A few years ago, I wrote about books on book lovers, book sellers, and book collectors. If you still like reading books about booksellers (and I sure do), then I’ve found a few more that might grab you. They’re about shops in Afghanistan, Virginia, Spain, Denver and New York State, and they’re all really different.
The Bookseller of Kabul by by Asne Seierstad
Seierstad, author of The Bookseller of Kabul, is a Norwegian journalist who came to know a liberal, educated bookseller in Kabul and ended up asking if she could live with his family for a few months. This bookseller, whom she calls Sultan, is very brave. He was imprisoned and beaten by the Communists, and had his books looted and burned by the Islamists, but kept on collecting and selling books. He believes in the freedom to read, but in the book, Seierstad is shocked to find that at home he is a “tyrant” who gives very little freedom to his family, especially the women.
Many readers world-wide have appreciated what they regarded as a chance to learn about the reality of life in Afghan society. But others question whether Seierstad really understood what she was seeing and hearing in those three or four months. The bookseller himself traveled to Oslo and sued her when he read the finished work in English, and his young second wife (he has two wives) has since also brought suit. Seierstad has responded that she represented the family fairly and did not abuse their friendship and hospitality. But, “She misinterpreted access for intimacy, and construed her physical closeness to Khan's family as license for a public judgment it never imagined,” wrote Paula Newburg in the Toronto Globe & Daily Mail.
This book, and the controversy surrounding it, would make a great book group selection. These days, with globalization, members of tribal or indigenous societies find out what has been written by anthropologists about them and their neighbors, and object to it. So do the subjects of best-selling books written by travelers and journalists. Did Seierstad violate standards of journalistic integrity? What do you think?
The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap
The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, by Wendy Welch, is – as far as I know! – a less controversial book. It’s the cheerful story of a woman who escapes a job she calls “The Snake Pit” and moves to a small town in Virginia with her husband in order to open a bookstore. Everyone in town says, “A bookstore? Are you nuts?” But the shop is a success. The subtitle reads: “A Memoir of Friendship, Community, and the Uncommon Pleasure of a Good Book.” Since I’m from Appalachia myself, I couldn’t resist the uncommon pleasure of reading this one!
Booked to Die
Booked to Die, by John Dunning, is the first in a mystery series about Denver cop cum bookseller Cliff Janeway. Author John Dunning himself owns a bookstore, and he knows how to spot valuable books in a collection, just like the book scout who’s the victim here. He also knows how to plot a good mystery. Try one and see if you want to read the whole series.
Shadow of the Wind
Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, was a huge bestseller in Spain. Some reviewers say it has everything: suspense, romance, action, magical realism, and “twists and turns to make the Minotaur’s head spin in his Labyrinth” (Steve Koss, on Amazon.com). The father of a boy who has just lost his mother takes him to a weird Cemetery of Forgotten Books, and tells him he can pick out one book to protect. It turns out that the author of the book he chooses is dead, and someone is trying to grab and destroy all the copies of his works. The setting is beautiful downtown Barcelona. Can you resist?
Forgotten Bookmarks: A Bookseller's Collection of Odd Things Lost Between the Pages
Forgotten Bookmarks: A Bookseller's Collection of Odd Things Lost Between the Pages was put together by Michael Popek, the owner of a book shop in Otsego County, New York. He found so many things in the used & rare books he bought that he started a website. I thought when I started looking at the book that the stuff would just be odd/funny – but some things are touching, sad or distressing. Like a letter from a young WWI-era soldier asking his mother for permission to marry, and then telling her he has only 30 cents left and needs her to send some more money. “Remember, Mother, you may never see me again.”
Photo credit: nannetteturner
Vaughn Harrison is a book lover who grew up in the Vietnam era.