Inspiring Older Readers
Scenes From A Bookshop by Hugh Gilmore
The dividing line between fiction and memoir is almost impossible to distinguish in this slim book of stories/reminiscences written by Hugh Gilmore. The short profile of the author at the back of the book tells us that he “owned and operated a bookshop in Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia, for 12 years” but these stories claim to be fiction despite being ‘based’ on experiences in his own life.
Gilmore’s alter ego in the stories he’s created is the 40 year old Brian who runs and then comes to own a used and rare bookshop in Philadelphia. The stories are, technically, stand alone but actually read much better as individual chapters in a linked narrative.
The stories are rather gentle and focus almost exclusively on the pathos and disappointments of a bookseller and the public he encounters. Brian himself is a rather melancholic character who is looking for two things – to find love with his dream customer ( a mystery poetry lover called Canace) and to land on the big book score. The first one, he hints, comes to fruition, the second never does.
There’s a kind of rueful pleasure in hearing about the house calls he makes in pursuit of books he can sell on for a profit - they range from the desperately sad to the near farcical. In Character Actress Brian is called out to view a book collection before they are all tossed into a skip (dumpster) by a rather glamorous actress clearing a house on behalf of her parents. Brian naturally assumes the parents are dead but when he enters the house he discovers they’re not and has to undertake his appraisal – and pass judgement on their meagre worth – as the father, suffering from Alzheimer’s, watches with tears in his eyes as he clears the bookshelves. Brian is haunted by not knowing how much what was happening the old man understood.
At the other end of the spectrum is Into Heaven With Chad and Billy where our reluctant hero is drawn against his better instincts into a potential cash only deal for a warehouse full of ‘really old books’. Knowing that this is usually a euphemism for trash, Brian and his antique-dealer friend Chad find themselves being hustled by Billy, a drunk who is always on the edge of violence but who claims the books belong to his collector father. Brian’s instinct is to run, he knows in his heart of hearts that there’s nothing for him here but he’s too easily seduced by the ‘what if’ possibilities and finds himself breaking and entering a warehouse and teetering up a precarious ladder only to find himself surrounded by mouldering junk.
This is very much a book to read on a short journey – it will pass the time very pleasantly. In the end, whilst these are not great stories brilliantly written, I was sad there wasn’t more – I personally would have been happy to have the same amount again.
If this is your kind of thing – and all people who love bookshops or the idea of owning a bookshop will think it is – you can pick up a copy on line for well under £10.