Bookshops in Books

Today I am blogging about books set in bookshops I am celebrating two things that add great pleasure to my life: books and bookshops. And the occasion is that this is my 400th post on Bookword. Setting a novel in a bookshop allows for an eccentric proprietor and a variety of customers and other visitors. The novels in this post do not disappoint.

Since my blog is bookish I thought I would indulge myself. Here are five books about bookshops to recommend to you. I’m sure you could suggest others. And please enjoy the next 400 posts.

The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald

This novel is set in 1959-60 in Suffolk. Florence Green is a widow with experience of selling books. She decides to set up a bookshop in Hardborough, the small town she inhabits on the coast. By opening the bookshop she offends many people in the neighbourhood because she did not consult them or ask for advice, or because books bring culture and challenge to the town, or simply because it represents change and hope. She achieves some success, for example with Lolita, but in the end is out manoeuvred by the local grande dame, Violet Gamart.

Hardborough is populated by a range of people with odd characteristics and big human failings. The bookshop attracts them. There is indolent Milo, who works at the BBC, reclusive Mr Brundish, Christine the girl who runs the subscription library for Florence, the builder, solicitor, bank manager, the rapper (a poltergeist) and many others. None helps her to save her shop. But she tried, and will go on to other endeavours.

The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald (1978) Harper Collins. 156pp

Shortlisted for the Booker prize

If on a winter’s night a traveller by Italo Calvino

This is the ultimate meta-novel, a novelist’s novel. Calvino addressed the reader in alternate chapters, and creates a novel in the others. Each chapter featuring the novel explores some aspect of novels. Each reader chapter considers other aspects of reading and writing. Ultimately there is a discussion between readers in a library, who all read in different ways and to different purposes. Each discussion deserves to be lingered over and so it can take some time to read.

It is wonderfully playful, playfulness – such a good quality in writing. Playing with the reader, as reader. Philosophical too. It begins as you, the reader, open a newly purchased copy of If on a winter’s night a traveller by Italo Calvino, but there is an error in the pagination …

If on a winter’s night a traveller by Italo Calvino, first published in Italian in 1980 under the title Se una note d’inverno un viaggiatore. I read the edition published by Vintage in 1998. 260pp

Translated by William Weaver

Mrs Sinclair’s Suitcase by Louise Walters

The action of this novel begins with a discovery made in the second hand bookshop in which Roberta works. Her father is dying and has given her some books to dispose of (in the suitcase of the title). She discovers a letter in one book that puzzles her. The book belonged to her grandmother but the letter does not seem to be consistent with what Roberta has been told about her grandmother.

Roberta uncovers her grandmother’s story; death of her baby, husband goes to war and abandons her, she falls for a Polish squadron leader, a land girl gives birth unexpectedly and Roberta’s grandmother finds a solution to all this.

Roberta’s story is also resolved – she has worked for ever for the bookshop owner, looked after him, cleaned up his mess and discovers he too has kept a secret.

Mrs Sinclair’s Suitcase by Louise Walters, published by Hodder & Stoughton in 2014. 294pp

Weird Things Customers say in Bookshops by Jen Campbell

This little volume is well named. Neil Gaiman’s quote on the cover is also apt: ‘So funny, so sad … Read it and sigh’. Here’s a sample so you can see how right he was.

CHILD: Mummy, can we buy this book?
MOTHER: Put that down. We’ve got quite enough books at home.


(Local author comes into bookshop, lifts his books from the bookshelf and starts rearranging them on the table in the middle of the room.)

BOOKSELLER: What are you doing?

LOCAL AUTHOR: Well, they’re never going to sell when they’re sitting on a bookshelf, are they?


CUSTOMER: Did Beatrix Potter ever write a book about dinosaurs?


CUSTOMER: Do you bother to arrange your books at all, or are they just plonked places?

BOOKSELLER: They’re in alphabetical order …



CUSTOMER: Where do you keep Hamlet? You know, ‘to be or not to be’? Is it in philosophy?

Weird Things Customers say in Bookshops by Jen Campbell. Published by Constable in 2012. 119pp

Mr Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

A fun read, a nice mixture of hi-tech, good old-fashioned values and pleasure in reading. It’s a page-turner with some nice interactions between old and new technologies.

Clay takes a job in the bookstore and soon realises that he has stumbled on a cult. The entrance test into the cult seems far-fetched but Clay solves it in a few minutes through the application of computer technology. Together with his friends he solves all the mysteries of the cult, and he finds out how important is friendship.

Mr Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan, (2012), Atlantic.

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Filed under Books, Reading, Reviews

13 Responses to Bookshops in Books

  1. Eileen

    If ever you are in Bath do visit Mr B’s Emporium. It is delightful. Wonderful staff who really, really know books and they are involved in mentoring and research. The building is magnificent too. Last time I went I bought ten books – as my brother-in-law had given me a voucher for my birthday – he happens to live in Bath. I love that ‘Wierd things’ book too.

    • Caroline

      After writing this post the Weird things was hanging around and I found my 9 year old grandson deep into its pages, enjoying those weird things. I think there is a second version now.

      Yes I like that Bath Bookshop too. I was in there just before Christmas … Love those bookshops.

      Caroline xx

  2. Kathleen Bethell

    I am so glad you included Mr. Penumbra. That book is so quirky and delightful, I’ve read it twice. Had you noticed that the books on the cover glow in the dark?

    • Caroline

      Hi Kathleenn,
      No I hadn’t noticed that about the cover. Quirky or what? I believe Robin Sloan has published a new book recently. Must have a read of that.


  3. Congratulations on reaching 400 posts!
    Oh I love books that have book shop settings I think I often find that straight away it gives me empathy with the characters who work there- just off the top of my head I can think of 3
    The Bookshop On Autumn Lane by Cynthia Tennent
    The Next Always by Nora Roberts
    Dance Upon Air also by Nora Roberts

  4. The Calvino is one of my favourite books ever…. 🙂

    • Caroline

      I love If on a winter’s night a traveller. It is so unusual, thoughtful, provoking and insightful. At times even maddening. Glad to find a fellow enthusiast.

  5. Margaret Guest

    Also enjoyed Reading Allowed by Chris Paling (bit of a cheat as it is a library, not a bookshop); and Shaun Blythell’s Diary of a Bookseller.
    The Jen Campbell made me laugh on public transport.
    Not read the Penelope Fitzgerald but will look out for it now.

    • Caroline

      Thank you! More recommendations, and we forgive the slip into the library.
      So good to see that so many people like books about bookshops.
      Please comment again soon on my posts.

  6. Pingback: Sunday Connection – What Has Been Happening This week? #Blogging #SundayBlogShare | Rosie Amber

  7. I love books set in bookshops. By the way, there is a movie version of Fitzgerald’s The Bookshop. I haven’t read the book so I can’t compare but I enjoyed the movie very much. (t’s a Spanish movie although the female director has made many movies in English and the actors are mostly English.
    I loved The Readers of the Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald. A very quirky book.
    Thanks so much for the post (must get hold of Gaiman’s book!)

    • Caroline

      Thanks for this comment. I tend to avoid films of books, even if many are good.
      Thanks for the link and other titles.

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