Do you have a dream job? – Secrets of a Handbag excerpt
Did you have a dream job in mind when you were a child? I’m sure you did. When you are young and naive, and you still believe everything is possible, you allow your fantasy to dream of the perfect job for you.
When I was a kid, one of the many possibilities I had in mind was working in a bookshop. My ideal bookstore, however, was far from the big, shiny, impersonal franchise so common these days. Maybe influenced by the countless times I had watched “You got mail”, my idea of a bookshop was something special, extremely personal, and out of the ordinary.
When I had to choose a profession for the main character of Secrets of a Handbag, I didn’t have to think twice. Elisa had to be a bookseller.
However, she was too young to own her own shop. She was just a college student searching for a job to pay her bills, that’s why the fortuitous encounter with Mr. Palmieri and his bookshop was such a struck of luck for her.
Bookstore Palmieri doesn’t exist in real life. But it could. And I really wish I could find it. I hope you may like it as much as Elisa does!
Excerpt from Secrets of a Handbag
Thinking about Kendra makes me think about university, and thinking about university makes me remember the first time I was in Bookstore Palmieri.
It was pure chance. I had spent the day at the library studying for an Ancient Dramatic Forms exam, a subject which should have been interesting but was so boring it made you want to claw your eyes out to avoid reading the lecture notes.
Once I was out of the library, instead of taking the bus, as usual, I decided to go for a walk. I had a desperate need to clear my head. That day was the last in a long series of days spent trying—and failing—to stuff facts in my head.
Walking along crowded sidewalks during the rush hour—trying to avoid running into commuters, strollers, shopping bags, and pointy briefcases—wasn’t conducive to thinking quietly. Neither was going home, where my roommates wouldn’t give me any privacy.
I looked around. My gaze drifted from a crowded coffee shop to a clothing store with loud dance music. I paused when I saw a rectangle of light shining on the pavement of a side street. Getting a closer look, I realized that light was coming from a dusty shop window, with a dark wooden frame and a painted sign over it. Bookstore Palmieri—Quality Readings Since 1950.
Fascinated by the vintage appearance of that place, I entered and was surprised by the calm and silence. Everything inside was polished, neat, and welcoming. The books were orderly, the wood gleamed—it felt more like the private library of a nineteenth-century manor than a contemporary bookstore.
If it weren’t for a persistent creaking, I would have thought it empty. The door closed behind me with the tinkling of a doorbell hanging from the top. Holding my breath like I was in a church, I ventured a few steps, circumventing tables loaded with volumes and stepping as little as possible on the heavy carpets covering the wooden floorboards.
I felt out of place, as if my presence threatened the quiet order and tranquil atmosphere. Part of me didn’t want to disturb the bookshop’s peace. Another part of me only wanted to revel in that serenity.
Once I made it to the back of the shop, I managed to identify the source of the creaking—an elegant fountain pen flowing over a yellowed book, guided by the hand of a pale, thin man bent over a big counter.
I crept closer, afraid of disturbing the bookseller’s focus, uncertain about having a look around or going away.
The man greeted me with a calm tone which went perfectly with the atmosphere.
“Good evening. I would like… I mean… yes, I’d like to have a look around,” I muttered, caught by an inexplicable embarrassment.
So, I started browsing the perfectly organized shelves, casually at first and then more methodically. I spent most of the following two hours loitering, reading the titles on the side of the books, leafing through pages from time to time, and looking at pictures.
The owner didn’t interrupt me, not even once, contrary to what happens in big book stores where at every turn, clerks assail you by asking, “Can I help you?”. After taking advantage of the quiet of the bookshop to think, I would have felt guilty leaving empty-handed, so I chose a few volumes and approached the register.
“Difficult choice?” The man’s tone held just a hint of sarcasm.
I had been known to babble about my troubles to random strangers, but it didn’t seem right to open the floodgates with such a reserved man.
As the days passed, confusion and the subtle anxiety plagued me every time I crossed the door of the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters, and it showed no sign of abating. But the silence and solitude I found at Palmieri’s Bookshop helped me calm that consuming angst. So, I went back to the bookshop every day after my lessons.
After three weeks, I noticed an announcement near the register—a handwritten note difficult to notice among all the other items on the counter.
Three-month trial period.
I only needed to read it once to know that was exactly what I needed. The second time I read it, the knot which had tightened my stomach for months loosened considerably. The third reading pushed me to a decision.
I approached the counter and cleared my throat to attract Mr. Palmieri’s attention. “I was wondering what kind of person you are searching for.”
For the first time, Ernesto Palmieri raised his eyes to evaluate me as something more than just a customer. He raised an eyebrow. “Would you be interested?”
“I’m considering a part-time job while I complete my studies… and I like your shop.”
“I need someone who can alphabetize the books, who can discern a mystery from a memoir and an essay from her oesophagus, and most importantly, someone who treats books—all books—with respect.”
I remember smiling at that description. Yes, I knew the differences in genres and could definitely distinguish books from body parts. Furthermore, I had great respect for the printed word. “Well, then, I’m qualified, and I’m interested.”
“Very well. You start tomorrow morning at nine.”
Then, without getting up from his seat, Mr. Palmieri took the announcement off the counter.
What if your handbag could talk?
What kind of secrets would she reveal?
What shameful truths would surface from its recesses?
What if a stranger found it; how would they look at it?
And if the handbag is very opinionated, things may become even more complicated.
When Elisa—student and bookseller—leaves her handbag on the bus, her life takes a dramatic turn. The handbag holds every aspect of her life, and without it, she can barely manage even the simplest of tasks.
Diego, a pragmatic, no-nonsense chemist who dislikes complications, finds Elisa’s handbag. He couldn’t be more different from Elisa and can’t wait to return the handbag to its owner so he can go back to his life.
When Elisa and Diego meet, however, things don’t go as planned.
And while Diego tries to keep his distance, everyone (the handbag included) seems determined to put Elisa on his path again and again. The only ones who don’t seem to agree are Lorena—Diego’s ex-girlfriend—and Marco—aspiring journalist and Elisa’s boyfriend…
Secrets of a Handbag will be available in all the major online stores on September the 20th.
If you want to stay updated on the publication, subscribe to my mailing list!