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Likely Stories: The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman

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Adventures of a voracious reader who works in an independent bookstore

As my readers are aware, I have a craving for novels about books, bookshelves, bookstores, and libraries.  The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman is her third novel

Abbi writes, “Larchmont Boulevard is the linear heart of Larchmont Village, populated by cafés, restaurants, boutiques, artisanal stores of many kinds, and one of the few remaining independent bookstores in Los Angeles.  That’s where Nina Hill works, spinster of the parish and heroine of both her own life and the book you’re holding in your lovely hand” (4).  I feel as though I am nearly in the presence of Jane Austen.

Waxman reveals part of her history.  She writes, “As a child she’d been told she had ADD, or ADHD, or some other acronym, but her school librarian had simply clicked her tongue and told her she was imaginative and creative and couldn’t be expected to wait for everyone else to catch up.  She’d started giving Nina extra books to read and encyclopedias to gnaw on.  This approach, Nina now realized, was in no way medically recommended, and didn’t do anything at all for her math skills, but it did mean she arrived in high school having read more than anyone else, including the teachers.  It also meant she thought of books as medication and sanctuary and the source of all good things.  Nothing yet had proven her wrong” (10).

One year, I had a second job as an assistant manager in a book story, and I recalled many things I experienced.  Waxman writes, “There are people who have no time for books.  Nina met those people; usually they came into the bookstore to ask for directions and would then look about confusedly when they realized they were surrounded by these strange paper oblongs” (181).  I had such a customer once who asked me, “Who is this Shakespeare character anyway?”

Another interesting passage has Nina conducting a book club event.  Abbi writes, “Nina was enjoying the book; the writing was beautiful, the characters were real, the situations were bitter sweet, but it was after an hour or so of reading that she came across a line that struck her so forcefully she had to close the book for a moment: ‘I’m lonely,’ the young character Ulysses said, ‘ and I don’t know what I am lonely for’ // Nina knew that double whammy: the emotion itself and the frustration of not being able to put into words.” (184).  I could not even begin to recall how many times that delightful sensation occurred to me.  I try to encourage my students to watch for novels that affect them in a variety of ways, and this is the way to becoming a voracious reader.

The novel did have one ever-so-slightly annoying feature.  Each day Nina has a planner filled out.  Some of them I could read, but a fair number were illegible.  I have no problem overlooking this minor feature loss.  All in all, The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman is my kind of story, and I think you will agree.  5 Stars

Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and happy reading!

Life-long voracious reader, Jim McKeown, is an English Instructor at McLennan Community College. His "Likely Stories" book review can be heard every Thursday on KWBU-FM! Reviews include fiction, biographies, poetry and non-fiction. Join us for Likely Stories every Thursday featured during Morning Edition and All Things Considered with encore airings Saturday and Sunday during Weekend Edition.