The Bookseller

And Other Stories

Fiction - Literary
74 Pages
Reviewed on 02/17/2021
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Author Biography

Peter Briscoe has had the pleasure not only of living with books as a reader but also of making them his life’s work as a librarian and writer. For more than 30 years he built library collections at two universities. A specialist in collection development, book acquisitions, special collections, and preservation, he directed efforts that led to the purchase or donation of 1.5 million volumes from all over the world on nearly all subjects. He loved his job but increasingly worried about the fate of books and reading in a digital, post-literate world. This problem is one of the themes in his writing. Briscoe is Associate University Librarian Emeritus at the University of California, Riverside. He is the author or co-author of five books, including The Best-Read Man in France, Reading the Map of Knowledge, and Mexico at the Hour of Combat. His academic writing has appeared in College & Research Libraries. Things French and Spanish, especially as spoken in Latin America, fire him up. When he is not reading or writing, he enjoys cooking and hardwood barbecuing.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Jon Michael Miller for Readers' Favorite

The Bookseller: And Other Stories by Peter Briscoe is a series of stories written in elegant, literary style. The first three pieces are very short with the ambiguity of Wallace Stevens’ poems. They seem unfinished, thus, the question: what do they mean? The featured piece of the collection is the much more formidable The Bookseller with the same elevated, challenging style but a tale with a beginning, middle and end. It’s a mystery involving a mysterious series of thefts from a major Latin American library. Amid his world travels, after a fine meal, a bookseller tells the tale to his admirers. A library patron is fed up with his inability to find the books he wants to read and makes a fuss, which eventually reveals that major book pilfering has been going on for years. The quest then becomes to find the who, when and why. Detective Robles and the library’s director of collections Dr. Andres Vidal launch an investigation.

If you love the beauty and depth of fine literature, you will love The Bookseller. Peter Briscoe’s prose is brilliant and flawless, right up there with all the canon’s greats. The plot combines mystery, police investigation, and library protocol. But what I liked most is the idea (theme) behind the majesty of composition: the present clash of the ancient tradition of books and libraries with the present emergence of digital technology, the former to evaluate and codify knowledge and the latter merely to collect it. There’s also the aesthetic and psychological comparison between reading a book and viewing a screen. I think we’ve all seen the clash in our local libraries where books are dumped to make way for computer monitors. In the magnificent tapestry of Briscoe’s story, all these elements blend to perfection along with a startling surprise at the end. If you appreciate mystery, ideas, characterization, libraries, and elegantly written expression reminiscent of Balzac, all woven into a memorable work of literary art, The Bookseller is for you.

Erin Nicole Cochran

The Bookseller: And Other Stories by Peter Briscoe is a linking collection of short literary stories. Inside this book is prowess of the written word like you probably have never seen it. Briscoe’s voice doesn’t just welcome you into his fictional world with his fictional characters. He transmits your mind into the exact space where everything is transpiring on the page. Without giving too much away, it is fair to say that Briscoe’s arena of literary fiction is easily juxtaposed next to Hitchcock’s expertise at psychological terror. Though the genres may seem to be at opposite ends of the spectrum, both contain such a mastery of their field that they feel side by side.

Peter Briscoe’s The Bookseller: And Other Stories, had me completely entertained from the minute I started reading it until the minute I finished it. It was a seamless read, for sure. Even though the stories are broken up into sections, I felt it brought an extra flavor to the story that it might not have had otherwise. There’s a bit of a 'put these puzzles' together vibe that the reader is ready and able to accomplish by the end. Two of my favorite sentences from the book are on pages 26-27: “Yet he entered the library as others enter a church. Indeed, there were times when passing through its great street doors, he shivered, not with fear but anticipation.” There aren’t many writers who have the ability to put words down like that. Peter Briscoe has written an exceptional collection of short stories that you won’t want to miss out on.

K.C. Finn

The Bookseller is a collection of fiction stories in the mystery genre and was penned by author Peter Briscoe. The book contains four stories showcasing different characters, all of whom form part of the theme of the fate of literature as the world’s rush towards digitalization threatens humanity's greatest achievement, literacy itself. Catalyzed by the theft of rare books from a library in South America, those investigating the theft must learn to understand the mindset of those who wish to preserve the very concept that brought humanity its soul 6,000 years ago. The work is largely suited to most reading audiences but does contain some brief sexual references.

Author Peter Briscoe has crafted a varied but thematically consistent work of fiction with plenty of intrigue, drama, and food for thought to offer its readers. One of the features which I found particularly impressive about this piece was the psychological depth in the storytelling, despite the quite short and digestible length of many of the tales. In some ways, the work reminded me of those of Raymond Carver for its concise character sketch-work, but in addition, Briscoe’s writing feels more purposeful and poignant in its meta-themes concerning literature itself. There were many moods on display, showcasing a versatility for unique character voices, atmospheric language, and for psychologically exploring the motives behind some questionable acts. This brought a high level of realism to each segment which built up the concept as it went along. Overall, I would highly recommend The Bookseller to fans of literary style storytelling, accomplished character work, and to cerebral story fans everywhere.

Emily-Jane Hills Orford

Three eloquently short character sketches – minuscule stories about ordinary people. Who were they? Why did they matter? But do we not all matter? And then the story of a bookseller, an unexpected mystery revolving around books, most specifically rare books. Señor Molina is a historian, irate, irrational, eccentric, but he has uncovered a disturbing trend of missing rare books at La Biblioteca Pública de Carmona in Ecuador, a library steeped in history and a connection to the early Jesuit schools and the best libraries in the world. The books are worth a fortune, but the mystery remains unsolvable... or does it?

Author and librarian Peter Briscoe knows about libraries. He even writes about them, defining them as few others can: “They [libraries] are seen simply as buildings with lots of books in them, confusing to use, where old maids who run them tell people to keep quiet. … In reality, the library is a space-time machine, where a reader can go anywhere, microscopically, telescopically, past, present, and future, and especially into the minds of other humans. A nonreader lives his or her life, but a reader lives multiple lives.” The Bookseller is a collection of three very short narratives, character sketches, and then his longer short story after which the book is named. In The Bookseller, the reader follows library history in Latin America, as a marvelously complex case of library theft attracts a local police detective, who just happens to be a passionate book-lover.

The plot is complex and spellbinding, the history fascinating. The characters are well developed with complex nuances and attributes that have the reader guessing the resolution until all is finally revealed. And then there is that nagging question: what is it about books that would make someone want to steal them? A compelling and enlightening read; a collection of stories that will certainly have the reader looking deeper into the human psyche.

Joy Hannabass

In The Bookseller And Other Stories by Peter Briscoe, there are three very short stories, rather like someone recounting a memory. They are short and to the point. The fourth one, the titular The Bookseller, is a little longer than the others, focusing on the fate of libraries and printed books in the future as well as book collections and book theft in libraries. But who? And why? This University librarian is going to find out what is going on.

I read The Bookseller twice, and I really enjoyed it, especially the longer story about the library thief. With his years of experience as a librarian, Peter Briscoe pens a story that shows his love for printed books and libraries as well as his expertise in book collections. Though I've seen some collections, especially older books in libraries, I've never thought a lot about them, except to wonder who reads them. I'm so glad I read The Bookseller to better understand these special books. As the mystery grows about the library thief, or maybe thieves, surrounding the books missing from the library, it was interesting to read about the lengths taken to find the person/s responsible for all the missing books. But no information was found that could be connected to a person.

It wasn't until the very end of the book that everything was revealed. And what a surprise it was. I didn't see that coming. But I have to say it was amazing. Reading The Bookseller by Peter Briscoe gave me an even stronger love for libraries and the printed book. It is sad that at some point in the future I'm afraid they may be a thing of the past. The Bookseller is for anyone with a love for libraries and expensive book collections.