The Bookshop on the Corner
Published September 2016
From Goodreads: Nina Redmond is a literary matchmaker. Pairing a reader with that perfect book is her passion… and also her job. Or at least it was. Until yesterday, she was a librarian in the hectic city. But now the job she loved is no more.
Determined to make a new life for herself, Nina moves to a sleepy village many miles away. There she buys a van and transforms it into a bookmobile—a mobile bookshop that she drives from neighborhood to neighborhood, changing one life after another with the power of storytelling.
From helping her grumpy landlord deliver a lamb, to sharing picnics with a charming train conductor who serenades her with poetry, Nina discovers there’s plenty of adventure, magic, and soul in a place that’s beginning to feel like home… a place where she just might be able to write her own happy ending.
I picked an ambitious five books to read in December. I really should know better. After previous disastrous attempts at reading Mark Helprin’s Winter’s Tale, Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84, and David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks, among others, in the middle of my busiest month of work I just shouldn’t go for the big, heavy reads. I should go for something lighter that will make me happy when my life is full of stress.
Books like Jenny Colgan’s The Bookshop on the Corner. I think I requested this from Overdrive in October or November and promptly forgot about it, so it was a pleasant surprise when I received the email saying that it had been automatically checked out to me. Once I read Colgan’s Message to the Reader, I knew I was in for a treat. Colgan suggests places to read the book in, and one of them is on an e-reader in the bath, where she says that flipping pages is the best option so you don’t drop the reader in the water. Because the layout of my bathroom makes reading in the bath a challenge I don’t want to engage in, I opted for more sensible reading locales: at lunch and in bed.
The main character, Nina, lives her life in books both literally and metaphorically. Though her library is closing and she’s losing her job, her first thought is to open a bookshop to deal with the houseful of books that she’s collected over the years (that her roommate worries will compromise the house’s foundations). She also responds to the world by pulling away and reading. Broke up with her boyfriend? Read a book. Lost her job? Read a book. Spilled her coffee? Read a book. It may be a peaceful life, but at 29, Nina is starting to wonder if perhaps her life is passing her by.
It takes all her courage to follow a ‘van for sale’ advertisement to a little town on the north-eastern coat of Scotland where, after a series of misadventures and realizing that she doesn’t actually like city life, she moves and opens up her mobile bookshop.
On Goodreads, most readers have classified The Bookshop on the Corner as a romance. It makes sense, as Nina gets involved in romantic entanglements, but I don’t think that’s the main focus of the book. It’s more about her growth as a human being and her discovering what she is capable- she can move to a new country by herself, help out on a farm, and run her own business. She doesn’t have to be mousy little Nina who hides in books, she can be a brave soul who stands up for herself.
This realization doesn’t come easily, though. Nina’s view of life- and of romance in particular- comes from books, of course, and she expects her love life to have the same glow of moonlit meetings and mystery and poetry that she finds in her books. Finding out that real world romance is different from the books, and that it has real consequences is a turning point in Nina’s growth. It’s a hard lesson for her to learn, but a necessary one that opens her up to a more realistic and sustainable vision of love.
While The Bookshop in the Corner has many faults– pedestrian prose, an overly idyllic view of life in the countryside, predictability– it has enough charm and lovable characters that I can overlook those flaws in the name of escapism. I needed a lighthearted read, and that is what I got. It’s like the spirit of a literary matchmaker like Nina Redmond got into my library account and sent me the exact book I needed at just the right time.
Jenny Colgan has several books in the same vein as The Bookshop in the Corner, and while I don’t think I could go through all of them in a single stretch, I will keep the titles in mind for stressful times. Like a slice of cheesecake you’ll indulge in now and then to keep the healthy diet from driving you nuts, Colgan’s novels add a bit of sweetness to the everyday drab.