There is a woman staring at Nina Hill in a truculent fashion, demanding her money back for the very boring book she purchased at the bookshop where Nina is employed. “Did you read it all the way through?” Nina asks, attempting a smile. The gesture goes unreturned, and yes, the woman did finish it.

Nina delicately suggests the customer consider a library card, and maybe try the title in question – “Pride & Prejudice” – again sometime. She tells the woman she has read it 20 times, a gross underestimate for humility’s sake. “Why?” the customer asks, then looks Nina up and down. “I guess if you’ve got a boring life, other people’s boring lives are reassuring.”

So we meet our bookish millennial heroine – a modern-day Elizabeth Bennet, if you will.

Nina – the thoroughly likable, introverted, whip-smart titular character in Abbi Waxman’s “The Bookish Life of Nina Hill” – would counter that her life is happily organized, not boring. Or OK, obsessively organized; semantics. She works at Knight’s, a charming bookshop based on the real-life Chevalier’s in Los Angeles. Like any good bookstore, it offers reading groups, visiting authors and free bookmarks; Nina basks in the “plentiful sarcasm and soothing rows of book spines.” When she spots bookstore customers in real-life, she places them based on the sections they frequent: nonfiction and parenting; young adult; early chapter and picture books.

Outside the shop, Nina enjoys fulfilling conversation with her cat, Phil, and has out-of-this-world trivia skills that she showcases in a competitive league – one of the social activities she incorporates into her highly regimented schedule. When “nothing” is penciled into her planner from 6 to 10 p.m., it does not really mean “nothing.” It means she will be reading.

So it is a problem that one day the man who barges into Knight’s is not the irksome landlord who wants his many months of back rent. (Yes, Knight’s is struggling, hence why Nina must remain polite to prissy customers who could just as easily give their money to “That Other Place” – the one that independent booksellers call “the River, so as to avoid saying it out loud.”) The curious visitor is a solicitor, come to inform Nina that, to her surprise, she had a father. And he is dead. The man whose name she never knew, concealed by an absentee, globe-trotting mother, has left her something in his will, along with a massive collection of hitherto unknown family members.


Suddenly, only-child Nina has a fabulous gay nephew (who is older than her), a brother who looks like her (but “a guy version, obviously”), a “strangely dressed homicidal maniac” of a sister and an unbearable, genius cousin. Plus a dozen others. The family tree gets easier to explain eventually, the gay nephew assures.

All this commotion, all these people, and Nina’s anxiety is at its brink. It is definitely not a good time for Tom, her trivia nemesis, to pursue her. He knows all the answers to the sports questions, which means he is probably a nonreader, Nina’s unequivocal deal-breaker – even if he is cute. (Turns out he read “Harry Potter” as a kid but does not know what house he is in. Imagine!) Our bookish heroine must figure out if a real-life love story could ever compare with the ones in her books – and if she could learn to be comfortable reading with, or near, someone, instead of by herself.

Perhaps to showcase Nina’s overt millennialism, Waxman tends to overuse capitalization-to-make-a-point. (“She spent the next few years … Getting in Shape and Being Vegan and Paleo and then Giving Up and Eating Everything Again.”) This Grows Tiresome Quickly. But it is a nit-picky quirk in a feel-good book that shines, one that offers a heroine we can root for from page one. Nina’s fight against chaos – her pleas to be left alone, left to her planning and schedules and quiet – feels authentic. Who has not struggled to fit someone new into their well-arranged life, or wondered if the compromise was worth it? Who would not find a rowdy, needy set of long-lost relatives dizzying?

As in her previous novels, including 2018’s “Other People’s Houses,” Waxman’s wit and wry humor stand out. She is funny and imaginative, and “Bookish” lands a step above run-of-the-mill romantic comedy fare.

Plus, there are several fringe benefits: Upon closing the book, you will be tempted to race to the nearest paper goods store to procure a fancy-schmancy planner. Each chapter in “Bookish” is prefaced with a page out of Nina’s own planner, detailing her schedule, to-do list, goals (“No! More! Surprises!”) and breakfast, lunch, dinner and workout plans.

You will impress at your next dinner party or, who we are kidding, book club meeting, if you spew even a few of the trivia facts Nina hordes in her always-on head. Did you know all racehorses mark their birthday on Jan. 1? No? That the founder of geometry’s name is Euclid? How about that bookish heroines are the most endearing?

That one, you probably already knew.

Angela Haupt is a writer and editor based in Washington, D.C.

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