Reading again and it feels so good.
Well, on the plus side, instead of not blogging for two years I just took a quaint little 7 month break this time. I'll save you (and me, mostly because I don't know how many "you's" are out there) the time of explaining that my life, like so many of our lives, is busy and complicated. But can we talk for a second about the power of reading?
I find, and this is always true, when I get busy or stressed or anxious I stop reading. I make excuses about not having enough time, but when I am very honest with myself, I know that's not really true. I find time to scroll through any number of Social Media feeds which only cause me more stress and anxiety. And yet, and this is also always true, reading calms me. It nourishes me. It is the antidote to anxiety. It's a new year (last month) but this isn't about a "new me." It's about returning to the me that already knew that finding comfort in the pages of books (or the audiobook equivalent) feeds my soul. So, like so many of my favorite heroines who continue to persevere...let's give this blog project another go.
It seems only appropriate that the first book of my new year is The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald. Not necessarily what the book is "about" but certainly resonating through the pages is the contemplation of the potential impact a bookshop - and the books on its shelves - can have on a community.
"It is a good book, and therefore you should try to sell it to the inhabitants of Hardborough. They won't understand it, but that is all to the good. Understanding makes the mind lazy."
This kind of cheeky-but-cynical humor is what you should expect throughout The Bookshop. Enter our heroine (or better character...) Florence Green. The year is 1959 and this kind-hearted widow risks everything to open the only bookshop in the seaside town of Hardborough. What follows can only be described as the quaint, strange, and often sad happenings of a small, isolated community. The plot is not filled with grand parties, unlikely lovers, or a shocking penultimate event. But somehow, because the world of this story seems to fit in a snow globe, each small shake builds on the one before until those same every day situations are riddled with dramatic tension.
Florence is absolutely a woman that you know. She probably is you, at least a little. Or your neighbor. A family member. And that's not to say that she's plain, but that she is familiar. Her hopes aren't unachievable. Her fears are understandable. Her attempts to forge connections within the community are at times awkward, at other times natural. And she loves books, she believes in their impact and power. You know her. So you will cheer for her, and you will live with her, carrying her achievements and disappointments with you. I truly found it remarkable how invested I was in the life of Florence's little bookshop.
Penelope Fitzgerald launched her literary career at the age of 58 (I just love those stories - it's never too late everyone!) though she had been writing long before she moved into the realm of novels. From everything I can find, her life was filled with a constant string of obstacles and bad luck, and those influences are readily present in her books. The sardonic tone of this novel certainly indicates the point of view of a woman who doesn't rely on hope, but continues to find the humor in the dark places while persevering. The Bookshop was shortlisted for the Booker Prize; her novel Offshore won this award in 1979. It's been added to my reading list for the year, and that's about the best compliment I can offer for Ms. Fitzgerald's writing: I want to read more.
This post seems short, but in my defense the book is only 155 pages. And while you can likely see the inevitable end after the first couple chapters, I am hesitant to say too much for fear of the ever-looming spoilers. So I will leave you with this sparklette from the pages of The Bookshop, which I loved so much I wrote it in my journal immediately upon reading it:
"But courage and endurance are useless if they are never tested."
by Penelope Fitzgerald
Side note: I am just finding out now that this was made into a movie in 2017, starring Emily Mortimer. So now I have a movie I need to rent.