Fic­tion

Book­ish People

September 1, 2021

Book­ish Peo­ple is a big-heart­ed screw­ball com­e­dy fea­tur­ing an inter­gen­er­a­tional cast of obliv­i­ous authors, over-qual­i­fied book­sellers, and a per­pet­u­al­ly bro­ken vac­u­um clean­er — also a russ­ian tor­toise named Kurt Von­negut Jr., cap­tur­ing the endear­ing quirks of some of the best kinds of peo­ple: the ones who love good books. Sophie Bern­stein, own­er of an inde­pen­dent book­store in Wash­ing­ton, DC, is burnt out on books. Mourn­ing the death of her hus­band (who died at the tem­ple dis­cus­sion group while quot­ing Anne Frank’s father, Otto), and rat­tled by anti­se­mit­ic events in Char­lottesville, she fan­ta­sizes about going into hid­ing in the secret back room of her store. Mean­while, renowned poet Ray­mond Chaucer has pub­lished a new col­lec­tion, and rumors that he’s to blame for his wife’s sui­cide have led to nation­al can­cel­la­tions of his pub­lic­i­ty tour. Only one book­store still plans to host him: Sophie’s. Fear­ful of poten­tial reper­cus­sions, Sophie instructs Cle­mi — book­store events coor­di­na­tor, aspir­ing nov­el­ist, and daugh­ter of a famed lit­er­ary agent — to can­cel Raymond’s appear­ance. But Cle­mi sus­pects Ray­mond might be her bio­log­i­cal father, and she can’t say no to the chance of find­ing out for sure.

Discussion Questions

Cour­tesy of Harp­er Muse

  1. Sophie reflects that the world divides into two kinds of peo­ple: Those who think books are for read­ing when there is noth­ing bet­ter to do, and those who avoid oth­er things in order to read. Does this res­onate with you?

  2. What val­ue does com­e­dy bring to dif­fi­cult sub­jects, and can you think of oth­er come­dies that are set dur­ing dark times?

  3. Mrs. Bern­stein strug­gles with what to do about books that con­tain mate­r­i­al that may offend some read­ers. This is a com­pli­cat­ed sub­ject that even like­mind­ed peo­ple do not agree on. What do you think?

  4. Mrs. Bern­stein also strug­gles with the ques­tion of whether the pri­vate life of an author ought to impact the way he is received by read­ers. What do you think?

  5. Why are vac­u­um clean­ers inher­ent­ly fun­ny? (Or are they?) Do you have any home appli­ances that seem ripe for comedy?

  6. What is the role of inde­pen­dent book­stores in your life?

  7. Every­body in Sophie’s world wants to write a book. What kind of prob­lems does that create?

  8. Cle­mi observes that book­selling is a col­le­gial busi­ness, except when it’s not. Does this seem espe­cial­ly true right now?

  9. Cle­mi believes the tor­toise is talk­ing to her. Is he?

  10. Have you ever heard of an AGA?