Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks

Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks: A Librarian’s Love Letters and Breakup Notes to the Books in Her Life by Annie Spence, narrated by Stephanie Spicer, is one of those books about books. Hooray, right? Well, it started that way. (I can’t believe there are two colons in the title).

Spence, a librarian, breaks the book into several sections. First, she writes letters to books she has to remove from the library. This was my favorite part. It’s nice to hear about a book lover’s relationship to what she reads, whether it’s love or disbelief that such garbage found a publisher. Each letter is a few minutes long, which is one track on the audio version. Such a feature is fantastic if you listen to audio books in your car. You know that a break is always just a minute or two along the recording! No need to keep hitting the “rewind 30 seconds” button to get your bearings and figure out the context. To know when the little chapter will finish, listen for the “signature,” Annie.

dear fahrenheit 451
I can’t find any cover that has the voice narrator’s name on the cover. It’s Stephanie Spicer.

Spence randomly drops F-bombs in the most unnecessary places in her book. Every time it was jarring, and I felt embarrassed for her, as if my boss had just heard me swear. I’m not against cursing in books, but because swears are so potent, they have to be wielded wisely, not ubiquitous, or they lose all meaning and the author ends up sounding like an “edgy” teenager. It’s okay, Spence. You’re an adult. You can do swears. You can eat cake for breakfast. You still shouldn’t do either all the time even though your parents aren’t around to punish you.

Although the voice narrator, Stephanie Spicer, has a clear, easy to understand style of reading, that didn’t make up for the snooze-fest near the end. The author shifts gears and decides it’s appropriate to make a list of books in a book. Books with librarians in them, for example. It’s almost like someone narrated a Goodreads list to me, giving a 1-2 sentence synopsis for each novel. I found it impossible to focus, and on my long commute, this section was a threat to my ability to stay awake.

While Dear Fahrenheit 451 was recommended by The Life and Books of a GorJess Nerd, who found Spence’s book to be a useful tool, I don’t recommend it to avid readers. They already have their own lists of books (and often use spreadsheets and Goodreads to keep it all organized). The tone is of a twenty-something who is attempts to teach others the value of reading by sounding “cool,” which I found off-putting. For another perspective, read the review by Ami @ Luv to Read, who called Spence’s book “uneven.”

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27 comments

  1. That list of books doesnt make for a good audio experience at all even if you were not listening as a secondary activity (ie driving) which many people do

  2. Hmm….I’m not sure I’d like that voice describing love affairs and breakups with books, either. And I agree with you about the swearing. It has its place – in moderation – in a good book. But I don’t like it used just for effect.

  3. Gotta admit, I’ve never understood the fascination for books about books. I’d rather be reading the books and making my own judgements about them. And as for the pointless swearing, how tedious! Already I don’t rate her judgement highly so would be unlikely to read based on her recommendations or otherwise…

    I think my chocolate levels have dropped dangerously low… šŸ˜‰

    • Perhaps you’re right about books about books. Reading Lolita in Tehran promised to be good, but it was pretty much ONLY about the authors discussions in the classroom with her students about books. As I said in that review, I felt like I was sitting through a college class that I couldn’t participate in.

  4. I struggle quite a bit with lists in my audiobooks. You’re right, it can be challenging to focus! Not only that, but it quickly becomes pedantic. When lists are presented, it’s meant to be a more easily digested format. Not in audiobook form! How will I take notes?!

    Why did you end up listening to this via audiobook? And do you think that there was anything Spicer could have done as a narrator to keep you more engaged?

    • I listened to the audio book because I was looking for something new for my commute. The GorJess Nerd made it sound interesting, and I had heard so much about The BOB (Book of Books that everyone has been reading and loving), so I thought I would give it a try. Spicer herself was a clear and excellent narrator, but the whole tone of writing was obviously immature to some degree.

  5. Finally, some overlap in our reading lists! Yay! Something I read online made me realise that I needed to read these in small segments, just a couple at a time. If I hadn’t done that, I think I would have been really irked. As it was, I liked it, but I didn’t love it, and I haven’t recommended it to anyone since. Although I do love books about books, generally, and, sometimes, their bookishness can be enough to get me hooked. That wasn’t enough, in this case, and I think it’s because of that sense of trying-too-hard-ness; it felt like the marketing plan overshadowed the editorial process. Which is a shame, because I did get the sense that she is truly passionate about reading, somewhere underneath all the personality. I just didn’t feel like the book showed that off with a shine, more of a blinding gleam. Would you read another of hers?

    • Ha! I think you said it well, that there’s something important under all that personality. I don’t think I would rather more of hers, though I do wonder how she’d fare in fiction. There were parts of the book that drew me in, such as when she wrote about the coming-of-age novel by Judy Blume. Weirdly, she maintained an adult tone when discussing a teen book.

      • Oh – and I think she was mad for Jeffrey Eugenides, right? I’d had Middlesex on my TBR for years and snatched it up last month at last. So perhaps she did influence my reading after all, if it’s her enthusiasm for his writing which I am remembering now…

  6. Great review! And oh my word – I can’t imagine listening to that list section at the end of the book. It was difficult enough to get through with reading it! Listening to that section must’ve been awful. I was hoping that some pictures would’ve been added to the final version – I read an ARC of it, and sometimes those don’t have all the bells and whistles that the finished copy has.
    You made a great point about the shortness of the letters and how they worked well with audiobooks. One reason I haven’t yet picked up an audiobook is that I don’t generally have long sections of time where I can listen to something, so a book with short chapters like this would be good for me for an audiobook at some point!

    • I swear there used to be audiobooks that would make a boop sound at the end of a chapter so you could stop. Or maybe I’m thinking of projector slides with cassette audio? They would boop when you needed to move the slide forward.

  7. I listen to audiobooks constantly, after all my life is just one long commute. One of the many things that bug me is things that you can scan while reading but have to listen to word by word in audiobooks – an example is email headings, but lists are another. It seems to me that generally cds have 3 minute segments but mp3s have much longer, maybe 15 min. I’ve downloaded some books from net sites which seem to have no breaks at all, which will be a problem if the player goes back to the beginning after being switched off, which it does sometimes.

    • I’m so glad you mentioned that your life is one big commute because I wanted to ask you about your leg. Let me back up: I’ve been doing a 90 mile round-trip commute twice a week for two semesters now, and my left leg, the one that doesn’t push the pedals (I have no idea where the pedals are on Australian vehicles), is KILLING me. It almost feels like my hip is out of socket. Do I have trucker leg??

      And yes, I complete forgot about books with emails or even text messages. The narrator reads all the digital info that a reader doesn’t care a hoot about! Frustrating.

      • I think your vehicles and ours have their pedals in the same place – ie. right foot brake and accelerator, left foot clutch. Like you I drive an automatic so my left foot is idle. I’m guessing you probably have too much support under your thigh and not enough under your foot – I’ve found it needs to be firmly on the floor. Hope that helps.

  8. Ah, your reviews always make me smile. Even when you don’t enjoy a book, I enjoy the review. This one immediately caught my attention because of the title (what IS with those two colons?) and because it’s a book about books. Doesn’t sound like one I’d get much out of though.

  9. That’s a bummer. I have this on my TBR list and had high hopes for it. I LOVE books about books. I’ll still peruse it, I think, since you do recommend the first section. I can see how it wouldn’t make a good audio book. Have you read The Shelf: From LEQ to LES by Phyllis Rose? That’s a book about books I really enjoyed. Warm and witty observations about books from a single shelf chosen at the library, which the author works her way through.

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