Comfortably Numb

Sheila Kumar's Storehouse

Published on: 08/7/19 11:59 AM

Book review: The Book Ninja by Ali Berg and Michelle Kalus

The Book Ninja by Ali Berg and Michelle Kalus. Simon and Schuster Books UK.

Such a fun read!

Okay, so comparisons are odious but think Bridget Jones in Oz. However,  a Bridge who`s got her shit together a bit more,  is prettier, less scatty but equally wacky, equally witty. And a lot more well-read.

This one`s called Frankie, and how she got her name is downright hilarious. She works in The Little Brunswick Street Bookshop in Melbourne. She doesn’t judge a book by its title  or its cover but by its opening sentence. She`s a published author in hibernation because of the world`s worst- ever review her second book got. Added to which, she got dumped quite cruelly a short while ago. Clearly not the best of times for Frankie, then.

So, when her friend Cat, who owns the bookstore,  suggests she puts her favourite books to use, to find herself a man, Frankie takes that idea a little further and decides to become a book ninja, leaving good books in seats all over the suburban tram and train lines in the city, with her newly- concocted email id details tucked in; the idea is that a man will pick up the book, identify it as his favourite too or start to read and like it, then contact `Scarlett O.`

And thus she sets off on a rollercoaster of leaving books (once getting fined by a train inspector for littering!) like Persuasion, Catch-22 and The Goldfinch,  meeting and dating men –and one woman—who read, who like books. And who quote atrocious poetry at her:

We meet because of Paulo Coelho

Your heart, may I borrow?

Frankie, your eyes, they are beautiful like mine

You are to me, a book spine.

As Frankie  goes about dating random dudes randomly, she blogs about it and  the blog catches on like wildfire. Of course. Slowly and steadily,  Frankie regains lost confidence in her writing skills. Then, life has its own plans and she gets to meet a (dishy) man heavily into YA fiction, one who can quote Katniss and the protagonists of The Fault in our Stars with ease and facility, and without embarrasment.  Frankie, an avowed Jane Austen acolyte, (her two books are titled A Modern Austen and Something about Jane), one who often invokes `the dear lord Austen above,` eventually finds YA isn’t all that bad, it`s literature on message. Of course.

The wit is more gentle than scathing, the messes Frankie gets into are more embarrassing than horrifying. There are a couple of parallel tracks that makes for a sweet neat cohesive story.

But the real meat of the book lies in its treatment of books, authors, editors at publishing houses, and what it takes to run a bookstore. The girls Frankie and Cat are forever jazzing up their stock, setting up interesting stands like `Authors You Didn’t Know Were Jewish,` and suchlike. They pass afternoons `like all good bookstore retailers,` trading recommendations with customers and where possible, stealing away to read, for consumer research. Of course.

And then there are throwaway lines like: Frankie had seen Seb pine over many a woman (many were fictional literary characters of course but the angst was always very real). She craved contact like Amy March craved pickled limes. Jane Austen would be rolling in her grave if she knew that Twilight is ranked 12 in the top 100 bestselling books of all time. Romance isn’t all Mr Bingley and Atticus Finch…but at least they were well-read.

One of her blog posts deconstructs break-ups, comparing them to finishing a great book, using all the five stages. Denial: the book`s over. You can`t believe it`s over. Anger: you accept that the book is really over, then you get mad. You throw things at the book, swear, write abusive FB posts to the book. Bargaining: you try making deals with the book, you pledge to introduce it to friends, if you can get one more page of its literary goodness. Depression: you drown in the book blues. You quit literature forever because nothing will be as good as the book you just finished. Then finally, Acceptance: you deal with it. You start to dabble in other books. Gradually days pass without you thinking of the book. And when you do, you smile and recall fond memories.

The constant nods to good books makes the reader smile. In fact, all of The Book Ninja makes the reader smile.


Ali Berg and Michelle Kalusbooks left on trains and tramsbrief book reviewsThe Book Ninja

Sheila Kumar • August 7, 2019

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