Books Set in a World Without Books

Posted by Danielle Mohlman

It’s National Read A Book Day and we’re grateful for a world full of literature. Think about it: if we really wanted to we could run to the library after work, or pop into a bookstore on our lunch break. And if you’re reading this right now, chances are you have a TBR pile on your nightstand and unread books on your bookshelf. The printed world is everywhere! But imagine a world without books. Today, we’re exploring books, both fiction and non-fiction, that bring this concept to the forefront. Read on!



The Giver by Lois Lowry

We remember the exact moment we read The Giver for the first time. Seventh grade and you’re starting to explore really complex issues in Language Arts class. The characters in The Giver only see in black and white. Okay, weird. But easy enough to wrap your head around. And then you get to the part where you realize that there aren’t any books in this world. But how’s that possible? You’re reading about this in a book! Today we’re recommending a reread of this incredibly influential YA novel. It’s a masterpiece—and that much more thought provoking as an adult.



Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

A book about book burning is enough to make us break out in hives, but Ray Bradbury’s classic novel about censorship and the extremes we go to in order to silence challenging ideas is nothing short of incredible. Plus the play on words is so smart. Firemen? Who set fires? We don’t want to live in this dystopia, but we’re happy to be literary tourists. Because at the end of the day, we know that books still exist. We’re reading one right now, aren’t we?



The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

We’re all watching the incredibly rendered and viscerally disturbing Hulu adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale, but we still really want to talk about it. Over the course of this novel, we learn just how Offred lost the rights to her life, her body, and her future. And it starts with small, annoying things. Like the fact that her finances now belong to her husband. And then things escalate. And reading becomes forbidden. And before you know it, she’s performing the ceremony at a stranger’s house—and she can’t escape. Atwood’s masterful stripping away of power feels like a cautionary tale and an imagined history all rolled into one. Because once knowledge is taken away, what do we have left?



Educated by Tara Westover

It’s not a world completely without books, but we’d be remiss if we left Tara Westover’s brilliant memoir off our list. In a slow reveal that doesn’t quite coalesce until Tara goes to college, we learn that the only books in her home growing up were the Book of Mormon and The Bible. An occasional text book is mentioned, but the history books stopped at the founding fathers, and does reading an Algebra book really count as reading? As a result, Tara learned late in life about the existence of Martin Luther King, the Civil Rights movement, the Holocaust. And this was in the United States in the '90s.


Want to support literary causes? First Book helps get books into classrooms and Freedom to Read protects libraries’ first amendment right to collect and distribute information.