The Lost and Found Bookshop: A Novel
- By Susan Wiggs
- William Morrow
- 368 pp.
- Reviewed by K.L. Romo
- July 23, 2020
A celebration of books, bookstores, and the meaning of happiness.
Deep into Susan Wiggs’ The Lost and Found Bookshop, a character declares: “A bookseller is the link between the stories we tell and the readers we tell them to. Without that, a story has no life outside the writer’s imagination.” Placing this credo at the center of her story, Wiggs spins a multigenerational tale of love, loss, and the essence of a life well lived, all while weaving in the magic books add to our lives.
Natalie Harper had always felt like a stranger to herself. Now she has a job she’s good at but doesn’t like in Sonoma Valley, which is nice but not home. Her life is stable, constant — just how she always wanted it. But the passion is missing.
When Natalie’s eccentric mother, Blythe, dies in an airplane crash with Natalie’s pilot boyfriend, Natalie’s world comes to a grinding halt. She returns to her family’s home on Perdita Street in the heart of San Francisco, to a building that houses both her mother’s bookstore and her family’s apartment. She must figure out not only what to do with the shop, but also how to care for Grandy, her grandfather, who suffers from Alzheimer’s.
Blythe Harper was a “book evangelist,” a “purveyor of dreams.” She’d run the Lost and Found Bookshop in the hundred-year-old Sunrose building for 33 years. The only books Blythe didn’t attend to were the financial ones; Natalie finds their debts are almost insurmountable. Her mother’s motto had been, “Leap, and the net will appear.”
To make matters worse, the building is falling apart. How can Natalie manage without selling it? But Grandy won’t hear of it — his family has lived in it for a century, and it’s the last link to his beloved daughter, Blythe, and to his memories, which are quickly fading.
When Natalie has a breakdown on the sidewalk in front of the bookshop, she’s approached by a handyman her mother had hired. Peach Gallagher is a pro at restoring old buildings, and he fast becomes a friend to Natalie and Grandy.
As Peach makes structural repairs, he and Natalie find hidden treasures left by previous occupants. “The building was a trove of hidden lives — ghosts with secrets waiting to be revealed. Objects that evoked memories had a peculiar sort of power.” And what they find proves to be invaluable.
As Natalie dives deeper into the history of her family and those who once lived in the Sunrose, she realizes that stability and security aren’t as important as happiness and purpose, even when you have to take her mother’s “leap of faith.” The bookshop and Peach just might give her the elusive joy she’s searched for her entire life.
This novel is an ode to books and the stories that make up our human experience. In our world of fewer and fewer physical bookstores and more and more e-books, it reminds us of the beauty of bookshops and of their struggle to stay open. There is no place enjoyed more by book-lovers than a bookstore — to walk along the aisles perusing stories that transport us to another time and place, taking down books from the shelves to read snippets of as we go, is magical.
According to promotional material accompanying the novel, Wiggs’ “life is all about family, friends and fiction,” her writing “illuminating the everyday dramas of ordinary people facing extraordinary circumstances.” Understandably, “her favorite form of exercise is curling up with a good book,” and her blog pays homage to indies around the country.
The Lost and Found Bookshop is a tribute to booksellers. It draws book nerds into lives lived around the hypnotic energy of a bookstore and the role books play in our existence, letting us step into another world and consider other points of view. And now more than ever, don’t we all need some escapism?
K.L. Romo writes about life on the fringe: Teetering dangerously on the edge is more interesting than standing safely in the middle. She is passionate about women’s issues and loves noisy clocks and fuzzy blankets but HATES the word normal. Find her on Twitter at @klromo and Instagram at @k.l.romo.