Dear Dear Fahrenheit 451—A Breakup Letter

March 26, 2018 Book Reviews 10 ★★

Dear Dear Fahrenheit 451—A Breakup LetterDear Fahrenheit 451 by Annie Spence
Published by Flatiron Books on September 26, 2017
Pages: 256
Format: eARC
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)

10 Responses to “Dear Dear Fahrenheit 451—A Breakup Letter”

    • Lark_Bookwyrm

      Thanks, Berls! I figured since she wrote the book as letters to other books, I’d fashion my review around the same concept. I don’t know that I’d call it “highbrow,” though; more “hip and snarky,” when she’s not being passionate about a book she loved. She’s not much into genre fiction, as far as I can tell, with the exception of Walter Mosley’s hard-boiled mysteries and possibly Miss Marple. But I wouldn’t call her a literary snob, either. Her reaction to Anna Karenina had me nodding “yup”—because neither of us are interested in reading 900+ pages of gloom and doom. I don’t think everyone is going to react to this book the way I did, but it just didn’t work for me… with the exception of a few letters that I loved.

    • Lark_Bookwyrm

      Thank you! You know what, I’d say give it a try, because your tastes may be different enough that you’ll enjoy it more than I did. There are comedians I don’t like whom everyone else does, so I may not be the best judge of humor! And some of the letters are really worth reading. If I could do it over again, I’d stop reading each letter that irked me, and just enjoy the ones that didn’t.

  1. Lark

    Well, that’s a bummer. I had high hopes for this book, but if the author gets all snarky and disses genre books I’m not sure this is the read for me. ‘Cause I like The Hobbit, and other fantasy reads, and romance and mystery… 😀
    Lark recently posted…Top 10 Books Set in Another CountryMy Profile

    • Lark_Bookwyrm

      It was really a mixed bag. Some of her letters are legit hysterical, some show her deep love for a particular book. But some of the letters just set my teeth on edge. And I really had to wonder why there was no fantasy other than The Hobbit, little mystery other than Miss Marple and Walter Mosley, whom she really likes, and her take on romance is pretty stereotyped (and negative.)

  2. Bea

    First, wonderful review! The format is awesome and your examples made laugh and made me frown.

    Second, I’ve been eyeing this book for months. If I do decide to read it, it will be a library read. It doesn’t sound like a book I want to spend my money in.

  3. Lory @ Emerald City Book Review

    Oh, I need to remember to try never to be snarky about authors or readers, even if there are books that rub me the wrong way. I know even if I hate a book, there will be someone who loves it (not to mention the human being who wrote it), and I would never want to put them down.

    Your letter was great, and almost made me want to try the book for the good parts…but aware of the drawbacks.
    Lory @ Emerald City Book Review recently posted…My book acquisition ban: How did it go?My Profile

  4. Nicole

    Ugh, I was looking forward to this one. You’re not the first reviewer I follow who had this opinion of the book, though. I think I’m going to leave it on my TBR as a “maybe eventually”, but I won’t be rushing out to buy it.
    Nicole recently posted…WIP Wednesday for 28 March 2018My Profile

  5. Katherine @ I Wish I Lived in a Library

    I’m pretty much of the same mindset on this one. I thought it was cute and some of the letters were entertaining but it felt pretty gimmicky and I didn’t think it was strong enough to carry a whole book. Oh well – at least it was pretty fast!