I’m guessing that anyone who writes or reads book blogs has a special warm and fuzzy place in their heart for books about bookstores. If that sounds like you, then you’ll need to make room for one more! The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend fits snugly alongside other “books about books”, and is a lovely example of a book that true booklovers will want to hug.
The town of Broken Wheel, Iowa is… well… broken. Hard times have driven out most businesses and bankrupted family farms. Main Street is full of boarded-up, empty shops, and the only school in town has long since closed. All this changes when Swedish tourist Sara Lindqvist shows up. Sara had been corresponding regularly with town elder Amy Harris for years, meeting first through their shared love of books, but developing a friendship and trust through their letters that culminates in Amy inviting Sara for a visit. Sadly, Sara arrives in Broken Wheel on the day of Amy’s funeral, but the townsfolk seem curiously insistent that she stay, as Amy would have wished.
Sara moves into Amy’s home, and is astounded to find that no one in Broken Wheel will let her pay for anything. At a loss as to how to repay their kindness, Sara realizes two important things: First, that Amy has thousands of books in her house. And second, that the people of Broken Wheel don’t seem to be readers… which shocks bookworm Sara to the core of her book-loving soul. So Sara comes up with an idea of how to repay Broken Wheel. She’ll clean up an abandoned storefront owned by Amy, set up a bookshop with Amy’s books (and using her own money to fill in the gaps), and will spread the joy of books and reading to all the lonely and disappointed souls of Broken Wheel.
Listen, if you’re a booklover, I’ve probably already convinced you that this is a book you need to read! Need more? I’ll keep going.
What did I enjoy about The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend? Let’s see.
Characters: The town of Broken Wheel is full of odd and quirky characters, and they come splendidly to life in this book. Sara herself is a shy, lonely young woman who really has nothing to go back to Sweden for. She’s not used to being sought out or admired, and being the sudden center of attention is a dramatic eye-opener for her. There’s Grace, descended from a line of Graces, who totes a rifle and sees herself as the town outsider, without admitting to herself just how deeply invested in the town she is. There’s Andy, who runs the only bar in town with his “special friend”, the outrageously attractive Carl. There’s George, a recovering alcoholic who finally starts finding hope again through Sara, her books, and the interconnectedness of the town. Caroline, a starchy, proper churchlady, comes surprisingly alive again once exposed to Sara’s books and the interest of a younger man. There are plenty more, but I’ll let you have the pleasure of discovering them on your own.
Of course, with books, you could have greater confidence that it would all end well. You worked through the disappointments and the complications, always conscious, deep down, that Elizabeth would get her Mr. Darcy in the end. With life, you couldn’t have the same faith. But sooner or later, she reminded herself, surely someone you could imagine was your Mr. Darcy would turn up.
Though that was assuming you were one of the main characters.
Writing: Debut author Katarina Bivald has a light and humorous touch, capturing people’s inner struggles and worries yet conveying even the sadness with a sense of honesty and hope. I love the way she captures the souls of people who love books — for example, this bit from one of Amy’s letters:
I can’t for the life of me explain why I have the bad sense to prefer people [over books]. If you went purely by numbers, then books would win hands down. I’ve loved maybe a handful of people in my entire life, compared with tens or maybe even hundreds of books (and here I’m counting only those books I’ve really loved, the kind that make you happy just to look at them, that make you smile regardless of what else is happening in your life, that you always turn back to like an old friend and can remember exactly where you first “met” them — I’m sure you know just what I’m talking about). But that handful of people you love… they’re surely worth just as much as all of those books.
The bookstore: Sara decides that the standard bookstore signage — fiction, non-fiction, etc. — just won’t cut it if she really wants to reach the people of Broken Wheel. Sara ends up setting up her bookstore with sections such as “Sex, Violence, and Weapons”, “Short But Sweet”, “For Friday Nights and Lazy Sundays”, “Gay Erotica” (more or less on a dare, but with surprising results), and “Warning: Unhappy Endings”.
If more bookshop owners had taken the responsibility to hang warning signs, her life would have been easier. Cigarette packets came with warnings, so why not tragic books? There was wording on bottles of beer warning against drinking and driving, but not a single word about the consequences of reading books without tissues to hand.
Love: In a way, Readers is a love story — the story of how an entire town fell in love with a newcomer in their midst, and how she fell right back in love with all of them. Beyond that, there are romances and relationships, not candy-coated or overly sentimental, but simply people with hopes and dreams, with disappointments and heartaches in their pasts, who find one another — for friendship, companionship, love, or lust — in all sorts of unusual ways that end up feeling just so right.
“If you don’t marry her, she’ll have to leave. And she got me a book!”
Plot: The plot of Readers is fairly simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s not engaging. There are no huge surprises here — outsider arrives, changes the people around her, gives them new lease on life, etc — but it’s still charming to see it all unfold.
The author just gets readers: A major theme of Readers is how books change lives, in big and little ways. People end up with books that they might never have thought of trying, but there’s always something that rubs off, some way that a person ends up changed or enriched or bothered, that leaves a person just slightly different from how they were before reading that book. It’s such fun to see how Sara finds people just the right book to touch them, and then to realize how some of those same books have affected me in ways similar and different.
“Can you smell it? The scent of new books. Unread adventures. Friends you haven’t met yet, hours of magical escapism awaiting you.”
Plus, this priceless sentiment from Sara struck an absolute nerve with me and perfectly sums up why I don’t commit to reading challenges:
If you were someone who spent the vast majority of your time with books, then at the very least you should have read the Nobel Prize winners and the classics, as well as all those books people talked about but had never actually read, as Mark Twain might have put it. She had thrown herself into one ambitious reading project after another, but things had rarely gone according to plan. It was boring to think of books as something you should read just because others had, and besides, she was much too easily distracted. There were far too many books out there to stick to any sort of theme.
I’ve seen this book described as perfect for people who loved The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry (review) and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society — and considering that I loved both of those and love Readers, I think it’s an apt description!
The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend is a quiet, sweet, quirky, and thoughtful book about people, community, books, and the way they all come together. Absolutely recommended for anyone who is passionate about books — who enjoys reading about books almost as much as actually reading books.
Title: The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend
Author: Katarina Bivald
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Publication date: January 19, 2016
Length: 400 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of Sourcebooks Landmark