The Bookshop on the Corner


I was looking forward to reading the hopeful story of a young woman who loses her job, takes a risk, and finds her way against all odds. Instead, this is a story of young woman who clears every hurdle with apparent ease because she is cute. This novel is the literary version of a Hallmark Channel movie. Some folks love Hallmark Channel movies and that is perfectly fine. I am not one of those folks and so I found this book frustrating which is also fine. Author Jenny Colgan has built a bestselling career out of writing novels of this style and cheers to her for that. There is an audience for this style of book, but I am not a part of it.

Nina Redmond is a young librarian who is kicked to the curb when her library branch in Birmingham, England is shuttered in favor of a new media center. Now jobless, she has to decide what to do. Nina is a book hoarder with stacks of books choking the pathways of her home and in this trait, I identified with Nina. However, her roommate has had it up to here with the clutter and demands Nina sort it out. Being an avid reader who loves the challenge of suggesting the perfect book for her library guests, Nina decides she will continue to pursue a book-related career and convert her collection of books into a bookshop. She buys a van (I am thinking this van is what we in America might call a box truck), converts the inside into a mobile bookshop , and moves to the Scottish Highlands to cater to the village folk who have not had access to a bookshop or library in many years. While I admired Nina's gumption, this is where the novel falls apart for me.

The entire venture is just too easy for Nina. She never seems to struggle. She says she is struggling, but we never see it. Her bank account is never in the red even after buying a van and moving to a new country. She finds her new residence without having to search or worry about being homeless and it isn't a drafty one room apartment above the pub. No, her new home is a barn that has just been converted into the perfect single lady's home with brand new appliances and 5-star-hotel-quality furnishings. And of course the owner is leasing it for well under market value. And of course the owner is a single, hunky Scottish farmer who harbors an attraction to Nina. I understand this is a fantasy novel, but for the love of books, let me see the hero on the brink of complete failure for a while before she triumphs. Make Nina have to take that cold and noisy room above the pub for a while and be hungry sometimes. Make Nina have to sleep in the truck a few nights and cry herself to sleep, frightened and alone, as she wonders if she has made an awful mistake. Let me see her go several days without a customer because she chose to settle in a small village with a limited customer population instead of what seems like every person in the village clawing at her truck for new books every day because they apparently have unlimited disposable income. Let me see her go from destitute to success through hard work and difficult trials. Instead she arrives in the storybook village, finds her awesome home, and is an instant success the moment she opens the bookshop to the public. The conflicts Nina does experience, some of which are subplots that are discarded without ceremony when the author or protagonist grows bored of them, are superficial compared to the conflicts she should have experienced to make this a journey a fulfilling adventure. 

I purchased this novel because I had just finished reading the challenging The Handmaid's Tale and needed a palette cleanser. While this was an easy read, it was not a satisfying one. I am glad that I expanded my horizons a bit with a genre I do not often touch, but as with each time I read one of these, I am reminded why I do not often read them.

Browse: The World in Bookshops


It is appropriate that I first saw a copy of Browse: The World in Bookshops in a brick-and-mortar bookshop as opposed to a retail dot com like Amazon. I have always loved bookshops. When I was old enough to leave the house on my own and possessed the means to locomote, I would pedal my bicycle to my local Bookstar and sit in the science fiction section, my saucer-wide eyes gazing up at names I would soon grow to love and respect: Bradbury, Gibson, Heinlein, Robinson. I was not yet old enough to have a job and thus did not have spending money so I just looked at these books and strategized which one I would buy first. I do not recall which one I had decided would be my first purchase and I doubt the one I had decided I wanted first ended up being the first book I bought with my own money. Those memories are inconsequential. The important memories are the ones of the bookshop itself. I ended up working at that bookshop during my university years and never tired of seeing kids walk into the shop, sit on the floor in the science fiction section for an hour, and then leave without buying anything. Those kids were me less than a decade earlier and I suspect a couple of those kids, or kids like them, replaced me when I stopped working at the bookshop.

Browse: The World in Bookshops is a collection of essays by sixteen different writers from around the world. I enjoyed all of the essays selected by editor Henry Hitchings with the exception of one piece that read like the script for a commercial. Some of the memories shared by the writers are happy, others are melancholy, and one is shocking and offensive (can you imagine the proprietor of a bookshop treating someone that way?), but all provide a wonderful view of the effect various international bookshops had on the writers who visited them. I am grateful to these writers for transporting me to their home bookshops of Egypt, Nairobi, and Colombia.

Each individual essay is short enough to be read in a single sitting if that is how you prefer to consume such content. As I have stated several times before, I am a slow reader but even I was able to complete this book in four sittings over the course of five days. I mention this only for those of you who, like me, are short on time and long on TBR.


To this day, when I visit a new city, I try to find a local bookshop. I am not always successful as the convenience of online shopping has had the same terrible effect on small bookshops all over the world, but my experiences in places like The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles, California or Shakespeare and Company in Paris, France (pictured left) are treasured memories. Visiting physical bookshops is important, I think. Libraries, too, though I must shamefully admit that I have paid little attention to my city's library branch. These places are not just about stacks of bound paper with words printed on them. I feel pretentious saying bookshops and libraries conjure fantasies of scholarly discussions, heated but respectful exchanges of conflicting ideas--such events do not seem to happen in bookshops today like they used to, or at least like the books I read claim used to happen--but that is how I feel when I enter a bookshop. Hallowed halls and whatnot. As convenient as online shopping is, I will always prefer spending a couple of hours browsing in person, papercuts and all.