Memoir/Biography/Autobiography · Nonfiction

Dear Fahrenheit 451

I think it should be pretty obvious why I picked up this book. A book of love letters and break up notes from a librarian to the many books she’s read throughout her life. I mean, it’s pretty much the book lover’s book. And I am nothing if not a book lover. In fact, sometimes I think that’s likely my favorite defining characteristic. Plus, I figured the audiobook would be a great driving companion (I was definitely not wrong there).

Dear Fahrenheit 451 by Annie Spence

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Annie Spence is a librarian from the mid-western US and has been obsessed with books since childhood (many thanks to her older siblings for that). Her voice in this collection, a mix of memoir and humor in essay/letter form, is warm and familiar, making you comfortable from page one. And the audiobook narrator nailed the reading of it (one of the best I’ve listened to so far) – her inflection and enthusiasm shone brightly and really brought Annie’s inner letter writing thoughts to light. This was entertaining, easy to read, and just really sweet.

I loved a lot of things about this collection. Like seriously, some of the things Annie writes about really spoke to my soul. Reading the letter to Beauty and the Beast was like reading something stolen from my own mind. And there were some things she talked about, like making antisocial choices or having outbursts of rage at my husband because I would rather be reading (or was interrupted at a crucial part and am having trouble leaving the book world behind). The part where she is creeping on the bookshelves in someone else’s house during a cocktail party is very me and we both hate movie tie in covers/editions. I also loved how some things that I thought only I did, like the need to read certain books at certain times: fluffy romances after emotionally wrecking novels or going on binges in similar style/genre reads, are not just me!

As far as the letters to the books themselves, the serious ones – the main love/break up letters – were awesome to listen to. I enjoyed each of them, even the ones we have totally different opinions on (in particular, we feel super differently about The Goldfinch, haha). Honestly, I almost especially liked listening to the thoughts on books that are different from my own – it made me stop and think about the books I have loved or hated in a different light, which is always a cool experience. And of course any time we agreed, I would straight up answer out loud, as if I was in a conversation with someone and not listening to an audio version of their written inner thoughts. And I definitely moved some books up my TBR list after reading (for example, The Virgin Suicides, which she mentions many times as her favorite). But really, she covers a really wide variety of books/genres, from children’s (Charlotte’s Web, Matilda) to classics (a couple Ray Bradbury’s, Anna Karenina, Jane Eyre) to contemporary lit both good and bad (The Time Traveler’s Wife/Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close vs Twilight or Nicholas Sparks in general) to memoirs (Yes, Please) to graphic novels, style books, and more. The letters to super weird books she finds in the library, the ones that are going to be retired, like old “finding your sexuality” or “recipes with popcorn cookbook” or “conversing with calculators” or “cat anatomy” books were entertaining (I mean, who knew there were books for that in the first place, much less that they were still in the library?), but definitely not my favorite.

My biggest issue was in the second part of the book. There are no more letters to individual books, but more general letters to people about books. I liked some of them, like suggestions of types of books to start with to convince a friend/partner who doesn’t read to try again (these are based on what they remember as the last book they read/liked). And I giggled that she had a whole letter about books with ugly covers – it sucks when the outside is not as good as the inside and it does make you wonder how many amazing reads you’ve passed up because of a terrible cover (even though you aren’t supposed to judge based on that). But then things got a little….less absorbing. She spends a lot of time just listing book suggestions based on your mood, or the time of year, or other books that you like, and then giving little summaries of them. I mean, not to be negative, but that’s literally what Goodreads is. Or the internet in general. Or book jacket blurbs. Or really, your own public librarian. Don’t get me wrong, I love book recommendations (receiving and giving them), but I just…I don’t want a list of books to read because you liked them, I want to read about WHY you liked (or didn’t like) them. Especially because there were some suggestions that I did not agree with at all; I felt like there were some much better examples from some of the genres she mentions. But since I already knew we had differences in opinions from before, I wanted to know what it was we disagreed on/why she thought those books were the best options. I just generally wanted more of her feelings in letters to the books themselves and less basic listing. And since that’s the section the book ended on, that’s the feeling I’m left with. Which sucks, because it just started off so promising.

So, my recommendation is that, if you want to try this book, maybe only read the first half…or read it backwards? I’m not sure. I’m really torn about this collection personally. It’s not the soul touching collection I was thinking it might be, but perhaps those expectations were a little unfairly high? Regardless, if you are a book lover, it’s worth a shot – there will definitely be some passages or letters that truly touch the parts of you reserved for books/reading, and that’s something special.

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