It took me a good couple weeks to get through the first fifty or so pages, mostly because of the other four books I was also (still am) reading. Each chapter seemed to be about completely different characters, that had no connection to each other. I was intrigued, but not enough to ignore the young adult fantasy series I recently started, or the historical fiction brick about Ireland that I’ve been reading since March, and finished in one fell swoop just a few nights ago. I’d read a chapter here, a few pages there, reminding myself that “this is a library book, it will have to go back before I leave the country”, then put it down in favor of a time travel book by Madeline L’Engle that I had shockingly never been introduced to before this month.
Then they actually started talking about the bookstore.
And I fell in love.
I can’t be the only person who’s ever walked into Barnes and Noble and wanted to walk right back out again because they were greeted by the latest in a long line of Jack Reacher or Alex Cross novels, another legal thriller by Grisham, or even, more recently, the Fifty Shades books. Yes, there are some truly enjoyable books that are both new and popular, but I was raised on books that have outlived their authors. When I learned that Lloyd Alexander, one of my favorite authors growing up, had died, I wasn’t so much sad as shocked to discover that we had actually been alive at the same time. I never considered writing letters to my favorite authors, because getting a letter from Louisa May Alcott or Charles Dickens would have wreaked havoc with my already overactive imagination. The point is, I’ve never been big on reading the latest “bestsellers”. I’d rather haunt the dusty corners of a used bookstore, breathing in the scent of stale tobacco, mustiness, and the delectable odor of old books, than skim through the hundreds of crisp, new books I have no frame of reference for, except that some journalist for The New York Times thinks that it’s a “masterpiece! Thrilling from beginning to end! A must-read!”
This not to say that I never pick up a book just because the title looks interesting, and the synopsis (that isn’t always to be found) had made it even more so. The aforementioned Irish brick was one such impulse purchase, and I in no way regret it. In some ways, that book helped me make the decision to pursue my soon-to-begin adventure in Europe this fall. Another such impulse, was the one that made me decide to not only take A Novel Bookstore from the shelf, but to take it home with me.
And I’m so glad I did.
I’ve read close to 300 pages of this novel, originally printed in France, in two days.
I’ve been living in the ideal bookstore the main characters, Ivan and Francesca, have dared to dream up, and my only sadness is that the bookstore does not exist, at least not where I can access it.
The whole idea of this bookstore, the Good Novel, is that it won’t just cater to capitalism, and stock bestsellers and the hottest new books. It will sell, as it’s name puts it, good novels. Novels that a bookseller, passionate about reading, could recommend, and praise, to any avid bookworm that wanders in from off the streets of Paris. Novels that remind us why literature is so important. Novels that make reality more real by their very existence. The books are selected by an anonymous committee, selected by Ivan and Francesca because they were authors they both admired. The committee is kept anonymous mainly to avoid any pressure that could be put on the selectors by publishers, friends, other authors, or award boards. The only requirement is that they select novels that they consider truly excellent.
Seems too good to be true, right?
Turns out, you’re half right.
The bookstore goes on swimmingly at first, gaining a loyal customer base that soon start to call themselves “the friends of the Good Novel”. Ivan is featured on cultural television programs, and sales soar. People had been waiting for the Good Novel without realizing they wanted it so badly.
Then someone gets jealous, authors feel slighted, and all hell breaks loose, in the form of newspaper articles. Accusations come pouring in, from left and right, calling the Good Novel “elitist” and “facist”, hinting that if the Good Novel starts a trend, there would soon be massive book-burnings. The Good Novel rides out these attacks, taking minimal damage, if any, thanks to responses written both by the booksellers, and by friends of the good novel.
So the people who had united to crush the Good Novel started attacking the characters of the booksellers. Again, they caused little damage, but the name “Good Novel”, as does any name associated with a scandal, became tainted, be it ever so slightly, in the general public’s eye. The ideal bookstore remained busy, despite the forces arrayed against it.
That’s when three of the committee members were attacked.
Who did the attacking, and how they discovered the identities of the committee members, I have no idea. Even if I did, I wouldn’t tell you! If you want to find out, read the book!
This violent effort to prevent any form of holding some books to be truly better than others rather boggles the mind. On one hand, I can believe it. Anti-intellectualism is hardly a new thing, and as a culture, we desire more to be entertained than to be made to think, truly and deeply. I’m just as guilty of this as anyone. There are some days where I want nothing more than to turn off my brain and turn on the magical world of Netflix.
But this is why we need good novels. Novels that expand our minds, that help us articulate our joy, assure us that we’re not alone in our grief. And that’s why we need bookstores, professors, friends, and libraries, to recommend books that do more than
make us squeal when our otps finally kiss entertain.
Who knows? Maybe I’ll start a real Good Novel bookstore once I’m done roaming the earth. After all, if I don’t, who will?