On Reading, Writing and Living With Books: A Review

Part of Pushkin Press’ new London Library collection, On Reading, Writing and Living With Books, is a collection of short essays and letters by some of the finest writers in the canon of English-Language Literature, celebrating books and the spaces they occupy in our lives.

Pushkin Press’ London Library collection “Found on the Shelves” takes pieces from the vast treasure troves of the London Library, now celebrating its 175th anniversary, and pulls them together into short bundles of essays to give readers an interesting new insight into the generations’ worth of books it holds. For me, there seems nothing more fitting than the collection of work into new books to celebrate the majesty and wonder of a library with such a rich history, and On Reading, Writing and Living With Books takes that celebration a step further. Featuring authors such as Virginia Woolf, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Leigh Hunt and E.M. Forster, this small ninety-two page book speaks volumes about the ways in which literature and books themselves have become such celebrated objects.

My favourite essay in the collection was the poet Leigh Hunt’s 1899 essay titled My Books. In his essay he speaks of the practice of borrowing and lending books, how sharing these precious objects plays such a vital role in maintaining friendships and gauging other people’s character – something I am very interested in myself. The way you can read someone else in the pages of a book they lend you has always fascinated me and Hunt’s essay captures some of my ideas about this so carefully, yet with very little hesitation. Hunt also goes on to talk about how books make a working environment feel, for writers and for other professions, and how a love of books isn’t dependant on the volume of books you own in your own private collection:

“It is true, that it is not at all necessary to love many books, in order to love them much.”

I feel particularly strongly about this. As much as I myself own a pretty substantial number of books, though not anywhere near as many as a library, I know that my heart lies most strongly in a small handful of those books, those ones that have made me feel most deeply about their story or their characters. Stories are precious and hold the most powerful magic – the ability to make you love them no matter your age. To this day, one of my favourite books ever is one of my childhood books – Roald Dahl’s The BFG. It was given to me as a second hand copy, and is well-read and worn out, but I have always loved the story more than anything. There is nothing more precious than a story that makes you feel that strongly, no matter how old or battered or worn it is.

I could go on forever about each of the letters of essays in this book the way I have about Hunt’s essay, but I will leave you to go on and discover the secrets that On Reading, Writing and Living With Books contains. I must say, the only complaint I have about this collection of essays is the absence of George Orwell’s essays on books and writing, for which I have a special place in my heart. George Orwell’s essays on his creative life and why he chose to write and love books the way he did would have made an amazing addition to this book, however, the widespread availability of those essays may speak to why they were not chosen for this collection. Most of the essays and letters in this collection are new to me, and I appreciate the work Pushkin is doing in trying to bring lesser known essays and letters, even by famously canonical writers, to a wider audience. As any bookworm knows, there are few things better than sharing your love of books, and this book does just that.


On Reading, Writing and Living With Books, and other books in Pushkin Press’ London Library Collection are now available from Pushkin Press’ online shop or in all good bookstores. As always, INWORDSANDINK encourages its reader to buy from and support their local independent bookstores.

Thank you once again to Pushkin Press for sending me a copy of On Reading, Writing and Living With Books. Whilst I was sent the book for reviewing purposes, I was not in any way paid or financially obligated to write this review.


© Hayley New 2016


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