Here at Off the Shelf, we don’t just love books—we love books about books. There’s something both exciting and comforting about meeting a character who is just as wrapped up in words as we are. Whether it’s an editor looking for the author whose work will change the world or an author who regrets the things he’s put between his pages, set in the present or steeped in the past, novels about creative types always leave us wanting more. Here are a few of my favorites.
At Purcell & Stern, one of New York’s last great independent publishing houses, Paul Dukach remains haunted by the one who got away: the poet Ida Perkins, whose life and work have made her a celebrity—and the prized author of his longtime publishing rival. When the two meet at her Venetian palazzo, she entrusts him with her greatest secret, one that will change both their lives and careers forever.
While on a book tour promoting his memoir about his service in Vietnam, Richard Lazar is surprised to find two things: success, and his biggest fan: an awkward, despondent student named Vance struggling with family issues and overwhelming shyness. When Vance volunteers to drive Richard, who has problems of his own, across the country on the rest of his tour, a disastrous and unforgettable road trip ensues.
After high school, Joe Goffman left his hometown of Bush Falls without looking back. Then he wrote a novel savaging everything and everyone he knew, a novel that became a massive bestseller and hit movie. Fifteen years later, when he’s forced to return home for a family emergency, he’s public enemy number one—but as he reconnects with old friends and remembers what made the place home, he realizes that the best things in life might be second chances.
As a novelist-turned-sportswriter, Frank Bascombe has made a life out of studying other men and the lives—usually the quiet ones—that they have. It’s something he himself aspires to, but nearing 40, he suffers from incurable dreaminess, heart palpitations, and the not-so-distant losses of a career and family, all resulting in an existential crisis that’s equal parts touching and troubling.
A campus comedy classic, WONDER BOYS centers around Grady Tripp, a former publishing prodigy who has a bad case of writer’s block and an even worse case of marital strife, and his student James Leer, whose obsession with self-destruction and soul-searching puts both of them into harrowing and humorous situations. If you’re looking for the best book to begin your love of the Chabon canon, look no further.
Read the full review of WONDER BOYS here.
The first in a gorgeous six-part graphic novel series, THE UNWRITTEN tells the story of Tom Taylor, a young boy who has spent his life living in the shadow of the beloved Harry Potter–esque book character his father created—who just happens to share his name, and whose literary life ended with a cliffhanger about whether the magical Tommy had crossed the line into the human world. When rabid fans begin to chase him, convinced he’s a boy-wizard-made-flesh, a scandal erupts that will change the writing world forever.
It’s 1958, and Greenwich Village is buzzing with beatniks, jazz, and bright ideas. In Suzanne Rindell’s transporting and completely addictive novel, three ambitious young people meet there—Cliff Nelson, the writer-son of a successful book editor; Eden Katz, whose dreams of climbing the publishing ladder seem limited by her gender; and Miles Tillman, a black writer from Harlem whose family secrets both haunt and inspire his work. Together, they face the struggles of adolescence and make decisions that will change them all forever.
Everyone wonders now and then what would happen if they suddenly won literary acclaim, thrust into the spotlight and seen by the masses as the next big thing. When Pete Tarslaw’s book becomes the most talked about, read, reviewed, and reviled novel in America, the results are equal parts horrifying and hilarious. Because instead of the traditional tweed-clad literary devotee, Pete is a trainwreck who writes only for money and the opportunity to someday humiliate the girlfriend who left him behind—and that makes for a great story.
What if you had the chance to go back to one moment in your life and change it? Three best friends have that chance in Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke’s heartwarming and hilarious novel, which explores the decisions we make—big and small—that affect our lives. Jessie loves her son but hates the circumstances under which he was born; Claire is living exactly the life she wants but often thinks about the things she’s missed out on; and Gabriela, a famous author, wonders how much following her dream has affected her future.