#Book Review: Found in a Bookshop

Author: Stephanie Butland

Found in a Bookshop is the second book about a lovely bookshop based in York, UK. The first book is entitled The Lost for Words Bookshop (the name of the bookstore in York where the story is happening) and I wrote a review, which can be found here.

I purchased this second part, Found in a Bookshop because it came as a recommendation on Amazon (as did the author herself based on my liking of British authors who write about communities). I did not believe I would enjoy the second part as much as the first part, then I found myself captivated by the book to the point I read it in two evenings, and that is only because I had to force myself to savour it. Otherwise, I felt like staying up all night and finishing it.

In the first book, we mainly follow the story of Loveday, a girl from the fostering system, and her story of love for books that saved her life. We learn she tattooed statements from books that mean something to her, that she was in an abusive relationship, and that Archie, a peculiar character who owned a bookshop in York took her under her wing and transformed her life. In this second part of the book, Found in a Bookshop, we follow Loveday’s management of the bookshop along with a shop manager Kelly who is a struggling PhD student facing a researcher’s block and thus wondering whether to continue with her research degree (as someone who has two PhDs, I can relate to this issue lol). The shop struggles because the story is happening during a COVID-19 pandemic in the UK, during harsh lockdowns, and before the vaccine was introduced. Thus, whilst restrictions initially improved the already-struggling bookshop’s business, people faded away consumed by fear, grief, and loneliness and the bookshop started to struggle even more than before the pandemic due to a lack of footfall, which obliterated the opportunity for Loveday and Kelly to recommend something to accidental bookshop visitors.

Loveday then has a brilliant idea of starting a book pharmacy and asking people to write to them and tell them how they feel, and what stories they normally like. She and Kelly then start to prescribe books for people, as they used to do before the pandemic when they would recommend books to bookshop visitors. The project hits off and the story then expands to a collection of back and forward stories of Loveday, Kelly, and the teacher’s couple George and Rosie who were introduced right at the beginning of the book to many customers who send heartfelt letters explaining how they feel and asking for books. Each time, after reading a story of customers in the form of an email, we also read an email reply from either Loveday or Kelly acknowledging their feelings, trying to say something that would make them feel better, and then recommending books based on what people said about themselves, their feelings and what they like.

I was struggling whilst reading thinking if I should create a humongous list of books and try to read them all, even though not everything sounded interesting and it is a huge list, but then once I read Bella’s story it hit me. I only needed to find my booklist. Bella’s list was my book list because Bella’s feelings and preferences spoke to me. Like that character, I also have always been an extrovert and an outgoing person and have struggled with lockdown in the UK, which was very punitive (not to forget the moral panic for the first two years if you dared to say you were struggling, which this book never ever does, mind you) but then once restrictions got lifted, I also ended up struggling with not wanting to leave the house and getting overwhelmed with a few conversations once I was back to work (only occasionally and when I had to go). It was also during the pandemic in the UK that I discovered a passion for books that tackle everyday life, community, and random friendships that happen suddenly and unexpectedly and it was the pandemic that birthed my English book club (that I now coordinate online after moving to the US) and newly discovered passion for British authors I know read and celebrate. To an extent, I still struggle with the consequences of the pandemic. I do not get overwhelmed anymore after speaking with a few people in a short period, but I still haven’t settled in my big, nice office and barely use it even though I always wanted to have an office, so it is quite peculiar that I do not use it. It is a very nice and posh office I have here, mind you, and yet I do not go. This book reminded me I need to get rid of that feeling and go more, once the new academic year starts at the end of August this year.

So, this book tells stories in a back and forward way, going back to characters we already know, and their number grows throughout the book. We constantly have new characters and new stories of people struggling with the pandemic in different ways and coming together with their love for books, old and new alike. At the end of the book, we get a summary of what happened to people we knew throughout the book, so the book is not unfinished, which I appreciated because I always want to know the author’s vision of the ending. I am the same with advertising. I like storytelling but not open adverts one can interpret as they like.

Another interesting thing is that Found in a Bookshop, consists of short chapters narrating life stories and feelings of characters, and also has several chapters from the author telling us about her view of books, readers, etc. The voice could be Loveday’ too, I suppose, but I read it as the author’s voice, and I loved it. I particularly appreciated the advice to leave a book if you don’t like it because a book should never be a chore and it is all about readers. It does not matter whether the book is mega-popular around the world; if you don’t like it leave it and it is fine. I remembered then how I felt guilty when I did not like The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, which won a Nobel prize award I think, and that everyone seems to love. I hated it and left it halfway through but I always felt bad about it. I also resented a colleague who recommended it for our English book club because I personally have an issue with leaving things unfinished and yet I simply could not stand the language in that book (I still get angry when someone mentions it and I remember the term somepin’ for something). The author says that “books are the magical everyday that is all your own. Read on, and enjoy” (p. 205, Kindle edition). Indeed. I enjoy reading British authors who write about friendships, communities, and the everyday and that is fine!

Finally, I felt a bit guilty for moving most of my reading to Kindle but unfortunately, it helps me read more, and reading more is good for my wellbeing. I got used to the eye-friendly lightening of Kindle (particularly since issues with my vision got exacerbated last year and resulted in a life-transforming surgery in March this year but I remain sensitive and like adjusting fonts), the fact the device is showing me percentages of reading, time left in a book and just generally seems to be more user-friendly than traditional books. I still have three full bookshelves, one more on the way to store more books, and a few boxes to take to the office but increasingly, I am buying less of traditional books and moving reading to Kindle. I consoled myself that when I do go to a bookshop because I indeed like to hang out there, I get ideas for books that I buy on Kindle, but I then buy magazines and a cup of coffee to support the store. I hope this is good enough as otherwise, I would not be able to read as much.

And last, but not least important, here is my reading list from this amazing book and Bella’s character, which I have already ordered mainly on Kindle apart from some, which are not available so I will read them in print (that might take some time),

Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin

Anne Bronte, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

Liza Dalby, The Tale of Murasaki: A Novel

Paul Gallico, Flowers for Mrs Harris

Nella Last, Nella’s Last War: The Second World War Diaries of Housewife, 49 (this is a series and I suspect I will get all of those books)

Charlotte Perkins Gilman, The Yellow Wallpaper

Maria Semple, Where’d you go, Bernadette.

In sum, I find it hard to describe how I felt about this book, but I absolutely loved it, and apart from ordering the books above, I also ordered all books Stephanie Butland ever wrote as she simply needs to be on my list of authors whose all books I read.

Beautiful, inspiring, wonderful. Don’t say you had a life well lived without reading this book!

Thank you for reading!

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