World Book Day is here, which means you have the perfect excuse to curl up all day with a good book (or two). If you've already zoomed through our picks for the best new books coming out this month, then might we suggest setting your sights on the latest novel from Abbi Waxman? The author of 2017's heartfelt The Garden of Small Beginnings is back with another winner, and while it won't be out until July 9, we have a treat for you: an exclusive excerpt!
This time around, Waxman introduces us to the titular Nina, a book-obsessed introvert and trivia expert working at a bookstore who tries her hardest to fly under the radar. But while she's supremely comfortable in her own shell, what is she missing out on? A brand new family, for starters, who essentially appears on her doorstep when the father she never knew she had unexpectedly dies. Also Tom, her "trivia nemesis" who happens to be cute, funny, and clearly interested in getting to know what's going on in Nina's head.
With all the new things happening in her life, Nina comes to discover that real life is not only occasionally stranger, but far more wonderful than fiction. Read an exciting excerpt from the novel ahead, and then buy your own copy of Waxman's latest here!
Mornings were a bit of a challenge at Nina's house.
In Nina's imaginary life, which was the one she wished she were leading, rather than the one she'd been handed at birth, she would get up, wash her face with a variety of responsibly sourced products, shower in one of those showers with multiple heads (though she often wondered what happened when you bent down for the shampoo — Did you get a blast of water full in the face? That seemed rude), and then dress herself in comfortable but stylish clothes made of natural fibers picked by well-paid workers. Are you following all this? Then she would breakfast on fresh fruit and whole grains and yogurt made from milk freely donated by goats who had more than they needed for themselves. She would be grateful and mindful and not in any way blemished.
It was actually more like this: Nina would get up, and her head would hurt because she drank wine that was at least 30 percent sulfites or whatever it is that causes headaches. Her mouth would feel like the inside of one of those single socks you see on the street sometimes, and her hair would be depressed. She would stand slightly crouched by the coffee maker and shiver until the coffee was done. Sometimes her glassy eyes would rest on her visualization corner and she would resent the steady way the planet whirled around the sun without consulting her at all. Day after day, night after night, rinse and repeat. Basically, until the first slug of caffeine hit her system, she was essentially in suspended animation, and she'd been known to drool.
Once she was caffeinated and showered, she was a whole new person. That person would take a second cup of coffee to the big armchair and pull out her planner and pencil box. She would decide what to eat, and how she was going to exercise. She would make a shopping list. She would feel like her life was controlled and organized and heading in the right direction. It was the most satisfying part of her day.
Today she had a book club meeting, after which her plan was to come home and read until bedtime. She laid out some extra fluffy pajama pants and socks in preparation. She made a note to get popcorn. She made a note to get mini marshmallows to go in her cocoa. And then she made a note to get cocoa. And milk. And then she looked on eBay for an interesting vintage cocoa mug, but then she noticed the time and closed everything and rushed off to work.
On the way to work, Nina felt pretty chirpy, and put in her earbuds and pretended she was in a movie, smiling at all the people who passed her and saying hello to the dogs. She had this fantasy a lot, that her life was like The Truman Show, that audiences all over the world were enjoying her playlist and hairstyle as much as she was. In public Nina was a quiet, reserved person; in private she was an all-singing, all-dancing cavalcade of light and motion. Unless she was a quivering ball of anxiety, because that was also a frequently selected option. She was very good at hiding it, but anxiety was like her anti-superpower, the one that came out unbidden in a crisis. The Hulk gets angry; Nina got anxious. Nina had a lot of sympathy for Bruce Banner, particularly the version played by Mark Ruffalo, and at least she had Xanax. He only had Thor.
Nina reached Larchmont Boulevard, with its artisanal hat and cheese shops (two different shops; that would be a weird combination, especially in warm weather), and turned into her favorite café to grab a gluten-free low-fat bran muffin. Just kidding, it was a chocolate croissant.
"Hi, Nina," said Vanessa, a friend of hers who worked there. "What's new?"
"Surprisingly little," Nina said. "I'll have a chocolate croissant."
"The breakfast of champions."
Nina said, "I think that means mushrooms." She sounded more confident than she was.
Vanessa shrugged. "Look, I've only had two cups of coffee. I'm barely alive."
Nina took her croissant without a bag and ate it as she crossed the street. Multitasking and eco-sensitive all at once. Not even 9 a.m. and already ahead for the day.
Liz looked up as she walked in. "Ooh, did you get one of those for me?"
Nina turned and went back across the street.
A minute later she had returned. "Yes, I did, funnily enough."
"That's so nice of you. How was the trivia thing?"
Liz stared at her. "What? You never lose."
Nina kicked a bookcase. "Well, we did last night. It came down to a tiebreaker and the topic was horse racing and we lost. Did you know all racehorses have their birthday on January first? No? Neither did I."
Liz frowned at her. "Don't kick the bookcase. I'm sorry your fund of general knowledge stops short of the sport of kings, but damage the fittings and it's coming out of your wages."
She turned to walk away, clicking her tongue, but then suddenly turned back. "Oh, and I forgot in the shock of your losing, you missed a call."
Nina swept the buttery crumbs from her sweater, glad none of them had lingered long enough to leave a stain (which always made her think of The Simpsons: "Remember . . . if the paper turns clear, it's your window to weight gain"), and frowned at her. "A call? A customer?"
Liz shrugged. "I don't know. A man. He asked for Nina Hill, which is you, and he said he would call back." The phone rang. "Maybe that's him."
But it wasn't; it was someone else entirely, and Nina had already forgotten about the call when the man who'd placed it walked into the bookstore a couple of hours later.
From The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman, to be published on July 9, 2019, by Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2019 by Dorset Square, LLC.