“The Bookshop on the Corner” by Jenny Colgan and “The Book That Matters Most” by Ann Hood

The Bookshop on the CornerRecently, I’ve read two books which were dedicated to… ME! I’m so flattered!!

OK, so maybe they weren’t exactly dedicated to me personally. But Jenny Colgan’s The Bookshop on the Corner states, “…the entire book is dedicated to you: the reader,” and Ann Hood’s The Book That Matters Most begins, “This is for you.”

To say that Colgan’s protagonist, Nina Redmond, loves books is putting it mildly. She’s a shy librarian whose greatest joy in life is matching a person with his or her perfect book. Then one day, her library is closed down due to government cutbacks, and Nina is out of a job—and because there’s no room for all those books at the new, centralized location (with its emphasis on computers), most of the inventory is likely to be pulped.

Nina brings home boxes of library discards, much to the chagrin of her roommate Surinder, who’s had just about enough of Nina and her ever-growing library. The best thing to do with all those books (along with the others she’s accumulated over the years) would be to sell them, but opening a shop would be too costly. But perhaps she could open a mobile bookstore in a van? “I don’t see what’s stopping me from just traveling around selling books,” she muses.

As it turns out, quite a few things conspire to stop her, including bad old government bureaucracy, but eventually her dream becomes a reality. The original name of the book when it was published in Britain (Colgan is a Scot) was The Little Shop of Happy Ever After, which is what Nina names her mobile store. It’s a much better title than The Bookshop on the Corner, because her van won’t necessarily be parked at a corner; she sells books at fairs and markets. Maybe the title was deemed too twee, although twee titles seem to be a Colgan stock-in-trade (her other books include The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris, Little Beach Street Bakery and Meet Me at the Cupcake Cafe).

I found the book more charming than cutesy, though. I chose the book as a palate cleanser after reading two mysteries with sky-high body counts, and it was exactly what I needed. In fact, I started the book around 7:30 one evening, and the next thing I knew, several hours had passed and I was turning page 300. If you’re in the mood for some escapist fare with a touch of romance, step inside Colgan’s Bookshop.

The Book That Matters MostHood’s book takes us through a year in the life of a Providence, RI, book club, focusing on new recruit Ava. At first, Ava seems like the world’s worst member—after begging to be admitted to the group (which is restricted to 10 people, so the only way to get in is if somebody moves or dies), she doesn’t even bother to read the first selection, Pride and Prejudice, opting instead to watch the movie adaptation. And she doesn’t even watch the good one, with Colin Firth as Darcy, but the newer, Keira Knightley version!

Ava, who is still reeling after her husband of 25 years left her for another woman, does eventually start reading the books, which revolve around the theme “the book that matters most”: each member selects the volume that has proved to be the most significant one in his or her life. Everyone’s picks are fairly predictable (The Great Gatsby, Anna Karenina, The Catcher in the Rye), but then Ava chooses a little-known novel that’s so far out of print that it’s not even available online. She read the book the summer after her sister died in an accident, and it took on even more meaning after her mother committed suicide shortly thereafter.

Meanwhile, Ava’s daughter Maggie, who has struggled with drug addiction in the past, is supposedly spending a year abroad studying in Florence. She quickly escapes to Paris, where she shacks up with an older man and begins shooting up heroin. Despite her daughter’s history, Ava seems oddly unconcerned about Maggie, seemingly convinced that she must be OK because she periodically posts stock photos of European sights on Instagram.

As someone who has spent half my life as a book club member, I found the discussions recounted in the book to be disappointingly pedestrian. The Great Gatsby proves that “the American dream is illusory.” Anna Karenina is “all about the importance of family.”  To Kill a Mockingbird reveals that “hatred and prejudice and ignorance are a threat to innocent people everywhere.” Ideally, this novel should make me want to read or reread all those classics, but instead, it just made me happy that I belong to a better book group than Ava’s.

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