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The Bookshop on the Corner: 12 Novels about Bookstores

Sometimes—way too often, these days—reality is just, well, too real. So into these beckoning pages I retreat. Novels about bookstores are ultra-alluring, since the possibility of escapist respite is virtually limitless. To follow are a dozen recent titles celebrating those literary havens, linked to their Booklist reviews.

 

The Bookseller, by Cynthia Swanson

Before Julia Roberts debuts her Hollywood adaptation, check out this well-loved novel about a Denver bookstore. A self-described “old maid,” Kitty Miller co-owns the Sisters’ Bookshop with her best friend Frieda, and most of the time she’s fine with her “usual old-maid-reading-and-going-to-bed-early routine.” One night, she wakes up to the gentle voice of a strange man in her bed, urging her to answer the needy request of a little girl down the hall. In Kitty’s dream-world, she’s Katharyn Andersson, wife to Lars and stay-at-home mother to their triplets. Waking or slumbering, the details of both lives are equally vivid—but only one can be real. . . right?

 

 

 

The Bookshop on the Corner, by Jenny Colgan

Thanks to funding cuts, social media literacy demands, and ubiquitous downsizing—real-life challenges that threaten UK libraries—Nina Redmond is no longer a Birmingham librarian. Determined to practice her bookish matchmaking skills, she treks to the Scottish Highlands and decides to “buy a van and sell books out in the wild.” She rents a renovated barn from a curmudgeonly farmer and settles in the tiny village of Kirrinfief. A literary train engineer catches her fancy, and she finds an unlikely assistant in an angry young teen. . . but you can’t always judge a book by its cover.

 

The Bookshop at Water’s End, by Patti Callahan Henry

Despite the “Coastal Theme overload” that defines the main street of Watersend, South Carolina, “Title Wave” will prove to be quite the illuminating bookshop. Two “Summer Sisters” return to the vacation house their families shared decades ago. Bonny, now an ER doctor forced to take a break, needs to figure out what do about her bitter marriage and stalled career. She’s hoping her teenage daughter, who’s just failed freshman-year college, might find some direction while she’s at it. Famous artist Lainey, the other Summer Sister, arrives with her two young kids, but Lainey is reluctant to return to the place where she last saw her mother, who disappeared some forty years ago. “Sometimes we tell our stories and sometimes our stories tell us,” bookshop owner Mimi intones; this summer, the stories will finally lead to the truth.

 

The Cemetery of Forgotten Books: The Shadow of the Wind, The Angel’s Game, The Prisoner of Heaven, The Rose of Fire, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, translated by Lucia Graves

For lucky Spanish readers, the fourth and final volume of Zafón’s tetralogy—The Labyrinth of the Spiritshits shelves November 16! Anglophone groupies must wait for the translation, coming in 2018. Readers unfamiliar with the utterly spectacular series (Shadow, Angel, Prisoner are novels, “Rose” is a prequel short story) have two suggested reading paths while waiting:

  1. Read in publishing order: ShadowAngel, “Rose,” Prisoner.
  2. Or, chronologically by narrative: “Rose,” AngelShadowPrisoner.

For newbies, might I suggest option 2—why know more before you need to? Let “Rose” explain the 15th-century origins of the titular Cemetery of Lost Books, and introduce the literary Sempere family; the Barcelona-based Cemetery and the Semperes appear in each volume. Fast forward to the 1920s in Angel’s Game: writer David Martín survives a brutal childhood during which Sempere & Sons bookshop was his only refuge. He initially writes newspaper articles about grisly murders, then moves to his own horrific fiction published under a pseudonym. When the single title that bears his true name is ignominiously dismissed, he begins to write a new book in fulfillment of a shockingly lucrative foreign publishing contract. Then the real-life murders begin. . . and multiply.

Almost three decades later, The Shadow of the Wind finds Sempere son Daniel on a quest of his own. After discovering Julián Carax’s novel of the same name, Daniel learns that his is one of the last Carax copies in the world. Someone is burning every Carax title, so Daniel decides he’s going to find Carax himself. The Prisoner of Heaven opens a few years later with Daniel now a husband and father. Although Daniel has never doubted close friend and employee Fermín Romero de Torres’ love and loyalty to the Sempere family, he’s understandably shaken when a wealthy customer is revealed to be using Fermín’s own name. The real—but is he?—Fermín’s confession returns David Martín to the page, revealing a multi-layered past Daniel never knew he had. Meanwhile, literature literally saves lives, from Great Expectations to The Count of Monte Cristo; the 2013 paperback version of Prisoner even includes a “P.S.” section that ends with Zafón’s own eclectic list of “Dead Fellows You Should See and Read Frequently,” from Brontë to Faulkner to Dos Passos.

 

Haunting Jasmine, by Anjali Banerjee

What better way to get over a broken heart than moving into a bookstore, filled not only with fabulous books but a few wise (and dead) writers? About-to-be-divorced Jasmine heads home to Shelter Island in the Pacific Northwest, where she’s agreed to watch Auntie Ruma’s bookstore for a month. Meanwhile, the locals seem to know too much about her, the shop’s only employee is less than patient, and a mysterious stranger is a bit too bold! With books glowing or tumbling off shelves, how will Jasmine survive a whole month?

 

 

 

 

How to Find Love in a Bookshop, by Veronica Henry

Nightingale Books turns out to be lonely hearts central for lost souls. Emilia Nightingale inherits the literary haven after her father’s death, which means the villagers are part of her inheritance, including a klepto new mother, a trying-not-to-be-a-deadbeat dad, a would-be chef, a renowned conductor and his temperamental girlfriend, and even her father’s married lover. Emilia’s father’s antiquated business practices have just about wrung the coffers dry, but clever, caring Emilia just might maneuver a few happy endings.

 

Last Night’s Reading: Illustrated Encounters with Extraordinary Authors, by Kate Gavino

A New Yorker by way of Texas, Gavino attends author readings in New York “and even New Jersey.” While some might go seeking “an autograph. . . free food” or “to schmooze,” Gavino goes “to observe and draw.” Her literary outings are pithily encapsulated into cartoon-like portraits paired with favorite quotes from the evening. Lucky are these “extraordinary authors” who get Gavino-ed!

 

 

 

 

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore, by Matthew Sullivan

Once upon a time, Lydia and Raj were childhood best friends. Then Carol makes Raj a third wheel—at least until she’s brutally murdered, along with her parents, by the Hammerman. Lydia, in Carol’s house that night for a sleepover, survives by hiding under the kitchen sink. Two decades later, Lydia faces another horrific death: the hanging suicide of one of the regular patrons of the Bright Ideas Bookstore, where she’s been working. Lydia finds Joey’s body; in his pocket, she discovers a photo from her tenth birthday, which also happens to include Raj and Carol. How it got there is a mystery Lydia can’t ignore. Answers appear in books—Joey’s books, in which he’s left desperate, complicated cut-out messages to be meticulously, ingeniously solved.

 

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

Clay, a jobless web designer, gets hired to work the night shift at the titular bookstore which is—not surprisingly—not like any bookstore. It turns out to be “two stores in one,” comprised of the “more-or-less normal bookstore” in front, and the “Waybacklist” with volumes no reader will ever find on any Google search. That the latter titles are off-limits make them irresistible and, using wayhightech-enhancements, Clay stumbles on a literary mystery that will require his CEO entrepreneur best friend’s money and his Google maybe-girlfriend’s connections to track and decipher cryptic rituals on the other side of the country. Once the code gets cracked, readers should check out the companion “codex vitae” that is Ajax Penumbra 1969.

 

 

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend, by Katarina Bivald, translated by Alice Menzies

At 28, Sara Lindqvist has more literary friends than real. She arrives in Iowa from Sweden, expecting to spend a few weeks with Amy Harris, an older woman with whom she’s exchanged three years of intimate letters and books. Alas, she’s arrived too late: Amy has died. To the good citizens of Broken Wheel, Sara is initially “the tourist,” until she slowly becomes a part of Amy’s fold. In a surprising decision to repay the townsfolk for their kindness, Sara honors her lost friend with an unusual bookstore, from which she carefully matches favorite titles with readers who need them most.

 

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry, by Gabrielle Zevin

Okay, I admit it: Fikry is THE bookstore book by which I remain most charmed—so much so that readers should really discover it, as I did, without knowing too much. How little can I tell you? Fikry’s recently lost his wife to a car accident, and is not far from losing Island Books, which they owned together. He’s an almost-alcoholic, he’s especially rude to a certain publishing sales rep, and his most valuable book gets stolen. And then suddenly, a baby with a note turns up to change Fikry’s life forever. (Any sappy hints are on me.) Zevin’s wit, smarts, humor, and snark prove irresistible.

 

 

 

 Words in Deep Blue, by Cath Crowley

The book’s intended audience is young adults, but even jaded old folks can thoroughly enjoy this clever, rather stupendous love story. Howling Books is home to the Letter Library, a unique book collection in which lovers and strangers write notes, comments, and rants to one another on the actual pages or choose to tuck letters within. Before she moved, Rachel left a love letter / confession to her best friend Henry—whose family owns Howling Books—to which he never replied. During her three years away, Rachel’s brother died, and her life fell apart. Now her mother’s sent Rachel back to their old town. Forced to work together in the bookstore, the ex-BFFs finally have the opportunity to hopefully rewrite a few wrongs.

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hong.terry@gmail.com'

About the Author:

Terry Hong created and maintains Smithsonian BookDragon, a book blog for the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center. She was the writer wrangler for the film Girl Rising. She taught for Duke University’s Leadership in the Arts in NYC. She co-authored two books, Eastern Standard Time: A Guide to Asian Influence on American Culture from Astro Boy to Zen Buddhism and What Do I Read Next? Multicultural Literature. She reviews extensively for many publications. Follow her on Twitter at @SIBookDragon.

2 Comments on "The Bookshop on the Corner: 12 Novels about Bookstores"

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  1. csimeti@greatnecklibrary.org' Cindy says:

    Thank you for the list, these sound amazing! I enjoyed ‘Storied Life of A.J. Fikry’ towards the end and look forward to putting these other titles on my reserves list :). Another classic bookstore book that I recommend (also as an ode to early 20th century Brooklyn) is Christopher Morley’s ‘Parnassus on Wheels’ and ‘The Haunted Bookshop’. I don’t remember who exactly referred me to these books but I’m glad I gave them a read!

    • hong.terry@gmail.com' Terry Hong says:

      Awww, shucks. Thank you! Glad you enjoyed Fikry, too! Am looking forward to Zevin’s latest, YOUNG JANE YOUNG. My ‘mission’ for this piece was to stick to the more recent titles — post 2010-ish. The Cemetery series is older, but is included because the fourth and final is FINALLY coming out and, oh goodness, just can’t wait. I just checked out your two Morley titles from the library (to stick in the ears — I tend to get to books faster that way these days). Thanks muchly for sharing your recommendations. And thanks so much for taking the time to comment!

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