Tag Archives: NYC

The Monday Book: The Reluctant Fundamentalist, by Mohsin Hamid

You know that moment when you pick up a book, read a page, and feel the thrill of discovery? “I’ve got a live one here!”

The Reluctant Fundamentalist came into the bookstore in some bag or box, and because it was close to Christmas we were slower than usual triaging the collection for shelving. Jack and I agreed to close the store Christmas Eve Day and flee our responsibilities for an extended holiday, and as part of a last-minute packing job that covered twenty minutes from bag to door, I snatched Fundamentalist off the top of a pile as a “this looks good enough” book during our three days at the cabin.

The cabin is a deliberately isolated place, no phone, no Internet, no TV, in consequence of which we usually bring a book for each day. It was on day two, just after the morning news had ended on the radio, that I opened Hamid’s novel and began reading.

And reading. And savoring, and laughing, and drawing in a sharp breath, and diving headlong into a scary world of subtly-drawn tensions, coiled tight and ready to spring.

Hamid’s novel is about a Princeton graduate (Changez, and if one is prone to find meaning in character names, yes, it sounds like what he goes through) and Lahore native–a city of about 8 million, basically the NYC of Pakistan–who hits the good life in America at age 22, working high finance for a big investment firm. Think guys who do unspeakable things with computers that result in lots of money for a few, big bad changes for the rest.

But Changez begins to come unglued because of a few key forces. Chief among these is his tormented girlfriend, who as the novel progresses becomes a symbol of the two cities that dominate the book, Lahore and NYC; she cannot move past her own losses, and sinks into herself, a self-indulgent poor little rich girl incapable of coping with what’s happened to her. Did I mention the book is also about 9/11? At the same time, Erica (the girlfriend) could be Lahore, a city of ancient splendor reduced to the pale shadow of its former self, wasting with quiet dignity away into nostalgia for a life no longer possible.

Behind this love story going so sweetly, poetically, horribly bad is the tense political thriller of two men seated at a restaurant. The entire story is in fact Changez’s monologue to an unidentified American. The reader never hears the other man’s voice, but hints and innuendos undergirding the developing relationship mirror what’s happening inside Changez in his narrated biography.

Hamid writes with the delicacy of a world-class figure skater on thin ice, executing moves a lesser artist would fear to try on solid ground. At one point, as the Towers fall, a character, alone in his hotel room, smiles. That’s all; he just smiles, but the book pivots on this like a 200-pound muscle man who becomes poetry in motion, expressing things people just don’t say out loud. Ever.

It’s not a book everyone will like; it asks too many questions, suggests too many ambiguities. The very nature of its lady-or-the-tiger ending will bring some readers to their feet, shrieking in protest (sorry, very small spoiler there). But it is awesome, in the sense of inspiring something between fear and admiration for its unflinching, brutal understatement.


Filed under book reviews, Life reflections, publishing, Uncategorized, writing


Jack’s guest blog this week discusses the family of booksellers, from NYC to BSG

Our second NYC visit, to meet up with Wendy’s editorial team at St Martins Press and her agent Pamela, has been great. We were a little more confident about surviving in the Big Apple this time, even able –with the assistance of ‘shop-sitter’ Andrew–to navigate our way around the subway system and cross streets without getting knocked down.

Another reason for being there was an event Jess (our lovely publicist) had organized at Word Up Books, on Thursday evening. Organizer Veronica met us at the door and immediately said how much she had been looking forward to welcoming us as she had read ‘The Little Bookstore’ with growing recognition of everything Wendy had written about pertaining to their store. “Been there, done that”!

What impressed me most about ‘Word Up’ was how it met our paradigm of what a bookstore should be – truly a community center in its neighborhood. Started a couple of years ago as what was meant to be a very temporary ‘Pop-Up’ store lasting for a week in an empty building, it was so successful that the locals demanded it stay on. First it was a month, then another couple of months and finally a permanent institution. It had to eventually move to different premises and ‘crowd-funded’ the necessary $70,000 opening costs in just a few weeks!

Run entirely by volunteers, Word Up provides a space for all sorts of activities, and always have coffee on the go as well. They keep their costs down by getting donations of used books, plus support from the publishing industry itself in the form of seconds, overstocks, and even editors slipping in a few books to handsell—a win-win for authors, publicists, and sellers alike.

We learned that a neighborhood in New York can also be a ‘small town’ just like Big Stone Gap and has the same needs. This neighborhood had a mix of Spanish speakers from all over the world, plus the usual NYC melting pot and the bookstore specializes in Spanish language reading, but also caters for those other cultures

Finally – our event felt like a real family affair as Wendy’s agent Pamela and Pamela;s assistant Michelle, editor Nichole with her assistant Laura, publicist Jessica, shop-sitter Andrew and his significant other Ali, plus Veronica, store owner Gio, and a phalanx of small business owners from the community joined shop regulars. They made us feel like celebrities, but even more fun, we got to talk books and business, and the business of books, with people who live and breathe it as we do.

Woo Hoo – –

1 Comment

Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, publishing, shopsitting, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, writing