Review of The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

📖 I decided last year to try to push myself to read more classic literature as although I read in quite a variety of genres, I do tend to stick with mostly modern writers (although To Kill a Mockingbird is still an all-time favourite, as is Rebecca). This little book was sitting in the library looking up at me and with a brief read of the cover, I thought I would give it a go.

Cover – The Bookshop



✍️ Penelope Fitzgerald was an English novelist, poet, essayist and biographer. In 2008, The Times included her in a list of “The 50 greatest British writers since 1945”. This book was Penelope Fitzgerald’s second novel, and was her first to be shortlisted for the Booker Prize.

🗣 I often think it’s useful to see an extract of a book to get an idea of the writing style. Here is a brief extract so that you can see a sample of the writing yourself:

She drove back one morning from Flintmarket to find the premises full of twelve- and thirteen-year-old boys in blue jerseys. They were Sea Scouts, they told her.
‘How did you get in?’
‘Mr Raven got the key from the plumber,’ said one of the children, square and reliable as a straw-bale.
‘He’s not your skipper, is he?’
‘No, but he told us to come over to yours. What do you want doing?’

👓 This book is primarily told from the point of Florence Green. A widow, who against the advice of most of those she knows, opens a bookshop in a small town. The town is virtually cut off from the outside world and Florence hopes that the bookshop will both bring the community together and bring a bit of worldview as she brings in books from published books from further afield.

👫 Initially Florence gains some support and even trains a young, streetwise girl to become her assistant but as is always the case with small towns, there are several busybodies but in Florence’s case, from the outset, there are those determined that her bookshop will not succeed.

💔 Any Negatives: I’m really perplexed reviewing this book. It has a bookshop (always a win), the writing evokes the time period and location very well, and I did like Florence. However the book itself feels very slow-moving (despite being a rather short book), and without giving any spoilers, I hated the ending which left me feeling very flat and as if I had trudged through the previous pages pointlessly. I am intrigued to see the movie and see if it brings more positivity to this story.

💭 Overall View: Perhaps I was expecting too much from this little book, sacrilege to all bookworms but I am holding out hope that the movie overshadows it.

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The Book Shop

Following a recent Facebook post (yes, I know not the most obvious place for inspiration), it got me thinking of something I am sure all book lovers still love – the bookshop!

 

I am an ultimate kindle lover – the fact that I can instantly download any book that I fancy, anytime, anywhere and that I can have hundreds of books at once is just heaven to me. But there is still a few book cravings a kindle can’t satisfy. I for one still love a book-shop! It is an Aladdin’s cave of treasures waiting to be discovered.

book smell

No.1 – has been and always will be – the smell of books. I can’t imagine anyone who does not love that smell. I even love it with new notebooks, diaries etc. A book shop should – smell of books and furniture polish.

 

No.2 – Furniture – somewhere to sit. Doesn’t need to be somewhere fancy with a coffee or a cuppa but some comfy chairs to have a browse through the books I am considering buying. This is especially important to me when looking through research books, which can often be big and bulky and therefore not easy to navigate through more and one and compare them whilst standing. A table beside the chairs would also be nice. This again is purely selfish but if I have a big selection of books then a table – with room on it, not packed with display books – to stack my selection on or to open them on would be a great help.

 

No.3 – Staff – Staff should as a minimum enjoy reading, and ideally be well read or at least willing to try and be well-read. By well-read I mean across genre’s. Think of the Apple Genius Bar for books – they might not know about everything but know where to start looking. I do value staff recommendations and think this is one area where amazon and similar companies fail – the recommended for you function isn’t great and there is no real explanation of why these are recommended (because you have bought X doesn’t help).

 

No.4 – Genre’s – Simple one really I like my bookshop to give me the opportunity to discover something new. I like quite a range of books from horror, historical fiction, fantasy, thriller, classical. Basically, if it’s a good story I will read it, regardless of author, writing style, time period. I love being immersed in the story and that is the basis of everything fiction that I read. However one of my main uses of bookshops now is reference books, this is where a range is such a benefit and beats online hands down. Being able to look through the books to see if the data you require is in there and to compare details between two or three books before deciding which to buy is fantastic. Although specialist genre shops are interesting.. they can feel tourist-y and although I’ll happily have a browse I know up-front what to expect so don’t get pulled into the treasure hunt that is the bookshop.

 

So with all that said what is the future for “the bookshop” –

I still think there is a place for bookshops but a few tweaks are needed.

For example a bookstore should become an active part of the community, Facebook and the like are perfect for this. Find out what people are reading and talking about. Bring the book clubs in store, find titles that are related to their books, ask them to contribute to reader recommendation section in store or online. Bring in local authors to talk about the craft. Host workshops to write, or bind a book. Tips on making a journal or starting a writing blog.

 

I would also like to see bookstore’s advance with technology. I was once in a music store which had a computer set-up for users which had a “what’s this track” button on the screen. Basically, the music playing in the store would be published behind this button, why can’t the same be done with audio-books, think BBC 4, snippets of a story playing quietly in the back-ground, and the story changing every half hour or hour? The power of advertising is undisputed.

 

Long live the book shop!