Dear Fahrenheit 451
Published September 26, 2017
From Goodreads: A Gen-X librarian’s snarky, 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 books that patrons no longer check out. And they put back the books 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 The Goldfinch and Matilda, as well as her snarky break-ups with Fifty Shades of Grey and Dear John. Her notes to The Virgin Suicides and The Time Traveler’s Wife feel like classics, sure to strike a powerful chord with readers. 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 birthday present, stocking stuffer, holiday gift, and all-purpose humor book.
I had seen this book advertised before it came out in September, and because I love a good book about books, I put it on my list. When my friendly indie bookstore owner recommended it to me, as well, I decided it would be one of those ‘must read’ books and bought the e-book over the weekend, and read in the breaks between obligatory Christmas activities before finishing it up over my lunch hour the other day.
It’s an alright read, as far as books about books go. Spence is definitely entertaining in her dissection of books she can’t stand (The Twilight series, the Fifty Shades series), and almost slavishly devoted to the books she loves (The Virgin Suicides, The Time Traveler’s Wife). While the letters to the hated books are straight-up hilarious and spot on in their critiques of what makes them awful, the ones penned to the books she loves made me want to tell Spence to take a deep breath, put the book down, and take another deep breath, because Wow, there was a lot of gushing going on there.
There were a few books where it took a while to figure out if Spence liked them or not. The tone of sarcasm does not always transfer well from spoken words to written ones, and I would be halfway through a letter before realizing that Spence did actually like the book she was talking about. Or maybe I’m just bad at recognizing sarcasm.
I had a couple of issues with this book. The first was how it jumped from the public library’s books to the author’s home collection without warning. I’m not sure why, but I found this to be jarring, even though I knew Spence would be writing about both personal and private books. The second issue deals with Spence’s description of how she ended up at a fancy, catered bookclub meeting she hadn’t been technically invited to. Because she didn’t really know anyone, she spent most of the night hanging out by the hostess’s bookshelves with a running mental commentary regarding the books there. Spence gets drunk as the little party progresses, and the commentary goes from smart and snarky to sad and pretentious. I think it was meant to be an amusing section, but I never find the ‘I got drunk and made a fool of myself in front of fancy strangers’ stories to be funny. I just find them sad. It took awhile to shake that off.
Dear Fahrenheit 451 is a quick read. Even the longest letters are seven or eight pages at the most, and most of them are just a few pages in length. You get a definite sense of Spence’s views on literature and popular culture, the public library’s role in the community, and the frustrations (and odd joys) of reading the same book over and over and over and over (and over and over, etc….) to a child, but it’s not a straight-line path through Spence’s life. Which, I suppose, is to be expected. If you were reading a writer’s letters to multiple people, you wouldn’t get the straightest of stories from them. Buuut… There was enough of a narrative thread that I wish Spence had devoted a section to library books and a section to books at home. I wouldn’t have spent as much time figuring out where she was in her work/home balance. But overall, it’s an enjoyable book about books. Maybe just hold it at arm’s length when she gets to the letters to The Virgin Suicides or The Time Traveler’s Wife.