Shelf Control #76: The Bookshop on the Corner

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Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! Fore more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

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My Shelf Control pick this week is:

Title: The Bookshop on the Corner
Author: Jenny Colgan
Published: 2016
Length: 368 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

Nina Redmond is a literary matchmaker. Pairing a reader with that perfect book is her passion… and also her job. Or at least it was. Until yesterday, she was a librarian in the hectic city. But now the job she loved is no more.

Determined to make a new life for herself, Nina moves to a sleepy village many miles away. There she buys a van and transforms it into a bookmobile—a mobile bookshop that she drives from neighborhood to neighborhood, changing one life after another with the power of storytelling.

From helping her grumpy landlord deliver a lamb, to sharing picnics with a charming train conductor who serenades her with poetry, Nina discovers there’s plenty of adventure, magic, and soul in a place that’s beginning to feel like home… a place where she just might be able to write her own happy ending.

How I got it:

Bought it!

When I got it:

Last fall.

Why I want to read it:

I picked up a copy as soon as a bookish friend recommended it to me. Who doesn’t love a book about a bookshop? Bookstore settings are always such fun in fiction, even though they always make me rethink my life choices. Anyhoo… I bought this book as soon as my friend told me about it, and I’ve carted it around in my suitcase on a few different trips now — and somehow still haven’t actually started reading it. So even though The Bookshop on the Corner hasn’t been on my shelf for all that long, it’s one I really need to stop waiting on and just sit down and read — and therefore definitely deserves to be my Shelf Control pick this week.

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Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments!
  • If you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

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Book Review: The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend

Readers of Broken largeI’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.

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The details:

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

Book Review: The Moment of Everything

moment everythingHave we readers become a bunch of bookstore fetishists? How else to explain the popularity of the bookstore trope in contemporary fiction? You know what I mean — a main character who hits a roadblock with either relationships, career, or both, suddenly finds the key to happiness by working in (and reinvigorating) a dusty old bookshop. I feel like I keep seeing this pattern in books lately… not that that’s not my own personal fantasy!! Me, a bookstore, piles of books, a cup of coffee or two… bliss!

Author Shelly King addresses this idealization of bookstore ownership toward the end of her fine new novel, The Moment of Everything:

Bookstores are romantic creatures. They seduce you with their wares and break your heart with their troubles. All great readers fantasize about owning one. They think spending a day around all those books will be the great fulfillment of their passion.

Of course, she goes on to point out:

They don’t yet know about the sorting of what comes in, the tracking of what goes out, the backaches from carrying and shelving, and the little money that comes from any of it. All those readers just think about the wedding without giving much thought to the marriage. Books make for a heavy load, and there’s no getting around it.

What’s it all about? In The Moment of Everything, main character Maggie has come unmoored. After being laid off from the Silicon Valley tech company that she helped start, Maggie spends her days lounging in a big comfy chair at Dragonfly Books, consuming romance novels by the armload. She doesn’t really want to put any effort into a job search, and definitely doesn’t want her overbearing Southern mama to interfere either. Maggie coasts along, until the day she encounters a beat-up old copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and discovers love notes written in the book margins by two mysterious souls named Henry and Catherine.

Suddenly, Maggie has a mission. She decides to track down the book-loving lovers, using her best social media strategies, and coincidentally backs into a supposedly temporary job at Dragonfly. Meanwhile, she forms a family of sorts with store owner Hugo, a 50-something mellowed hippy, and Jason, her prickly coworker (and ardent D&D player, among his other nerdy habits). And then there’s sexy Rahjit, who breezes into Maggie’s life and may (or may not) have the key to her heart.

The Moment of Everything has romance, true, but it’s also about connections, friendship, and finding a place to belong. The weird and off-beat folks who prowl the Dragonfly stacks form a community of sorts. The more deeply involved Maggie becomes, the less appealing a return to a shiny corporate career seems. Ultimately, Maggie has to figure out what truly makes her happy — and that involves making decisions about work, love, family, and friends.

I enjoyed The Moment of Everything very much. True, I wasn’t particularly surprised by much that happens here. Wanna guess whether Maggie takes a new tech job or sticks with the bookstore? The romantic subplot takes a twist that I hadn’t seen coming, and that was probably the nicest unexpected element of the book — the fact that the Henry and Catherine mystery doesn’t have the neat and tidy answer that we’d most likely predict. (I did think the Lady Chatterley’s Lover piece of the story was mostly unnecessary; as plot device, it was a tad clunky at times.)

The writing is funny and fresh, with enough honesty to make even the more clichéd plot elements feel new and engaging. Even in the more serious or even sorrowful moments, the writing keeps it all human and down-to-earth — and in the lighter moments, the prose crackles with wit, humor, and unusual descriptions. Some prime examples:

I spotted Gloria’s porthole glasses scanning the titles as if we weren’t there, like one of those dinosaurs who could see you only if you moved.

 

I hooked my fingers into the neck of his T-shirt, pulled him to me, and kissed him. It was a soft thank-you kiss at first, full of a certain compatible comfort. But then there was more. We held each other tighter, leaning back on the ladder, and I felt my cells fly in the air like confetti.

 

Like everything in Avi’s home, the room felt feminine, but powerful. It was the room of a woman who knew exactly who she was and her place in the world. A chenille-covered Fortress of Fuck You. Someday, I told myself. Someday.

 

And finally, a long one but a good one, an ode to fanboys everywhere:

Because they actually did read the books they bought, instead of skimming over the trivial stuff and getting to the good parts like I did. They remembered impossibly complex names, alliances, languages, cultures, and family trees… They were in a constant search for that one, that special book that would satisfy their desire for mind-blowing plots, jaw-dropping wizardry, and emotional knife-twisting all at once. And when they found it they treated the author like a god, traveling across the country and sometimes oceans to attend conventions to meet anyone attached to the stories they loved. They lived in fear of  sequels being scrapped by the nonbelievers running the publishing houses, or the author dying before finishing the series. Laugh if you like. Call them pathetic even. But I’d like to see Jonathan Franzen inspire that kind of passion.

Do I recommend The Moment of Everything? Yes, absolutely. It’s a sweet and thoughtful contemporary romance with enough nitty-gritty, dusty book love thrown in to appeal to all book lovers… especially those who nurture that not-so-secret fantasy of quitting their day jobs and opening up a cute little used book store, preferably with a big comfy armchair and a cranky cat meandering through the stacks.

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The details:

Title: The Moment of Everything
Author: Shelly King
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication date: September 2, 2014
Length: 288 pages
Genre: Adult contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy via NetGalley

I take pictures in bookstores. Is that wrong?

I don’t think I’m doing anything wrong… and yet I find myself feeling like I need to either hide or defend my actions, which would seem to indicate a disturbance in my good-conscience field.

I guess I didn’t realize just how often I end up taking pictures of books in bookstores until I was doing some clean-up of the photos on my IPhone, and found just a staggering number of these:

 

paris wife invention frankenstein expeditioners dovekeepers buncle bday boys bananasscurvysylviahouse on fire

All photos taken by me, in various bookstores, over the course of a couple of weeks. Some for me, some for my grown-up daughter, some for my 10-year-old son.

So what’s the deal? Well, look, let’s accept the premise that we can’t all buy everything we want. Limited dollars, limited space, limited amounts of time in which to actually, you know, read books. So I go, I peruse, I browse, I skim. I rarely walk out of a bookstore empty-handed. But chances are, for every single book I buy, I can probably find at least ten more that I want.

In ancient days of yore (i.e., before I had a smart phone), I used to actually take notes. Like with a pen and piece of paper. Which often was a deposit slip torn out of the back of my checkbook. Which is the thing I used to carry around in my purse before electronic bill pay. Oooh, I am so going down a rabbit hole here.

Back to the here and now. Can I help it if it’s quicker and easier to take a pic instead of pawing through my bag for a real-live (well, inanimate, to be honest) writing implement?

Look, I go into a bookstore, I see stuff I want. And if I see stuff I want, I want to remember said stuff. And chances are I won’t, because there’s too much other stuff clogging up my brain’s hard-drive at the moment.

So I take pictures of the books I want to remember. Maybe I just want to look them up later on and get a better sense of whether they’re for me. Maybe I’ve never heard of the book, but hey! it’s blurbed by an author I like! Maybe it’s something that sounds like something I’ll want to read eventually… but I might not get to it this year – or next – or quite possibly the one after that.

So I take pictures. And maybe when I get home I’ll check to see if any of the books that caught my eye are available at the library. Or possibly, next time I’m in my local used bookstore, I’ll look at the pictures to see if I can find them on the shelves. Or perhaps I’ll just add the books to my Goodreads to-read shelf, and maybe not think about them again for a few months. And yes, there might be one or two that down the road, I end up ordering from Amazon.

I think the fact that I’m writing all this is a pretty strong indicator that I have mixed feelings about the matter. After all, I want brick-and-mortar bookstores to survive and thrive. I love being able to pop in, browse, see what’s out now, see what pretty or unusual covers catch my eye. But honestly, I’m just not going to spend a ton on any given bookstore visit… but I will (oh, 9 times out of 10) buy something.

I solemnly swear that I am not using the absolutely evil scan function on my Amazon app, which I believe only exists in order to tempt us to pick up a book in the bookstore, scan it, see how much cheaper it is on Amazon, and then walk out of the store and order it online. That’s just wrong.

For the record, most of the above photos were taken over the course of a single weekend spent on a little getaway with my daughter, who loves hanging out in bookstores just as much as I do. Some of the photos are for her, some for me. We visited about five bookstores during our weekend, during which I bought her one brand-new copy of The Hobbit, ten used books (everything from Isabel Allende to good old Tolstoy), and one used book for myself (Daphne du Maurier’s My Cousin Rachel). After the weekend, I sent two of the books pictured above to my daughter (via used bookstores), found used copies of a couple more for myself, and put in a request at the library for one more. As for the rest? I’d like to remember to come back to them at some point, but don’t need to read them right now.

So am I hurting bookstores by browsing a lot, buying a little, and taking lots of photos for future reference? Is this any different than my old habit of writing down zillions of book titles every time I’d enter a bookstore? I don’t think I’m causing any harm… but then why do I feel guilty?

Wishlist Wednesday

And now, for this week’s Wishlist Wednesday…

The concept is to post about one book from our wish lists that we can’t wait to read. Want to play? Here’s how:

  • Follow Pen to Paper as host of the meme.
  • Please consider adding the blog hop button to your blog somewhere, so others can find it easily and join in too! Help spread the word! The code will be at the bottom of the post under the linky.
  • Pick a book from your wishlist that you are dying to get to put on your shelves.
  • Do a post telling your readers about the book and why it’s on your wishlist.
  • Add your blog to the linky at the bottom of the post at Pen to Paper.
  • Put a link back to pen to paper (http://vogue-pentopaper.blogspot.com) somewhere in your post.
  • Visit the other blogs and enjoy!

My Wishlist Wednesday book is:

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

From Amazon:

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is an old school mystery set firmly in tech-loving, modern day San Francisco. Clay Jannon (former web designer) lands a job at a bookstore with very few patrons and even fewer purchases. His curiosity leads him to the discovery of a larger conspiracy at play, one exciting enough to rope in his best friend (CEO at a startup) and love interest (works at Google). As Clay and company unravel the puzzles of Mr. Penumbra’s book shop, the story turns into a sort of nerdy heist, with real-life gadgets, secret societies, and a lot of things to say about the past, present, and future of reading. Sloan originally self-published Mr. Penumbra as a short story through Kindle Direct Publishing, before expanding it to its current form with a traditional print publisher–a fitting trajectory for a fast, fun story that has so wholly and enthusiastically embraced the tension between the digital and analog books.

Why do I want to read this?

Because it sounds wacky and exciting and it fits (I think) into one of my favorite categories: books about books! The fact that it’s described as a “nerdy heist” won me over immediately, and I love that it has to do with the “past, present, and future of reading”. All that, plus a San Francisco setting, makes this a book I’d love to dive into.

Has anyone read it yet? What did you think?

Quick note to Wishlist Wednesday bloggers: Come on back to Bookshelf Fantasies for Flashback Friday! Join me in celebrating the older gems hidden away on our bookshelves. See the introductory post for more details, and come back this Friday to add your flashback favorites!