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A Reader's Book of Days: True Tales from the Lives and Works of Writers for Every Day of the Year

A Reader's Book of Days: True Tales from the Lives and Works of Writers for Every Day of the Year

by Tom Nissley

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A witty and addictively readable day-by-day literary companion.

At once a love letter to literature and a charming guide to the books most worth reading, A Reader's Book of Days features bite-size accounts of events in the lives of great authors for every day of the year. Here is Marcel Proust starting In Search of Lost Time and Virginia Woolf


A witty and addictively readable day-by-day literary companion.

At once a love letter to literature and a charming guide to the books most worth reading, A Reader's Book of Days features bite-size accounts of events in the lives of great authors for every day of the year. Here is Marcel Proust starting In Search of Lost Time and Virginia Woolf scribbling in the margin of her own writing, "Is it nonsense, or is it brilliance?" Fictional events that take place within beloved books are also included: the birth of Harry Potter’s enemy Draco Malfoy, the blood-soaked prom in Stephen King’s Carrie.

A Reader's Book of Days is filled with memorable and surprising tales from the lives and works of Martin Amis, Jane Austen, James Baldwin, Roberto Bolano, the Brontë sisters, Junot Díaz, Philip K. Dick, Charles Dickens, Joan Didion, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Keats, Hilary Mantel, Haruki Murakami, Flannery O’Connor, Orhan Pamuk, George Plimpton, Marilynne Robinson, W. G. Sebald, Dr. Seuss, Zadie Smith, Susan Sontag, Hunter S. Thompson, Leo Tolstoy, David Foster Wallace, and many more. The book also notes the days on which famous authors were born and died; it includes lists of recommended reading for every month of the year as well as snippets from book reviews as they appeared across literary history; and throughout there are wry illustrations by acclaimed artist Joanna Neborsky.

Brimming with nearly 2,000 stories, A Reader's Book of Days will have readers of every stripe reaching for their favorite books and discovering new ones.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
★ 10/15/2013
The book seems simple, but what Seattle-based Nissley has done is a true labor of love. Not only has he collected dates that are auspicious for their fictional occurrences (as in Judy Reeves's A Writer's Book of Days: A Spirited Companion and Lively Muse for the Writing Life and Barry Moser's The Book of Fictional Days), but he has combined those with events that the writers experienced in real life. For example, we learn that author J.K. Rowling's birthday is the same as Harry Potter's—she's among many authors who slip their birthdays into their work—and that novelist Helene Hanff wrote her first letter to a London bookseller at Marks & Co. on October 5, 1949—beginning a 20-year correspondence that became her acclaimed memoir, 84, Charing Cross Road—the same date that Sylvia Beach of the London-based bookstore Shakespeare & Co. died in 1962. Delightful details abound, from how writers loved, lived, and celebrated, some to their peril, to publication dates, feuds, and facts about Ernest Hemingway's many injuries, all gleaned from letters, journals, and news accounts. The entries can be read in big chunks or day-by-day as a desk calendar. For each month, there is a short introduction and a page of recommended reading, and each day includes four to six entries. VERDICT A completely addictive compendium of details on favorite writers and books. The title gives away Nissley's real intent: this is also a spectacular reading list, with lovely pen-and-ink illustrations by Neborsky.—Linda White, Maplewood, MN
Publishers Weekly
In his eclectic and wide-ranging, if uneven, collection of literary trivia for book lovers, delightfully illustrated by Neborsky, eight-time Jeopardy! champion and former bookseller Nissley offers an amalgam of anecdotes, quotes, reviews, diary entries, and letter excerpts. Each section begins with an introduction to a given month, as well as a list of recommended reading related to, or set during, that time of year. Each day then receives a page of its own, with lists of notable births and deaths, and short entries about events or publications that took place on that date. February 21 alone brings us details about Shakespeare, William James, Marcel Proust, and Alison Bechdel. Entries are by turns fascinating, obscure, and puzzling. A May 6 story about Emily Dickinson turning down a friend’s offer to go walking in order to stay with her ill mother will break reader’s hearts. Nissley occasionally blurs fact and fiction, with varying levels of success; some events from novels are listed as if real, and he assumes a certain level of familiarity with literature. Scholars should note there are no citations, though the collection will charm nonetheless. 100 illus. Agent: Jim Rutman, Sterling Lord Literistic. (Nov.)
Ken Jennings
“Brilliant, fascinating, and fun!”
Shelf Awareness
“Charming, funny, beguiling, this literary miscellany combines true events in writers’ lives and fictional events in their books. The perfect gift for any reader.”
Kate Tuttle - Boston Sunday Globe
“Essential… Terrifically fun.”
Rachel Arons - The New Yorker
“An entertaining range of stories and fun facts from the lives of both authors and their characters.”
Elizabeth Taylor - Chicago Tribune
“A treasure hunt between book covers — and my new favorite gift book… This book is a joy… [Nissley] is a marvelous storyteller.”
Mary Norris - The New Yorker
“Tantalizing long entries on such writerly topics as day jobs, marriage, mothers,
Melville, sports, and suicide.”
Randy Lobasso - Philadelphia Weekly
“Set to inspire potential writers.”
Michael Dirda - Wall Street Journal
“Completely winning… Clearly a masterpiece… A Reader's Book of Days is any reader's delight.”
Camila Domonoske - NPR.org
“The world's least useful, most wonderful reference book, a masterpiece with a wry sensibility… Whether you browse at random or read a page a day, this book will delight.”
Elizabeth Gilbert
“Oh, this is a true delight!”
Maria Semple
“Packed with charming anecdotes and delicious facts, A Reader's Book of Days is an utterly delightful and immensely enjoyable book-lover's companion. I'll always have a copy close at hand, and I’ll be giving it as a gift for years to come.”
Ann Patchett
“Finally, a book to live by. Every day will remind me of the few things I've read and all the endless treasures I have to look forward to. How lucky for readers that Tom Nissley has turned his formidable intelligence to the history of literature.”
Blake Bailey
“Those who know Tom Nissley simply as a Jeopardy! stud, prepare to be amazed. He's more than just a gutsy wonk with a photographic memory; as A Reader's Book of Days establishes for all time, he's witty, erudite, and sweet-natured, and he has a gorgeous prose style to boot. Beware: read one of these pages and you're hooked.”
Kirkus Reviews
A calendar and treasure trove for the bookish among us, marking events in literary history great and small, writers' birthdays and death dates, and the like. As compared to James Salter's Life Is Meals: A Diner's Book of Days (2006), eight-time Jeopardy! champion Nissley's compendium is a little down-market; if Salter is all haute cuisine and brilliant wines, Nissley finds room for pop-cult writers such as H.P. Lovecraft and Grace Metalious, among the less-ephemeral likes of Leo Tolstoy and George Eliot. That catholicity, however, as well as Nissley's enthusiasm for books, readers and writers, lends his collection considerable charm. Although there's plenty of, well, book learning here, there's also plenty of the sheer fun of reading, as when Nissley commemorates the birth of Dr. Seuss on March 2, 1904--March 2 being, coincidentally, the day, an exact century later, that Richard Ford spat on Colson Whitehead for the latter's having dared to give him a bad review. (Quoth Whitehead afterward, "This wasn't the first time some old coot had drooled on me.") Nissley casts a wide net to catch the likes of the Marquis de Sade (died Dec. 2, 1814) and Haruki Murakami (born Jan. 12, 1949) among the literati; he records the day in 1969 that Kingsley Amis had the bright idea to write a book (On Drink) about drinking so that he could write off his drinking against taxes, which, Amis rightly said, "would be a tremendous achievement." Nissley also notes the runaway best-sellerdom of the Warren Commission Report of 1964, the birth of the Guinness Book of World Records and the creation of Amazon.com, among other momentous turns in the life of bookdom. The book itself is guaranteed to occupy plenty of pleasant hours, but Nissley's recommended reading lists are a bibliophilic bonus. Just the thing for the book collector and trivia buff in the family.

Product Details

Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
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Barnes & Noble
File size:
6 MB

Meet the Author

Tom Nissley is an eight-time champion on Jeopardy! and former Amazon books editor. He holds a PhD in English literature and has written for the Paris Review Daily, The Millions, and The Stranger. He lives in Seattle where he owns Phinney Books.

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