The best books about books (and the authors who write them)

Who am I?

In the wake of her father’s death, Katharine Smyth turned to her favorite novel, Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, as a way of wrestling with his memory and understanding her own grief. Her book about the experience, All the Lives We Ever Lived: Seeking Solace in Virginia Woolf, was published by Crown in 2019 and named a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice. Smyth’s work has appeared in The Atlantic, The Paris Review, Elle, The New York Times, Literary Hub, Poets & Writers, and The Point.


I wrote...

All the Lives We Ever Lived: Seeking Solace in Virginia Woolf

By Katharine Smyth,

Book cover of All the Lives We Ever Lived: Seeking Solace in Virginia Woolf

What is my book about?

Katharine Smyth was a student at Oxford when she first read Virginia Woolf's modernist masterpiece To the Lighthouse in the comfort of an English sitting room, and in the companionable silence she shared with her father. After his death--a calamity that claimed her favorite person--she returned to that beloved novel as a way of wrestling with his memory and understanding her own grief.

Smyth's story moves between the New England of her childhood and Woolf's Cornish shores and Bloomsbury squares, exploring universal questions about family, loss, and homecoming. Through her inventive, highly personal reading of To the Lighthouse, and her artful adaptation of its groundbreaking structure, Smyth guides us toward a new vision of Woolf's most demanding and rewarding novel--and crafts an elegant reminder of literature's ability to clarify and console.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Out of Sheer Rage: Wrestling with D. H. Lawrence

Katharine Smyth Why did I love this book?

Out of Sheer Rage: Wrestling With D. H. Lawrence is Geoff Dyer’s sprawling, hilarious account of trying to write a book about the writer who made him want to write. As Dyer tracks Lawrence across the globe—from Greece to Italy to England to Mexico to New Mexico—he delights in the unexpected parallels he discovers between himself and his literary idol (“We are skinny, narrow-shouldered men, Lawrence and I”) and suggests that we follow in the footsteps of our favorite writers “to claim kin with them, to be guided by them.”

By Geoff Dyer,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Out of Sheer Rage as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Recounts the author's experiences visiting the places D.H. Lawrence lived while actively not working on a book about Lawrence and not writing his own novel.


Book cover of My Life in Middlemarch: A Memoir

Katharine Smyth Why did I love this book?

Rebecca Mead’s My Life in Middlemarch tells the story of Mead’s lifelong relationship with George Eliot and that writer’s greatest novel. As well as tracing the arc of Eliot’s biography and exploring its uncanny reverberations in Mead’s own life, Mead investigates the way in which her understanding of Middlemarch changed as she did. In a passage I might have written of my own evolving grasp of To the Lighthouse, she writes, “There are books that grow with the reader as the reader grows… This kind of book becomes part of our own experience, and part of our own endurance. It might lead us back to the library in midlife, looking for something that eluded us before.”

By Rebecca Mead,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked My Life in Middlemarch as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A New Yorker writer revisits the seminal book of her youth--Middlemarch--and fashions a singular, involving story of how a passionate attachment to a great work of literature can shape our lives and help us to read our own histories.

Rebecca Mead was a young woman in an English coastal town when she first read George Eliot's Middlemarch, regarded by many as the greatest English novel. After gaining admission to Oxford, and moving to the United States to become a journalist, through several love affairs, then marriage and family, Mead read and reread Middlemarch. The novel, which Virginia Woolf famously described…


Book cover of The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them

Katharine Smyth Why did I love this book?

This is a compilation of essays about Batuman’s experience of studying Russian literature at Stanford. Wondering about “possible methods for bringing one’s life closer to one’s favorite books,” Batuman traces the literal and figurative path of writers such as Pushkin, Tolstoy, and Babel, finding answers in their life and work while at the same time exploring their influence upon a motley group of Slavic scholars and readers.

By Elif Batuman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Possessed as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The true story of one woman's intellectual and sentimental education and her strange encounters with others devoted - absurdly, melancholically, ecstatically - to the Russian classics

Roaming from Tashkent to San Francisco, this is the true story of one budding writer's strange encounters with the fanatics who are devoted - absurdly! melancholically! ecstatically! - to the Russian classics. Combining fresh readings of the great Russians from Gogol to Goncharov with the sad and funny stories of the lives they continue to influence, The Possessed introduces a brilliant and distinctive new voice: comic, humane, charming, poignant and completely, and unpretentiously, full…


Book cover of U and I: A True Story

Katharine Smyth Why did I love this book?

In U and I: A True Story, the death of Donald Barthelme inspires Nicholson Baker to write a book about his obsession with John Updike while his muse is still alive. Coining the term “memory criticism,” which he defines as “a form of commentary that relies entirely on what has survived in a reader’s mind from a particular writer over at least ten years of spotty perusal,” Baker embarks upon a wildly entertaining meditation that reveals as much about the writing process as it does about Updike (and Baker) himself.

By Nicholson Baker,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked U and I as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Baker muses on the creative process via his obsession with John Updike.


Book cover of Austen Years: A Memoir in Five Novels

Katharine Smyth Why did I love this book?

“About seven years ago,” Rachel Cohen writes at the beginning of Austen Years, “not too long before our daughter was born, and a year before my father died, Jane Austen became my only author.” Weaving together memoir, biography, history, and literary criticism, Cohen draws upon five of Austen’s novels to make sense of her own life and work as she raises young children, moves across the country, and grapples with her father’s death. The result is a brilliant and beautiful reflection upon family and loss, isolation and transcendence, and reading and rereading.

By Rachel Cohen,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Austen Years as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One of The Globe and Mail's Best Books of 2020

"A thoroughly authentic, smart and consoling account of one writer’s commitment to another." --The New York Times Book Review (editors' choice)

"An absolutely fascinating book: I will never read Austen the same way again." ―Helen Macdonald, author of H is for Hawk

An astonishingly nuanced reading of Jane Austen that yields a rare understanding of how to live

"About seven years ago, not too long before our daughter was born, and a year before my father died, Jane Austen became my only author."

In the turbulent period around the birth…


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The Model Spy: Based on the True Story of Toto Koopman’s World War II Ventures

By Maryka Biaggio,

Book cover of The Model Spy: Based on the True Story of Toto Koopman’s World War II Ventures

Maryka Biaggio Author Of The Model Spy: Based on the True Story of Toto Koopman’s World War II Ventures

New book alert!

Who am I?

Author Historical fiction author Lover of hidden stories Research nerd Opera fanatic

Maryka's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

The Model Spy is based on the true story of Toto Koopman, who spied for the Allies and Italian Resistance during World War II.

Largely unknown today, Toto was arguably the first woman to spy for the British Intelligence Service. Operating in the hotbed of Mussolini's Italy, she courted danger every step of the way. As the war entered its final stages, she faced off against the most brutal of forces—Germany's Intelligence Service, the Abwehr.

The Model Spy: Based on the True Story of Toto Koopman’s World War II Ventures

By Maryka Biaggio,

What is this book about?

Celebrated model Toto Koopman had beauty, brains, and fame. Born to a Dutch father and Indonesian mother, she took up the life of a bon vivant in 1920s Paris and modeled for Vogue magazine and Coco Chanel. But modeling didn’t satisfy her. Fluent in six languages, she was adventurous and fascinated by world politics.

In London she attracted the attention of Lord Beaverbrook, the William Randolph Hearst of England. She soon became his confidante, companion, and translator, traversing the Continent and finding herself caught in the winds of impending war. Beaverbrook introduced her to influential people, including a director at…


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Interested in the creative process, mourning, and creativity?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the creative process, mourning, and creativity.

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