For the first time in probably two years, I finished reading a novel! For some this may not be a monumental occasion. but for me - a self-professed book lover, this is likened to the bear awaking after hibernation. It isn't that I haven't been reading ... for to give up books completely would be like giving up oxygen to breathe... but I have limited my literary pursuits to non-fiction books on writing and photography. Yes, I have been soaking up knowledge, but missing the truth of the human condition as can only be revealed in fictional characters.
In part this return to the fiction world was reignited by a friend who recently joined the Goodreads community. I used to visit that site regularly, either updating my current read, uploading recent book purchases, or scanning possible literary groups to join. But as with my fiction reading, visits to this site have been almost non-existent for nearly two years. But there is something energizing about a community of like-minded individuals, and when I returned to the site earlier this week, the desire to read became too great to ignore.
Additionally, another good friend and fellow bibliophile recommended this book several weeks ago. I dutifully obtained it from the local library and placed it on my nightstand where it soon started to collect dust. Since its due date is in just a few days, I thought I would try it to satisfy my fiction craving; I am very glad that I did.
The Book Lover is written for an audience like me: an adult female reader who has not only a passion for books, but a love of words and a desire to write. It is a character driven novel, my favorite, in which the two main characters are so well developed that they quickly become the reader's close friends. In many ways I am like both of the women in the story - at least at this point in my life. Lucy Barrett loves to write - and after suffering the loss of her infant son, decides to escape from the real world into the pages of her own novel. Most of her storyline focuses on the struggles of writers to find an agent and/or publishing company... and the stigma associated with self-published books. In addition to the shame of "not being good enough" to find an interested buyer, there is also the focused marketing efforts the author must pursue (rather than just...write) in order to place the book in readers' hands. I found the journey from finished manuscript to book club recommendation fascinating... and rediscovered the truth that most writers are not motivated by money or fame, but by the pure passion of the craft.
Ruth Hardaway is the owner of a struggling bookstore in New York state - the Book Lover, a job she has held since the death of her husband over thirty years ago. Her story focuses on the daily frustrations of managing an independent bookstore, as well as the efforts of fledgling businesses on Main Street, USA. Again, the author gives an honest look at the struggles these bookstores must face in competing with the big box chains - either in the malls or online. I must admit that I felt more than a twinge of guilt when I discovered how my own shopping habits greatly affect the financial security of my local "mom and pop" stores. And I found it interesting how the passion for books motivates Ruth to think outside the box in order to bring customers through the door: an on-site cafe, pre-packaged gift baskets, and even an attempt to revitalize the entire shopping district. Again, I found Ruth's character fascinating because her dream job is also fueled by the love of books and definitely not by the almighty dollar.
The lives of these two women are not only similar in terms of their love for books, but also in terms of their private relationships. There are complicated love interests on both sides. While Lucy is adjusting to a devastating divorce, she unintentionally finds love elsewhere. Ruth continues to harbor resentment towards her dead husband (whom she was sure she would have divorced if he had not been killed), but soon discovers an unexpected second chance at love with a most unlikely match. The two women meet when Ruth offers to host a book signing to help market Lucy's novel... and the friendship grows from there. As the back flap of the book reveals... there is a "little white lie" that jeopardizes this relationship, and that thread provides the necessary conflict to propel the storyline forward.
I thought The Book Lover was well-written, although there were a couple of times that I felt as though the author was forcing the axiom, "show vs tell" just a wee bit. The storyline was tight, except the bird metaphor was perhaps a bit too contrived for my personal taste. I feel as though I not only learned about the inner workings of the book selling business, but I also learned about the craft of writing.... a winning combination - which is why I would rate the book 4 out of 5 stars.
Next on the list? Paris by Edward Rutherfurd. While I have yet to read any of this author's other epic sagas, I have owned New York for quite some time and London for even longer. Ah... some day...
But for now I am compelled to read Paris for a variety of reasons: I have always had a love for this city and a desire to learn about its rich history, but I am also writing my own novel (of sorts) that is set in the Paris of the 1880s. I am hoping that perhaps this book might serve as a bit of research. It is an ambitious read, a little over 800 pages, and will have to compete with back to school preparations, but I am hopeful that the subject matter and writing style will inspire me to escape into its pages a little bit each day.