The Bookstoreby Deborah Meyler
A witty, sharply observed debut novel about a young woman who finds unexpected salvation while working in a quirky used bookstore in Manhattan.
Brilliant, idealistic Esme Garland moves to Manhattan armed with a prestigious scholarship at Columbia University. When Mitchell van Leuven— a New Yorker with the bluest of blue New York/b>… See more details below
A witty, sharply observed debut novel about a young woman who finds unexpected salvation while working in a quirky used bookstore in Manhattan.
Brilliant, idealistic Esme Garland moves to Manhattan armed with a prestigious scholarship at Columbia University. When Mitchell van Leuven— a New Yorker with the bluest of blue New York blood—captures her heart with his stunning good looks and a penchant for all things erotic, life seems truly glorious . . . until a thin blue line signals a wrinkle in Esme’s tidy plan. Before she has a chance to tell Mitchell about her pregnancy, he suddenly declares their sex life is as exciting as a cup of tea, and ends it all.
Determined to master everything from Degas to diapers, Esme starts work at a small West Side bookstore, finding solace in George, the laconic owner addicted to spirulina, and Luke, the taciturn, guitar-playing night manager. The oddball customers are a welcome relief from Columbia’s high-pressure halls, but the store is struggling to survive in this city where nothing seems to last.
When Mitchell recants his criticism, his passion and promises are hard to resist. But if Esme gives him a second chance, will she, like her beloved bookstore, lose more than she can handle? A sharply observed and evocative tale of learning to face reality without giving up on your dreams, The Bookstore is sheer enchantment from start to finish.
- Gallery Books
- Publication date:
- Sales rank:
- Product dimensions:
- 5.44(w) x 8.08(h) x 0.91(d)
Read an Excerpt
I, Esme Garland, do not approve of mess. This is unfortunate, because ever since I woke up this morning I’ve had a feeling that I might be in one. I sip my tea, and wonder if I have forgotten to submit a paper, pay the rent, feed Stella’s cat. Nothing springs to mind. I reflect that as I can’t even name it, the likelihood of a genuine mess is remote. I carry on sipping my tea and I look out on Broadway beneath my window.
The buildings cut the sunlight so abruptly in New York that the shadows look like a child has made them with scissors and black paper. The sun floods the cross streets in the mornings and the east sides of all the avenues are in deep shadow. The sharp light is one of the things I love here. The sharp light, the sharp people.
I like waking up to the sun streaming in. When I arrived here, I had schooled myself to expect a first-year’s room—a freshman’s room, they would say—one that had a tiny window with a view of a fire escape. I opened the door of this apartment, back in August, and there was the sun, streaming, streaming. It’s a studio, which means it is one room with a bathroom. It’s a good word, though—it works. Makes you think that you are part of the fraternity of starving artists who have struggled in garrets for centuries. It’s right above a twenty-four-hour deli, so it’s not quiet, but—a view of Broadway, curving its way through the rigid grid of streets like a stream. It’s October now, and I still can’t get over it.
Irv Franks, in 14D, is lowering a basket down past my window. It has the usual shopping list and twenty-dollar bill pegged to the string. I check that one of the Koreans from the deli below is waiting for the basket. He is. He is smiling. Everyone, wherever they come from, knows that it is funny to replay village life in this way; everyone is pleased that it works.
I didn’t come to New York to escape the confines of my small town in England. I didn’t imagine that I could better express my personality in New York, nor that the city could rejuvenate my flagging spirits. My spirits rarely flag. I haven’t made the mistake, or achieved the hope, of thinking that New York might be my sanctuary or my redemption. Columbia University offered me a place to study art history, and threw in a scholarship for good measure. Nowhere else offered any money. Therefore I am in New York.
Things didn’t seem promising initially. I arrived like everyone else did, after swearing that I wasn’t a spy or guilty of moral turpitude, and that I hadn’t got any snails. In the first bewildering minutes outside JFK, on a Friday night in the rain, I stared out at veering yellow cabs, airport staff screaming abuse at cowboy operators, sleek limos nosing along the bedlam, the whole teetering on the brink of chaos. I thought, as so many people do, This is impossible. I won’t be able to manage this. But then, we do manage—we manage to get into the city at night without being murdered, and wake up the next day still alive, and shortly afterwards we are striding down Broadway in the sun.
I don’t have to go into college today. I am going to meet Mitchell for lunch, but first I am going to go to the Edward Hopper exhibition at the Whitney Museum. I am here to do a PhD in art history on Wayne Thiebaud, and I think Hopper is an influence on him. Thiebaud paints pictures of cakes. Or I should say, now that I am getting the hang of it, that he illustrates the demotic nature of America at the same time as achieving a fine poignancy and awakening a never-quite-fast-asleep nostalgia for the prelapsarian innocence of a younger America, whilst staying within a formal rigor in terms of composition. Anyway, the lollipops and the cakes and the gumball machines are great.
I step across the hall to Stella’s apartment, to give Earl, the cat, fresh water and food. He slinks around my legs while I sort it all out.
I am early; I can walk down Broadway for a while.
Outside Brunori’s market, there is watercress bedded in ice, great boxes of lush dark cherries, asparagus bound with violet bands. It is owned by Iranians, who have sounded out the mood of the Upper West Side, and given themselves an Italian history and flavor. I go inside. It smells at first of warm bread baked with raisins and cinnamon. If you move a couple of inches to the right, it smells of fresh coffee. If you go over to the produce aisle, it smells cold, of grass and earth. It is not a big store; it’s just that a lot is crammed in. I buy six apricots, yellow into orange into a flush of red, all downy perfection, imported from somewhere where it’s still summertime.
I consider breaking faith with my usual bagel shop for the new one that I reach first. There is a crush of people trying it out, which makes the decision easier. The staff will be new, the customers won’t know what they want, and I am not very good at waiting. I don’t know what to think about when I’m waiting.
I go past the dull underwear shop. How does it survive, even on this radiant street, when there are such delectable places to buy underwear all over New York? Perhaps not everybody wants delectable underwear.
I go into my usual bagel place. It is basic, with peeling linoleum. In the back, in a room without windows, the bakers are shirtless and sweating. Sometimes you can glimpse into the back, the bagels all in rows, all bathed in red light. I don’t know if it is the red light of fire. There are often two lines at the bagel shop, and when you get near the front, you can step up to the Perspex boxes on the counter and feel which are the warmest, and so the freshest. I ask for two sesame bagels. Then I order a coffee.
“The coffee machine is broken,” says the girl behind the counter. I nod understandingly, and hand her a ten-dollar note. As she is getting my change, the man who is looking after the other queue of people troops over to the machine and pours out a coffee for his customer. The girl serving me and I both watch this little operation, and then we look at each other for a second.
“I think it’s working again,” I say.
The girl says, “I said, the machine is broken.”
We appear to be at an impasse. She is banking on my not making a fuss, being a foreigner, young, female.
I say, “Can I see the manager?”
She says, without turning her head to check, “The machine is fixed.” She gets me a coffee and when I pay for it, she suddenly grins at me. “Have a nice day,” she says. By the time I step back out onto Broadway, I feel I have undergone a rite of passage. Trial by bagel. Am I now a real New Yorker?
Across the street, squashed between a Staples and a Gap, is The Owl, the bookshop I love to visit. Copies of National Geographic spill out on the pavement in front of it like treasure, yellow spines gleaming, promising further riches within.
Perhaps because it seems so insignificant, The Owl manages to remain a ramshackle old bookshop. Staples and Gap, blinded by their own brightness, barely notice its existence, nor, it seems, does any other behemoth on the hunt for suitable premises. But it glitters away there, a dark jewel in a shining street. It is easily overlooked, but it is deep-rooted in the city, and I like to think it shares something of older and greater endeavors. One age might pass over what another prized, and the next age might then revere it. Museums and libraries are in place, of course, to keep past treasures safe through the neglect, but the museums and libraries have a flotilla of insignificant vessels that are just as vital. Secondhand bookshops are some of the tugs that can bring the bounty safely to harbor. The Owl is small, and it is definitely shabby, but it is tinged with lofty purpose.
Regularly inundated with more books than he knows what to do with, George, the laconic and gentle owner, often tips some out into the dollar-only shelves outside the shop, and occasionally, here can be found hidden wonders. I keep an eye out for old auction catalogs; sometimes it is the only chance you might get to see a painting you need to study before it passes beyond the doors of some moneyed collector. There was an exhibition catalog out here for Robert Motherwell’s Elegy to the Spanish Republic paintings, bound in the blue that he loved from the packets of Gauloise cigarettes—that milky blue shade on the spine was how I found it. Other people find even better things; maybe they are willing to look for longer. I was at the bookstore once when George was telling the story to those gathered around of finding a signed Robert Frost out here, the signature in spidery green ink across the flyleaf, clearly written in the frailty of age, but genuine too. He kept it for a while, the collector’s impulse vying with that of the salesman. In the end, the poetic sensibility won out over both; George was better off, in his measured opinion, reading the man’s poetry than gloating over his signature. “Something there is,” he said, slowly, but with his eyes alight, “that does not love a signed first.”
The name attracted me in the first place; it is not a name that seems calculated to bring in a torrent of custom, which immediately sets it apart from almost everything else in New York. The Owl. It doesn’t even have any sign to indicate that it is a bookshop; it could just as easily be a bar, or a pet store specializing in raptors.
I love to slip into the bookstore. It is my haven—I don’t have to prove myself there, as I do, endlessly, at Columbia. I can go to browse or go to listen. It is open until late, sometimes past midnight, and I usually go in the evening when I am too tired to do any more work. They have the books you want to be there; what would a secondhand bookshop be if it didn’t have the poets and the writers that you will one day (oh surely!) read—Milton and Tolstoy and Flaubert and Aquinas and Joyce—but also all sorts of off-the-wall catalogs and criticism?
There is the smell, too, of course—the reassuring smell of paper, new paper, soft old paper, recalling each person to the first time they really did press their nose into a book. But what I like best is the company—I like the people who work there, and the customers who come in at night to hang around and chat. George works there a lot, and less often, a guy about my age called David. On Sundays the person in charge is a woman called Mary; she brings her dog with her, Bridget, a huge German shepherd. I would have thought that the presence of a large Alsatian simply could not encourage custom, but the contrary seems to be true. People rush in to see Bridget, and sometimes buy a book by accident. In the evenings there is a night manager called Luke who often wears a bandana. He is broad of shoulder and taciturn in aspect—he looks to be around thirty. When Luke is at the front counter at night, without George there, he sometimes has a guitar with him, and sits playing bits of tunes to himself. He nods in acknowledgment whenever I come in, but I can never think of anything much to say to him. I like to crouch down on the cheap brown carpet and browse the art section when Luke is learning some tune or other. He can’t see me because of the Southeast Asia section, but I can hear him.
Now, I push open the door. On an ordinary day, coming in from the glare of sunlit Broadway, you will be able to see nothing at all, and you will stand there blinking, trying to adjust to the gloom. And gradually, you will notice that two eyes are fixed on you, and that these eyes, though apparently penetrating, belong to a stuffed owl that is nailed to a tree branch that juts out from a wall of books.
The store is narrow, about ten feet across, with a central staircase leading to a mezzanine. There are books on both sides of the stairway, in ever more precarious piles, and it is a hardy customer who will pick her way carefully up the stairs to the dusty stacks beyond. Downstairs is a tumble of books that I sometimes surreptitiously straighten. There are sections labeled with old notices, but they flow into each other in an unstoppable tide, so that history is compromised by mythology leaking into it, mystery books get mixed up with religion, and the feminist section is continually outraged by the steady dribble of erotica from the shelves above. When books do manage to make it to shelves, instead of being in piles near their sections, they are shelved double deep, and the attempts at alphabetization are sometimes noticeable, with “A”s and “Z”s serving as bookends to the jumble in the center.
I would like to know how long the store has been here; it looks as if it predates most other stores on the Upper West Side. It always looks as if it has descended from its peak to a sort of comfortable scruffiness, as Venice does, and, as with Venice, it might be that there never was an immaculate peak, where gold was all burnished and wood did not rot, nor paint peel. The store has probably had this cockeyed, lovably crooked look since it first opened its little door onto Broadway.
This morning, George is already there, and so is Luke. George, tall and stooping, is wearing a homespun shirt and a knitted garment in olive green that might have started life as a cardigan. He has a green stone pendant on a black shoelace around his neck. I think he might have been at Woodstock in his youth. He has the abstracted air of an old-fashioned scholar—as if he’s pondering the great questions of Kierkegaard or Hegel, and has perpetually to wrench himself back into the quotidian world. He smiles in recognition when I come in, though I think he would be hard put to remember my name. Luke is up one of the ladders that run round the shop on a rail; he nods at me and says, “Hey.”
His ladder is blocking the art section, so I wait at the counter.
“I keep meaning to ask how old the shop is,” I say.
George is leafing through a book with tipped-in plates, making sure they are all there. He attends to one carefully before answering.
“It’s been open for the browsing pleasure of New Yorkers for a fair number of years now.” His speech, as always, is unhurried, and every sentence has a falling cadence. It is a restful voice.
“I thought it had been here for a while. It has that feel, doesn’t it?”
He considers. “Yes, I think it does. They say that Herman Melville bought A History of the Leviathan here—”
“And Poe lived just three blocks north—if he came in here on a dark night, we could have been his inspiration for ‘The Pit and the Pendulum’ . . .”
“This is incredible. I had no idea . . . I should have looked it up . . .”
“Uh-huh. Hemingway used to look in a lot. On his breaks back here from Paris. And Walt Whitman, when he got tired of Brooklyn. They even say that Henry Hudson looked in when he sailed his boat up the river. It wasn’t the Hudson then, of course, but I don’t recall the Indian name for it.” He pauses, casting a glance around the book-filled walls, and then says, with a bland countenance, “I would imagine he would have found something to interest him here.”
“Henry Hudson,” I say, finally getting it. “Okay. When did the store open?”
“Nineteen seventy-three,” says George. He glances at me with his fugitive smile. “We do get Pynchon in here from time to time.”
I shake my head. “You’re not getting me twice.”
“Oh, sure,” says George, “believe Melville writes Moby-Dick because of this place, but not that Pynchon, who lives a few blocks away, would ever cross our threshold.”
“Yeah. That part is true,” says Luke. He comes down from the ladder. “So you stop by in the mornings too?” He walks with a pile of books to the back of the shop.
“Yes, sometimes,” I say, to his retreating form. As he seems to think it is fine to ask a question and then walk away, I say to George, “I’m on my way to see the Edward Hopper exhibition. He’s a big influence on Thiebaud—I’m working on Wayne Thiebaud, for my PhD.”
“Oh, that guy,” says George, managing to dismiss the man, his art, and my doctorate in three syllables. I decide not to get into Thiebaud with George.
“Have you always been a bookseller?” I ask him instead.
He considers. “It sometimes feels like it,” he says. “Certainly for most of my life. After college, I was a teacher. I taught English at a small but perfectly formed college called Truman State. It’s in Missouri. You won’t have heard of it.”
I shake my head to show that he’s right.
“Anyway, at a yard sale on a street in Kirksville, I came across a book by E. B. White. You’ve heard of E. B. White?”
“Yes indeed, and the less well-known but equally rewarding Trumpet of the Swan. The book I found was called Here Is New York. If you read that book in your early twenties and you don’t want to move to New York, there’s something wrong with you.”
Leaning past me, he selects a slender little hardcover book from the New York section and flicks to the last page. “He’s talking about a tree, listen to this. ‘In a way it symbolizes the city: life under difficulties, growth against odds, sap-rise in the midst of concrete, and the steady reaching for the sun. Whenever I look at it nowadays, and feel the cold shadow of the planes, I think: “This must be saved, this particular thing, this very tree.” If it were to go, all would go—this city, this mischievous and marvelous monument which not to look upon would be like death.’ ”
He twists a smile at me, half-wry, half-solemn.
“Your bookstore is like his tree.”
He nods as he closes the book, and looks up as another customer comes in. She makes a little shocked noise, so I look up where she is looking; she is staring at the owl nailed to its perch, and is backing away. As the backing away is theatrical rather than discreet, George obligingly asks if anything is wrong.
“That owl,” says the customer—a woman who looks like she subsists on a diet of wheatgrass and worry—“is it—was it ever alive?”
George considers the owl for just long enough to make me want to laugh.
“Yes, ma’am, it was. But I don’t think you should worry—its nocturnal peregrinations are long since over. Could I perhaps cross the border of good manners and ask why you seem so concerned? Are you missing one?”
She takes no notice. “It is organic matter?”
“I believe it is.”
“It must be carcinogenic. I mean, ohmigod, you’re breathing dead owl dust. I have to get out of here. I’m gonna call city hall—this is crazy. You need to get rid of that thing.”
“Ma’am, ma’am!” says George, in a voice that stops her as she is halfway out. “Please don’t let this get any further, but I see I will have to let you into our secret.”
It is too tempting, despite the cancerous owl dust. She stops.
“It isn’t real, ma’am, we just like to pretend it is. We’re called The Owl, we wanted an owl for the store. But you are very right, that would constitute an environmental hazard. This looks like a real one, ma’am, but it is in fact a man-made artifact—in plain words, it’s plastic. And please don’t touch it, it’s a valuable piece.”
She doesn’t look remotely like she wants to touch it. She comes back in fully, approaches the bird warily. I’d love it to suddenly squawk.
“They look like real feathers to me,” she says. “I think they’re hazardous also.”
George says he isn’t qualified to say whether the feathers themselves offer a clear and present danger. Luke has come back to the front, and is standing on the first stair radiating contempt. George has lost interest in the game, and says, “Ma’am, if you are so troubled by the bookstore owl, then, reluctant as I am to discourage patrons of secondhand bookstores, could I suggest that you might be happier at Barnes and Noble across the way, which, I am pretty sure I am safe in promising, you will find to be entirely owl-free?”
When she has gone, George gets the next book in a pile and prices it. Then he stops, and looks up at Luke.
“City hall. These people.”
“Tell me about it,” Luke answers. “George, I’m taking these books to the post office for Mr. Sevinç. There’s nothing else to mail?”
“Sadly, no,” says George. “For Sevinç? Those are the cartography books?”
Luke glances down at the brown package. “Yeah. The Vatican one is cool.”
“Isn’t it though? I would love to see those for real,” says George.
“He’s in town November,” says Luke, looking impassive.
“Ah,” says George. They nod at each other very slightly. “Mr. Sevinç is a customer of ours who lives much of the time in Istanbul,” says George, in explanation, to me. “When he visits The Owl, he brings gifts from the mystic East.”
“What does he bring?” I ask. Maybe they just mean marijuana. But I am imagining silks, brocades, spices.
George must be able to see the pictures in my head. “Oh, treasures, treasures,” he says. “He brings elixirs made by wizards when the world was young, cloth of gold woven in Byzantium, he brings cardamom and cloves and nutmegs, he brings parchments from the great Library of Constantinople, plucked from the flames by good men and true. Some things they managed to rescue from the barbarous hordes.”
“By which, of course, I mean the Christians,” he says. “The Fourth Crusade?”
I nod again. George is looking expectant. My knowledge of Crusaders is a little hazy; mostly I think of them as embroidered little men in St. George tunics. I begin to speak, hoping that inspiration or the memory of a history lesson will return, but Luke cuts in.
“Halva, and Turkish Delight,” says Luke. “That’s what Sevinç brings. And it’s outstanding. George doesn’t eat refined sugars or saturated fats, but he makes an exception for Sevinç’s candy.”
George spreads out his hands. “Once a year, some halva—and halva has nutritional value—from the old souk in Istanbul. So sue me.”
“Good seeing you,” Luke says to me on his way out.
I say to George, “The owl is real, isn’t it?”
“Oh, yeah,” he says, and grins. He cranes forward to check that Luke has not paused to tidy the outside books, and says, in a low voice laden with mirth, “You seem to have made some sort of positive impression on Luke. He is rarely so loquacious.”
I do not stay very long today; I am too restless to sink into that Zen state necessary for truly accomplished browsing. I still have this feeling that something is different, that there is something I have forgotten, that something is wrong. But it won’t come. I head for the park, to go to see the Hopper paintings.
Central Park is another place I can’t believe I see every day. I had thought that it would be as flat as a tabletop, and municipal, a large-scale version of an English park with swings and flower beds, neat and clipped and regulated and depressing. It is nothing like that at all. Today, there are cyclists and runners and tourists and inline skaters and skateboarders and people practicing ballet moves on a patch of grass, and police on horseback and a girl with a snake, and a woman with three cats on leads, and a motionless golden man on a plinth. It is the jubilant blazon of the city.
I feel better when I reach the gallery. The first gallery I went to in New York was the Met—like everyone else—and I saw a sign that said “No strollers on the weekend” so I zipped through all the rooms at breakneck speed, looking reprovingly at people if they seemed likely to loiter. When I reached the picture I most wanted to see—Garden at Vaucresson by Vuillard, whose exuberant joy you can feel even as you walk into the room—I barely stopped to look at it for fear of Met officials bearing down on me with a loudspeaker: “Miss! No strolling! Step along there, miss. Look lively. It’s the weekend.”
All of it is like that, at the beginning. Every conversation seems fraught with difficulty, every pronunciation produces a frown. I spend time learning how to use the transport system, learning how to speak so that people understand me, learning how to melt into the pot.
You can’t be slow. You can’t hesitate, you can’t ask questions with the usual polite packing around them—“Excuse me, would it be all right if . . . ?” Those are courtesies for a place where English is everyone’s first language. Here, it is the lingua franca, and it has to be boiled down to its simplest form. If you want to be understood, you can’t use irregular past participles. “Has he left?” results in blank stares. You have to say, “Did he leave?” You can’t ask for tuna in a deli and pronounce it “chuna”—because the men, with a big queue of people and no time, will hear the “ch” and make you a chicken sandwich. You can’t sound the “t” in “quarter” or “butter,” because “quarter” and “butter” don’t have any “t” in them here. You can’t even ask for a hot-water bottle—it is one of the first things I need, being a sovereign remedy for period pains, and nobody seems ever to have heard of them. A hot-water bottle? A what? No, we don’t sell them, miss. No, I don’t know where you could buy one. Eventually I corner a hapless assistant who has already denied the existence of hot-water bottles in America, and I explain exactly what I am looking for. It is flat, and made of rubber. You pour boiling water into it, and then fasten it with a stopper and slip it into your bed. It then warms up the bed.
“Oh, yeah. We sell those. You mean a water bottle.”
“Yes, that’s it! A hot-water bottle.”
“Yeah. Miss? They’re not hot.”
Once I get to the Whitney, the aesthetics of which escape my grasp, I breathe more deeply and move more slowly. I spend a long time with the Hopper pictures. I like to look at how he paints light. Somehow he uses light to make everything still. I am glad I am going to focus on Thiebaud, though, and not Hopper. Mitchell has a Hopper on his bedroom wall—the one with the gas pumps that looks like it is an illustration for Gatsby. Everyone is lonely in Hopper, everyone is sad. Everyone is waiting.
Unless I leave now, I will be late for lunch. I hurry.
I am meeting Mitchell at a diner. He doesn’t take me to fancy restaurants, apart from the first night we met, and that was just for a drink. He loves discovering great hole-in-the-wall places. I don’t think he wants to be told where is good by Time Out or the New York Post; he wants to find it for himself. Or he wants to already know a great place, so that he can be irritated when Time Out finds it too.
I am still perplexed as to why Mitchell ever asked me out, ever even approached me. Mitchell is the kind of man you expect to see with someone who has that sort of easy sun-kissed I-just-stepped-out-of-my-Calvin-Klein-shoot look. I am not bad, but I am not in that league. Men don’t vault over things to get to me, or get tongue-tied in my beautiful presence. Most of the time, sad to say, they can’t shut up. He has a kind of confidence that I really like. I’ve never met anyone like him, with even a fraction of his easy assurance. I spend a lot of time trying to second-guess other people, and hoping that they like me; Mitchell doesn’t move through the world like that. He is like a sun; people react to him as if they are being warmed by the first spring sunshine. It is exhilarating to be with him, to be a satellite to that radiance.
On a more practical level, he tips waiters to get the best table, and it works. How do you know how to do that? How do you know how to give an amount that isn’t stingy or stupid, and won’t cause the waiter to stare down broadly at the note and say, “I’m sorry, sir, is this a bribe?”
He lives in an apartment on Sutton Place for free. It belongs to his Uncle Beeky. He really has an Uncle Beeky. Mitchell’s family also has a house on Long Island, at the seaside, but I think it’s empty most of the time.
His apartment looks like Edith Wharton has just vacated it. There are curtains made of lush brocade, sofas you sink into, fringed lamps, walls painted in heritage colors, books that are bound in fat shiny leather with raised bands, gilt mirrors, space to walk around. When I stay over, I curl my toes into the deep pile of the carpet and forget about my flat Ikea rugs. Mitchell doesn’t notice the apartment, doesn’t connect to it. There should be a person there who wants to stop and slip his hand over the curved oak banister, with its dull gleam, or pause at the sudden presence of a ghost, a spirit from an older New York, at home in the soft shadows. Mitchell would be better fitted to somewhere designed by Mies van der Rohe, somewhere with clean lines and clarity. Somewhere that doesn’t weigh down into the earth and into a thousand social precepts from long ago.
In a place he’s borrowing from Beeky, perhaps he can’t imprint his own personality too much. There are a few things that are his—the sheets, I would hope, are his rather than Beeky’s. They are a dark sinful mulberry color, but are redeemed by being made of the most beautiful cotton that has a sort of downy pile on it.
Mitchell is definitely tidy; his apartment is the most controlled space since NASA. This is, of course, very important indeed. I can’t imagine falling in love with a messy person. He is thirty-three, ten years older than I am, but it doesn’t feel as if there is any age difference. He teaches economics at the New School, but the nearest thing to a book in that apartment, aside from the leather ones that Edith and Henry left, are this year’s copies of the New Yorker in the bathroom. He says he has put them all in storage, that he has everything he needs on his laptop and his iPad, but I don’t agree. Loving my little bookshop, I don’t agree.
Meet the Author
Deborah Meyler was born in Manchester, read English at Oxford University, and completed a Master of Philosophy thesis on American fiction at St. Andrews University. She eventually moved to New York, where she worked in a bookshop for six years, sold paintings, and had three children. She now lives in Cambridge and is working on her next novel.
and post it to your social network
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews >
I enjoyed the characters, but I wished they were more developed. I kept waiting on something exciting to happen....the plot just dragged on and on and I became bored with it and forced myself to finish.
This, in my opinion, was not a good book at all. I was sorry that I wasted my money and my time reading it.
Have you ever found yourself in a situation that you had no control over? I find myself at odds with this book. First, it’s written in first person and had way to many “I”s for my liking, but there are many readers who like books written in that fashion. Secondly, it was flooded with more artistic information or “filler” words that took up most of the book, rather than focussing on the development of the characters and the story. It felt like the character’s developments were rushed or not as thought out as they should have been. I got the impression Deborah Meyler is very bright and knowledgable, but used that knowledge in an over kill kind of way. I mean no disrespect by that comment because, I believe authors need to do research and have knowledge of the topic their books are about. Otherwise, the stories are empty. The difference for me is that, develop the characters while you’re instigating the information. It’s all about flow and intermingling the two for me. In this case the characters fell short on the development side, which allowed the information to over shadowed them. Some people may like that though. In saying all of that, I’ll tell you that the main heroine, Esme, is put in a situation that she has no control over. Sadly she is made to make the best of her circumstances..all on her own. As so many of us are made to do in real life. She’s not as strong of a character that I like, but relating to her struggles and her desires to keep trying, was identifiable. For me, there were A LOT of times that I just wanted to smack some sense into her and make her grow a backbone too! Esme is a good person through and through that’s for sure, but everyone has their breaking point right. Now as far as the hero…there wasn’t any definitive character to match that title. Esme was involved with the jerk of all jerks…Mitchell. UGH!!! He was horrible and I did NOT like him at all!!!!! I just kept thinking, “there’s something seriously wrong with that man!!!” I kept wanting to smack him repeatedly…he was just plain out repulsive and deeply disturbed!! My brain was left in a tizzy after reading his parts that, a lot of times I’d catch myself shaking my head to clear it. If that’s how the privilege act or live, then I’d rather be poor. On the up side though, the story does have some really wonderful and quirky characters. Esme’s good friend Stella is very insightful and supportive. I loved her and the people that Esme works with at the bookstore called the, Owl, were lovable. I almost thought that a love spark was forming with a co-worker named, Luke, but that story line just kinda fell through the “lines.” I just don’t know what happened with this story…the ending was abrupt and didn’t solve anything, except for the fact that Mitchell was a “mental case” and Esme was left “high and dry.” When I finished the book I just felt robbed because, I could see the potential for more with this story. It’s not that I didn’t like the book, it was a decent read. But…it’s not one of my favorites. My advice, is to focus on the intermingling and development of characters. I firmly believe that, Deborah Meyler has the capability to be a great writer~I see it, but just go slow and steady and build, construct your characters..spend time with them and then incorporate your knowledge WITH them. It’s the ebb and flow…
Review is of the purchasing system and NOT book. It was offered yesterday 12th for 1.99 and did not have an expiration date for price. Tried to buy on 13 early morning and it was priced at 11.99. What is the deal ????? Is the Nook of the day price for 15 minutes only?
One of my favorite reads this year.
Not really my cup of tea. I didn't connect with the main character, Esme, so right off the bat that's not good. I'm not going to go too much into it, since I pretty much skimmed the last 50 percent of the book. I just couldn't get into it. The ending was very flat for me also. I didn't like most of it.
this book begins as a lighthearted look at an English Phd Art student and her love of New York city. With many references to art and culture with in New York. Esme has her life planned until a chance encounter with a playboy of the New York city nightlife makes everything change. It is the things she loves that help her through the difficult times. She finds that the friends she meets at the local used book store are better then the man she loves.
Geese take a breathe
The Bookstore Deborah Meyler ARC supplied by Netgalley. Its difficult to categorise this book as a romance, it has romance and yet it has so much more. Its like calling two weeks on a package holiday in Benidorm and a luxury three week cruise aboard a select private ship both vacations....They are, and yet they are very very different. This book is about the journey, the cruise type holiday rather than the quick, lets get to the destination and on the beach one. Anyway, it opens gently bringing us to know Esme and Mitchell. It's pretty clear to me from the outset that Esme is the intelligent, dreamer type of person and in love wit being in love. Mitchell seems to be a practised seducer, a rich man seeking something but doesn't know what. For now that’s Esme, and he dominates her smartly making her think everything is her idea. Its very cleverly done. Then of course drama! Unexpected pregnancy, and all the problems and decisions that brings. As we're told though Mitchell calls everything off before she can tell him, and she's on her own. Then we get to know the Owl book-store and its myriad of different characters from those who work there, those who are customers, and just the regular people who “drop in” for various reasons. Esme has lots of support from them and yet... she's really on her own, alone and lonely in a strange country, facing a difficult situation. I feel she's a very head in books, impractical person, and all that happens forces her into practicalities and decisions she'd never had thought of. Its a world where she swims from being together with Mitchell, to alone, and back again...she has to look at herself and her options, at Mitchell, and try to see past his glittering charm, at the Owl and its people and their place in her life. There's joy here and tears, lots of angst ( and oh how I love that) along with the high spots. Overall though I found it a sad novel. Its very well written, full of quotes from novels, poets and history. It's difficult not to feel a bit of a dunce reading some of it – it has that if you haven't read Tolstoy/Tolkien/Oscar Wilde/Dostoyevsky you're a hick feel. And though I love Oscar Wilde I've never read the others – never appealed to me but I felt lost the way so much of the novel revolved around this kind of writing. Sort of the way critics may say an artwork has “esoteric, metaphysical concepts between all parts of the invisible and the visible cosmos “ - believe it, as an artist I’ve seen and read it!! – and to me it means nothing, just a meaningless jumble of words, and its the Art I enjoy for its own sake while to others it has a deep, dark undefinable reality to it and is essential to their enjoyment of the piece. I loved the potential of this story, but not necessarily the way it was constructed. But as ever that’s one opinion, its all horses for courses etc and I’m sure there are those for whom this novel will be perfect. Anyway, some fabulous characters, a meandering journey of discovery for Esme, though I'm not sure she learned as much as she ought, beautiful vivid descriptions of life from the huge overview of the busy, bustling, impersonal city to the tiny details of the flavour of a bagel, and the colour of a drink, it's a book that's deeper than expected. Maybe just too deep for me...I enjoyed parts, but at heart I'm a romanticist and I need that HEA, and it just didn't happen. The ending is quite ambiguous – you can almost read what you want into it. I loved Luke, and thought maybe he and Esme would be good together, then again as an optimist I was hoping Mitchell could get behind the problems that let to his behaviour and come forward as the hero but....I guess its the enigmaticness of the ending that left me feeling a bit...unfulfilled, unsatisfied, needing more almost. I felt that there were so many possibilities open, so many ways the novel could continue that it was as if I'd just come to an end partway through the book. I know there are readers who don't need all the boxes ticked, who are content to mentally imagine their own solutions but sadly for this book I’m not one of them. Add to that the way I felt almost illiterate by the way some of the writing went, and its not one I’d re read. Stars: difficult, its so well written that it ought to be higher but I'm rating on whether I personally enjoyed it and – well – its between didn't like it and OK for me, so two and half stars. Have to stress again that this is just a one person view and if you like different novels to me then you'll probably feel totally different about it.
Read from July 29 to 30, 2013 Book Info Paperback, 352 pages Expected publication: August 20th 2013 by Gallery Books ISBN 147671424X (ISBN13: 9781476714240) Source:Netgalley EARC Book Buy Links AMAZON B&N BOOK SYNOPSIS A witty, sharply observed debut novel about a young woman who finds unexpected salvation while working in a quirky used bookstore in Manhattan.Impressionable and idealistic, Esme Garland is a young British woman who finds herself studying art history in New York. She loves her apartment and is passionate about the city and her boyfriend; her future couldn’t look brighter. Until she finds out that she’s pregnant. Esme’s boyfriend, Mitchell van Leuven, is old-money rich, handsome, successful, and irretrievably damaged. When he dumps Esme—just before she tries to tell him about the baby—she resolves to manage alone. She will keep the child and her scholarship, while finding a part-time job to make ends meet. But that is easier said than done, especially on a student visa. The Owl is a shabby, second-hand bookstore on the Upper West Side, an all-day, all-night haven for a colorful crew of characters: handsome and taciturn guitar player Luke; Chester, who hyperventilates at the mention of Lolita; George, the owner, who lives on protein shakes and idealism; and a motley company of the timeless, the tactless, and the homeless. The Owl becomes a nexus of good in a difficult world for Esme—but will it be enough to sustain her? Even when Mitchell, repentant and charming, comes back on the scene? A rousing celebration of books, of the shops where they are sold, and of the people who work, read, and live in them, The Bookstore is also a story about emotional discovery, the complex choices we all face, and the accidental inspirations that make a life worth the reading. My Thoughts 23 year old Esme transplanted and on her own in New York after being raised in small town England was at first unsure of her place in the city, now she feels like there is no other place she would rather be as the sometimes mundane dynamics of day to day life as a college student quickly settle into routine. The first kink in her plans to get her degree comes when Esme suddenly finds herself with an unwanted pregnancy and a father-to-be who would rather she terminate the baby than be it's daddy. In the midst of her decision making Esme comes to a very startling realization that she cannot find it in her heart to rid herself of her unborn child, so rather than have an abortion she decides with our without Mitchell to have the baby and raise it with all the love that she feels it deserves. This in turn causes a whole new set of problems when Esme realizes that to raise the child she is in need of an income to allow her to provide for the baby's needs and her options are sorely limited due to her student visa restrictions. Lucky chance comes in the form of her favorite bookstore, The Owl, posting a "Help Wanted" sign. Esme gets the job and in doing so once again changes her life, this time though the change provides her with much needed support from the bookstore owner and it's very eccentric cast of regular customers and fellow employees. The book had such a great vibe to start out, even when Esme first realizes she is "in trouble" her sunny outlook of idealism in a cynical world kept it from becoming too depressing. The kicker however was Mitchell, he was such a jerk from the very beginning of making his acquaintance that one could not help but really rethink just how smart Esme really was because it seemed like everyone else saw his true personality but her. Despite the on again/off again relationship with Mitchell Esme remains throughout a lovely young woman whose honest reactions to the world around her forced me to burst into laughter at odd moments when she made a social gaffe on several occasions speaking of things best not mentioned in polite company, the one moment that left several characters in fits of mirth and that really truly got me roaring though was near the last when she was in her childbirth classes and in beginning labor. Esme could not have been more refreshing to follow on her journey, my only complaint is that she was too accommodating to people who were not worth worrying herself over but that was true to her British upbringing so it fit her character whether it chafed my brashly independent American self or not! Nice bit of chick lit that will surprise some, delight others, be too detailed on the "artistic elements" for others but overall appeal to those who like myself enjoy watching as the character changes and grows throughout the story in ways even they were not expecting. [EArc from Netgalley in exchange for honest review]
The Bookstore by Deborah Meyler What first attracted me to want to read this book is for the simple fact it's about a bookstore. I love books! Love all the detailed descriptions of New York, feel like I'm walking beside Esme. She is from England and has only been in a city a short while. She meets up with Mitchell and they check out various restaurants. After just a few short weeks she is pregnant and rather than tell him, she was going to, til he broke up with her. She is going to be able to afford the baby but has many doubts. College, job and the baby will be her life. Love how the information at the bookstore is shared with anybody that walks in-especially like book titles and author's names and a quick summary of what the book is about. She has just a few who support her decision...Love hearing of all the characters who pay a visit, so colorful! Quite erotic sex talk and acts. When Mitchell comes back into her life, is it for her and is it for keeps or is he just passing by? I received this book from Net Galley via Gallery, Threshold, Pocket Books in exchange for my honest review.
Have no desire to read this collection of tripe trash grafic. why insistance on abortion to avoid child support goes beyond belief as she is six months! even the book store is weird. From blurb of cozy book store and girl in new york this becomes a king ugly. Buska
I really enjoyed this debut novel by Deborah Meyler – The Book Store. First, the cover is a huge draw if you are a book lover. I enjoyed the e-book and was hard to put down – a mixture of some great literary quotes and references, classic authors, set in a cozy NY quaint independent bookstore. (Can envision myself and the characters on a cool rainy night away from the hustle and bustle of the city, curled up with a good read and a cup of tea). A mix of some quirky characters, from the homeless, celebrities, lesbian friend, vegans, nutty, to the rich and rude Van Leuven’s (with tidbits of humor) which will keep you smiling! The book centers around the main character – Esme (Englishwoman) graduate of Oxford, now in NY, working on her PHD at Columbia – loving all NY has to offer -- meets her older prince charming Mitchell. Mitchell is not as he appears – he is rude, weird, and has somehow wrapped her around his finger. He is from wealthy Van Leuven family who does not accept Esme. When Esme – finds herself pregnant, Mitchell is not willing to support her decision to keep the baby. He goes back and forth from on and off jerking her like a puppet. Esme finds solace at a quaint nearby bookstore- The Owl, and develops friendships with George and Luke as well as a cast of homeless helpers, among others. During her pregnancy she relies on her true new friends to help her through the trying times. Esme is naïve at times; however, she is smart and does the best she can to make a home and family for her baby within this culture. Of course, we all despised the character Mitchell and loved Luke. With the ending left open, I hope the book will be continued with a possible relationship between Luke/Esme and her new baby daughter, Georgia. Highly recommend this debut novel and look forward to more from this author. I feel with her experience living in Europe and NY, working at bookstores, being a mother and writer – she has great insights to the subject matter making this a pleasant and engaging read.
(Source: I received a digital copy of this book for free on a read-to-review basis. Thanks to Gallery Books and Edelweiss.) 20-something Esme from England is living in a studio apartment in New York while she does her PhD in Art History at Columbia University when she finds out that she is pregnant. Callously dumped by her boyfriend because the sex wasn’t good, Esme decides to not even both telling him about the baby, but unfortunately he finds out anyway and tries to talk her into an abortion, which Esme doesn’t want. How far will boyfriend Mitchell go to try and get his way? Can Esme sway him into keeping the baby and being a real family? And is a job at a small bookstore just what she needs? I don’t even know where to start with this book, it was just bizarre. The Charaters: Esme was such a sucker it was ridiculous. How many times can a man be a total eejit and you still love him and want him? How many times do you keep going back for more? Mitchell was an absolute turd. If it wasn’t bad enough that he dumped Esme because the sex was bad, he then kept trying to talk her into an abortion, and then got his father to try to bribe her into an abortion. Never mind that he then tried to talk her into a threesome, in fact had already set it up when she was 6 months pregnant and had never wanted a threesome in the first place. The people who came into the bookshop were also pretty certifiable. It was like you had to be a few sandwiches short of a picnic to even make it in the door. This was including, but not limited to the weird woman who threatened to complain to the town hall because they had a stuffed owl in the shop (called ‘The Owl’), and she was ‘breathing in dead owl dust’. The storyline: I’m not going to even start on this, instead I’ll just share with you my status updates on Goodreads, which kind of speak for themselves: 7% - she propositions her boyfriend and he tells her he's busy? Time to get a new boyfriend. 8% - she masturbates with a toothbrush? not sure I needed to know that. 10% - she doesn't want sex so he says she can give him a blow job instead? 14% - what an arse wipe. 19% - because everyone wants to hire someone who doesn't have a work visa and is pregnant. 26% - a homeless guy tells her to go to a deli 5 blocks away and that she should eat in, and she doesn't suspect that leaving the bookshop with him might be a bad idea? That he might just rob the place? 37% - So now her "friends" are telling her that she must have gotten pregnant on purpose because there's no such thing as an accident? Nice friends you've got there love. 42% - This bloke is just unbelievable. After trying to trick her into getting an abortion and pressuring her repeatedly, he now pops the question in a crowded restaurant? Please don't tell me that she says yes! 43% - She said yes. Has she learned nothing? 43% - And now he's moaning about the fact that she wants a sip of wine. It might hurt the baby - the baby that he wanted aborted, and still doesn't really want. 46% - What the hell is wrong with running a cupcake business? 54% - He thinks she should be playing beach volleyball whilst pregnant? 64% - Now his father is trying to bribe her into getting an abortion! 65% - "Such a pretty name, where did you get it?" Don’t most people get named by their parents at birth? She didn't exactly buy it at Wal-Mart! 73% - She has an awful lot of caffeine for a pregnant woman. 84% - She's six months pregnant and he's trying to talk her into a threesome?! 85% - I think he just told her that loving her makes him contemplate suicide! What a charming man. 88% - Now he's breaking up with her because the relationship is hollow? It's hollow because he is hollow! She's better off without him. What an ass wipe. 88% - "I don't even particularly like you." Well he liked her enough to get her pregnant!" 89% - And she's still trying to talk him in to marrying her. What is wrong with her? 95% - Well at least she's breastfeeding. I can honestly say that this book was just strange. I just didn’t get it at all. Mitchell deserved to be strung up, and Esme needed her head testing for continuing to chase him and go along with his plans. I don’t think I’d recommend this to anybody, it wasn’t even funny, and this ‘family’ that she’s supposed to have made at the bookstore was just a bunch of nutters who all hung around the same place, and didn’t mind too much when a homeless man stole from them. I mean seriously? If you want to read some women’s fiction, I’d suggest Jodi Picoult or Jane Green, and suggest you steer well clear of this. Oh, and if you’re wondering, the baby was a girl, let’s hope she’s got more sense than her mother. Overall; a strange women’s fiction story, that wasn’t even funny. 5 out of 10.
I feel compelled to start off with my strongest feelings about this novel. One that I'm pretty sure we readers are supposed to feel: I could not stand Mitchell van Leuven! Seriously, there are guys who act like that?! He is unbelievable. His behavior so bad I was often sitting there reading with my mouth hanging open. And what the heck was up with Esme's relationship with Mitchell? It's like she barely knew him at all. Yet time and time again, she dealt with this jerk, even after admitting to herself that if she were reading a novel and this was happening (clever technique there, by the way), she'd be telling herself to run far, far away from him! Also, Esme has some really stupid beliefs about the way Americans do things. That our language has to be "in its simplest form" in order for us to understand, that we all cut our steaks the same way, that if something unexpected is said on the phone it confuses us. And she's a little judgy, too. She sees a nanny with a little girl in the part and thinks "It's a Saturday - do her parents work so hard they can't even play with her on a Saturday?" Come on. However. As often as I found Esme annoying, I really enjoyed this book. It was such a great story. I connected with the characters whether I liked them or not. I liked seeing Esme develop, shedding some of her preconceived notions and finding her own strength through a stressful situation. But for me, the real stars of this novel were the minor characters. Esme's roommate, Stella. The bookstore owner, George. DeeMo, Tee, and Dennis, the homeless who look after their friends at the bookstore. And Mrs. Kasperek, who is selling all of her books before moving into assisted living: "These books... They are all my life. These books are all my life." (And this is where I cry). Though perhaps a bit sudden, The Bookstore has an interesting, non-cliche ending. This is Deborah Meyler's debut novel. She has a very natural, flowing way of writing that makes you feel like you're reading something fun and light, even when things get complicated (or when characters infuriate you!). I received a copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. I did not receive any other compensation for this review.
This book wasn't what I was expecting . It was more! The story is set in NYC in an old bookstore. It is home to many characters-the owner George, his staff and the homeless who he helped out. In comes Esme a PhD student from England. She gets caught with a rich businessman, a wishy washy kind of guy. The story is about youth, self-centered egos, friends and loyalty. I thought it started slow but then I couldn't put it down. I was flabbergasted at the ending of the story. As it is a debut book I sure hope Deborah has plans for a follow up book!
Esme Garland is attending Columbia with a prestigious scholarship trying to obtain her PhD. She meets Mitchell Van Leuven and starts an affair of sorts...until the blue line appears on a pregnancy test. Mitchell Van Leuven is the bluest of blue bloods in New York and is constantly keeping Esme on a roller coaster of emotions and mind games. Coming and going Esme doesn't know what to do or how to feel. This book is a love it or hate it type of story. With it's extensive art history and book classics...if you don't know who or what they are talking about you will be on Google more times than not. Esme's constant over analyzing of everything and long drawn out explanations of every thing. I just couldn't connect with any part of the book.
Enjoyed this book and will order other books by this author.