84, Charing Cross Road
To my mind, one of the most famous of all literary bookshops resides at 84 Charing Cross Road. Less a piece of fiction than an epistolary memoir, the story unfolds in the letters written and then collected by Helene Hanff, an American writer in search of British classics after the Second World War. The connection she makes with Frank Doel, the proprietor of the titular address, lasts more than twenty years, as the two bond through the mail over their shared love of books. You can still visit the physical site, no longer a bookshop, but marked with a plaque, at the famous address. I have wandered Charing Cross Road many times, in and out of the bookshops that still linger there. There are fewer today than before, perhaps, but still some—and the smell of the old books draws me in every time!
The Shadow of the Wind
Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Another story set in a post-war world, The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, takes place in Barcelona, where a bereaved young boy mourns the loss of his mother. Daniel’s father, an antiquarian bookseller, introduces his son to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, which is a sort of library kept by a group of like-minded booklovers. When Daniel falls in love with a story from the collection, his hunt for further works by its author leads him into a world of magic, madness and murder.
The Bookish Life of Nina Hill
Rhianna, Romy’s green-eyed bookshop cat, would find a relatable character in Phil, the feline padding through The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman. Nina loves reading, her job at the bookstore, her kickass trivia team, and of course, her cat. But when a sudden, drastic change in her family life means that Nina has to look up from her beloved books, she finds not only a slew of new relatives, but the opportunity to turn trivia competition into romance. I think Romy would approve.
Patti Callahan Henry
Much like in Eighty Days To Elsewhere, saving a family bookstore is the focal point of Driftwood Summer, by Patti Callahan Henry. In this story, Riley, Adelee and Maisy-Rose are three adult sisters, returning to their home town to find a way to save their family book store. But will the presence of an old flame re-ignite competition between the sisters? And what will happen to the bookshop?
The Bookshop at Water's End
Patti Callahan Henry
Author Patti Callahan Henry returns to this comfortable setting in The Bookshop at Water’s End, but this time with best friends Bonny and Lainey. They hung out together as teens, but return to this small South Carolina town in their fifties, with children in tow, and shaped by the sometimes tragic events of their lives. Local bookshop owner Mimi helps unravel the mystery of the night so long ago when Lainey’s mother disappeared—and all that has happened since.
How to Find Love in a Bookshop
An idyllic village is the perfect setting for Veronica Henry’s How to Find Love in a Bookshop. Nightingale Books is the local gathering place for readers, but is also in the sights of developers, who would like Emilia Nightingale to sell, now that her father has passed away. But bookshops are always more than a collection of groaning shelves, and love is blooming inside Nightingale Books. What will it take to keep the bookshop–and its denizens–safe?
And in Goodnight June, author Sarah Jio introduces June Anderson, who is unexpectedly bequeathed a children’s bookstore. In trying to decide the fate of Bluebird Books, June stumbles across correspondence between her Aunt Ruby and Margaret Wise Brown, who wrote the classic Goodnight Moon. June’s surprising journey takes her from the bookshop into the pages of American literature, and might just shed a new light on some very old secrets.
Eighty Days to Elsewhere
In Eighty Days to Elsewhere, Ramona Keene works in her family bookshop. Two Old Queens Books & Tea is owned by Romy’s Uncle Merv and his partner Tommy, and she has worked there since she was a teenager. It’s cozy and safe—if a little dusty—and Romy spends most of her time trying to get her uncles organized and a little more up to date on social media. Two Old Queens is a special place. As Romy tells it:
‘The shop is always warm. Every reader is welcome. It smells of old books, and sweet tea, and the heady scent of ten thousand stories, trapped between the covers.
And a little bit of cat.”
In the opening pages of the story, disaster strikes when a new landlord takes over, tripling the rent. And everything that happens next—including a race entirely around the world—does so because Romy is desperate to save the bookshop.
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In these uncertain and uneasy days, libraries and bookshops are more important than ever. Books bring us history, so we can learn from what has come before. They bring us knowledge and insight, and help us to develop critical thinking skills. But bookshops and all the multitudes of worlds they contain also bring us hope. Hope for tomorrow, and for the next generations. And hope that we too, can survive the way others have before us, through war and famine and worse.
Two Old Queens is not the first bookshop to provide a focal point for a story, and it won’t be the last. Let’s have a peek at some other famous fictional—and not-so-fictional—bookshops inside the pages, shall we?