The Book Haters’ Book Club
by Gretchen Anthony
Filled with humor, family hijinks, and actual reading recommendations, The Book Haters’ Book Club features a messy group of people trying to save their local Indie bookstore — and who might just save each other along the way. This heartwarming, wildly entertaining novel is both a celebration of found family, and a love letter to booksellers and librarians everywhere.
Elliot, co-owner of Over the Rainbow Bookshop in Minneapolis, started The Book Haters’ Book Club—a newsletter of reading recommendations for the self-proclaimed “nonreader” – because he believed that it only takes the right book to turn a Book Hater into a Book Lover. Now, after they’re all reeling after Elliot’s sudden death, his business partner, Irma, has agreed to sell Over the Rainbow to a developer. When Irma breaks the news to her daughters, and Elliott’s romantic partner, Thom, they are aghast. Especially since Irma won’t explain why she’s so intent on selling.
Irma’s daughters and Thom conspire to save the bookshop. Even if it takes some snooping, gossip and (minor) sabotage, they won’t give up without a fight.
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“an exuberant love song to the power of books, bookstores, and the durable community that they create. Laugh-out-loud funny, this book will restore hope to all those fearful for the survival of bookstores and libraries.” -LIBRARY JOURNAL
Thom Winslow swept through the glass doors of Vandaveer Investments a titan. “Good afternoon,” he announced to the receptionist, his voice bold, his tenor unwavering. “I’m here for the Over the Rai-iin-bow—” He faltered as the word “rainbow” indiscriminately, and most unpleasantly, stuck to his throat like jelly, leaving him no choice but to clear it with a sickening “HUUCCHH!”
“I’m here for the meeting about the bookstore.” This he said with the voice of a defeated man, aware that his too-narrow shoulders and pigeon neck were rapidly deflating in shame. Damn his rehearsed confidence.
The receptionist barely paid attention, his focus on the tablet attached to his hand. (Was it glued there?) “You’re meeting in the Lake Minnetonka conference room. I’ll escort you.”
Irma Bedford, co-owner of the Over the Rainbow Bookshop with Thom’s recently deceased partner, Elliot, was already inside, waiting. Seeing her, Thom felt a second blow, his vision for today’s meeting all but stomped dead. He’d arrived early to be the first one in the room—he’d read it was a power move—and yet here she was, extending her hand.
“Thom.” She stood when he entered. “They’re running a few minutes behind.”
She was rumpled. He hadn’t expected that. Of the few things Thom appreciated in Irma, it was her easy chic, a style that never failed to impress—well-ironed jeans, crisp white shirt, flawless foundation and knockout lips. Today they were an unfortunate shade of coral.
“Here.” He plucked a tissue from a box on the side table. “Lipstick. On your tooth.”
She accepted it and turned discreetly to fix herself. There was a stain on her back pocket, the flowering blue swell of ink that would never come out, and before realizing, he said, “I’ll walk behind you when we leave so no one can see that spot on your slacks.” It was a kindness she perhaps did not deserve, and yet he couldn’t help himself.
Irma smiled, gratefully. “Before they come,” she began to say but hadn’t finished before James and Trevor Vandaveer, father and son, walked through the door and started the handshaking and back-patting portion of the afternoon. Trevor, the younger, pulled out chairs for Thom and Irma, as if they were elderly, joints too swollen with arthritis to do it themselves. Or in Thom’s case, enfeebled by a set of useless-looking shoulders.
“Will your daughters be joining you, Irma?” Trevor asked.
“Laney’s flight was delayed.” She nodded toward the glass wall behind him. “But here’s Bree now.”
Bree Bedford exited the elevator, armpits sweating through her shirt, the voice in her head hyperventilating about what a stupid mistake she’d made by not having worn a blazer, as usual failing to avoid even one of the mini disasters that, together, comprised her average day.
“I’m sorry to keep you waiting.” The clock on the wall above the crystal water pitcher that looked too fancy to touch read 2:58 p.m., two minutes early. But the energy in the room said she was embarrassingly late. She slipped silently into a chair next to her mother and pulled her planner from her purse for notes. The clasp snapped loudly, echoing against the room’s hard surfaces. “Sorry. Again.”
She and Trevor Vandaveer had graduated high school together, and twenty years on, he looked just as much the tailored son of privilege as he always had, wearing a suit that probably cost more than she was comfortable thinking about. His father, whose first name she kicked herself for not being able to remember, remained the only one standing. She sensed he spent too much time in the sun—though his cheeks and forehead were shiny and taut as if fresh from the dermatologist, the wrinkles on his hands betrayed his age, all but undoing the medical illusion up top.
“We waiting for more?” he barked.
“Just Laney,” Irma, Bree, and Thom said in unison. Irma added, “She texted me a few minutes ago. She’s on her way from the airport.”
It had been upon learning that Laney was flying in from California that Bree began to feel anxious about what she might learn at this meeting. Their mother had only said, “With Elliot gone, I’ve enlisted an outside firm to help me make some decisions about the Rainbow.” Bree was more or less the bookshop’s assistant manager—it made sense for her to attend. Her sister, Laney, though, never flew in for store matters. In fact, she almost never flew in for personal matters, either. Their mom’s best friend and business partner, Elliot, had died several months ago and Laney hadn’t flown in for his funeral. She hadn’t flown in when their mom’s late-in-life boyfriend, Nestor, passed away unexpectedly last year, and she hadn’t spent a Christmas or Thanksgiving in Minneapolis for as long as Bree could remember. Laney didn’t come home for things, and yet she was coming home for this.
The receptionist opened the door a third time. “Laney Hartwell,” he announced.
Before stepping through, Laney pulled her baseball cap low and made a wish to whatever god, genie, or fairy watching over her that Old Man Vandaveer would keep on talking. The sooner this was over, the better. She was tired. She didn’t need to be here. It was too big of an ask.
“What are you doing over there?” Mr. Vandaveer saw her choose a seat in the corner and, grossly offended, slapped his notes on the table with a violent, outsize thwak!
She rubbed at the back of her neck, her hair at full attention. “I’m trying not to interrupt.”
“Laney.” Her mother tapped the chair beside Bree. “There’s plenty of room right here.”
“It’s a big table,” Old Man Vandaveer barked, a man showing off his territory—big office, big voice, big dude-jewel ring rapping on his big table’s glass top. “Alright, brass tacks.” He returned to his agenda. “Ms. Bedford, on behalf of Over the Rainbow Bookshop, LLC, has entered into a contract for sale of said business with Vandaveer Investments. Per her request, we’ve agreed to brief you all, her stakeholders, on the terms.”
Trevor handed each of them a slick folder adorned with the firm’s green-and-gold logo. Laney accepted hers, placed it unopened on the table, and set her brain free to wander. It was strange, flying in from her grown-up life in Oakland, only to come face-to-face with a kid she’d graduated with, now an adult with a tailored suit and a haircut too slick for his conservative, monochromatic tie.
“Let’s begin with the Terms of Sale,” Trevor said. The words entered the air, floated around the room. Laney didn’t try to catch them.
“‘…will be paid by the Seller in full upon closing in the form of certified check, agreed to by both Buyer and Seller…’”
He had a tiny blue dot above his lip. She’d thought it was an ink spot, a rogue pen leaving its mark. But the more she watched, the more she became convinced. Trevor had a perfect dot of a mole above his lip.
“‘—six weeks,’” the mole said.
“I’m sorry?” Bree’s voice cut through Laney’s foggy thoughts.
“Yes, July 1,” Trevor said. “When Irma signed the Statement of Intent, we agreed to an expedited, six-week timeframe. We’ll sign the final closing documents at the end of the month.”
“But that’s only three weeks from today.” Bree double-checked the date. She was correct. “You sold the shop three weeks ago and you’re just telling us now?” A panicked chill seized her; she didn’t think she could lift her arms. “What about all our customers? What about the neighborhood? We’re the only independent bookstore left in Lyn-Lake.”
“I admit the timeframe is less than ideal.” Her mother did not sound remotely apologetic. “I needed time to get Laney here.”
Bree dug her fingers into the edge of the glass tabletop to keep from crying. Three weeks until her life came to a crashing halt, until the bookshop that had first been her refuge, then family, and then career, ceased to exist. “I don’t understand.” Tears slipped from her chin to the table. “How can you close the Rainbow?”
Irma didn’t respond.
“If you’ll turn to page seventy-nine,” Trevor said, apparently anxious to move the meeting along, “you may understand more after hearing the details.”
“Take a look at the offer price,” his father said. “That oughta dry your boo-hoos.”
Thom pushed the tissue box down the table toward Bree. That Irma was only now telling her daughters of the sale did not surprise him. She was a beauty with fangs, and he’d known from the very beginning it was dangerous to get too close. She and the bookshop had consumed Elliot, and just as a new chapter of their lives was to begin, just as Elliot had agreed to cut back on his work there, to consider retirement, to refocus on his life with Thom, he’d died. In a flash. Gone without warning or goodbyes.
Thom turned to the correct page and looked for the price Irma had received for the beloved Over the Rainbow, aware that no amount of money would ever dull the resentment he’d sharpened for the woman and her bookstore over so many years. Trevor was now spewing gibberish, a tactic meant to blunt the impact of what he could see with his very own eyes: Irma had sold Elliot’s life’s work for practically nothing.
“Oh, Mom,” Bree cried. “Is that all the Rainbow means to you?”
Laney flipped her page, assuming there had to be more on the other side. “So, is this just the first installment or what?”
Thom felt his jaw, followed by stoic resolve, go slack. “Irma,” he hissed.
The woman didn’t flinch. “These are the terms the Vandaveers offered, and I’ve accepted them,” she said, her back an iron rod. “If you have questions, please direct them to our hosts.”
Thom looked at the sale price again, convinced they’d misplaced a comma.
Bree shifted from being quietly tearful to a sobbing soap opera star.
Laney checked her watch.
GRETCHEN ANTHONY is the author of Evergreen Tidings from the Baumgartners, which was a Midwestern Connections Pick and a best books pick by Amazon, BookBub, PopSugar, and the New York Post. Her work has been featured in The Washington Post, Medium, and The Write Life, among others. She lives in Minneapolis with her family.
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