We’ve all done it: walked into a store with a plan of what to buy…and walked out with something completely different. This phenomenon is commonplace in the bookish community: you’re browsing for a certain book, and all of a sudden, you find a different one with an extraordinary title or cover, or a book you’ve been meaning to read that is now on sale. Instantly, your original plans are thrown out the window as you commit to a book that you absolutely must have. From iconic titles at bargain prices, to discoveries of a new favorite, here are some books we were more than happy to stumble upon. We hope our stories about discovered books will inspire you to peruse carefully the next time you visit the library or a bookstore. You might just find a hidden gem!
Holly's Pick: While recently spending some time in Colorado, I fell deeply in love with a used bookstore around the corner from where I was staying. One afternoon, during my daily peruse of the packed shelves, I came across a beautiful, signed hardcover edition of THE MARRIAGE OF OPPOSITES. As an avid Alice Hoffman fan, I was absolutely thrilled with my discovery and needed to add it to my own shelf. In this story, Rachel grows up on the idyllic St. Thomas in the early 1800s, but dreams of a life in Paris. Rachel’s mother, on the other hand, has been a pillar of their small refugee community of Jews who escaped the Inquisition and does not approve of Rachel’s wistful longings. She marries Rachel off to an older man in hopes of saving the family business. But once this man suddenly dies, his nephew, Frédérick, arrives from France to settle the estate. A defiant, passionate love affair ensues between Rachel and this new man, sparking a scandal that affects all her family.
Wendy’s Fictional Dinner Party Guest: Rachel Pomié Petit Pizzarro
Rachel Pomié Petit Pizzarro is a woman full of fire and life. A businesswoman, a romantic, a renegade, she’s quite the nineteenth-century badass, not taking anyone else’s advice on how to live her life. I respect and admire her passion, vulnerability, and fearlessness in the face of the judgment of her insular St. Thomas community. She followed her heart, suffered for it, and lived the life she wanted—with a great love and many children, one of whom was the artist Camille Pissarro, father of Impressionism. No doubt, she would command the room.
Sarah's Pick: This was an impulse purchase for me while on a road trip through Asheville, North Carolina. We wandered into a bookstore, and this was one of the first books that caught my eye. The cover is beautiful yet jarring (So icy! Blinding snow! Are the characters lost or on an adventure?), and the title made me think about all the thoughtful nonfiction and fiction I'd been reading about environmentalism and the climate. I've since recommended this book to my friends in book clubs; the unique format especially lends itself to discussion, as each chapter can stand alone. Many of the chapters were originally published as short stories, and they feature characters and landscapes that overlap, leading up to a surprising group finish. The book opens with two girls on a Russian peninsula and describes their movements just before they're kidnapped. The stories that follow all tie into the event and the girls in some way—examining the hearts and minds of the residents, each with their own distinctive voices and poignant tales.
Sharon's Pick #1: My best bookstore find ever happened a couple of months ago—safe and socially distanced of course—when my friends and I were visiting The Book Barn, a used bookstore in Niantic, Connecticut. Not having much of a plan, I strolled around, debating whether I wanted or needed to buy certain titles. And then I saw it; a hardcover copy of A LITTLE LIFE for five dollars, sitting on top of a pile of books on a table in a corner. I picked up this popular find immediately, and it is currently residing on my bookshelf; hopefully, A LITTLE LIFE will be my first 2021 reading project!
I’m not exaggerating at all when I say I cried for 700 pages of this 832-page masterpiece. I have never loved a character more deeply than I love Jude, the main character in this ode to male friendship, who is scarred and broken from an unspeakable trauma. Reading about Jude’s ever-changing relationships with his three best friends from college was one of the best experiences I’ve had as a reader—and certainly as a crier.
Sharon's Pick #2: Bookstores are dangerous territory for me, so when I was hanging out in New Haven, Connecticut, and a friend told me a new used bookstore had opened up, I knew I was going to be getting some new additions to my shelf. We thus found ourselves at Grey Matter Books, and I quickly became lost in the stacks. I swiftly accumulated six books I was interested in buying, but I told myself I was limiting my purchases to two. Of course, almost as soon as we left, I regretted not buying the copy of GIRL, WOMAN, OTHER that I had found tucked in a shelf between the arts and the history sections. My friends graciously went back to the store with me and I was able to happily procure GIRL, WOMAN, OTHER.
Emily's Pick: I had actually never heard of China Miéville, but after I picked up his book in a used bookstore in Chicago, I’ve since seen his books everywhere. I was first attracted to its hefty size and intriguing title, and when I opened it, I found it signed! Then I read the lofty description, promising a unique, well-developed fantasy world, and I was hooked. It’s a nightmarish steampunk fantasy that follows a scientist in pursuit of knowledge, tarrying away at inventions, but when he tries to help a wingless humanoid to fly again, his ambitions lead to abominable destruction when a caterpillar beast escapes and wreaks havoc on the city. The plot is twisted and unique, but the world building is what really sets this book apart. Incorporating alchemy, economic theory, and sociology, this is one fantastic read, which was made even more magical to me by the serendipitous way I found it.