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Shelf Life: Romance, Mystery, Drama, and Other Page-Turning Adventures from a Year in a Bookstore
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Shelf Life: Romance, Mystery, Drama, and Other Page-Turning Adventures from a Year in a Bookstore

3.54  ·  Rating details ·  507 ratings  ·  66 reviews
Suzanne Shea has always loved a good book-and she's written five of them, all acclaimed. In the course of her ten-year career, she's done a good bit of touring, including readings and drop-ins at literally hundreds of bookstores. She never visited one that wasn't memorable.

Two years ago, while recovering from radiation therapy, Shea heard from a friend who was looking for
Paperback, 232 pages
Published May 15th 2005 by Beacon Press (first published May 15th 2004)
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Average rating 3.54  · 
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 ·  507 ratings  ·  66 reviews

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(2.5) The premise was so alluring: after radiation treatment for breast cancer (documented in her previous book, Songs from a Lead-Lined Room, which I’d like to get hold of), Shea, a novelist, gets an unexpected injection of confidence and purpose when she’s offered part-time work at Edwards Books in Springfield, Massachusetts. “I am now an author working in a bookstore. I am a spy from another land. Not unlike a dairy farmer hanging around the cheese shop.”

The first 40 pages and last 13 pages o
Aug 20, 2007 rated it it was ok
A memoir about a writer who, after a fight with cancer, takes a part-time job at a local, independently-run bookstore. This seemed right up my alley: books, bookstores, and writing are three of my favorite things (throw in some slashy TV and a couple of cupcakes and I'll never leave). But Shea's narrative is both too personal and too distant. She'll say things like, "And then Old Hank, who everyone in town knows, came in." That example is totally made-up and probably exaggerated, but the point r ...more
Dec 01, 2007 rated it really liked it
I would venture to say that any lover of books has toyed with the idea of working at the mecca for bibliophiles, a bookstore. Strempek Shea -- not just any book lover but also a bestselling author -- shows us what it's like on the other side of the cash register.

Shea has a way with words, and her turns of phrase are always skillful and often unexpected. I enjoyed the way she wove details about the publishing business with the details about the inner workings of the store and its many colorful c
Aug 03, 2010 rated it really liked it
If you are at all curious what it is like to work in a bookstore, this is the book to read. I worked in a small, independent bookstore from 1995 - 1998. It was the best job I've ever had. I loved it. And reading this book was like a walk down memory lane. I remember the quirky customers, the unbelievably vague book descriptions ("that book with the tiger on it") but still finding what they were asking for, opening the boxes of new inventory, setting up the displays, all the non-book items we sol ...more
Dec 27, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, memoir
A novelist, recovering from cancer, takes a part-time job in an independent bookstore. This is brilliant, in that understated way which creeps up on you. She's got that trick of describing entirely ordinary things like constructing holiday book displays with deep, resonant emotion. The conceit is bibliophilic and beautiful: books and the people who love them as a healing force. In between insights on the publishing and marketing worlds and discussions of customer satisfaction, there are little g ...more
Jan 31, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: memoir-biography
I just had a hard time getting into this one. Maybe it's because I've read so many "books about books" that have been excellent and it's one of my favorite types of books. However, there were certain parts (one in particular where she is trying to show the varied interests of readers) where the author literally lists magazine titles for at least two pages. The bookstore where she works sounds lovely, and there were some vaguely interesting tidbits....but I must say I didn't finish the last 30 pa ...more
Jenny Martin
Nov 28, 2014 rated it liked it
I had to write a whole book report on this, so I'm not going to write an essay now. Short version is there were some cute anecdotes, but they were partly ruined by a personality I didn't really mesh with.
Squirrel Circus
Mar 14, 2018 rated it it was ok
I feel like I could now order the right seasonal cards for a bookstore, but I wanted to know where this husband of hers went? Why she didn’t have kids? And, sad to say, the fact that I’d never heard of her or the books she’d written, made it difficult to connect with her as an author. She apparently has an agent and publisher, but seems to go out of her way to share her under-attended readings at stores that have never heard of her either! Does she really “take over” the display area for known a ...more
May 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
Very interesting! I worked in libraries for many years and while reading this I often laughed with recognition at some of the types of questions which are asked in bookstores. Homage to bookstores, especially independents, and most especially to Edwards Books in Springfield, MA.
Peter Conway
Mar 22, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-about-books
A bit of a disappointment. Too much about her book tours, and about decorating the store, and placement of books that had come out during the time of writing, and almost no stories about the people she worked with or the customers.
Feb 03, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: memoir, 2019
Some interesting anecdotes surrounded by lots of filler. The 9/11 section was particular poignant.
Jan 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and had fun knowing the book references.
Jan 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Delightful little book - a year in the life of an author just recovering from cancer who works a little at her local bookstore.
Kitty Jay
Author Suzanne Shea, shortly after battling cancer, is at a loss for what to do when her friend, a proprietress of a bookstore, calls her up needing help - Shea jumps at the opportunity and begins working at the bookstore, collecting a year's worth of reminiscences in this story.

I initially was intrigued as a book-lover myself. I work at a library, and one of the high points of my day is when the holds appear. After working there for nearly two years, I'm able to guess which book is whose even b
Aug 14, 2009 rated it really liked it
It's always interesting to read someone else's perspective on something one's done oneself, and greatly enjoyed--in this case, work in a bookstore.

It's odd, too, to see the things that other people focus on, and the differences that arise just from store to store. They aren't necessarily regional differences, either, since I've worked in a Boston shop and her's is only a couple of hours drive west. I too was working in a bookstore not longer after 9/11, but we had a completely different experie
Jul 03, 2010 rated it it was ok
"Novelist Suzanne Strempek Shea heard from a friend who was looking for help at her bookstore, so she volunteered, seeing it as nothing more than a way to get out of her pajamas after an illness. But over the next twelve months, from St. Patrick's Day through Poetry Month, graduation/Father's Day/summer reading/Christmas, and back again to those shamrock displays, Shea lived and breathed books in a place she says sells 'ideas, stories, encouragement, answers, solace, validation, the basic ammuni ...more
Annie Garvey
Feb 09, 2009 rated it really liked it
I always wanted to work at a bookstore and from reading this book, I feel that I at least know the jargon. Before reading this book, I didn't know the difference between a regular paperback and a trade paperback, or what a dump was.

The author, Shea, is a breast-cancer survivor. The main reason for taking the bookstore job was to get out of the house and out of her depression. The author seems to enjoy the experience and the sense of family working entales.

I would have liked to know more about Sh
Linda C
Feb 06, 2015 rated it really liked it
The first chapter of this memoir could be written about a library as well as a bookstore. Many of the book and patron references were very similar. However as the book progresses we see the differences. Shea is a published author who has recently been diagnosed with breast cancer, had surgery and radiation treatment. She has retreated into herself and her home is her cocoon. A bookstore owner friend calls her to pass the word that she is looking for someone to work a few hours a week at the stor ...more
Sep 21, 2008 rated it really liked it
I read one other non-fiction book by this author and really enjoyed it, so I added some of her other titles to my to-read list. She also writes fiction books, which I have not read any of. I really enjoyed this book as well, so perhaps I'll have to check out some of those.

This book describes her experience working in a small non-chain bookstore after recovering from cancer. She was working in the bookstore at the same time I was working at Barnes and Noble so I remember dealing with a lot of th
Nov 14, 2011 rated it did not like it
Shelves: biographical
I read some reviews of this book prior to reading it- mainly to see if guys read it too, and what they thought.

Most of the reviews were by women, and most were positive. The guys were more ambivalent.

Not me.

This book is about an author who is recovering from cancer treatment and gets back into the world by working 8 1/2 hours a week in a bookstore. The cover claims it contains drama, romance, mystery, etc...and this is quite true if you regard taking inventory as drama or decorating a store for
When author Suzanne Strempek Shea was asked by a bookseller friend if she knew anyone who wanted a part-time job, she surprised her friend and herself by taking it. It turned out that it was wonderful therapy for her as she recovered from cancer. I thought Shea might intermingle her experience and recovery from her illness with this new job, but she talked little about the cancer and more about the workings of an independent bookstore. That was okay by me. I lapped up every little detail about b ...more
Monica Williams
May 04, 2014 rated it really liked it
Suzanne Strempek Shea is a breast cancer survivor and a writer. After she completed her treatment she is at a loss- not ready to resume her career as a writer, but she wants to do something. Fortuitously her friend who owns a local independent book store calls asking if Suzanne knows anyone who is looking for a part time job. Suzanne decides to try it for herself. And so begins her adventure into retail. It is a charming read about hope, redemption, and of course books! The employees and the reg ...more
Jun 02, 2010 rated it liked it
Recommended to Judy by:
Our May book club read. I was one of only two who liked the book but I found it an enjoyable read. The author has written several books and began working at a bookstore part-time while recovering from cancer treatment. I enjoyed her perspective as both a writer and seller of books, her musings about people and the books they enjoy reading. It made me think about the many ways in which books/reading have played a large role in my life.
Aug 05, 2010 rated it really liked it
This is about an author who after taking cancer treatments is pretty much lounging around the house not doing anything when a bookstore owner that knows her calls and asks if she knows anyone that would like a part-time job at the store and Suzanne decides that she needs to get out of the house and she asks if she can apply. This begins a second career of bookselling and that is what this book is about. I love books about books. I would recommend this as a goodread.
Jul 21, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: essays
Another gem about bookselling, this time from the perspective of an author turned bookseller. Her descriptions of working in a bookstore situated in a dying, dead end corner of a Mall is much like the experiences I had during my first foray in bookselling. All booksellers will enjoy this humorous tables-turned view of life behind the counter.
Sep 28, 2008 rated it liked it
I haven't given up on it yet and will probably finish it, but her early chapters drove me wild, with paragraphs worthy of Goldsmith. Because I've working in a bookstore, this is less intriguing to me than it might be. I'm sticking with it b/c she is a writer who had cancer, and very gradually, she's telling that story. She's got a great segment on the bookmobiles of her childhood.
Feb 14, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. It brought me back in time to my days as a bookseller. Working in a bookstore was heaven for me. I can relate to the author as she reminisces about the odd things that people want from a bookstore. It was a bit of nostalgia for me. I am tempted to apply for a part time job so that I can rekindle some of the old magic. I recommend this to anymore that loves books.
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
Jul 25, 2009 rated it really liked it
Who here wouldn't want to work around books all day?! As for me, I'm headed to a library, about as close as you can get to a bookstore without opening your purse. Shelf Life is a perfect book for
all of us book-crazed people...helping people find books...meeting
authors..."hafta" reads for kids in school....Recommended.
Feb 06, 2010 rated it liked it
An interesting memoir of an author who took a job in a bookstore after being treated for breast cancer. The owners and workers at the book store as well as several customers are described. Some humorous anecdotes are included. Within the book are vignettes of visits to various bookstores while on tour and/or vacation.
Aug 04, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommended to Jackie by: Mom
I liked her other books as well. Mostly because she is Polish from Western Mass and writes about being Polish from Western Mass. This one was nonfiction, so different, but includes alot of recommendations for books that I want to remember.
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Suzanne Strempek Shea is the author of five novels: Selling the Lite of Heaven, Hoopi Shoopi Donna, Lily of the Valley, Around Again, and Becoming Finola, published by Washington Square Press. She has also written three memoirs, Songs From a Lead-lined Room: Notes - High and Low - From My Journey Through Breast Cancer and Radiation; Shelf Life: Romance, Mystery, Drama and Other Page-Turning Advent ...more

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