Skip to main content

Quick Short Thoughts - The Bookshop and Letters in the Attic


The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald

I chose to read Penelope Fitzgerald's The Bookshop almost on an impulse. I was browsing through Scribd and came across this title. I find it always difficult to resist books with bookish titles - The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry, Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, The Strange LibraryThe Bookshop, just to list some of them. In The Bookshop, Florence Green risks everything she has to open a bookshop in the seaside town of Hardborough, which does not have any other bookstores. Despite many expecting her to fail, she actually succeeds and makes more money than she expected to, enough to hire an assistant and start a lending library. But her prosperity invites a lot of negative attention from the owners of nearby stores - none of them happy about the smaller number of people coming to their stores - all content to blame Florence for their woes. Florence also ends up crossing Mrs. Gamart, who, as soon as she becomes aware of Florence's plan to open a bookshop, wants to make it known that the building Florence wants to buy is better suited for an arts center. To top it all, the building is very old and has plenty of maintenance problems, including something that feels haunted.

I was pleasantly surprised by The Bookshop. It's a really tiny book - just 190-odd pages and reads very fast. It was also very interesting and not just because it has a bookshop at the crux of the story. The ending wasn't what I expected at all, and for a good while, it left me feeling sad overall, but it also hints heavily at all the brouhaha that happens when the playing field is not level, and you have some influential people dictating terms. This was my first brush with Penelope Fitzgerald and I would certainly like to read more of her books.


Letters in the Attic by Bonnie Shimko

Letters in the Attic was another quick read I found on Scribd. Lizzy McMann is secretly happy that her father wants to leave her mother. She never liked him anyways and besides, he rarely acknowledged her, unless he wanted something. But her mother wasn't taking it too well. They eventually decide to move out of Phoenix to upstate New York, where her grandparents resided. Lizzy didnt even know she had grandparents so she was looking forward to meeting them. 

The stay at New York turns out to be completely different from what she imagined it to be. Lizzy's grandmother has been very hostile and wouldn't even look at her. She also took every opportunity to ridicule her daughter. Lizzy also ends up learning certain secrets about her mother that makes her initially excited and later very angry. Along the way, she ends up learning that she likes girls and that fact scares her, especially since everyone she knows considers that a very bad thing.

Letters in the Attic was a sweet read but I think younger readers may appreciate it more than I did. I wasn't super thrilled by how the characters evolved through the book. The mother was someone who never learned from her mistakes, and most characters aren't fleshed out too well. It bugged me a lot how every chapter started in the present and then flits back to something that happened a few days or weeks ago. I don't mind flashbacks generally, but this style of narration just seemed too distracting and tiring. Besides, I am not a fan of characters who live too often in the past. Other than these odd hiccups, this was a nice book. All Lizzie wants is a dream home, with parents that would form the perfect family portrait. But more importantly, she wants her mother to be happy and often ends up taking care of her mother.

Comments

JoAnn @ Lakeside Musing said…
I read The Bookshop several years ago and have been wanting to read another Fitzgerald ever since.
bermudaonion(Kathy) said…
I'm drawn to "bookish" books as well so The Bookshop sounds good to me. I love the cover of Letters in the Attic.
Athira / Aths said…
I should read another one soon too!
Athira / Aths said…
It's certainly hard to walk away from a "bookish" book!
Athira / Aths said…
Me too! I always think I would love to have my own bookshop or at least work in one.
Gorgeous books. Seemingly haunting too. I enjoyed The Bookshop, though it is definitely a unique read. Letters in the Attic sounds so lovely and sweet like you said though and is making me want to pick it up. Perfect for a rainy day.
Trish said…
I've been thinking about Scribd--mostly for audiobooks since I'm not sure I can justify my audible account anymore. Do you find a lot of good stuff on there?

Letters in the Attic has such a beautiful cover--though I sometimes find with books devoted to more younger readers that the characters aren't as rich as I'd like them to be. I have The Night Bookmobile out from the library right now--maybe I'll read it this afternoon! Have you read that one?
iliana said…
I read The Bookshop with one of my book groups years ago and I thought it was going to be a charming book and was surprised at how sad I felt afterwards too. Oddly enough for such a small volume we had lots to discuss about it! I definitely want to check out Letters in the Attic. Lovely cover!
Both books look good. I too am caught by bookish titles :)
Nishita said…
The Bookshop sounds delightful. I need to check it out.
Athira / Aths said…
I hope you enjoy Letters in the Attic, if you do get to read it.
Athira / Aths said…
I do like Scribd, especially now that they also have comics. I did stop my subscription for now though, but it's great for months when you are in a rut or when you are looking to read more ebooks.


I haven't read The Night Bookmobile. I have heard about it and it is on my wishlist. I just need to get to it.
Athira / Aths said…
It is surprising how The Bookshop ended. So not what I was expecting. But it was good and realistic.
Athira / Aths said…
Yay! I just love how fun it is to read books like that.

Popular posts from this blog

Hell-Heaven by Jhumpa Lahiri (Short Fiction Review)

I first read Jhumpa Lahiri years ago, when her Interpreter of Maladies was making a huge buzz. At the time, I didn't catch any of the buzz, but for some reason, when I saw the book on the shelf at the store I was browsing in, I felt it just might be a decent read. Funnily, I read the entire short story collection without complaining about it, but for some reason, I cannot read any collection anymore without agonizing over its disjoint nature.

I did enjoy Interpreter of Maladies, but I did get bothered by the thread of loneliness and infidelity and distrust that laced through the stories. For that reason, I have been reluctant to read Unaccustomed Earth. However, when I came across Hell-Heaven at the NewYorker - a free short story from her book, I decided to go ahead and read it. I can't resist the pull of stories set in India or featuring Indian characters, and it is that same aspect that hooked me throughout this story.


In Hell-Heaven, the narrator contemplates the relations…

Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

Maybe that’s what religion is, hurling yourself off a cliff and trusting that something bigger will take care of you and carry you to the right place.
Bernadette Fox has a reputation. While her husband and her daughter Bee love her, there's barely anyone else who share the sentiment. Her neighbor Audrey loves to gossip mean things about her with her close friend, Soo-Lin. The other parents of kids at Bee's school look down on Bernadette because she doesn't involve herself in school affairs. Bernadette herself goes out of her way to avoid company.

And then one day, Bee comes home with an excellent report card and asks for her reward - a family trip to Antarctica. The very plan throws Bernadette into a panic but she has no other option. She hires a virtual assistant, based out of India to take care of all her demands, including getting prescriptions at her local pharmacy, doing her online shopping and taking care of some of the logistics of her trip. (It is ridiculous! Bern…

The Lottery by Shirley Jackson (Short Fiction review)

With the Hunger Games hype that engulfed us last week, it was hard to avoid all the discussion of similar works that existed. Of the many titles that I came across, two stood out particularly - a short story called The Lottery and a Japanese novel (and movie) called Battle Royale (which I'm reading right now and just cannot put down). The novel will be fodder for another post, so for now, I just want to rave about the awesomeness that was The Lottery.

In contemporary America, villagers across the country are gathering on the 27th of June (and some a day earlier) for an annual event called the Lottery. Children, women, men, all come to the main square of their village or town, where the lottery master keeps a black box full of paper chips. One of these chips is marked has a special mark on it to identify the winner (the person who draws that chip). Not everyone draws however, but only the head of the family. Husbands are viewed as the head of their families/households, and if the …