May 25, 2015

The Bookseller

This book caught my eye recently.  On the shelf of Fully Booked in Promenade was a title that embodies a long-time ardent wish of mine.  I opened and run a bookshop, although for a short time, in the 90's. I thoroughly loved going through catalogs of book titles, meticulously ordering my choices, and proudly displaying them on our self-designed racks.  And though the tides of life have brought me elsewhere, I have never lost the burning desire of wanting to own and to run a bookshop.

Sigmund Freud in his "The Interpretation of Dreams" first introduced the relationship of our dreams to our unconscious, and how dreams continue our conscious daytime thought processes, albeit altered by sleep. Such is evident in the story of Kitty in "The Bookseller". Lines blur between two alternate worlds of our protagonist.  The two distinctive existences of Kitty and Katharyn present the ultimate “what if” possibilities in one’s life.

Kitty is an old-maid bookseller who is independent and quirky, and shares her business with her long-time best friend, the also single, Frieda.  Not everything is perfect though; the bookstore business is becoming difficult to continue.  But Kitty and Frieda are so close, they do not seem to want for anything else beyond their daily friendship and companionship.

Katharyn, on the other hand, has given up running a business for a life that revolves around a doting husband and their adorable triplets.    She has a lovely suburban home, which she runs with help, and she seems to live a perfect life. But slowly, Katharyn finds out it’s not so perfect after all. One of her children is autistic and is “incurable”, and doctors declare that it is her fault as "she was not there for Michael when he was young and needed her". Then she also discovers that her parents have passed in the life of Katharyn.  And she is devastated.

Who is real? Whose existence is a dream? Their two situations seem to complement and complete each other’s somehow. Which world is used as the coping mechanism of the other?

Maybe I was mesmerized by this book because I, too, am a woman and a mother. And I used to co-own a bookstore (which has since sadly become "too difficult to continue").  I’m independent and a breadwinner, yet I’m equally subservient to my family’s needs and wishes.   I can identify with Kitty the bibliophile: a former teacher in a life of books, sandwiches, coffee and one close friend.  And I am similar to Katharyn too: a mother of three (I have a pair of twins). The responsibility and the guilt forever entwined together in the role of a mother is all too real for me.

The push-and-pull of Kitty's “real life” and her “dream world” make up the story of this human tale of love and living.  Although fiction, in actuality, we have all at one time or another used fantasy to cope with or to escape reality. The Ocean of Life deals. We can swim. Or we can choose to float while dreaming.  The temptation of a sweet escape appeals to most.  When life situations bog me down, I entertain the thought of an escape to another more agreeable uncomplicated life, where I can throw caution to the wind and live my aspirations to the fullest.

"In that other life, I am the center of my world.  Of course, I love and care about other people--many other people.  But at the end of the day, my thoughts and actions are mainly about managing my own life and my own emotions.

Here, that is not the case.  My life, and my love, are bigger than that.  Even in grief, I have to hold other people close."  

Cynthia Swanson says it best for me in Chapter 27.

"The Bookseller" is a good read.

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