These Farmhouse Bookshelves

The very best writers are also readers.

No wonder there are so many good books about books (and bookstores and libraries). Here are three: a novel for grownups, a picture book for the littles, and a read-aloud for both.


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I finished the new novel Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore: A Novel by Robin Sloan just last week, and I could hardly wait to tell you about it.

In some ways this pick is an obvious one for me: a cozy, creepy bookstore and a bookish mystery wrapped up in a sweet story of friendship and community.

In other ways, my appreciation for this book doesn’t make much sense at all: a fanatical Google employee, geeky computer-talk, and characters who are adorably cartoonish rather than fully human.

But I loved it. This is why: optimism and joy.

This is a novel to make us love the old ways and the new (dusty books and the latest e-readers). This is a story to fill us with admiration for quirky, independent bookstores and the corporate giants who rule the internet.

Sloan reminds us that printed books  were once the very latest in technological innovation. Remembering that helps me to feel so much more at ease in a world that often seems to be leaving books behind.

… this is exactly the kind of store that makes you want to buy a book about a teenage wizard. This is the kind of store that makes you want to be a teenage wizard.

This next pick is the kind of old-fashioned picture book I love. Library Lion by Michelle Knudsen and Kevin Hawkes is lovely to see and lovely to hear. This is one you won’t mind reading again and again (which is really the only kind of picture book worth having at all). It makes me long for the familiar shelves of my own childhood library.

I’m afraid that in our zeal to see our children develop into readers we move them too quickly from picture books to easy chapter books. The very best picture books are works of art. They are as important for adults and older children as they are for the preschool set.

Not only that, but the ideas and the language of most picture books (remember those “soporific” lettuces in the Beatrix Potter tale?) are far more challenging than anything you’ll find in a beginning reader.

Spend a few dollars and support a great artist. Buy a picture book.

One day, a lion came to the library.

I’m sure you’ve all read this last title. Matilda by Roald Dahl is a classic. I wasn’t going to mention it at all, but this hardcover edition is so pretty, and … well … what if some of you haven’t read it?? I can’t be held responsible for that, now can I?

Matilda just might be my favorite little reader. Her parents are horrible, her home life is tragically comedic, but Matilda finds the strength and love she requires in books. Good books turn Matilda into a heroine, and the book which bears her name is very, very good.

‘I’m wondering what to read next.’ Matilda said. ‘I’ve finished all the children’s books.’


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