Four Books, Four Stories
There are some things a bookseller wants to keep private (like how many books they put aside when a new stock delivery arrives, their TBR number, DNF titles), but telling you about books they love shouldn’t be one of them.
With that in mind, instead of just sharing a list of my favourite books, I wanted to tell you about a few that remain close to my heart and the stories of why.
The Complete Brambly Hedge by Jill Barklem
From a young age, I remember going into the local library with my Mum on Saturday mornings. She’d let me choose a handful of books and we’d usually read them together before I went to bed. From Dogger by Shirley Hughes to Five Minutes Peace by Jill Murphy to The Jolly Postman by Allan & Janet Ahlberg; I remember her bringing them all to life. However, it’s the Brambly Hedge books by Jill Barklem that I most vividly remember igniting my love of reading.
I only have to see the illustrations of the tiny mice in their charming hedgerow homes in the various seasons and I’m transported back to being an enraptured young reader, cosied up under a thick blanket and reading by flashlight with her mum. The stories are still as charming and magical as ever.
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Set in Barcelona after the Spanish Civil War, Zafon’s novel is an atmospheric semi-supernatural melodrama that is filled with memorable characters, a doomed love story, and a twisty plot that unravels skilfully (although you have to stick with it during the first one hundred pages).
It’s beautifully written and completely beguiling, but I suspect the reason that this is my favourite book is that I read it at the right time. In 2009, when I read this for the first of many times, I’d just become a bookseller myself and some of the sentiments shared captured the affinity and passion I felt about reading, bookshops and how powerful a love of books can be.
'Few things leave a deeper mark on a reader than the first book that finds its way into his heart. Those first images, the echo of words we think we have left behind, accompany us throughout our lives and sculpt a palace in our memory’.
One Day by David Nichols
I’m about to share something that I think is quite divisive: I used to like to read the end of a book before I started it. I suspect 95% of you will think that’s awful, and the other 5% will admit you do it too. But it was this book that stopped me from doing it. *I will preface this short story by saying it will include spoilers so please do feel free to skip over this if you haven’t read it yet (although you really should because it’s wonderful).
In the last chapter of One Day, Dexter and Emma are very much in love having spent over twenty years in a will-they-won’t-they situation. Delighted with the “inevitable” outcome that often befits the genre, I dove in and discovered a book that was witty, poignant, and filled with characters and writing I couldn’t have loved more.
Around the same time as I was reading it, I went to the cinema to see a film with my friend, Sarah, and they played a trailer for the soon-to-be-released adaptation. I watched in excitement, smug that I’d have finished before it was released, but then my friend leant over and whispered something that devastated me. “Everyone knows she dies at the end”. And that’s how I learned that you shouldn’t jump ahead in books, and it’s more important to enjoy each page as you turn it without expectation to avoid disappointment. That being said, the knowledge of Emma Morley’s death didn’t make it any less impactful, and it’s still one of the literary character losses I rue most. Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding
When I read Bridget Jones’s Diary as a teenager, I thought I was so grown-up, and I got it. But it’s only now as a thirty-something woman who has worked in publishing in London, been the token single at dinners with married friends (thankfully completely un-smug and lovely) and developed my own urban family to share wine with that I do truly get this book and character’s story.
Some things don’t quite stand the test of time; from incessant calorie counting to questionable behaviour from colleagues, but in many ways, Bridget still remains the patron saint of “spinsters” everywhere. For me specifically, she holds a mirror up to some of my weird and wonderful neuroses that I’d rather keep between me and my own digital journal. She’s quick-witted and gregarious on the outside, but on the inside she's self-deprecating and captures that desire to be independent but wanting to meet someone who likes you just the way you are. Since it's publications in the 1990s, many have tried to capture the realities, fun and frivolities of singledom but never quite matched it.
Until next time, happy reading!