This week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic is “bookish characters.” This is an easy one because I’ve read so many novels with memorable characters connected with books. Some are consumers of books while others create them, sell them or protect them for other readers. Here’s a selection of just ten. Links will take you to my reviews.
Let’s start with the people without whom there would be no books — the writers.
Jo Marsh in Little Women by Louisa M Alcott
The most energetic of the four sisters, Jo is also the character with the greatest devotion to the written word. She’s seldom happier than when she’s reading or writing, whether that’s in the form of plays to entertain her family or stories that she hopes will bring an income. While working as a governess in New York she writes salacious romance stories anonymously for sensational newspapers. But she gives up her writing when she marries, devoting her attention instead to running a small school for boys.
Briony Tallis in Atonement by Ian McEwan
Like Jo, Briony Tallis loves writing and performing plays in which she takes the leading role. At the start of the novel she is a precocious 13-year-old with a vivid imagination but rather naive. Her lack of understanding causes her to misinterpret a relationship between her sister and a local boy, with ruinous consequences for both parties. By the end of the novel she is a successful novelist who reveals she has written the book to atone for her mistakes.
Moving on in the chain, we have the people to thank for putting these books in our hands: the booksellers and librarians.
Margaret Lea in The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
In the book I’m currently reading, Margaret Lea grew up surrounded by books. Her father gave her the run of his antiquarian bookshop as a child. She grew to know every book in stock and on which shelf it was placed. Later she joined him in the business. There’s a wonderful scene where she describes how on quiet afternoons she and her father would sit either side of the fire reading quietly.
Florence Green in The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald
The mechanisms of running a bookshop are brought to life in Fitzgerald’s novel set in a quiet seaside town. The townspeople of Hardborough-by-the-Sea have managed without a bookshop for many years. Then Florence Green arrives in their midst, determined to change all that by converting a damp-ridden and probably haunted property. Her new lending library is a hit but Florence comes unstuck when she decides to stock Lolita.
A J Fitkry in The Storied Life of A. J Fitkry by Gabrielle Zevin
This owner of the only bookshop of a small New England island loves books and has very clear views on what constitutes good literature. He hates “postmodernism, post apocalyptic settings, postmodern narrators, or magical realism” but adores short stories. The day someone leaves a baby girl in his shop with a note asking Fitkry to look after her, proves a watershed in the life of this curmudgeonly shop owner. He even begins to change his opinions about writers.
Sylvia Blackwell in The Librarian by Sally Vickers
Sylvia is a young woman who takes up the position of a children’s librarian in the market town of East Mole. It’s a library that has seen better days and its provision for children is woefully inadequate so Sylvia sets out to make some changes. The story that follows deals with friendship, love, aspirations and the power of books.
Then we have the book guardians.
Daniel Sempere in The Shadow Of The Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Barcelona in 1945 is a city is recovering slowly from the ravages of the Spanish Civil War. When Daniel Sempere turns ten, his bookshop-owning father decides he is old enough to be introduced to the secret of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. There he will select one book from its shelves, becoming responsible for that volume for the rest of his life.
Liesel Meminger in The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Germany, 1939. Liesel Meminger’s life is changed when she picks up a single object, partially hidden in the snow next to her brother’s newly dug grave. It is The Gravedigger’s Handbook, left behind there by accident, and it is her first act of book theft. So begins a love affair with books and words, as Liesel, with the help of her accordian-playing foster father, learns to read. Her passion for reading leads her to rescue books from the embers of Nazi book-burnings and to steal novels from the mayor’s private library.
Of course there would be no point in preserving books if there were no readers around to appreciate them. So let’s give a cheer for readers whose lives are transformed by books.
Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
The protagonist of Austen’s novel has a very vivid imagination stimulated by the reading of novels. She finds it so hard to separate real life from fiction, that she believes her host at Northanger Abbey is the kind of evil figure she’s read about in Gothic novels. By the end of the novel she has come to learn that she cannot believe everything she reads and that it’s possible to appreciate a novel without immediately applying it to her own behaviour and thoughts.
Miss Dorothy Peabody in Miss Peabody’s Inheritance by Elizabeth Jolley
Poor Miss Peabody suffers from the same inability to distinguish between fact and fiction as Catherine Morland. With a dull clerical job, colleagues who never invite her to join them in the pub and a bed-ridden mother to care for, Miss Peabody has few pleasures in life. Her only source of joy are romantic novels, especially those written by Australian author Diana Hopewell. The pair begin a correspondence. Miss Peabody has little to share but Hopewell’s letters are full of exciting extracts from her novel in progress. Soon Miss Peabody begins her own inventions. She’s on dangerous territory but in a twist of fate, all comes right in the end.
Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish and now hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. For the rules and the list of topics visit the Top Ten Tuesday page on her blog.