Martin Mull is generally credited with the now classic line that writing about music is “like dancing about architecture.” And we have E.B. White to thank for warning us that analyzing comedy is like dissecting a frog, in that you might learn something but the frog tends to die in the process. But dissected frogs are killed before the scalpel comes around, and I’d truly love to see a great choreographer take on the Chrysler Building or Louis Kahn. And I love reading about wine.

Wine is so wrapped up in the history of civilization, so illustrative, so suggestive, that to participate in it without reading about it is incomplete, a failure to meet wine’s demands. Wine’s power arises from its nexus of effects: physical and physiological, yes, but emotional and intellectual too. I have little patience for willful “I-know-what-I-like” deflection of the forces at play. Good books about wine are as important as glassware.

Wine books found me early, long before I thought about writing about wine myself. Knowing how certain wines came to be, who made them, their history, their cultural background, why one great wine can be so different from another – these all seemed crucial components of wine itself. And impossible for the liquid in the glass, by itself, to teach, or for you, on your own, to learn. There is simply too much to know, to feel, to do, to ask, to hear.

Usually this column is some sort of entreaty to pay heed to a wine you may have missed. Today’s column is about books instead of bottles, but with the same intent: to avoid complacency, remain unsettled, consider anew, to flesh out your personal relationship with wine.

There are hundreds of great books on wine, and no way for a list of suggestions to be comprehensive, or even fair. What I’d like to provide here is a personalized list of wine books that have mattered to me, and continue to matter. Some of them might prove useful to you, but beyond the specific titles I’ve laid out various categories worth considering.

One needs an overview, a function that Karen MacNeil’s “The Wine Bible” has served for me. A new edition is due this fall, much needed, not due to shortcomings in the original work but because of the radical shifts and expansions in the world of wine since it was published. My 2001 version limps on, torn and tattered, pithily and even-handedly providing basic information on viticulture, winemaking, world wine regions and styles, and practical suggestions for storage, tasting, understanding labels and much more. The intention is breadth, not depth. Use it as a springboard.

We all stand in awe of “The World Atlas of Wine,” now in its seventh edition by the originator, Hugh Johnson, and his colleague the indefatigable Jancis Robinson. But just because this coffee-table tome is impressive, impeccably researched, ecumenical in manner and lavishly illustrated with extraordinary photography and mind-expanding maps doesn’t mean it’s not pure joy just to read. Johnson and Robinson are both charming British stylists of the best sort, capturing in an illuminated line or two a kernel of truth it takes mere mortals pages to stumble toward.

“The World Atlas of Wine” establishes incontestably wine’s primary role as messenger of place; the secular god of geography, geology, meteorology, climate. Any time I’m interested in a wine, I turn to the atlas and am immediately transported past that wine to its home, its actual reason for existing. The only problem with the book is how desperately it makes you want to leave home immediately and visit every vineyard on the planet.

Both the “Bible” and the “Atlas” cover a lot of ground, and their focus is on information. Information is but a means, though, to deepening the strong feelings wine generates. Too many people confuse the means for the end. From novices overwhelmed by the infinite choices they’d like to constrain to geeky somms looking to one-up their colleagues or impress their clients, the fetishization of information is rampant in the wine world. The goal shouldn’t be to stiffen your brain, but rather to awaken your tongue and set your heart beating faster.

Eric Asimov’s “How to Love Wine,” its title a brilliantly ironic riposte to those who would try to encapsulate this liquid in didactic oversimplification, is about how wine stirs the soul. Part personal memoir, part exhortation to throw your heart into the ring and stop both the egotism and the worry, this book keeps me (trying to be) honest.

Terry Theise’s “Reading Between the Wines” is another inspiring paean to wine’s blood, wine’s poetry. For Theise even more than Asimov, the stakes are life or death. Some of the wax in his florid phraseology melts as he flies too close to the sun, and you may roll an eye or two along the way. You may argue as you read. But you will never be less than scintillated.

I didn’t quite need to be taught to love wine, but I did need reminding of why it matters so deeply, and why it’s worth fighting for, arguing about, devoting time and money to. Theise’s book brings me there.

Speaking of things worth fighting for, how about planet Earth? I regularly tussle with how wine affects and is affected by energy usage, sustainability, economics and health, and a number of books tackle such topics head-on. Alice Feiring, like so many engaging wine people, a bookish kid who got waylaid by the Loire on the way to a Proust dissertation, has made what some people call “the natural wine movement” her central field of inquiry.

Her book, “Naked Wine: Letting Grapes Do What Comes Naturally,” is thrilling, informative, maddening and a terrific mini-history of the dramatic reaction, still playing out today, to 20th-century industrialized winemaking. It’s so right at times and yet so childishly subjective and narrow-minded at others, which is a great thing for a book to be. It’s a book to pump your fist to one moment, then throw across the room the next.

If you read it and don’t feel pulled ineluctably into one of the great philosophical battles of our time, you’ve got cold craft cocktail running through your veins instead of wine.

After you read Feiring, read Clark Smith’s “Postmodern Winemaking: Rethinking the Modern Science of an Ancient Craft.” Smith is a winemaker as well as a professor with a background in chemistry. His book is the most original, provocative, courageous and nuanced book on how wine actually gets made that I’ve ever come across. It shows that a great wine requires both creativity and flexibility on one hand, and a scientifically informed knowledge base on the other.

Smith’s thesis, conveyed with surprising wit and charm, is that wines of power, mystique and humanity come about through work and intention rather than either laissez-faire romanticism or over-reliance on modern technology. The book will forever smudge the lines you’ve drawn between art and science, and stop your pining for a world that never was.

If you like your science chillingly stripped down and illusion-free, read François Chartier’s “Taste Buds and Molecules: The Art and Science of Food, Wine and Flavor.” Chartier has worked with Ferran Adriá and Juli Soler, best known for revolutionizing cuisine at El Bulli in Catalonia. He demystifies the actual ways flavors interact, and comes up with shockingly successful food/wine pairings you’d never have thought of. A full-on molecular gastronomist has much to play with here, but so does the ordinary home cook and interested diner, who will emerge equipped with an entirely new way of tasting, smelling, cooking, perceiving.

Lastly, don’t neglect obsessiveness. Find some wine category you love – Burgundy, sherry, viognier, the Savoie, Lodi, Cava – and then track down the book (there is one) written strictly for the obsessive few who share your insanity. Of course, online can steer you.

The most obvious example for me is Stuart Pigott’s “Best White Wine on Earth: The Riesling Story.” Page after binging page of facts, travelogue, asides, encomia, interviews … all about the only wine grape of any importance whatsoever.

Please do go nuts. Nuts lights you on fire and reshapes the life you lead. So read a lot, but then stop. Read books that have nothing to do with wine, and discover the thrilling ways in which those texts, too, will begin to change how you drink, what you drink, and what you make of it all.

Joe Appel is the Wine Buyer at Rosemont Market. He can be reached at:

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