Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Bookstore

The Bookstore
Deborah Meyler
3.5 / 5

Published 2013

First Sentence
"I am early; I can walk down Broadway for a while."
Publisher's Description:

A witty, sharply observed debut novel about a young woman who finds unexpected salvation while working in a quirky used bookstore in Manhattan.Impressionable and idealistic, Esme Garland is a young British woman who finds herself studying art history in New York. She loves her apartment and is passionate about the city and her boyfriend; her future couldn’t look brighter. Until she finds out that she’s pregnant.

Esme’s boyfriend, Mitchell van Leuven, is old-money rich, handsome, successful, and irretrievably damaged. When he dumps Esme—just before she tries to tell him about the baby—she resolves to manage alone. She will keep the child and her scholarship, while finding a part-time job to make ends meet. But that is easier said than done, especially on a student visa.

The Owl is a shabby, second-hand bookstore on the Upper West Side, an all-day, all-night haven for a colorful crew of characters: handsome and taciturn guitar player Luke; Chester, who hyperventilates at the mention of Lolita; George, the owner, who lives on protein shakes and idealism; and a motley company of the timeless, the tactless, and the homeless. The Owl becomes a nexus of good in a difficult world for Esme—but will it be enough to sustain her? Even when Mitchell, repentant and charming, comes back on the scene?

A rousing celebration of books, of the shops where they are sold, and of the people who work, read, and live in them, The Bookstore is also a story about emotional discovery, the complex choices we all face, and the accidental inspirations that make a life worth the reading.
Dear Reader,

This was a really interesting book, because the entire time I was reading it, it felt quite a bit like "chick lit", but it really was quite far from that light-hearted, utopian genre.  Maybe that's because the premise is that of a young woman living in New York City, who finds herself pregnant by a man she believes she loves.  The book had a lot of those moments where you felt as if maybe she'd realize that the pensive, kind man with whom she works is actually the right one for her, but the book doesn't turn out as perfectly packaged as most of those sorts of girly books do, so I ended up enjoying it more - because of how real it felt.  It wasn't a princess and fairy tale book, really.  It was about real life, and how imperfect it often ends up being, but how you can find joy and love even when things don't turn out how you expect.

Esme Garland is an English expatriate who is doing her graduate work at Columbia, focusing her studies on fine art.  She is an intelligent, very independent young woman who yes, sometimes makes mistakes.  The book felt so very intellectual (often mentioning books and artists who I'd never heard of), which was a bit jarring to me, beacuse it also did feel like chick lit.  I found this to be especially the case when Esme and the father of her child are planning to make a go at it, and you can see that they are just not a good fit for each other.  It made me feel frustrated, because you could really tell that she didn't in fact love Mitchell, but she was forcing herself to feel those feelings because she wanted to make things work.  Mitchell was the classic asshole boyfriend who thought only of himself.  His selfishness was apparent right from the get-go, and you'd have thought Esme would have seen right through it - and would not want to raise a child in that sort of environment.  But, I suppose that is also true to life: sometimes even the smartest girls end up trying to find the knight in shining armor, even when we know that's not how reality works.  Esme just kept gamely trying to make things work, but the reader could really tell that it was a losing battle.  Mitchell did seem to try at times, enough to make Esme feel special and as if she perhaps was choosing the right person to start a family with, but he often tempered his kindness with cruelty, most likely to protect himself.  Again, very real, very true to life.  Nobody is perfect, for sure, but it was clear that whoever Mitchell was perfect for, it certainly wasn't Esme.  He could never have been happy in a relationship where someone else gets the glory sometimes.  He needed to be the center of his world.

My favorite parts of the book were, fittingly, those that took place in the bookstore.  The rag-tag cast of characters that made up the employees and regulars of the shop were a wonderful mixture, and again felt very real.  The author herself actually worked in a bookstore, and said she drew heavily on the characters she encountered there.  Esme finds a kind of family, which is important to someone who feels so alone and so far from home.  The others rush to take care of her, each in their own ways, and I think without them she might have been lost, overwhelmed.  I also of course loved the smattering of book discussions, and the feeling of actually being inside that ecclectic shop, piled high with books and strange knick-knacks.

Overall, I do think I enjoyed this book.  I still can't get over that it felt like it was written specifically for women, which is why I can't rate it more highly (I like a book the transcends that sort of thing), but I do think I will recommend it to others, especially those who enjoy the "chick lit" genre.  I think it is a nice, more intellectual departure from the normal fare found there, but would still be enjoyed by someone who loves those kinds of female-oriented books.

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