ARC Review: Bookish People by Susan Coll

  • Title: Bookish People
  • Author: Susan Coll
  • Publisher: Harper Muse
  • Release Date: 8/2/22
  • Genre: Contemporary
  • Age Range: Adult
  • Rating: ★★
  • Publisher’s SummaryA perfect storm of comedic proportions erupts in a DC bookstore over the course of one soggy summer week—narrated by two very different women and punctuated by political turmoil, a celestial event, and a perpetually broken vacuum cleaner. Independent bookstore owner Sophie Bernstein is burned out on books. Mourning the death of her husband, the loss of her favorite manager, her only child’s lack of aspiration, and the grim state of the world, she fantasizes about going into hiding in the secret back room of her store. Meanwhile, renowned poet Raymond Chaucer has published a new collection, and rumors that he’s to blame for his wife’s suicide have led to national cancellations of his publicity tour. He intends to set the record straight—with an ultra-fine-point Sharpie—but only one shop still plans to host him: Sophie’s. Fearful of potential repercussions from angry customers, Sophie asks Clemi—bookstore events coordinator, aspiring novelist, and daughter of a famed literary agent—to cancel Raymond’s appearance. But Clemi suspects Raymond might be her biological father, and she can’t say no to the chance of finding out for sure. This big-hearted screwball comedy features an intergenerational cast of oblivious authors and over-qualified booksellers—as well as a Russian tortoise named Kurt Vonnegut Jr.—and captures the endearing quirks of some of the best kinds of people: the ones who love good books.

I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

I was excited as I started reading Bookish People when I realized that Sophie, one of the narrators is Jewish. I am all about Jewish representation in books. However, I found Bookish People very difficult to read and Sophie very hard to connect with.

The narration in Bookish People distances the reader from the characters. The tone is straightforward and seems removed from the emotions Sophie and Clemi are feeling. In school, we are warned against “telling” rather than “showing” in writing, and there was a lot of “telling.” The reader is told that Sophie “does not wish to be at this party” rather than given description that reveals that fact.

I also struggled with all of the discussion of vacuum cleaners. There is almost an entire chapter where Sophie goes through every vacuum cleaner Sophie has ever owned. Through extensive description of Sophie bashing her current vacuum, I tried to figure out the symbolism. I could see Sophie feeling as those she’s become broken and obselete like the vacuum, but I do feel like description of every one Sophie has owned was overkill.

Bookish People takes place firmly in August 2017, right around the time of the “Unite the Right” protests in Charlottesville. Of course, as an American Jew, it was very disconcerting to see neo-Nazis expressing their views openly in the United States. Sophie immediately compares herself to Anne Frank and her family and starts preparing an annex in the bookstore for her to live in. You have to be very careful when comparing anything to Hitler’s actions, and I found this very off-putting.

Many bookstores have canceled readings by Raymond Chaucer due to his potential involvement in his wife’s death. Clemi and Sophie both struggle with whether or not to welcome him to their store. As soon as this is presented, the reader gets a chapter from Raymond’s point of view. I found it problematic that the reader is so quickly asked to get into the head of someone who has been set up as such a bad person. The chapter doesn’t do a lot to convince the reader otherwise either.

I really wanted to like Bookish People, but I really struggled with it. If you have read it, let me know what you thought below.

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