Saturday Excerpt: The Bookshop of Yesterdays by Amy Meyerson
Book lovers, we have the perfect way to start your weekend. Today’s Saturday Excerpt showcases The Bookshop of Yesterdays, a story for anyone with a love of books and an interest in emotional family stories. Keep reading to discover more!
About The Bookshop of Yesterdays:
A woman inherits a beloved bookstore and sets forth on a journey of self-discovery in this poignant debut about family, forgiveness and a love of reading.
Miranda Brooks grew up in the stacks of her eccentric uncle Billy’s bookstore, solving the inventive scavenger hunts he created just for her. But on Miranda’s twelfth birthday, Billy has a mysterious falling-out with her mother and suddenly disappears from Miranda’s life. She doesn’t hear about him again until sixteen years later when she receives unexpected news: Billy has died and left her Prospero Books, which is teetering on bankruptcy, and one final scavenger hunt.
When Miranda returns home to Los Angeles and to Prospero Books—now as its owner—she finds clues that Billy has hidden for her inside novels on the store’s shelves, in locked drawers of his apartment upstairs, in the name of the store itself. Miranda becomes determined to save Prospero Books and to solve Billy’s last scavenger hunt. She soon finds herself drawn into a journey where she meets people from Billy’s past, people whose stories reveal a history that Miranda’s mother has kept hidden—and the terrible secret that tore her family apart.
Bighearted and trenchantly observant, The Bookshop of Yesterdays is a lyrical story of family, love and the healing power of community. It’s a love letter to reading and bookstores, and a testament to how our histories shape who we become.
The last time I saw my uncle, he bought me a dog. A golden retriever puppy with sad eyes and a heart-shaped nose. I didn’t have her long enough to give her a name. One moment she was running around my living room with the promise of many adventures together and the next she was gone. It was the same way with Uncle Billy. One moment he was waving goodbye as he reversed out of my driveway. Then I never saw him again. Mom never wanted a dog. I’d begged her, promising to walk the dog every day, to scrub the living room rug after any accidents, but Mom was insistent. It wasn’t about the rug, or the countless shoes the dog would ruin. It wasn’t about love, either. She had no doubt I would love the dog. Of course, she would love it, too, but a pet, like any relationship, was about account- ability, not love. I was on the brink of my teenage years, of boys and friends who mattered more than allowance, more than dogs, more than family. We’d been over it. No dog. I knew this. Uncle Billy knew this, too.
The dog was a birthday present. For my twelfth birthday, my parents had rented out an arcade and batting cages in Culver City. It was the beginning of 1998. We always celebrated in January, since I was born so close to the end of the year.
My friends crowded behind the plate, cheering as I nudged the batting helmet out of my face and timidly stepped into the cage. Dad offered me last-minute advice to keep my feet shoulder-distance apart, my right elbow up. I expected Mom to remind me to be careful, but she was at the concession stand, making a phone call.
All right, Miranda, you can do this, Dad said after a swing and a miss. Mom appeared at his side and whispered something into his ear. I swung at the next pitch once it had already sped past the plate. You should know by now not to count on him, Dad said to Mom. Miranda, he called to me. Keep your eyes open.
He promised he’d be here, I heard Mom whisper.
Let’s not get into this now, he whispered back.
He shouldn’t make promises if he isn’t going to keep them. Suze, not now.
I tried to focus on my cocked elbow, my loose knees, just as Dad had taught me, but their hushed tones distracted me. There was only one person who made them whisper like that. I hated when they talked about Billy that way, like they were trying to protect me from him, like he was someone I needed to be shielded from. I turned away from the pitching machine, toward my parents. They were leaning against the cage, star- ing each other down.
The impact sounded before I felt it. An incredibly loud clap and then my shoulder ignited. I screamed, falling to the ground. Two more balls whizzed by my head. Dad shouted for someone to turn off the machine as he and Mom raced into the cage.
Sweetheart, are you okay? Mom pulled the helmet off my head and brushed the sweaty hair off my forehead. The pain had knocked the wind out of me. I panted on the cold cement floor, unable to respond. Miranda, talk to me, she said a little too frantically.
I’m okay, I said between exerted breaths. I think I just need some cake.
Normally, this would have made them laugh, but they continued to cast concerned and disappointed looks at each other as if the welt rising on my shoulder was somehow Billy’s fault, too. Mom huffed at Dad, then stormed off to the concession stand to collect my birthday cake.
Is Mom okay? I asked Dad as we watched her talk to the teenager behind the counter.
Nothing a little cake can’t fix, Dad said, ruff ling my hair.
After the cake was devoured and the bag of ice Mom made me hold on my shoulder had melted down the front of my T-shirt, I joined my friends in the arcade, ignoring the sharp pains that shot down my arm as I rolled the skee-ball up its narrow lane. Between rolls, I glanced over at my parents. They were cleaning up the remains of my birthday cake, Mom furiously scrubbing the plastic tablecloth until Dad pulled her away and held her in his arms. He stroked her hair as he whispered into her ear. I couldn’t understand why she was so upset. Billy often didn’t show up when he said he would. In fact, I couldn’t even remember the last time he’d been to one of my birthday parties. If an earthquake hit in Japan or Italy, he’d be on the first plane out with the other seismologists, engineers, sociologists. He didn’t usually have time to let us know he was leaving. Instead of disappointment, I felt pride. My uncle was important. My uncle saved lives. Mom taught me to see him this way. After a recital or debate, a Sunday barbecue without Billy, she would tell me, Your uncle wants to be here, but he’s making the world a safer place. He was my superhero. Captain Billy, who saved the world not with superhuman powers but with a superior brain. Even when I was too old to believe in superheroes, I still believed in Billy. I thought Mom believed in him, too, yet there she was, crying over a birthday party.
My best friend, Joanie, and I went to bed early that night. I was half-asleep and hazy, but the ringing doorbell was real, the tiptoes downstairs, the whispers. I slipped out of bed, into the hall where I saw Mom at the front door below, her satin bathrobe pulled snugly around her small frame. Billy stood outside on the porch.
I started to run toward the stairs, ready to pounce on Billy. I was getting too big to jump on him, yet I thought even when I was an adult I would greet him that way, breaking his back with my love for him. When I got to the top of the stairs, Mom’s words startled me.
What the fuck is wrong with you? It’s 3:00 a.m. I froze. Mom rarely raised her voice. She never cursed. You’ve got some nerve, showing up in the middle of the night and blaming me. Some fucking nerve.
I stood paralyzed at the top of the banister. Her anger was glorious, unlike anything I’d ever seen before.
You made things this way. She tried to keep her voice down.
You hear me? This was your choice. Don’t you dare blame me.
Billy turned away as Mom continued to yell about the hour, telling him he was an asshole and something called a narcissist and other names I didn’t understand. When he spotted me at the top of the stairs, his cheeks were red, his eyes were glassy. Mom followed his gaze to me. Her cheeks were pale and she suddenly seemed very old. I looked between their expressive faces. They weren’t fighting about my birthday. Something else had happened.
Honey, go back to bed, Mom called to me. When I stalled, she added, Please.
I darted back to my room, disturbed and inexplicably embarrassed by what I’d seen.
Joanie tossed when she heard me crawl into bed beside her.
What time is it? It’s after three.
Why is someone coming over so late? I don’t know.
Joanie rolled over, mumbling incoherently. I couldn’t fall back to sleep. Mom’s words raced through my brain—some fucking nerve and asshole and don’t you dare blame me. This was your choice. Sunlight bled through the curtains as dawn became morning. I’d stayed up all night, and I still couldn’t figure out what choice Billy had made, what he’d blamed on Mom, what I had witnessed at our front door.
Later that morning, Dad took Joanie and me for pancakes.
Where’s Mom? I asked Dad as we got into his car.
She’s sleeping in. Mom never slept past seven, but Dad’s tone discouraged further questions.
When we returned from breakfast Mom was still in her satin robe, her auburn hair tangled around her face as she folded chocolate chips into batter. Normally, singing was an essential ingredient in any recipe. Mom’s mellifluous voice would weave its way into a pie or lasagna, making the cherries or the tomatoes sweeter. As she continued to f lip the cookie dough, over and over again, the kitchen was painfully silent.
She looked up when she heard me in the doorway. Her eyes were puffy, her cheeks still colorless. How was breakfast?
Dad let us get three different kinds of pancakes.
Did he? She returned her attention on the bowl of cookie dough. That was nice of him. I wanted her to start singing, to break her own trance. She continued to watch the dough thud against the sides of the mixing bowl, and I wondered if the cookies would taste as good without her secret ingredient.
We didn’t hear from Billy for a few weeks, not until he stopped by to take me out for my birthday. I had no idea where we were going. That was the fun of a day with Billy. Whatever activities I would have proposed—an afternoon at the pier or Six Flags—wouldn’t have been half as exciting as whatever adventure he had in store for us.
The labored breaths of Billy’s old BMW echoed through the house. I waited for the familiar sounds of his car door shutting, of Mom rushing to meet him at the front door, peppering him with questions. Where were we going? Would there be other children? Were there cliff edges or high distances I could fall from? Seat belts? Life jackets? She never seemed completely satisfied with his answers.
That afternoon, Billy honked his horn and Mom called, Billy’s here, from behind her closed bedroom door.
Don’t you want you say hi? I shouted to her.
Not today, she shouted back.
I hesitated before I left the house. Mom’s bedroom door remained closed. It didn’t matter, anyway. Billy didn’t ring the bell, just waited in the car with the engine still running.
There’s my favorite girl, Billy said as I hopped into the car. He always called me that, his favorite girl. It would have embarrassed me if my parents said anything so sappy. With Billy, it made me feel like the kid I still wanted to be but knew at twelve was no longer cool. We turned out of the driveway, and my house retreated into the distance. I wondered if Mom was watching us leave from her bedroom window.
Boy, do I have a surprise for you. Billy shot me one of his oversized smiles. I searched his face for any of the strain I’d seen on Mom’s. Billy looked content, giddy.
A surprise? Although I never would have admitted it to Joanie, a surprise from Billy was still a greater thrill than stealing lipstick from the drugstore, a better rush than driving too fast down Highway 1 with Joanie’s older sisters.
Hey, reach in there for me. Billy pointed toward the glove compartment where a black envelope rested on top of his car registration. It was the right size to hold tickets to Universal Studios or a concert at the Hollywood Bowl, but Billy never would have given me a present so straightforwardly. There’d be no fun in it. I had to earn his gifts through solving his clues.
I tore open the envelope and read the riddle aloud. My flag is red, white and blue, though I’m not a land you call home. You might think it a lozh’—I didn’t know how to pronounce that word—but at my closest point, I’m two and a half miles from American soil.
France? I guessed. Billy looked dubiously at me. Canada? Canada’s flag is only red and white. You’re getting warmer, or should
I say colder, much, much colder. Russia? I asked uncertainly.
Vernvy! he said in his best Russian accent.
You’re taking me to Russia? Was there an earthquake? I pictured Billy and me in shearling hats, trekking through snow to sur- vey the damage to a remote town.
I think your mom would have my head for that, Billy said.
With the mention of Mom, Billy and I quieted. I knew we were both remembering how our eyes had locked while he fought with Mom in the middle of the night.
Is everything okay with you and Mom?
Nothing for you to worry about. He paused, began to say something, then paused again before rolling to a stop outside a building on Venice Boulevard that looked condemned. Now, let’s see about that clue.
This is where we’re going? I asked, counting the storefront’s boarded-up windows. Usually, his adventures involved state parks and mountaintops, secluded beaches. Something in that building has to do with Russia?
Vernvy! He hopped out of the car and bowed, motioning me toward the metal front door. It was unlocked, and he held it open for me.
Are we allowed to be here? I hesitated, peeking behind him into the dark interior. It looks closed.
It’s not open today, but the manager owes me a favor. It’s always more fun to have a museum to yourself, don’t you think? He walked inside and waved me to follow. Trust me, he called. Trust me. His mantra. And I always did.