Saturday, August 17, 2019

Romance in the Bookstore - The Bookish Life of Nina Hill, by Abbi Waxman

Today is Bookstore Romance Day, a new promotion conceived by Billie Bloebaum. While we didn't do any programming this year, I had a good excuse - I'm off to the 20th anniversary of a former bookseller. Boswell also generates a lot of romance too - we've had three proposals, one wedding ceremony, and countless dates at the store. I've even had requests for a wedding reception, but I think that would be hard to pull off.

One of the things about romance is that like several other genres that had lost presence in bookstores (true crime comes to mind), it's really made a comeback. The new romances have diverse protagonists, and are often LGBT and disability friendly. But more than that, the women have agency. These are trends that have been ascendant for years, but it's really noticeable now.

Another thing that I think is different is a generation trend about genre snobbishness. One of the things I remember about working in a bookstore when I was young was that it was okay to turn up your nose at other people's reading tastes. I don't see that among my younger booksellers - this my be part of a bigger change about the way we think about difference.

In celebration of sorts, I read, on my colleague Jen's recommendation, The Bookish Life of Nina Hill. And while the publishers didn't tag this book specifically as a romance, it does have an alternate designation as romantic fiction on our bibliographic website, and there is certainly a romance at the heart of the story. It is also published by Berkley, which is one of the imprints where we are seeing a lot of the new romance. This charming romantic comedy is also a nice bookstore novel - I got a copy, gave it to a friend, and then bought another. Can there be higher praise from a bookseller?

This is Abbi Waxman's third published novel and like the others, it's set in a Los Angeles neighborhood called Larchmont Village. It's kind of similar to our Downer Avenue neighborhood, functioning a bit like a small town, and a little out of the way, such that we often have locals come to the bookstore who were kind of surprised to find this nice shopping street. It's partly because it our main street doesn't really go anywhere.

At the center of the story is Nina Hill, a young bookseller at Knight's in Larchmont Village whose mom now lives in Australia. She has no relatives, because she was conceived in a tryst and her mom asked the gentleman involved to waive paternity. He was married and things were messy. Nina's made her family her new friends, and she is very scheduled. Each chapter beings with a page from her planner. Between work, her weekly book club meeting (a different genre every week of the month) and her champion trivia team, there's not a lot of spare time.

Three things happen.
a. She meets a guy on one of the other trivia teams who seems kind of interesting.
b. It becomes clear that her bookstore is having financial problems.
c. She gets a note saying that her birth father has died and that she's in the will

Regarding that last revelation, it turns out that she's gone from no family to lots and lots and lots of family. Some of her new relatives are happy with her discovery; many others are not. And there you have the three problems that need to be solved.

The romance is pretty straightforward, and kind of follows what I read to be the Harlequin formula, only without restrictions on which page each plot point must occur. The family drama takes a few more unexpected turns. But it's really Nina who drives the story. It's just hard not to love her. And there's no question that while she finds a few new loves (family, romantic partner), she will always love, love, love books.

Here's Boswellian Jen Steele's recommendation that convinced me to pick up the book: "I loved every bit of this delightful novel! Nina Hill has everything she could every want: a dream job working at her local independent bookstore, trivia nights with her friends, weekly book clubs, and the most observant cat, Phil. She may have every moment planned in her spectacular daily organizer. Nevertheless, there are some things you just can't plan. Nina gets a visit from a lawyer and learns that the father she never knew has died, leaving her with siblings and many questions. Overwhelmed with the sudden onslaught of new people in her life, not to mention the potential fling with the cute guy from a rival trivia team, Nina beings to realize real life is much harder than it is in books. She must learn how to navigate around her newfound family and all these new emotions. The Bookish Life of Nina Hill is a funny, wistful novel with a relatable bibliophile!"

As booksellers, we have two pieces of advice for Nina:

1) Why are you having all your author events on Saturday evenings. Monday through Friday are much easier nights to schedule, unless it's a launch party or has a strong entertainment element. But the book event we live through in Nina is hardly entertaining, nor is it a family/friends launch.

2) You had a street festival (family friendly, no less) and you closed the store? Now we do lose sales at the Downer Classic bike race, but my neighbor who like me is a shopkeeper, told me at one point that he did more than 10% of his annual sales at his neighborhood's annual street festival. 10% of the whole year's sales!

There is a real bookstore in Larchmont Village called Chevalier's. It's been open since 1940. You should go. Oh, and here's an interesting but not particularly new article on pressure to develop the neighborhood.

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