It seems like a slightly strange concept – read a book that will advise what other books to read. But that’s the thinking behind Michiko Kakutani’s Ex-Libris: 100 Books to Read and Reread”. Kakutani was the former chief book critic for the New York Times. She reviewed for the newspaper from 1983 to 2017. Here are a few reasons to add this book to your reading list.
It’s a beautiful book
We know the common refrain of not judging a book by its cover but judge away with this book. It’s just such a beautiful and aesthetically pleasing book. The cover is designed by Dana Tanamachi. She is known for her illustrative work for the U.S. Postal Service and Time magazine. It would make a nice addition to any bookshelf or coffee table. Anyone would appreciate receiving the book as a gift. The book is also filled with Tanamachi’s illustrations which are just stunning and accompany each book recommendation. All of the illustrations are in the form of vintage bookplates. Sometimes an attractive book makes the reading experience all that more enjoyable.
It has a recommendation for everyone
Whether you enjoy reading fiction, non-fiction, classics or anything else in between, you will find a recommendation. In the introduction, Kakutani writes that in the book she is writing less as a critic than as an enthusiast. She isn’t trying to find hidden meanings or look at them through a literary lens. Instead, within the pages of the book, she tries to encourage readers to read and reread these books. Whether you read the books because they teach you something or beautifully written. As she says “or simply because they remind us why we fell in love with reading in the first place.”
Some books from the list I would recommend
As mentioned above, Kakutani has a book for every mood and genre. More than that the collection starts with an essay about “why reading matters more than ever in today’s fractured and fragmented world.” Each of her selections are pointedly guided to making that point in some way. From her list, here are some books I would recommend. There’s Muhammad Ali’s The Greatest: My Own Story. Then there’s Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time, Born a Crime by Trevor of Noah and George Orwell’s 1984. While J.K Rowling is someone who has covered herself in disrepute, the Harry Potter series remains an important part of the literary space. Last but definitely not least there is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The book has more than 100+ book recommendations with a short writing from Kakutani about why she recommends them. Besides causing you to add more books to your to-be-read list, you will enjoy flipping through the book and immersing yourself in Kakutani’s words.
For this present moment in time and even as time moves forward, Ex-Libris shows the importance of reading and what lessons and messages of comforts books can give to us.
Michiko Kakutani’s Ex-Libris: 100 Books to Read and Reread” is part of Exclusive Books recommended reading list for 2020. It is available at all bookstores and online.