The Lost for Words Bookshop by Stephanie Butland is a compelling, irresistible, and heart-rending novel, perfect for all book lovers.
"In The Lost for Words Bookshop, Stephanie Butland has created a bibliophile's delight. Witty and irreverent, funny and sad, this is a charming tribute to stories on the page and in our livesand the powers they can hold over us."Matthew Sullivan author of Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore
"Burns fiercely with love and hurt. A rare and beautiful novel."Linda Green, bestselling author of While My Eyes Were Closed
Loveday Cardew prefers books to people. If you look carefully, you might glimpse the first lines of the novels she loves most tattooed on her skin. But there are some things Loveday will never, ever show you.
Into her hiding place - the bookstore where she works - come a poet, a lover, and three suspicious deliveries.
Someone has found out about her mysterious past. Will Loveday survive her own heartbreaking secrets?
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.68(w) x 8.54(h) x 1.21(d)|
About the Author
Stephanie Butland lives with her family near the sea in the North East of England. She writes in a studio at the bottom of her garden, and when she's not writing, she trains people to think more creatively. For fun, she reads, knits, sews, bakes, and spins. She is an occasional performance poet.
Stephanie is the author of The Lost for Words Bookshop, The Secrets We Keep, and Letters to My Husband.
Read an Excerpt
A book is a match in the smoking second between strike and flame.
Archie says books are our best lovers and our most provoking friends. He's right, but I'm right, too. Books can really hurt you.
I thought I knew that, the day I picked up the Brian Patten. It turned out that I still had a lot to learn.
I usually get off my bike and wheel it on the last bit of my ride to work. Once you pass the bus stop, the cobbled road narrows and so does the pavement in this part of York, so it's a lot less hassle that way. That February morning, I was navigating around some it's-my-buggy-and-I'll-stop-if-I-want-to woman with her front wheels on the road and her back wheels on the pavement, when I saw the book.
It was lying on the ground next to a bin, as though someone had tried to throw it away, but didn't even care enough to pause to take proper aim. Anyway, I stopped. Of course. Who wouldn't rescue a book? The buggy-woman tutted, though I wasn't doing her any harm. She seemed the type who went through her days tutting, like a pneumatic disapproval machine. I've met plenty of those; they come with the nose-ring territory. They'd have a field day if they could see my tattoos.
I ignored her. I picked up the book, which was Grinning Jack. It was intact, if a little bit damp on the back cover where it had been lying on the pavement, but otherwise in good nick. It had a couple of corners folded down, neatly, making interested right-angled triangles. I wouldn't do that myself – I'm an honourer of books and, anyway, how hard is it to find a bookmark? There's always something to hand. Bus ticket, biscuit wrapper, corner off a bill. Still, I like that there are some words on a page that are important enough for someone to have earmarked them. (Earmarked, in the figurative sense, has been around since the 1570s. In case you're interested. When you work within five metres of four shelves of dictionaries, encyclopaedia and thesauri, it's just plain rude not to know shit like that.)
Anyway. As Archie says, I digress. Buggy-woman said, 'Excuse me, I can't see past you,' but she said it politely, so I shuffled the back wheel of my bike onto the pavement so she could get a better look at the traffic. And then I remembered not to make assumptions and judgements. Everyone is allowed to like poetry. Even people who tut at cyclists.
I said, 'Is this your book? It was on the ground.'
She looked at me. I saw her clock the piercing and the fact that my hair is black but my roots are brown, and waver, but, to give her credit, she apparently decided not to judge, or maybe my clean fingernails and teeth swung things in my favour. Her shoulders dropped a little bit.
'I can't remember the last time I picked up a book that didn't have lift-the-flaps,' she said, and I almost handed the book over to her, right then. But before I could offer it there was a break in the traffic and she launched herself across the road, trilling something about going swimming to her kid.
I looked around to see if there was someone close by who might have just dropped a Liverpool Poet, or be retracing their steps, searching, eyes to the ground. A woman standing outside the off-licence was going through her bag, urgently, and I was about to approach her when she pulled her ringing phone out and answered it. Not her, then. No sign of anyone in search of a lost book. I thought about leaving it on the off-licence windowsill, like you would with a dropped glove, but it doesn't take much in the way of weather to ruin a book, so I put it in the basket – yeah, I have a bike with a basket on the front, what of it? – and I kept on my way to the second-hand bookshop, where I've worked for ten years, since I was fifteen.
On Wednesdays I have a late start because I stay after hours on Tuesday for Book Group, which usually degenerates into something much less interesting after the second glass of wine. One of them is getting divorced. The rest are either envious or disapproving, though it's all hidden under sympathy. It's briefly amusing but ultimately unsavoury, like Swift.
One thing I do like about Book Group is that we host it rather than run it, so I drink tea and tidy up and listen in for the book-discussion bit, then zone out for the rest. It gives me the chance to do the things I can't do when the shop is open; it's amazing how much you get done when you're not interrupted. Archie says that if I had my way, bookshops would be set up like an old-fashioned grocery, with a counter and shelves behind it, so there were no pesky people messing up my beautifully ordered system. I say he's being unfair, but I don't think a Bookshop Proficiency Test would go amiss. Just some basic rules: put it back where you found it, treat it with respect, don't be an arse to the people who work here. It's not that hard. You'd think.
When I got in it was quiet. I was a bit late, partly because of the Brian Patten, but I was cutting it fine for an eleven o'clock start anyway. I stay after closing often enough for Archie to give me some leeway when I've got an urgent chapter to finish, though, so it's never a big deal. After I'd locked up my bike, I went to the cafe next door to get myself a tea and Archie a coffee before I made a start. If you ignore the silk flowers and the signs that say things like 'Arrive as a Stranger, Leave as a Friend', Cafe Ami is a pretty good neighbour.
I love stepping through the door of Lost For Words. The bookshop smells of paper and pipe-smoke. Archie doesn't smoke in the shop any more, officially at least. I suspect that he does when no one's around. All the years when he did go through the day puffing away non-stop have got into the walls and the wood and the pages of the books. There's something about standing, surrounded by shelves, that makes me think of being in a forest, though I've never, come to think of it, been in a forest. And if I was, I'm guessing the smell of smoke might not be a good thing. Anyway. I gave Archie his coffee.
'Thank you, my ever-useful right hand,' he said. He's left-handed and he thinks that sort of thing is funny. I gave him a sarky smile and poked him in the waistcoat. There's a lot of Archie under that waistcoat. If you were going to stab him you would need a really long knife to get to any vital organs. He picked up his pipe. 'I'm going to take the air,' he said. 'Be excellent in my absence, Loveday.'
'As ever,' I said.
There are bay windows on either side of the shop door and one of them is filled by a huge oak pedestal desk. Archie says he won it from Burt Reynolds in a poker game in the late 1970s, but he's very hazy on the details. If all of Archie's stories are true, then he's about 300 years old – according to him he's had the bookshop for twenty-five years, been in the navy, lived in Australia, run a bar in Canada with 'the only woman who ever really understood him', worked as a croupier in Las Vegas and spent time in prison in Hong Kong. I believe the one about the bookshop and (maybe) the one about the bar.
It's a lovely desk, if you can find it under all of the papers. The letterbox is to the left of the shop door, and the end of the desk is underneath it; sometimes there are three days' worth of post and free newspapers on there before I clear them away. All Archie ever does is put more things on top of them.
The other bay window has a little window seat, which is about as comfortable as it looks – that is, not comfortable at all, although people who grew up on Anne of Green Gables can't help but sit in it. They never manage it for long. I think window seats are one of those things that are always better in books, like county shows held in fields on bank holiday Mondays, and sex and travel and basically anything you can think of.
There was plenty for me to do. I know you're supposed to appreciate a lie-in, but I always just feel as though I've let the day get away from me and I'll never catch up. The only benefit is that I don't have to bring in the bags of books people leave in the doorway because they can't differentiate between a second-hand bookshop and a charity shop.
My dad's mum always used to be up with the sun. I can still hear her saying, 'Best part of the day, little one,' with her voice burring and her eyes smiling. My dad's parents were the first people I knew who died. We went to Cornwall twice that year, once in spring when Granny died of stomach cancer, then again in autumn when Grandpa followed her, and everyone shook their heads and said 'broken heart'. I suppose I was four or five. I remember thinking it was strange that Dad's parents had died but Mum was the one crying. The beach we used to go to near Falmouth – where my dad was from – was like a beach from a story-book: in my memory, the sand is yellow, the sea felt-tip-pen blue. We lived near the sea at home in Whitby, but the Cornish beach was different. It was magical. After Grandpa died, we didn't go back. Dad always said that there was no love lost between him and Auntie Janey, so I suppose there was no reason to.
I started with a bit of a tidy-up and I went on to the customer enquiries. Archie's an unreliable computer-user – he can do it, but he's erratic – so I looked at the emails first, sitting at the desk while he puffed away at his pipe outside on the pavement. There was nothing significant: an enquiry about a book we didn't have, an online sale. Five minutes and they were done, and then I looked through the box of enquiry slips. I started leaving them out for customers to fill in themselves because Archie only passes on the queries he thinks are interesting.
There was only one new one, and it was for a book we had a copy of in the storeroom upstairs, so I dug it out and put it in a brown paper bag, wrote the customer's name on it, phoned the customer to say it was waiting, and put it on the shelf behind the desk. It was a Jean M. Auel, something Archie would definitely have considered below his notice. It might have only been a fiver but I'd bet good money that all of my fiver book sales add up to more than Archie's precious first editions. In fact, I don't need to bet. I see the figures. Archie takes me to the meetings with the accountant, so I can listen to the bits he misses. He starts by nodding and then nods off, double-chin to chest. It's funny, he looks small when he's sleeping. When he's awake, and he's talking, he seems too big for the shop, too big for York, although he says the city is perfect for him. I asked him once how he ended up with the shop and he said, 'It was time to be contained,' which is a ridiculous answer. Another time he told me that he came to York to see a friend, 'got overly merry', and bought the business on a whim. Also ridiculous, but more likely to be true.
Ben, who does house clearances and brings the books to us, had brought in a couple of boxes and, judging from the spines of the books I could see, they were going to be a welcome addition to the Music Biography (Classical) section: there was my work for the day. I like it when boxes like that come in, with a theme rather than a hotchpotch of collected living. It makes me feel as though I'm spending time with someone who had a bit of substance. Plus, there's always the possibility of what Archie calls buried treasure. A person with a passion is more likely to have bought and kept first editions and tracked down rare things for the sake of their content, but they won't have thought about financial value, because the value, for them, is all in the pages. Personally, I'm with them, but as Archie loves to point out, I'm not the one paying the rent.
Before I started on the box, I made a little notice – 'Found' – like the 'Lost' ones people make when their cats go missing. Like the cat hasn't just had a better offer and pissed off out of there. The notice said: 'Found: Grinning Jack by Brian Patten. If you are the (neglectful) owner, come in and ask for Loveday.' I stuck it in the window and tucked the book away, in the back, behind the door marked 'Private'. If no one else was going to appreciate it, then I would.
It takes Archie half an hour to smoke his pipe, gossip with everyone and anyone who's going past, and come back in again. He makes no concession to weather, and I kind of admire his commitment, though I'm well aware that if he was smoking cigarettes I might not be as sympathetic. The smell of cigarette smoke reminds me of my dad. My mother made him stop when money was tight. Even now, cigarette smoke makes me uneasy, and at the same time it smells something like home.
There was a biography of J. S. Bach in the box, and when I opened it up I found a piece of greaseproof paper, carefully folded to enclose a rose. The paper crackled as I unbent it, but didn't break; the rose seemed more brittle than the wrapping, and I held my breath over it, not wanting to touch it with anything at all, in case I broke it apart. The petals might have been pink, once, but they had become a dusty grey, tucked away from air and light. I refolded it in the paper and pinned it on the 'Found in a Book' noticeboard at the front of the shop, wondering who had saved it, and why; whether it had been pressed on an impulse and forgotten, or whether it was a symbol of something more significant. I find the fact that I'll never know quite comforting. It's good to be reminded that the world is full of stories that are, potentially, at least as painful as yours.
* * *
A week passed, and there were no takers for the Brian Patten. I was planning to take the sign down that afternoon. My plan was to tuck the book behind the counter and then give it to someone who was buying something that suggested they might appreciate it. I wasn't going to sell it; that didn't feel honest. Yeah, I sometimes over-think. There are worse faults.
I was having my lunch in the back of the shop, which is basically: a tiny loo and hand basin behind an ill-fitting wooden door that needs a yank to close it and a shove to open it; an armchair in front of the fire exit; a shelf; a bin and the hoover underneath the shelf. The armchair is big and comfy, jammed into the space: I can sit cross-legged in it. I have cereal and a banana for lunch – which is also what I have for breakfast, but I like breakfast best, so why the hell shouldn't I have it twice a day? – and I was halfway through it when I heard Archie calling my name.
When Archie calls it's usually because one of 'my' customers (i.e. one of the ones he doesn't like) comes in. It won't be a question about stock, because I swear he knows every single book in the shop, and where it is.
Archie and I are alike in that we have a low tolerance for people who annoy us – not an advantage in the customer service game, as he says – but the good thing is that different categories of people wind us up. I don't like people who giggle. He says there's nothing wrong with a little bit of joie de vivre. He doesn't like people who smell. I say you shouldn't penalise people for their circumstances and books don't care when you last washed. I don't like people who try to knock down the price or bang on about how they could get it cheaper on the internet. Those people don't realise that, for a lot of rare books, if they search the internet they'll end up at us anyway, but we'll charge them postage, too. I quite like it when that happens. A bit of schadenfreude really brightens up twenty minutes in a post office queue. I feel like Becky Sharp from Vanity Fair.
Archie doesn't like the people he calls superfans, but I like a bit of focus in my customers. There's nothing wrong with wanting to own every edition of every book by a particular writer, and most of the authors who are being pursued through our shelves are dead, so if they're not bothered by obsessive fans, I don't see why we should be.
I thought the visitor was probably a collector, who Archie would automatically pass to me, regardless of how far through my lunch I was. I overlook his minor infringements of employment law on the basis that his good points outweigh his flaws by a ratio of about three to one. The old lady gothic novel fan has a sixth sense for when she can ruin my lunch by interrupting me, so I was expecting it to be her, but as I rounded the end of the cookery section, I saw that Archie was talking to someone I had never met. I'd have remembered.
Leather coat and a crew cut, metallic-blue DMs laced up differently, a laugh – Archie looked as though he was on a charm offensive – like sea over gravel. Archie saw me coming and he caught my eye.
'Brace yourself,' he was saying, 'she doesn't approve of people who aren't good to books.'
'Fair enough,' said the stranger. 'I don't approve of them either.'
'Here she is,' Archie said. 'My straywaif.' I thought for a horrible moment that he was going to launch into his how-I-met-Love-day story, but he managed to resist. 'Can I help?'
'You certainly can,' said the stranger. 'You already have, I believe.' He smiled and his teeth were straight and even, middle-class teeth, braced into conformity at great expense, no doubt.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Lost for Words Bookshop"
Copyright © 2017 Stephanie Butland.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
2013. You do not yet know,
1999. A brassy, jangling clang,
2016. There should not be silence,
2013. slightly crooked,
1999. Time is meaningless here,
2016. Turn pages,
2013. Here is food,
1999. No book is without worth,
2016. no one has the key,
2016. Not magic,
2016. Memory stirred through,
2016. Salt and violets,
2016. Oh, the people,
2016. Heal your heart,
A Conversation with Stephanie Butland,
Praise for The Lost for Words Bookshop,
About the Author,