Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Bookseller

Title:  The Bookseller
Author:  Cynthia Swanson
Publication Information:  Harper. 2015. 352 pages.
ISBN:  0062333003 / 978-0062333001

Book Source:  I read this book as this month's selection for my local book club.

Opening Sentence:  "This is not my bedroom."

Favorite Quote:  "What I've learned, what we've both learned over the years, is that nothing is as permanent as it appears at the start. "

Kitty Miller is the bookseller. Kathryn Andersson was once the bookseller. Kitty Miller runs Sisters' bookstore. She is single but surrounded by the love of her parents and her best friend and business partner Freida. Kathryn Andersson is married to Lars, the love of her life and mother to triplets. She is a stay at home parent, having given up her professional ventures for her home and family.

Kitty Miller and Kathryn Andersson are the same person. Same basic time period. Different lives. Kitty believes that Kathryn and Kathryn's life is a figment of her dreams. Dreams? Hallucinations? Secret life? Alternate life paths? That is the question.

Underneath the surface, troubles besiege both Kitty and Kathryn. Kitty's bookstore is in dire financial straits. In Kathryn's life, her long term friend Frieda seems not to be part of her life anymore. All is not well with the triplets either.

The book has an interesting premise; it's been done before, but, well done, it makes for a good read. This is also a very quick and easy beach read. Certain aspects, however, keep it from being an engrossing, memorable read.

First and foremost are Kathryn and Lars. Kathryn's choices and attitudes are often not likable, and Lars is a little too perfect. He is the perfect, understanding husband and father. He is understanding when Kathryn seems not to know who he is. He is understanding of her needs and emotions. He is even understanding of her attitude towards the triplets. He is annoyingly a little too perfect. His character reads like someone's dream, but is he real?

Second, the cover and the title suggest a much greater involvement of books. Unfortunately, books play a very small role in this story. Yes, Kitty run a small independent bookstore, struggling with a changing economy. That's about where the role of books stop. Kitty's story could easily be told with the use of an entirely different small business. The "books" part of this bookseller is unfortunately lacking.

Third, the setting of this book is the early 1960s. This time period is necessary for some of the perspectives and attitudes presented in the book. However, the book tries to hard to ensure that the reader understands that the setting is clearly the 1960s. Descriptions of the time - the actual dates, what women wore, color schemes, music, popular attitudes - are clearly and overtly stated. The references recur throughout the book. They stand out - "this is the sixties" - rather than forming a seamless background for the story.

Finally, this book touches upon some serious issues, but very lightly and sometimes unnecessarily. Many such as Kitty and Frieda's relationship, Kathryn's relationship with her son, the role of the Andersson's housekeepers come up in the book but are not fully explored. Ultimately, the book is about a woman looking for her best life. The key thing I take away from this book are the ideas that no life is perfect and that the direction of our lives can change in an instant - sometimes by choice and sometimes by chance.

Book Club Note:  This book led to a lively discussion as we had differing thoughts on the book. Our discussion always starts with a found list of questions and proceeds in varying directions. For this book, the conversation centered on two major themes. First, what is real and what is an illusion in this story? The book presents a resolution, but our group came up with several other possible theories. A fun speculation. Second, our discussion turned into a conversation about dreams in general and our respective experiences with the power of dreams. A successful book club pick for the discussion it led to.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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