5 Incredibly Self-Referential Books About Books

A lot of people say they love books, the way some people will say they understand quantum physics. But like Neil DeGrasse Tyson knows from black holes, true book devotees know there’s a huge difference between casually reading a book or two every month, and being obsessed with books. For many book nerds who dig print, book aren’t just about the words, but the physical experience of reading—which is where these five meta books come in. Each offers a deep dive into the sensual pleasures of reading—why we enjoy the act, and why the book is an object of joy.

Bookshelf, by Alex Johnson
You’ve heard the term “house proud.” Book nerds are “bookshelf proud.” Whether it’s your standard IKEA Billy or a custom-designed, handmade beauty, book nerds love to examine bookshelves wherever they go, to snap “shelfies,” and to lust over innovative and clever bookshelf designs on Pinterest. In this fab book, clever, beautiful, and efficient bookshelves are highlighted, celebrating designs that make book storage prettier, deeper, and more fun. Whether you’re looking for a great idea for a small space, or a grand idea for a grand space, there’s a bookshelf in this book you’re going to covet.

The Book, by Keith Houston
A complete history of the book and its component parts, Houston’s fantastic work will remind you that every book is the end result of centuries of technological, artistic, and intellectual development. Houston traces the paper, glue, ink, and other materials that make up every book ever printed, and dives into the history behind each ingredient, while offering up tactile examples and gorgeous illustrations. When you’re done, you’ll see your books from a whole new perspective.

Nabokov’s Favorite Word was Mauve, by Ben Blatt
We love print books, but the digital age has given us plenty of blessings, among them the ability to apply big data to the world’s body of literature. Instead of an artistic review of great writers and their famous works, Blatt and his team have analyzed countless books to find patterns, to reveal secrets of composition and blueprints of creativity. They suss out which writers fall back on clichés, which break their own writing advice most often, which have the most limited or largest vocabularies, and more. This sort of data is fascinating to a book nerd, because it quantifies aspects of literature that are instinctive. Why do we enjoy some writers and not others? The answers might be in this incredibly meta book.

Printer’s Error, by Rebecca Romney
One of the upsides of digital publishing is the ability to fix an error with a push of a button, silently updating millions of downloaded books without fuss. But that’s also a downside for book nerds who revel in the mistakes, the errors, and the unintentionally evocative screw-ups that launched a million theories on what the author meant—when, in fact, it was just a mistake. Romney starts at the beginning of the printed word and recounts some of the best stories of publishing incompetence ever told.

Codex Serpahinianus, by Luigi Serafini
Finally, the experience of reading a book can come to be second-nature, and thus unremarkable, if you spend a lot of time with your nose in a book. Long forgotten is the amazement we experienced when we first learned to read, first discovered fictional worlds and factual compilations we could access at any time. The genius of Serafini’s book—written in an artificial language that has so far eluded linguists, describing things that don’t actually exist—is in how it replicates the way children must feel when they first encounter a book before they know how to read. There’s an instinctual understanding that the markings mean something, a beautiful order to everything that implies meaning, even if that meaning is obscured. It’s a wonderful feeling for a book nerd to be able to simply appreciate the form and beauty of a book without the hope of being able to understand a lick of what’s on the page.

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