Waxman, Abbi The Bookish Life of Nina Hill

ISBN 13: 9780451491879

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill

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9780451491879: The Bookish Life of Nina Hill
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Instant USA Today bestseller!

“Abbi Waxman is both irreverent and thoughtful.”—#1 New York Times bestselling author Emily Giffin

“Meet our bookish millennial heroine—a modern-day Elizabeth Bennet, if you will... Waxman’s wit and wry humor stand out. She is funny and imaginative, and “Bookish” lands a step above run-of-the-mill romantic comedy fare.”—The Washington Post

“Abbi Waxman offers up a quirky, eccentric romance that will charm any bookworm.... For anyone who’s ever wondered if their greatest romance might come between the pages of books they read, Waxman offers a heartwarming tribute to that possibility.”--Entertainment Weekly

The author of Other People’s Houses and The Garden of Small Beginnings delivers a quirky and charming novel chronicling the life of confirmed introvert Nina Hill as she does her best to fly under everyone's radar.

 
Meet Nina Hill: A young woman supremely confident in her own...shell.
 
The only child of a single mother, Nina has her life just as she wants it: a job in a bookstore, a kick-butt trivia team, a world-class planner and a cat named Phil. If she sometimes suspects there might be more to life than reading, she just shrugs and picks up a new book.
 
When the father Nina never knew existed suddenly dies, leaving behind innumerable sisters, brothers, nieces, and nephews, Nina is horrified. They all live close by! They're all—or mostly all—excited to meet her! She'll have to Speak. To. Strangers. It's a disaster! And as if that wasn't enough, Tom, her trivia nemesis, has turned out to be cute, funny, and deeply interested in getting to know her. Doesn't he realize what a terrible idea that is?
 
Nina considers her options.
1. Completely change her name and appearance. (Too drastic, plus she likes her hair.)
2. Flee to a deserted island. (Hard pass, see: coffee).
3. Hide in a corner of her apartment and rock back and forth. (Already doing it.)
 
It's time for Nina to come out of her comfortable shell, but she isn't convinced real life could ever live up to fiction. It's going to take a brand-new family, a persistent suitor, and the combined effects of ice cream and trivia to make her turn her own fresh page.

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About the Author:

Abbi Waxman, the USA Today bestselling author of Other People's Houses and The Garden of Small Beginnings, is a chocolate-loving, dog-loving woman who lives in Los Angeles and lies down as much as possible. She worked in advertising for many years, which is how she learned to write fiction. She has three daughters, three dogs, three cats, and one very patient husband.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected copy proof***

Copyright © 2018 Abbi Waxman

 

One

In which we meet our heroine and witness a crime of thoughtlessness.

Imagine you’re a bird. You can be any kind of bird, but those of you who’ve chosen ostrich or chicken are going to struggle to keep up. Now, imagine you’re coasting through the skies above Los Angeles, coughing occasionally in the smog. Shiny ribbons of traffic spangle below you, and in the distance you see an impossibly verdant patch, like a green darn in a gray sock. As you get closer, the patch resolves into a cross-hatching of old houses and streets, and you have reached Larchmont. Congratulations, you’ve discovered a secret not even all Angelenos know. It’s a neighborhood like any other, but it boasts a forest of trees, planted generously along semiwinding streets that look like they were lifted wholesale from a Capra movie, and were actually all planted at once in the 1920s.

The houses are big but not showy, set back with front gardens that make the streets seem even wider than they are. Even today, most of the houses look the way they always have, thanks to historical preservation and a general consensus that the whole thing is hella cute. The trees have grown into truly beautiful examples of their kind; magnolias drift the streets with perfume, cedars strew them with russet needle carpets, and oaks make street cleaning and alternate side parking a necessity.

Larchmont Boulevard is the linear heart of Larchmont Village, populated by cafés, restaurants, boutiques, artisanal stores of many kinds, and one of the few remaining independent bookstores in Los Angeles. That’s where Nina Lee Hill works; spinster of this parish and heroine both of her own life and the book you’re holding in your lovely hand.

Knight’s has been in business since 1940, and though its fortunes have risen and fallen over time, a genuine love of books and a thorough knowledge of its customers have kept it in business. It is like all good independent bookstores should be, owned and staffed by people who love books, read them, think about them, and sell them to other people who feel the same way. There is reading hour for little kids. There are visiting authors. There are free bookmarks. It’s really a paradise on earth, if paradise for you smells of paper and paste. It does for Nina, but as our story opens, she would happily go back to the part where we were all being birds, and poop on the head of the woman in front of her.

The woman was staring at Nina in what can only be described as a truculent fashion, jangling her extensive, culturally appropriative turquoise jewelry.

“I want my money back. It’s a very boring book; all they do is sit around and talk.” She took a breath and delivered the coup de grâce. “I don’t know why the manager told me it was a classic.”

Nina looked around for Liz Quinn, the guilty party. She could hear the distant rustling of washable silk as Liz went to ground in the young adult section. Snipe. Nina breathed in hate and breathed out love. She smiled at the customer. “Did you read it all the way through?”

The woman didn’t smile back. “Of course.” Not a quitter, just a whiner.

“Well, then we can’t refund your money.” Nina curled her toes inside their fluffy socks. The customer couldn’t see that, of course, and Nina sincerely hoped she looked calm and resolute.

“Why not?” The customer was short, but she managed to draw herself up a couple of inches. All that Pilates finally paying off.

Nina was firm. “Because we sold you a book and you read it. That’s pretty much the whole life cycle of bookstores right there. If you didn’t enjoy it, I’m very sorry, but we can’t do anything about it.” She looked down at the book on the counter. “You really didn’t like it? It’s generally considered one of the greatest novels of all time.” Nina resisted the impulse to pull out her imaginary blaster and blow the woman’s head off, and got a microflash of the bit in Terminator 2 where his silvery head splits in the middle and waves about. Liz was always telling her to be warmer toward the customers, and to remember they could go online and buy any book on the planet faster than Knight’s could order it. Nina needed to make it a friendly and personal experience, so they liked her enough to give the store a) more money and b) more time than they had to give That Other Place. Independent booksellers called it the River, so as to avoid saying it out loud. But as Nina often thought, denial ain’t just a river in South America.

The woman made a face. “I don’t know why; the heroine sits around and gazes out of the window. If I spent all my time sitting on my butt pondering life, I assure you I wouldn’t be as successful as I am.” She shook back her long blond hair, with its carefully casual beachy waves, and had another thought. “If I don’t like the food at a restaurant I can send it back and get a refund.”

“Not if you’ve eaten it.” Nina was confident on this one.

“Can I get a store credit at least?”

Nina shook her head. “No, but may I suggest a library card? At a library you can borrow the book, read it, and give it back totally free of charge.” She forced a smile. “There are actually two within walking distance of here.” She was sure Liz would be happy to lose this customer. Pretty sure.

“Walking?”

Nina sighed. “There’s parking at both.” She slid the book back across the counter. “This is still yours. Maybe you could try it again sometime. I’ve read it about twenty times, actually.” (This was a gross understatement, but Nina didn’t want to blow what was left of the customer’s mind.)

The woman frowned at her. “Why?” She looked Nina up and down, not unkindly, just trying to work out why someone would do something so strange. Nina was wearing a pale green vintage cardigan over a blue dress, with a cardigan clip across the collar. Apparently, this clarified things for the customer, because the woman’s expression softened to sympathy. “I guess if you’ve got a boring life, other people’s boring lives are reassuring.”

Nina stepped on her own foot and seethed as the woman dropped Pride and Prejudice carelessly into her fancy handbag, bending the cover and dinging the pages.

Two minutes later, Liz appeared over the top of the graphic novels shelf. “Is she gone?”

Nina nodded, viciously tidying a pile of bookmarks and trying to forget the callous book treatment she had just witnessed. “You’re a craven coward, and wouldn’t even emerge to defend your second favorite nineteenth-century writer. For shame.”

Liz shrugged. “Ms. Austen needs no defense. You did fine, and besides, I’ve never forgotten a long conversation I had with that particular customer about LSD and the boundaries of consciousness.” She straightened some copies of Roller Girl. “I thought I was asking about her vacation, but it turned out she’d stayed home and gone further than she ever thought possible.” She tipped her head down to peer at Nina over her glasses, Liz’s short, dark hair barely touched with gray, despite the several careers she’d had, and the many cities and lives she’d been part of. “There was a long portion about the deep inner beauty of yogurt when viewed through the lens of hallucinogens that put me off Yoplait for life.”

Nina regarded her carefully. “I find that story almost impossible to believe.”

Liz turned and walked toward nonfiction. “I should hope so, seeing as I completely made it up.”

Nina looked down and smiled. She’d never felt more at home than she did at Knight’s, with the plentiful sarcasm and soothing rows of book spines. It was heaven on earth. Now, if they could only get rid of the customers and lock the front doors, they’d really be onto something.

***

As the only child of a single mother, Nina’s natural state was solitude. Growing up, she saw other people with fathers and brothers and sisters, and it looked like fun, but generally, she thought she was better off without a crowd. That might be overstating it; sometimes she ached for them, especially in middle school. There were lots of kids who had older brothers or sisters in the high school, and those kids had a protective glow around them she envied. Older siblings would wave at recess, or even stop by to chat and confer greatness. Then, in high school, Nina would listen to the kids with younger siblings complain about them but wave, or go over and chat. She saw the relationship, the shared address, and wondered about it.

Nina’s mother had her after a very brief liaison with some guy she met in those strange times before Google (1988 BG?), where all you had to go on was what someone told you in person. Nina often shook her head over the crazy risks those Gen X-ers took. No online database of criminal records, no checking social media for wives and children, no reading back through months of feeds looking for clues. They would have to physically talk to a stranger without knowing any backstory. They could pretend to be a whole new person for everyone they met, without the effort of creating a matching online profile; the potential for dishonesty and deceit was shocking. Anyway, Nina’s mom wasn’t even sure of the guy’s name, and wasn’t worried about it. She was a news photographer; she traveled the world and took lovers whenever they presented themselves, without guilt or complications. I knew I wanted you, she would say to Nina. God only knows if I would have wanted him.

At first, Candice had taken Nina everywhere with her, carrying her under one arm and putting her to bed in hotel room drawers. After a year or two, Nina got inconveniently big and wriggly, though, so Candice found a nice apartment in LA, and an even nicer nanny, and left Nina to get on with the business of growing up. She’d show up three or four times a year, bringing gifts and strange candy and smelling of airports. Nina had never really gotten to know her, though Candice had loomed large in the child’s imagination. When Nina first read Ballet Shoes, as a child, she’d realized her mother was Great-Uncle Matthew.

Her nanny, Louise, had been a wonderful parent; funny and interested and bookish, loving and gentle. She’d created a peaceful life for Nina, and when she’d come to Nina’s college graduation, she’d hugged her, cried a little, then moved back South to help her own, older daughters raise their children. Nina had been far more devastated by Louise’s departure than she’d ever been waving good-bye to her own mother. Candice had started the race, but Louise had carried Nina over the finish line.

Nina hadn’t missed her mother as much as she’d missed having a father. She wasn’t entirely sure what fathers actually did, day to day, but she’d seen them standing on the sidelines at peewee soccer, or showing up at the end of the school day with their hands in their pockets. In middle school, they’d become totally invisible, but then in high school they’d reappeared, driving the car for late-night pickups and avoiding everyone’s eye when a crowd of teenage girls piled in, smelling of drugstore body sprays and showing liberal amounts of nascent cleavage. Nina found them mysterious. Visiting other people’s houses, she would see their moms—often, in fact, become friendly with their moms—but she left high school without ever truly getting the point of dads. They were a nice bonus, like a pool, or a cute dog, or a natural predisposition to clear skin.

“So, what’s tonight?” asked Liz. “Delicate Ladies Book Club? Transgender Support Bridge Night? Decoupage Devils?”

“You think you’re very funny,” replied Nina, “but truthfully, you’re just jealous I have a wide variety of activities to keep my mind alive.”

“My mind needs no encouragement,” said Liz. “In fact, I’m taking up hard drugs in the hope of killing off some brain cells and leveling the brain/body playing field.”

This was actually true for Nina, too. Not the hard drugs, but the part about her mind needing no encouragement. As a child she’d been told she had ADD, or ADHD, or some other acronym, but her school librarian had simply clicked her tongue and told her she was imaginative and creative and couldn’t be expected to wait for everyone else to catch up. She’d started giving Nina extra books to read and encyclopedias to gnaw on. This approach, Nina now realized, was in no way medically recommended, and didn’t do anything at all for her math skills, but it did mean she arrived in high school having read more than anyone else, including the teachers. It also meant she thought of books as medication and sanctuary and the source of all good things. Nothing yet had proven her wrong.

Nina eyed her boss. “Tonight is Trivia Night.” She knew Liz wanted to join her trivia team but couldn’t work up the energy for the required late nights and weekly study sessions.

“They didn’t ban you yet? I thought they were going to ban you for winning all the time?”

“They did ban us from one place, but there are plenty of bars where they’ve never heard of us.”

Liz raised her eyebrows. “You’re a trivia hustler?”

Nina shrugged. “Living the gangster dream.”

Liz looked at her. “Go on. Do it.”

Nina shook her head.

“Please.”

Nina sighed. “You have to give me a category.”

“Marine life.”

“Too easy. A hundred-pound octopus can squeeze through a hole the size of a cherry tomato.”

“Kurt Vonnegut.”

“He opened one of the first Saab dealerships in America.”

“Jupiter.”

“Has the shortest day of all the planets. Can I stop now?”

“Does it hurt your head? Do you see auras around things?”

“No, but your expectant expression is low key stressing me out.”

Liz cackled and walked away. “You have no idea how amusing that party trick is,” she added, over her shoulder. “Don’t forget to dress nice tomorrow. Mephistopheles is coming in.”

“OK.” Nina frowned after her, then tried to remember how long Jupiter’s day actually was. She couldn’t help it; it was . . . 9 hours and 55 minutes. Thank God for that. Not being able to remember something was, for Nina, torture. It was like an itch on the roof of your mouth, or when you get a bug bite between your toes. You have to go after it, even though it’s almost too much sensation to deal with. Liz thought all the clubs and activities Nina did were a way to be social, but she was totally wrong. Left undistracted, her brain tended to fly off the rails and drive her insane with endless meandering rivers of thought, or constant badgering questions she needed to look up answers to. The trivia, the reading, the book clubs . . . they were simply weapons of self-defense.

 


Two

In which we learn a few things that irritate Nina.

Nina walked home in the golden light of her evening neighborhood, the magical hour beloved of lighting directors and single young people dreaming their plans for the night. Around her, people walked their dogs after work, talking on their phones, oblivious to the slanting sun glinting on windows and door knockers, the colors of the pastel sky as gauzy as any red-carpet lineup. Nina often reflected that LA was not a pretty city, architecturally speaking, but the sky made it beautiful several times a day. As with all th...

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