Literary biography, literary criticism, and what I'll call memoirs about reading are probably the three most common kinds of books about books, and frankly, I have bones to pick with all of them. Let me clarify: There are good literary biographies out there and, if you look very hard (or maybe just stick with Leslie Fiedler), good criticism, too. I'm generalizing here. What else can you do in 550 words?
Most writers don't live particularly interesting lives, which leaves the door open for their biographers to pretend that minutiae equal substance. Literary criticism ceased being an engaging way to find connections between books and real life about the time of Matthew Arnold, and while there have been a few Arnoldian critics since then (Edmund Wilson, for example), the form has largely been annexed by academia and, thus, has drifted steadily into the deadly ether of postmodernism or structuralism or whatever we're currently calling what English professors do to get tenure. And, finally, the less said about memoirs celebrating reading the better. It's bad enough to have job applicants at Booklist tell you that they love books (a surefire way not to get hired, incidentally), but to be expected to read 300 pages about why some writer or intellectual loves books and why books give them such rich inner lives (far richer than yours) ... well, it's enough to make you swear off books altogether and take up reality television.
There is one kind of book about books, however, that I quite like because it combines reading with a road trip and thus takes the author out of full navel-gazing mode. Let's call them "literary stalking memoirs." They come in …