Review published on February 7, 2018.
I can never remember feeling so connected to a non-fiction book, and in many ways a book in general, as I do to Dear Fahrenheit 451. Annie Spence, an American librarian, has written that book that I absolutely longed to read without me knowing it.
Split into two sections, the first part of the book, as the title suggests, is comprised of letters that Annie writes to various books that she has come across in her life and which have engendered in her some kind of feeling that makes her want to write directly to the book. Fortunately, these letters are not all gushing odes nor are they all addressed to the heavyweights of literature. Indeed, the author hardly ever gets gushy, and certainly never cloying, there is sincerity in her love letters in particular but also always wit and intelligence that make these letters entertaining and engaging rather than trite and cloying. The success of the letters is due entirely to Spence’s writing, which is naturally lively and nimble, full of personality and humour, and though the missives are by turns irreverent, warm, sweet and wry, the author’s repartee always shines through, making this a real pleasure to read. The fact that Spence writes her letters to such a diverse range of books is brilliant too (The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien; Love Poems, Nikki Giovanni; The Leisure Alternatives Catalog, 1979, to name a few); there is none of the ‘all books are equal, but some are more equal than others’ mentality here (well, maybe apart from children’s books on trucks, but that’s another matter), all genres are worthy of a letter, even if the book itself isn’t exactly to Spence’s taste. I loved the inclusivity and diversity of the books she engages with, which in itself adds flavour and nuance to the letters, and there are at least a couple I will be adding to my to-read list. I also loved the sense of interaction and discussion that the book prompts – you can’t help but consider your own relationship with the books you’ve read and what form your own letters would take. For my part, The Secret Garden would have to be the book that I sent my first fan letter to, and my break-up letter, I have to admit, would be to The Heart of Darkness, and I know readers and reading groups will be prompted into similar considerations on the back of reading Spence’s book.
I was so enraptured with Spence’s letters that I must admit to feeling a pang when they ended, and was reluctant about a separate second section, which takes a slightly more miscellaneous approach, and considers a number of bookish subjects, from excuses to tell your friends so you can stay home with your book to recovery reads to lift you up. But I needn’t have worried because this second section proved just as entertaining as the letters, and in fact as I got to the end of this section, I was once again ruing that it had to end. It is clear that, like the letters themselves, this section is devised by a booklover and written for booklovers. These are themes and subjects that only real bookworms will appreciate and understand, and I loved the ingenuity of Book Hookups (two books that can be enjoyed together) and Falling Down the Rabbit Hole (a stepping stone of books that lead to other books) especially. Again, these are topics that are ready-made for book groups and naturally encourage reading and debate, and again delivered with Spence’s inimitable style and wit.
Spence has written a book that celebrates the written word, libraries and librarians, and also does what all exceptional books do and that is make readers engage meaningfully with it. But crucially its power lies in not only connecting with its readers but making readers reconnect with their love of books, reminding us of why we love to read, why books are important and how much pleasure and enjoyment they can give. It honours books in all their forms, and highlights that even the books that don’t impress or enthuse us have an impact on us in some way – a fact that is rarely acknowledged. The purists out there may at times find the writing too candid and brash, but for me in particular as someone of a similar generation and with a similar relationship to books, this is an absolute gem, and before I risk gushing myself, I think the only way to finish this review is with a short missive of my own to Spence’s book, so here goes:
Dear, Dear Fahrenheit 451 (already, I feel as if I’ve got some way to go to match Spence’s style, but I’ll continue),
I’m going to keep this short but sweet: we had such a blast that I’m afraid you’re going to be sticking around for a while. But I’m nothing if not caring and would hate for you to get lonely, so if perhaps you have a sibling (or two) yet to find their way into the big wide world, I’ll keep them a space next to you on my shelf.
Jade Craddock 5/5
Dear Fahrenheit 451 by Annie Spence
Icon Books Ltd 9781785783098 hbk Feb 2018