Literary Places and Classic Titles – travel the world from your armchair
Five great books set in bookshops
29th January 2019
Five great books set in bookshops is the latest in our ‘Five great books…’ series.
If you’ve found your way here, you’re probably already a fan of bookshops. Here are just a few titles from the TripFiction database that are set in these magical havens of bookish beauty. Some you might have guessed at, but hopefully a couple of the books below might just surprise and delight you….
The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald – set in SUFFOLK
This, Penelope Fitzgerald’s second novel, was her first to be shortlisted for the Booker Prize. It is set in a small East Anglian coastal town, where Florence Green decides, against polite but ruthless local opposition, to open a bookshop. ‘She had a kind heart, but that is not much use when it comes to the matter of self-preservation.’
Hardborough becomes a battleground, as small towns so easily do. Florence has tried to change the way things have always been done, and as a result, she has to take on not only the people who have made themselves important, but natural and even supernatural forces too. This is a story for anyone who knows that life has treated them with less than justice.
84 Charing Cross Road by Helen Hanff – set in LONDON
This is a series of letters charting the twenty-year correspondence between Hanff, searching for books which she could not find in her homeland, and Frank Doel, a London antiquarian bookseller.
A unique and touching exchange, the friendship blossoms, but Hanff never manages a visit to the UK. Both funny and sad, it reveals innate characters, beautifully narrated, separated by an ocean.
Severina by Rodrigo Rey Rosa – set in GUATEMALA
A new translation of the Guatemalan author whom Roberto Bolano called “the most rigorous writer of my generation, the most transparent…the most luminous of all.”
“Right from the start I picked her for a thief, although that day she didn’t take anything…I knew she’d be back,” the narrator/bookseller of Severina recalls in this novel’s opening pages. Imagine a dark-haired book thief as alluring as she is dangerous. Imagine the mesmerised bookseller secretly tracking the volumes she steals, hoping for insight into her character, her motives, her love life.
In Rodrigo Rey Rosa’s hands, this tale of obsessive love is told with almost breathless precision and economy. The bookstore owner is soon entangled in Severina’s mystery: seductive and peripatetic, of uncertain nationality, she steals books to actually read them and to share with her purported grandfather, Senor Blanco. In this unsettling exploration of the alienating and simultaneously liberating power of love, the bookseller’s monotonous existence is rocked by the enigmatic Severina.
As in a dream, the disoriented man finds that the thin border between rational and irrational is no longer reliable. Severina confirms Rey Rosa’s privileged place in contemporary world literature.
The Bookshop That Floated Away by Sarah Henshaw – set in ENGLAND
In early 2009 a strange sort of business plan landed on the desk of a pinstriped bank manager. It had pictures of rats and moles in rowing boats and archaic quotes about Cleopatra’s barge. It asked for a £30,000 loan to buy a black-and-cream narrowboat and a small hoard of books. The manager said no. Nevertheless The Book Barge opened six months later and enjoyed the happy patronage of local readers, a growing number of eccentrics and the odd moorhen.
Business wasn’t always easy, so one May morning owner Sarah Henshaw set off for six months chugging the length and breadth of the country. Books were bartered for food, accommodation, bathroom facilities and cake. During the journey, the barge suffered a flooded engine, went out to sea, got banned from Bristol and, on several occasions, floated away altogether.
This account follows the ebbs and flows of Sarah’s journey as she sought to make her vision of a floating bookshop a reality.
Books, Baguettes and Bedbugs by Jeremy Mercer – set in PARIS
‘Shakespeare and Company’ in Paris is one of the world’s most famous bookshops. The original store opened in 1921 and became known as the haunt of literary greats, such as Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, George Bernard Shaw, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein and James Joyce.
Sadly the shop was forced to close in 1941, but that was not the end of ‘Shakespeare and Company’…
In 1951 another bookshop, with a similar free-thinking ethos, opened on the Left Bank. Called ‘Le Mistral’, it had beds for those of a literary mindset who found themselves down on their luck and, in 1964, it resurrected the name ‘Shakespeare and Company’ and became the principal meeting place for Beatnik poets, such as Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs, through to Henry Miller and Lawrence Durrell.
Today the tradition continues and writers still find their way to this bizarre establishment, one of them being Jeremy Mercer. With no friends, no job, no money and no prospects, the thrill of escape from his life in Canada soon palls but, by chance, he happens upon the fairytale world of ‘Shakespeare and Co’ and is taken in.
What follows is his tale of his time there, the curious people who came and went, the realities of being down and out in the ‘city of light’ and, in particular, his relationship with the beguiling octogenarian owner, George.
AND NOW FOR A BONUS BOOK:
The Secret of Lost Things by Sheridan Hay, set in NEW YORK CITY
A stunning debut from a new Australian writer – the story of a treasure hunt through a vast New York bookshop.
At eighteen, Rosemary arrives in New York from Tasmania with little more than her love of books and an eagerness to explore the city she’s read so much about. The moment she steps into the Arcade bookstore, she knows she has found a home. The gruff owner, Mr. Pike, gives her a job sorting through huge piles of books and helping the rest of the staff – a group as odd and idiosyncratic as the characters in a Dickens novel.
Andrew for the TripFiction Team
Which other books set in or around bookshops have you read? Please go ahead and add them to our database. Please leave your thoughts in the Comments box below, and remember that you can buy any of these books through TripFiction by clicking on the bookseller links on any book page.
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Other posts in our ‘Five great books set in…’ series:
And our ‘Ten great books set in…’ series includes: