The best meta-fiction books about books

Who am I?

I’m an actor as well as a writer. I’ve spent more hours than can be counted dissecting stories and characters in order to better understand and transmit them to an audience. While standing on a stage, an actor is never unaware that they are performing for others. We may lose ourselves in a moment, in a character, in emotion, but the applause and the gasps, and the laughter always bring us back. As a writer, I spend a lot of time tapping into that feeling of ignoring-while-being-totally-aware of the fourth wall. I love books that wink at readers the way actors can at audiences.

I wrote...

The Untold Tale

By J.M. Frey,

Book cover of The Untold Tale

What is my book about?

This book follows Pip, who is pulled against her will into the epic fantasy novel series she’s loved since she was a teenager. However, the world is darker and far more dangerous than she could have ever predicted, especially when it turns out the hero is a much bigger misogynistic ass than she knew.

Pip knows how to circumnavigate the Hero’s Journey and the pitfalls and loopholes of this particular world – but what will happen to her beloved characters outside of the comfort of the fantasy they were written for? And what happens when it’s not the male-power-fantasy hero, but the hero’s overlooked and bullied little brother who proves to be her biggest champion?

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Autobiography of Red: A Novel in Verse

J.M. Frey Why did I love this book?

Based on the tale of the Tenth Labour of Herakles, this queer, lush, and cheeky novel grabbed my heart from the moment I was assigned to teach it. I did an undeclared minor in Classics during my undergrad, and aside from being extremely clever with the wordplay, I was delighted by how Carson absolutely takes the mickey out of academic writing around mythology, classical archeology, and translation. Told as a form of free-verse poetry, this novel is comprised of some of the most incredible word-crafting I've ever experienced.

By changing the word “arrows” in the original tale to “eros”, Carson skews and plays with the relationship between the monster Geryon and the hero Herakles, all the while letting Geryon speak to the reader directly.

By Anne Carson,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Autobiography of Red as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this extraordinary epic poem, Anne Carson bridges the gap between classicism and the modern, poetry and prose, with a volcanic journey into the soul of a winged red monster named Geryon.

There is a strong mixture of whimsy and sadness in Geryon's story. He is tormented as a boy by his brother, escapes to a parallel world of photography, and falls in love with Herakles - a golden young man who leaves Geryon at the peak of infatuation. Geryon retreats ever further into the world created by his camera, until that glass house is suddenly and irrevocably shattered by…

Book cover of Mangaman

J.M. Frey Why did I love this book?

I wrote my undergrad thesis on the migration of visual tropes from traditional Japanese theatre (Noh, Bunraku, and Kabuki) into modern art forms (Manga, Anime, Supakabuki/Anime Musicals), which was a rigorous exercise because I couldn’t just compare the tropes—I had to spend hours explaining them to my advisor. It was a fascinating (sometimes exasperating) lesson in learning to read one visual vocabulary, only to have to explain it to someone else in terms that they understood using another.

This blurred-xerox-translation-of-a-translation exercise is the central theme of Mangaman, where a Shojou-esque protagonist falls from a fantastical manga world into a comic. Visual conventions clash, where he walks the wrong way across panels, and where his speed lines accidentally stab people in the school hallway.

By Barry Lyga, Colleen Doran (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Mangaman as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 12, 13, 14, and 15.

What is this book about?

East meets West in this innovative and very smart graphic novel by Barry Lyga, illustrated by Colleen Doran.Sci-fi adventure meets love story—and East meets West—in Mangaman, an original
graphic novel for teens.
Ryoko, a manga character from a manga world, falls through the Rip into the “real” world—the western world—and tries to survive as the ultimate outsider at a typical American high school.
When Ryoko falls in love with Marissa Montaigne, the most beautiful girl in the school, his eyes turn to hearts and comic tension tightens as his way of being drawn and expressing himself clashes with this different…

Book cover of Inkheart

J.M. Frey Why did I love this book?

I read this book all in one summer’s day while in university, and came away with a wicked sunburn in the shape of a novel on my thighs and an absolutely wide-eyed fascination with the idea that you write books about writing books and people who understand that they’ve been written. I had grown up reading and writing fanfiction and loved the sorts of fics where people took the tropes of the genre of the show and broke/inverted/discarded them.

I loved playing with narrative focus, themes, character development, and my fave fanfic trope…when the actors meet the characters they play. And to see that someone had done it in a real published novel? That blew me away. Later when I decided I’d like to try my own profic take on that beloved trope, ‘creation meeting creator’, that I conceived of The Accidental Turn Series.

By Cornelia Funke, Anthea Bell (translator),

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Inkheart as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 9, 10, 11, and 12.

What is this book about?

The first book in Cornelia Funke's internationally celebrated
trilogy - magical, thrilling and mesmerising.

don't think I've ever read anything that conveys so well the
joys, terrors and pitfalls of reading' Diana Wynne Jones

loves books. So does her father, Mo, a bookbinder,
although he has never read aloud to her since her mother mysteriously
disappeared. They live quietly until the night a stranger
knocks at their door. He has come with a warning that forces
Mo to reveal an extraordinary secret - a storytelling secret that
will change their lives for ever.

Also a major film starring…

Book cover of Bookweird

J.M. Frey Why did I love this book?

A gentler, kinder version of Inkheart and The Untold Tale, this novel is still thrilling. I love the idea of consuming a book as literally as we do figuratively. In this one, our protagonist absentmindedly eats a page out of his favourite bedtime story and wakes up inside it. He has to hop from story to story to get home, crossing through his sister’s horse books and many an adventure before making it safe to his own bed. I think it’s totally charming.

By Paul Glennon,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Bookweird as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 8, 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

Norman Jespers-Vilnius is just an average eleven-year-old kid–until he absentmindedly nibbles on the edge of a page and wakes up inside his favourite book, the Undergrowth Series. Norman finds himself smack in the middle of an epic battle of animal kingdoms, where he forms a close friendship with young Malcolm, a future king. After joining Malcolm’s fight he winds up back in his own bed, dirty and in torn pyjamas. But his adventures have only just started. It soon becomes clear that Norman has been caught by a mystifying force called “Bookweird”– Norman finds himself inside books his family is…

Book cover of Stranger Than Fiction

J.M. Frey Why did I love this book?

Though not a book, the film starring Will Ferrell and Emma Thompson borrowed heavily from "Niebla" by Miguel de Unamuno, a Spanish novel about a character who becomes aware he is being narrated by a writer and goes to visit the writer. This film lives rent-free in my heart because the style of self-awareness that Ferrell’s character experiences in this film is close to the way I conceived of the meta-awareness of the characters Forsyth and Kintyre in The Untold Tale. I love the idea of someone learning they are being puppeteered and breaking free of the expected, the prescribed, and the narrative laid out for them. Maybe that’s why I like the film The Truman Show so much, too.

By Zach Helm,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Stranger Than Fiction as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this strange and delightful tale, an IRS agent namedHarold Crick suddenly finds himself the subject of a narrationonly he can hear—narration that soon affects everythingfrom his work to his love life to his death. Starring WillFerrell, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Dustin Hoffman, Queen Latifah,and Emma Thompson, Stranger Than Fiction is a heartfelt film,perhaps a comedy, perhaps a tragedy, about love and literatureand death and taxes.

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Dinner with Churchill

By Robin Hawdon,

Book cover of Dinner with Churchill

Robin Hawdon Author Of Number Ten

New book alert!

Who am I?

My writing is eclectic and covers many topics. However, all my books tend to have a thriller element to them. Perhaps it's my career as an actor and playwright which has instilled the need to create suspense in all my writings. I sometimes feel that distinguished authors can get so carried away with their literary descriptions and philosophical insights that they forget to keep the story going! It is the need to know what happens next that keeps the reader turning the pages. Perhaps in achieving that some subtlety has to be sacrificed, but, hey, you don't read a political thriller to study the philosophical problems of governing nations!

Robin's book list on lone heroes and threats to national security

What is my book about?

This is a new novel by one of the UK's most prolific writers. It is based around an extraordinary true incident at the start of World War II when fierce political opponents Winston Churchill and Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain encountered each other at a famous dinner party. Seen from the perspective of Lucy Armitage, a young girl suddenly conscripted by a strange stroke of fate into Churchill's overworked but adoring team of secretaries.

As Churchill prepares to take over the leadership of the nation, Lucy finds herself increasingly involved in her famous employer's phenomenal work output and eccentric habits. When romance and the world of espionage impinge on her life, she becomes a vital part of the eternal struggle between good and evil regimes that still exists today.

Dinner with Churchill

By Robin Hawdon,

What is this book about?

It is on historical record that, on the evening of October 13th 1939, six weeks after war had been declared on Hitler's Germany, Winston Churchill and Neville Chamberlain, fierce and implacable opponents for years over the appeasement issue, met together with their two wives, Clementine and Anne, for a private dinner at Admiralty House, and event which caused ripples throughout Westminster.

Chamberlain was still Prime Minister, but had seen all his efforts to negotiate peace with Hitler shattered. Churchill had been recalled to the cabinet after ten years 'in the wilderness', his dire warnings of the Nazi threat vindicated.


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