Small Delight: the Unexpected and the Good

3 Min read

1 Book rec

*

*

I suppose it is the unexpected and the good which sustain us. The package arrived as media mail and I set the used copy on the counter. A week or so later, I began to read it, The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald.

What I discovered in its pages one night was a slip of paper the size of a receipt, nearly translucent. It struck me as the kind from the pad you might get as a marketing freebie in the mail along with personalized address labels, pen, and blank cards.

After a few chapters, I looked closely at the scribbles. Go figure. It was a character list for the book.

Florence Green with the words Old House beneath it. Then Mr. Brundish, Bank Manager, Mrs. Gamart, MiloBBC (Kattie) and others with notes.

The Scribbler writes in No. 2 graphite pencil. It reflects an even hand and a thorough mind, starting with the story’s protagonist: the bookseller. The order is logical. Each word is in cursive. The daughter, Christine, has the mother’s name beneath it, Mrs. Gippings.

The words and the order tell all. The spelling is exact, correctly transcribed from the text.

I hold the slip–a ready bookmark–and begin where I left off. It is light in my fingers, a bit of air, fallen to the floor on occasion. I imagine a fellow reader who laughed and sighed, at the sad and lonely characters in this village by the sea, a world divided in two as Florence Green describes: exterminators and exterminatees.

That early bifurcation of humanity is foreshadow. Exterminatee.

The book is short, 150 some pages. I wonder who wrote down the names and where she is. It’s a she, most certainly. Initial capitals and strong finish to each word, the writing is the same size and level, not sloping down or rising up, a script long in use. A thoughtful hand. Minimal flourish. Slant right.

This book in good condition now bears the underlining and earmarks and tabs I added. The similarity between the Scribbler and Florence Green–the book’s heroine–is undeniable.

*

In an early scene, Florence Green informs the bank manager who is a puppet to the malicious and provincial Mrs. Gamart:

But I’ve no intention of re-selling. It’s a peculiar thing to take a step forward in middle age, but having done it I don’t intend to retreat. What else do people think the Old House could be used for? Why haven’t they done anything about it in the past seven years? There were jackdaws nesting in it, half the tiles were off, it stank of rats. Wouldn’t it be better as a place where people could stand and look at books?

Penelope Fitzgerald. The Bookshop (1978). page 6.

I laughed often when I read the book. The author opened my mind and heart in this dark comedy. A grim tale. At the close, there’s a lot that is unanswered and unaccounted for, which is likely her intention. Florence Green can’t help but remind me of the Scribbler.

And, in that way and others, the heroine and the slip of paper are a gift to this reader. Unexpected and good.

*

FOOTNOTE

*The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald was published in 1978 and the story takes place in 1959. I first came across this title in Joseph Epstein’s list of books worth re-reading in, The Novel, Who Needs it? In search of short works that would make me laugh and think, this did not disappoint. The title lives up to its billing and is worth reading again. The library in the next town had a couple of her books so I dashed over and picked them up.

My copy with the Scribbler’s slip

Apr 17, 2024

0 Comments

About the Author

Mylinh Shattan is a writer who has lived on three continents, served in the Army, worked in corporate America, and taught in college. She loves adventures, in the world and in the mind. Literature is relevant and learning is a lifelong pursuit, so you might as well have a bit of fun along the way.

Stay Up to Date

Rise above the tedium with the TreeHouseLetter. Always learning with a bit of fun.

Latest Posts

That Teacher, You Know the One

5 Min read Poetry for Emergencies: E.E. Cummings On music: J.S. Bach Commencement speech * * Let's take a moment for teachers. That teacher, you know the one. Because, I have a confession to make. In the lottery of life and learning, if you're lucky then you have one,...

Meditation on Mother’s Day

4 Min read On mandalas On Kansas City On life in the middle * * It's wet and dreary here. And, in spite of the multitude of Mays that I've lived through, I continue to forget how busy this month is with graduations, weddings, parties. And, funerals. What I want to...

Semper Fidelis

4 Min read On patterns On Vietnam and Memorial Day Operation Frequent Wind 1 Book rec * * We had not met before though we had met in other ways, I suppose. We laughed in short order, having teared up moments before. But, first let me say this. The third time is a...

On Poetry, Spring, and Transition

4 Min read Poetry for emergencies 2 Poets Mary Oliver on things Lao Tzu on excess * When I moved from one house to anotherthere were many things I had no roomfor. What does one do? I rented a storagespace. And filled it. Years passed.First lines of "Storage" by Mary...

Dirtman and Dillard on Signs of the Apocalypse

5 Min read Earthquake Eclipse 1 Essay rec AVAILABLE ON PODCAST SPOTIFY * “And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood;” Revelation 6:12 * Earthquake...

The Blue Hour

3 Min read Phases of twilight 2 Book recs 5 Regrets of the Dying * It is the darkness which gives that first burst of light its brilliance. * This weekend my daughter returned from spring break. Sitting in the TreeHouse very early that day, I read with a booklight on...

Deez Nuts*

5 Min read Nuts Nonsense Homage to a classic film Wordnerd alert Contronym AVAILABLE ON PODCAST Spotify * One secret of life is that the reason life works at all is that not everyone in your tribe is nuts on the same day. Anne Lamott * I was organizing the pantry...

Topics

Inoculate yourself against the absurdity of life with a dose of the best ideas and writing. Always learning with a bit of fun.