Somerset Maugham said: “Reading is a portable refuge.”
American historical writer Madeleine Martin’s novel “The Last Bookstore in London” tells the story of such a refuge. During World War II, in war-torn London, Grace, a clerk in a small bookstore, used reading clubs to ignite the light of life for people in their darkest moments.
Once this book was published, it quickly appeared on the New York Times bestseller list, ranked first on the Amazon book list, and sold well in 11 countries.
01Reading, light up your life
The protagonist Grace is a little country girl. After her mother died of illness, her uncle occupied the magpie’s nest and kicked her out. In 1939, she and her friends came to London to seek refuge with Mrs. Weatherford, her mother’s best friend during her lifetime.
Grace has no letter of introduction and cannot find a job. Mrs. Weatherford introduced her to Primrose Hill Bookstore for six months just to get a letter of recommendation.
The bookstore is messy and disorganized. The owner, Mr. Evans, is a withdrawn old man who thinks her work is unnecessary. Grace knew nothing about reading or working in a bookstore, but decided to start by clearing away grime and organizing bookshelves. It happened that a woman was looking for a book. When she was at a loss, a young and handsome gentleman, George, came to the rescue in time.
George is a frequent visitor to the bookstore and has been reading in this bookstore since he was a child. Afterwards, he helped Grace find books, discussed book categories, and recommended reading to her. He said: “Reading is like setting off to a new and wonderful world.”
George’s erudition and Grace’s professionalism impressed each other, and they had a good impression of each other. But the war was about to break out, and George quickly rushed to the front line. Before leaving, he gave Grace a copy of his favorite classic “The Count of Monte Cristo”.
After work, Grace opened “The Count of Monte Cristo” and time passed without realizing it. From then on, she got out of hand and embarked on a wonderful reading journey. She also gradually fell in love with working in the bookstore. After careful planning, the bookstore had a new look, business was booming, and Mr. Evans became amiable.
Even if communication is often blocked, Grace and George insist on exchanging letters, talking about books and life. Although we are thousands of miles apart, our hearts feel as if we are close at hand. Until the end of the war, George fortunately came back alive, and the two embraced happily.
In the dark days, books opened up a new world for Grace, which was full of life and radiant. She started a different life and met a partner with the same frequency.
Yu Qiuyu once said: “The biggest reason for reading is to get rid of mediocrity. One day earlier will bring more excitement to life; one day later, one more day will be troubled by mediocrity.”
Wherever steps cannot be measured, words can reach; where eyes cannot see, books can travel through. Your temperament is hidden in the books you have read; your life is also lit up by reading.
02Reading, Healing Suffering
The war spread and the disaster intensified. The battle on the front line was unfavorable, with numerous casualties; air raids continued in the rear, fires raged, and everyone was in panic all day long.
Grace stepped forward and served as an air raid defense inspector. From then on, she worked in a bookstore during the day and patrolled the streets at night. In the dark night, she and her partners put out disasters and fires, rescued the wounded, and stopped thugs who took advantage of the fire. From the initial fear, she was able to deal with it calmly.
One day at noon, the air raid siren suddenly sounded, and Grace led everyone to the subway station to take shelter. She took out a book she carried with her, turned a deaf ear to the noise outside, and immersed herself in the world in the book. People around her became interested in the content of the book, so she volunteered to read to them.
The loud sound of books was accompanied by the sharp and harsh sound of cannons and the flickering lights. Suddenly, there was a roar, and the subway station fell into darkness. Someone immediately handed over a flashlight, and Grace continued to read. The gripping story makes people forget the pain and fear of war. It wasn’t until the alarm was lifted that everyone returned from fantasy to reality, hoping to continue listening to the story tomorrow.
Since then, Grace has started a regular reading club, reading one book after another from the subway station to the bookstore. Many people came here because of the reputation. Everyone was no longer afraid, but faced everything positively. Grace gained strength from the book and passed it on, leading people to live bravely.
Reading heals the wounds of war and provides the strength to move forward.
03Reading to support the big picture
When Grace first arrived at Primrose Hill Bookstore, in order to improve the bookstore, she deliberately visited Paternoster Row Street, where there are many bookstores.
The uniquely designed Nesbitt Bookstore made her eyes shine. She walked into the bookstore, but was scolded by Mrs. Nesbitt for “stealing from a teacher.” Later, the business of Primrose Hill Bookstore improved, while the business of Nesbitt Bookstore was sluggish. Mrs. Nesbitt came to investigate, accusing her of plagiarizing her design.
After that, a sudden fire reduced all the bookstores on Paternoster Row Street to ashes. Mrs. Nesbitt questioned Grace angrily, believing that as an inspector, she had an unshirkable responsibility. Grace was full of grievances. She risked her life to put out the fire, but was accused without reason.
Mr. Evans used “A Christmas Carol” she was reading to enlighten her. If she considers the misfortunes of others, she may have more understanding. Grace suddenly realized that she suddenly remembered that Mr. Evans had used a rough and indifferent attitude to cover up the pain of losing his wife and daughter. So perhaps there is unspeakable suffering hidden behind Mrs. Nesbitt and her uncle’s ruthlessness. She gained a new understanding of human nature, began to learn to think differently, and reached reconciliation with others. Therefore, she proposed to open an area in the bookstore to help the disaster-stricken bookstores sell on their behalf.
Mrs. Nesbitt was moved to tears and volunteered to contribute her meager strength by reading to the children in the orphanage. Later, Mr. Evans died and left the bookstore and inheritance to Grace. Later, Primrose Hill Bookstore was also engulfed by a fire, and Grace was devastated by the fate of the bookstore being forced to close. However, dozens of members of the book club restored the bookstore overnight, preserving “the last bookstore in London”.
Reading has allowed Grace to broaden her horizons, understand human nature, and expand her mind. Her kindness and tolerance also received more feedback. Affected by it, people huddle together for warmth and support each other.
Read wisely. The more you read, the wider your horizons and the bigger the picture. Only when you don’t stick to a speck of dust in front of you can you see the vast rivers and mountains.