Translated from German by Jamie Bulloch
It’s not particularly difficult to run a successful bookshop, thought Valerie: a grasp of the rudiments of business, a sensible plan, a little skill in negotiation, a couple of contacts and a large portion of magic.
Well, I’ll let the booksellers among you determine if that is all it takes, but to me there’s something elemental missing from that list of ingredients: a love of books. That is something that Valerie’s Aunt Charlotte, the book shop owner, possessed in spades. But when Aunt Charlotte goes missing and Valerie is seconded in to liquidate the shop, there’s a tension between the recently qualified business administrator and the (seemingly) chaotic ethos of the elderly bookshop owner.
As she enters the shop to take on the challenge –
Valerie dropped her bag to the floor and tried not to fall immediately into despair. Where on earth to begin? This shop was like a dress that the elderly woman had tailored to fit her life. It may now have fitted her perfectly, but for Valerie’s youthful existence it was uncomfortable, shapeless and wholly impractical ….. “What have I let myself in for?”, she sighed.
In short, a life-changing adventure, the likes of which she, a non-reader at the start, could never have suspected. As there aren’t many customers, Valerie finds herself reading more and more of Aunt Charlotte’s carefully curated though erratically shelved selection. This heralds the transformation of the sterile business administrator into a warm-hearted discriminating book lover.
She never stood a chance, did she? We bookworms know that the objects of our affection are so much more that the sum of their physical parts, that they can change not only the reader, but the world. That is what happens to Valerie’s world during her very special year, with admittedly a touch more magic than I would have wished in the form of a book whose ending is to be determined by Valerie herself.
But the spell works in a charming fable about the magic of bookshops and the pleasures and benefits of reading. Aunt Charlotte’s shop, Ringelnatz & Co, is a tribute to, though not operating the same business model as, the world famous Parisian Shakespeare & Co. The books Valerie reads provide an appreciative whistlestop tour through world literature and unexpected therapy for the young woman who, initially, had absolutely no idea that she had lost her way.