Published by Flatiron Books on September 26, 2017
Source: the publisher
A Gen-X librarian's laugh-out-loud funny, deeply moving collection of love letters and break-up notes to the books in her life.
Librarians spend their lives weeding. Not weeds, but books! Books that have reached the end of their shelf life, both literally and figuratively. They remove the ones that patrons no longer check out, and they put back the ones they treasure. Annie Spence, who has a decade of experience as a Midwestern librarian, does this not only at her Michigan library but also at home, for her neighbors, at cocktail parties—everywhere. In Dear Fahrenheit 451, she addresses those books directly. We read her love letters to Just Kids and Frog and Toad Storybook Treasury, as well as her break-ups with The Giving Tree and Dear John. Her notes to The Goldfinch and The Time Traveler’s Wife feel like classics. Through the lens of the books in her life, Annie comments on everything from women’s psychology to gay culture to health to poverty to childhood aspirations. Hilarious, compassionate, and wise, Dear Fahrenheit 451 is the consummate book-lover's book.
Dear Dear Fahrenheit 451,
It isn’t me, it’s you. Or maybe it is me. I don’t know. You seemed so right for me when we first met. A librarian writing love letters and breakup notes to the books in her life—how could I possibly not love you? And despite the fact that we didn’t seem to have a lot of interests in common, we got along pretty well at the start. You were funny, hip, irreverent, but sometimes passionate. We shared a love for The Secret Garden, and that’s always a bond. As a former theater major, I laughed the whole way through your perfectly-quoted breakup with Scenes for Student Actors. I chuckled over our shared, secret loyalty to Color Me Beautiful. As for the rest, maybe we weren’t really interested in the same books, but we were still talking about books. You loved The Goldfinch and the Big Stone Gap series and The Time Traveler’s Wife, and even though I haven’t read them, I loved how you wrote about them. I might even read them someday.
But that first-date hopefulness wore off a few days into our relationship, as I got to know you better. You almost never wrote about books I had read, and when you did, half the time you didn’t like them. (What on earth is your problem with The Hobbit?) You pretty much ignored genre fiction, with the exception of Miss Marple mysteries (which you seem to appreciate mostly as a librarian; it was impossible to tell if you’ve actually read them.) Then I came across your snarky, disdainful letter to the paperback romance spinner. I think that’s when I realized our relationship was headed nowhere.
Even your tone, so appealing when we were first getting acquainted, started to sound a little forced. “Look at me,” you seemed to say, “aren’t I cultured and amusing and so, so hip?” More and more of your letters seemed focused as much on making you sound cool and interesting, in an “I’m so with it” sort of way, as they were about loving or hating specific books. And some (well, a lot) of your humor felt unkind: subtly or snarkily putting down other books or library patrons (or your neighbor or the host of that party you went to) for not being up-to-date, hip, smart, or cultured enough, or for liking genre fiction instead of the literary fiction and nonfiction you enjoy. (You never said it straight out like that, but I can read the subtext. To be fair, though, it sounds like that party host was a pretentious snob, so I can’t really blame you on that one.) It made me wonder if you’ve ever made fun of me, too, when I’ve come by the library to borrow the latest Nora Roberts or a MG fantasy novel.
But I hate giving up on a fellow booklover, so I stuck it out all the way to the end, through all the lists of books I have no interest in reading and more paeans of praise to Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides than were really necessary. (Seriously, the letter was good, and really heartfelt; you almost convinced me to try the book. But you pushed too hard, and I don’t respond well to that. You should have stopped while you were ahead on that one.)
Now I’m sitting here in the ashes of what could have been such a wonderful relationship, if only I measured up to your high standards. Or if only you had been more of what I hoped you were when we met, and what your best letters show you could be: a little kinder, a little gentler, more often enthusiastic than snarky: a book about unashamedly loving books.
PS. I’m giving you two stars (an “OK” rating) because I did love some of your letters… even if the rest of me is regretting our fling.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
- Blogger Shame Challenge 2018
- Take Control of Your TBR Pile Challenge (March 2018)