Sometimes I end up with a book that I have to finish all in one go. That happened to me yesterday. Of course, today sucked a bit as a result (try getting up and acting like a human being at 5 AM when you didn’t go to sleep until after 11 at my age), but I still feel like the book was worth it.
This was the case with my most recent read — How to Find Love in a Bookshop by Veronica Henry. I started it Monday morning, read a bit more at lunch, and when I got home I could not put it down until I had read the entire book. There were several themes that sucked me in — themes that I suspect I needed at that moment in my life — the power of books in people’s lives, love, greed, loneliness, connections, and kindness.
The Power of Books
Books told you things, everything you needed to know, but you didn’t talk back to them.
— Veronica Henry
Books talk to us. They provide messages that we need at times when we need them — and sometimes those messages come unexpectedly. The ability of the booksellers in How to Find Love in a Bookshop to make recommendations that match what people need at that time in their life is amazing. Henry does a remarkable job of highlighting the power of books in a person’s life.
I find that I select the books that I am going to read based on what my emotional needs are at the time. When I want to connect with my inner child I turn to Harry Potter, the Chronicles of Narnia, or something similar. When I want to examine my character or someone else’s I often turn to Jane Austen. Trying to sort out the complexities of love and relationships? Anna Karenina is my solution. Understanding the dark beauty of language despite a difficult and dark topic? Lolita. Working on my ability to provide rich descriptions usually means turning to Alain Robbe-Grillet. There is a book for every thought and every mood. There is a book that is appropriate to every time in my life. I just need to head to my independent bookshop and find that book.
After all, a town without a bookshop was a town without a heart.
— Veronica Henry
The story also highlights the connections between books and love and the importance of love. Henry also highlights how there are many different kinds of love and how each serves a different purpose. The simultaneously complex and incredibly simple relationship between love and grief is revealed as the events unfold throughout the novel. Grief results from love lost, but grief can also lead us to find love. Ultimately, the book reveals how grief can be an essential tool in understanding the power of love.
Other complexities of love are revealed through one character trying to sort through having had an affair. The author does a fantastic job of highlighting the nuances that exist in life making the reader realize that things are not always “black and white”. In short, life is complex. An affair is not always just an affair, and there are multiple forms of love.
The book reminded me of how love connects us. There are different forms of love for different connections, but love is the basis for human connection. There is a connection made to one of my favorite books about love and grief — Anna Karenina. Without giving too much away, there are some parallels drawn between events in the book and the lives in Anna. The book also highlights the power of a love of books and a love for the people in books.
A counterpoint to the theme of love in the book is an underlying current that reflects on the power (or lack thereof) of greed and selfishness. Some of the characters are remarkably selfless and empathetic — putting the needs of everyone around them before themselves. Sometimes the characters focus on the needs of others to the detriment of themselves.
Of course, in the end the Universe has a way of correcting for this. Karma can be a powerful force. The characters who are dominated by greed meet with karmic outcomes in the end of the novel. We also see that love overcomes greed in the end.
From the outside, she was living the dream. Inside, she felt bored and empty and meaningless.
— Veronica Henry
There is a subtle focus on loneliness in the book. She highlights the various forms that loneliness can take. Sometimes you can be in a crowded room and surrounded by people, but still be horribly lonely. Similarly, you can live a dream life and still be empty and lonely on the inside.
I have had moments in my life where I have put on the appearance of being a happy person — the happy, stay-at-home mom and wife. In reality I was miserable. There was this person deep down inside just screaming to get out and make connections with other people. There were sections of the book that reminded me of those times in my life.
Henry highlights how appearances can be deceiving. Sometimes people can put on a front that they are happy and fulfilled and be simply miserable deep down. Other people may seem miserable based on their appearance, but they are happy and fulfilled. A person can “have it all” and still be lonely and unhappy, while another person can live in debt or poverty with challenges that most people would think of as making their life miserable but be the happiest person on earth. The theme that can make a world of difference is the connections that we develop (or, conversely, the connections that are lacking on our lives).
He didn’t know many people who could quote Joyce. He refused to be intimidated by her apparently universal knowledge of literature.
— Veronica Henry
The novel highlights the importance of human connections. The story unfolds as we encounter a series of connections that are developing with the bookshop as the epicenter. We see how people develop connections that take on a different meaning in the different life circumstances. Many of these connections develop through the shared experience of books.
The quote referenced above is a shortened version of one of my favorite moments in Joyce’s Ulysses:
I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.
— James Joyce, Ulysses
In a rather clever way, Henry has used a quote that is about one form of human connection to help foster another type of human connection in her own novel. There is research that indicates that people who read a lot are more likely to have higher emotional intelligence and display empathy and kindness. I think it also equips you to form more meaningful connections with others.
But if recent events had taught him one thing, it was to accept kindness.
— Veronica Henry
The most important theme in the book focuses on kindness. As I finished the book, I found myself thinking more and more about the role of kindness in my daily life. For a book to spark those kinds of deep reflections means that the book has truly done its job. Kindness is the foundation for our shared humanity. Henry does a remarkable job of highlighting the power of and need for kindness in the world.
Overall, this book was a remarkable read. I picked it up as something to distract me and as a quick and mindless read. It turns out that it sparked a lot of reflection and thought for me. This was an unexpected, but lovely, surprise. Sometimes books do that to you — surprise you in pleasant ways.
Reflecting on the themes of the book and the things that I took away from reading it, I want to spend more time trying to form meaningful connections with the people around me. I want a life that finds multiple types of love, but more importantly I want a life that is focused on kindness and empathy. I hope others find the same motivation and dreams between the covers of a book. The next time I am in the bookshop, I will say hello to you and see if we can’t find our own meaning and connection over the shared experience of a book.