors get their ideas and turns it into a deliciously brutal tale.
The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
This is another classic pick. It’s the first literary novel that I can remember reading that was as engrossing as genre fiction. Within chapters, I felt like I was racing around Barcelona with the protagonist as he tried to find more books by an author who seemed to vanish into thin air. The best part of this book, which is the first in a loose series, is the Cemetery of Lost books—a place so magical and full of gravitas that I wish I could be buried there when I shuffle off*.
Crossing the Lines, by Sulari Gentil
This one isn’t exactly a book about authors with secrets, but it is one of my favorite books about writers. It’s hard to tell who is the real author in this book because the two protagonists appear to be writing each other into existence. Crossing the Lines is beautifully creative and original. I wish it got more attention.
* Here’s a bad joke: old librarians don’t die, they’re just deaccessioned.