My Penelope Fitzgerald Story Compliments of Everyman’s Library
Offshore – A Novel
In January or February of 2018, living in New York City on the UWS, I made my way down to one of my favorite bookstores in SoHo – the Housing Works Books & Café – to hunt for some Everyman’s and knock about. I did my usual upon popping into any bookshop: headed straight for the fiction/literature section, before then bumping over to the poetry section, and finally, the essays and/or literary criticism sections.
As I was scanning the spines, looking for the Everyman’s dust jackets that I can recognize from a mile away or the Everyman’s spine with golden type that I recognize just as easily, one did just that – BAM, there’s one! Bingo! Excitedly, I reached down to pluck it out and see which one is was.
Penelope Fitzgerald? I had never heard of her. Well, it’s an Everyman’s Library book – I’m sold!
So, I did some quick research, found out that she didn’t start writing seriously (or publishing) until well into her sixties, and that she won the Booker Prize in 1979 for her novel Offshore, a fictionalized version of her and a bunch of eccentrics living on house-boats on the banks of the Thames River. And that it was short – just over a hundred pages, awesome!
So, I read it.
And it was fabulous! Offshore was just an absolute pleasure – just one of the many ways that collecting Everyman’s Library keeps giving back exponentially – and keeps opening doors for me, introducing me over and over again to new authors, bringing me stories from all over the world – bringing me stories about people living on houseboats on the Thames River.
Twain on the Mississippi; Conrad on the Congo; Fitzgerald on the Thames.
The Bookshop – A Novel
And the rest is (Penelope) history. I loved Offshore + I collect Everyman’s Library … and Penelope Fitzgerald has not only one Everyman’s book, but two …. so, you do the math!
Yup, I ordered the second one. Didn’t wait to find it years later in a used bookstore. Didn’t order it from an independent bookstore like I should have. I hopped online and ordered it brand-new, straight from Barnes and Noble, online, free-shipping and all, with my yearly Barnes and Noble membership card. That’s how I rolled on this Everyman’s. Get them anyway you can is what I say save for stealing.
It was in my hands in a matter of days. Bam!
And the result: I did not fancy The Bookshop as much as I did Offshore – not by a long shot – but I did come away from the entire experience with nothing but respect and love for Penelope Fitzgerald and her writing and life. There were moments of literary joy in The Bookshop, but it just wasn’t littered with literary gems like Offshore was in my humble opinion.
The Bookshop – The Novel + the Movie Combined = MAGIC!
But, here – again, in my humble opinion – is where the magic came for me: In 2017, Spanish Director Isabel Coixet made her movie The Bookshop base on Fitzgerald’s book, which just hit theaters a few months ago. I saw it in a small theater on the UES and loved it.
And because of my Everyman’s Library collection, not only did I have the book, but had read it! All because of an initial trip to a SoHo used bookstore where I stumbled upon Fitzgerald in the first place.
And the beauty of it all: They say that the book is always better than the novel. In this case – and again, in my own humble opinion – reading the book and then seeing the movie – the two actually COMPLIMENTED EACH OTHER. The movie – the director, the actors – did an amazing job showcasing the essence of Fitzgerald’s story – and given that I wasn’t a 100% smitten with JUST the book alone, the movie brought me a new-found respect for the book. A win-win.
So, without further ado, rent or buy the movie today from Amazon or Netflix, etc. I’ve posted the trailer for the movie on this link for easy access and instant viewing. It is a lovely and charming and wonderful movie and does Fitzgerald’s book VERY proud.
Happy reading AND watching!
The Trailer for "The Bookshop" (2018)
In this scene, the owner of the bookshop, Florence Green (actress Emily Mortimer), scans her hand over a shelf full of books, with three (all three the same) original Everyman’s Library books popping out! The Everyman’s book is a book of poems by John Dryden, a 17th century English poet.
It is at minute mark 0:53 in the trailer that I have shared above
In this scene, Florence again, is standing before a shelf of books in her shop, but the scene only captures her fingers predominately, on one book – a cloth-bound green modern Everyman’s Library book! Ha, awesome!!!! And I have it. It seems to be one of Mr. Edward Gibbon’ six volumes of “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
It is at minute mark 1:37 in the trailer that I have shared above.
(Additional Fun Tidbit: It took me a bit of research and digging to figure out exactly which Everyman’s this book was because even when I zoomed in, it was still too fuzzy to make out the author and title on the binder. But I knew I’d figure it out – process of elimination – and I had the green cloth binder to steer me in the right direction. I also thought to myself, “When I figure out which book it is, I’m reading it next." (There is a saying amongst readers that “the right book at the right time finds you – when you most need it”). So, it was in this vein that I was especially curious to get to the bottom of it. And, well, it turns out the book is one of six – Gibbon’ six-volume set titled “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.” Oh my – it’s gonna be a minute before I can get to all six volumes of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire!)
This is the cover of the Everyman’s Library book that has Penelope Fitzgerald’s “The Bookshop” novella in it – one of three novellas. It also has “The Blue Flower” novella for which Fitzgerald is heralded for often in addition to Offshore. I have not read it though, at least not to date.
This is the exact Everyman’s treasure that I found in the SoHo used bookstore and talk about in my introduction to this link – the book that introduced me to the works of Fitzgerald. Offshore is a little treasure of a book – the story may not be one for the ages per se, but the literary nuggets that Fitzgerald drops throughout – and often – well, just just splendid. I highly recommend Offshore by Penelope Fitzgerald.
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