I can’t really articulate the feelings I’ve been having over the course of this lockdown period, so I won’t try to. But, I’m incredibly fortunate to be safe and well. One of very few reprieves to this new normal has been reading. I picked The Bookish Life of Nina Hill up from my local library ages ago, started it but got distracted by another book, and finally got around to finishing it recently.
Sidenote – don’t you love these animated book covers? I hope this trend never dies. The cover is so pretty and playful, which is what tempted me to check this out in the first place.
Nina is a smart, organised and witty young woman living in Los Angeles by herself with her cat. She has a job she loves, working in an independent bookstore, and is very introverted – she’s cultivated her life meticulously around her small circle of friends, her job, and her lifelong love of reading. And she has no desire to change it. But this is upended when it’s revealed to her that her biological father – who she never met or knew of – has died, and she’s been included in his will. Suddenly, she’s got this huge family of strangers that she isn’t sure if she wants to get to know. The book follows her journey with this, as well as a potential new romantic interest…
An ode to bookworms
Anyone who’s read this book will tell you that Nina’s character is so clearly written with love. Abbi Waxman has spoken in interviews about how she was inspired to write the titular character because of the funny, interesting, book-obsessed women she met working in bookstores, which she was visiting whilst on tour to promote her last book. When writing introverted, socially anxious characters, it’s easy to lapse into cliché. Although it’s clear that Nina isn’t perfect, she’s clearly vibrant, super-cute, smart and funny, with a rich – if not a touch stagnant – life. As somebody who’s about 3 degrees off of this character (!), I appreciated this bookworm representation.
The book is chock-full of comedic, trivia-infused prose that points to how much knowledge Nina absorbs and how quickly her mind spins. She kind of reminded me of a blend of Lorelai and Rory from The Gilmore Girls. On a related note, I think that both the title and story would lend itself excellently to a TV series. However, I’m going to be very honest and say that the style wasn’t quite my cup of tea – I couldn’t put my finger on it. It sometimes felt like the pace moved a bit too slow for my liking, to accommodate all of Nina’s observational humour. I think I wanted just a little bit more substance – there was so much rich plot to explore – I wanted more of the crazy family!
Searching for yourself
Without spoiling too much, I found it so interesting how this book deals with the theme of perspective within familial relationships. One person can be different things to so many different people, and during the course of the story, Nina tries to piece together who her late dad was, based on narratives from the people he’s survived by, whilst also trying to figure out if there’s traits that she identifies with herself in this new family. As I mentioned, I particularly enjoyed these interactions and the floating mystique of Nina’s father, whilst I honestly wasn’t incredibly invested in the romantic subplot.
Overall, I liked this book – I loved the final third. I recommend this to any fellow bookworms in need of a bit of relatable content and light escapism.