"The Bookshop of Yesterdays" Book Discussion and Themed Orange and Jam Muffins Recipe
Miranda grew up loving books, especially those in her uncle’s bookstore, Prospero Books. On the night of her twelfth birthday, her beloved uncle Billy, maker of riddles and scavenger hunts, finally appeared very late at her house and got into a drunken argument with her mother. That was the last time she would ever see him before he died decades later. Now in her thirties, a letter has arrived with a clue from her deceased uncle. Not only is she to solve the riddles and the biggest puzzle of her life, but in the midst, Billy has left her the bookshop, located in California, across the country from her job as a history teacher and life with a boyfriend in Philadelphia. is a fun little mystery/drama for anyone who loves riddles, bookshops, or literature. The Bookshop of Yesterdays
Why did Billy have two jobs, a “real job” in seismology, and a “fun job” owning Prospero Books? If you could have a “fun job” what would it be?
Where did Miranda’s name come from, and how was it connected to the name of the bookstore?
How do earthquakes help us to learn and make us safer, and how did that tie in to Uncle Billy’s saying that “understanding prepares us for the future”?
Who was Evelyn Weston?
Being raised by an interior decorator, Miranda could name more colors than most people knew existed. Is there a correlation between naming colors and recognizing them? (Bonus: search for “ancient civilizations blue” or “The Odyssey wine-dark sea”) What other things did she and her mother have in common?
“Billy always knew what book you needed. He had this power, like he was some sort of book doctor—like books were a remedy.” Can books be a remedy? Which ones did Billy “prescribe” for Miranda that were what she needed? Have you ever known anyone with this ability?
What was the answer to the clue “Science is at the center of all life but especially mine”? Were there any riddles you solved before Miranda did?
What were some of the ways Miranda, Malcolm, and the others agreed to try to save the bookshop and broaden their customer base? Why is it difficult for small bookstores to stay in business?
Jay was close with his family, and would drop plans with Miranda for their needs or wants. How did this affect his relationship with Miranda? Was her relationship with him one of convenience over connection or love?
Do you agree or disagree with Malcolm about open mic poetry readings and that “Not everyone should be encouraged to find their inner artist”?
Who wrote to whom that “knowing you has been a great kindness in my life. You will survive this. We both will”? Is there anyone in your life you could/should say the first part to, or thank them for being part of your life? Would any of the relationships in this book have been different if people had been kinder to each other?
Why didn’t grief group work well for Sheila or Daniel? What types of people do well from it, and which don’t? Did some of the activities help with the healing process, like doing “something their beloveds always wanted, but had never gotten to do”?
Is sadness over the death of a spouse “something that could be reduced but never vanquished”? Is it up to the individual? Or does it depend on the type of relationship or a sudden versus slow death?
Who told Miranda the following bit of wisdom and chose partner first: “There are three things in life that matter—your partner, your job, your place. One of those three has to be number one. The other two have to come second”? What did Miranda choose at different times? Are there any other things missing from this list of what matters in life? How do you choose one over the other, and is it only at one big momentous decision, or in small everyday ones as well?
One of the early riddles Billy gave Miranda was “What’s a fruit and also a color? An orange.” The campus where Billy went to college was “covered with orange trees. Billy called them sustainable ammunition.” Billy would also walk Evelyn around campus, pointing out the orange trees which he’d “prematurely robbed of their fruit.” At the cafe in Prospero Books, Charlie let Miranda try a fig muffin with goat cheese, which she found to be awesome. Billy had said the “only two things I need in life are a good book and one of Tiffany’s fig muffins.”
Orange and Fig Jam Muffins
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup vanilla Greek yogurt or plain sour cream, at room temperature (preferably whole milk vanilla bean)
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) salted butter, at room temperature
- 1/2 cup light brown sugar
- 1 large navel orange, zest and juice
- 1/2 cup fig jam, or F.R.O.G. jam if available
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon orange baking emulsion, for extra orange flavor
- Preheat oven to 350° F. In the bowl of a stand mixer on medium-high speed, combine butter and sugars and orange zest for two minutes. Stop the mixer to scrape down the insides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. In a separate bowl, sift together flour and baking powder.
- Add the vanilla and sour cream to the mixer on medium speed, followed by the jam (it’s preferred that there are little flecks of jam in the batter, so don’t worry about it fully mixing in). After a minute, when those are incorporated, drop the speed to low. add the flour, one third of it at a time. This should take 2-3 minutes. Stop the mixer to scrape down the inside of the bowl if you see some of the batter sticking to the inside of the bowl.
- Still on low, add the eggs, one at a time, for about one minute, or until the yolks disappear. Then add half of the orange juice (the rest you can combine with powdered sugar for a glaze, or just drink it). Bake 17-19 minutes. Makes 1 1/2 dozen muffins.
Orange and Fig Jam Muffins
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Books mentioned within this one are the children’s books: Anne of Green Gables, The Secret Garden, The Babysitter’s Club, The Westing Game, the Boxcar Children books, The Giving Tree, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, A Series of Unfortunate Events, and Bridge to Terabithia.
Also are mentioned the books Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Jane Eyre, White Teeth, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, One Hundred Years of Solitude, Little Women, Death on the Nile, The Color Purple, A Clockwork Orange, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Girl, Interrupted; The Naked and the Dead, Frankenstein, How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, Where’d you go Bernadette, Green Hills of Africa, Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Persuasion, The Portrait of a Lady, Tender Is the Night, The Age of Innocence, The Grapes of Wrath, In the Time of the Butterflies, Like Water for Chocolate, The Merry Wives of Windsor, and Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.
Authors mentioned are Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe, Ernest Hemingway, Jane Austen, Lionel Shriver, Isabel Allende, Michael Polan, Dylan Thomas, Zadie Smith, Chandler, Homer, Victor Hugo, Mark Twain, C.S. Lewis, Frederick Douglass, Chekov, and Thomas Jefferson.
Books about bookshops that are similar to this one are The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin, and The Lost for Words Bookshop by Stephanie Butland.
“Understanding prepares us for the future.”
“Loving something and being responsible for it are two very different things.”
“That was the thing about riddles. They were always simple. Cleverer riddles were just better at hiding their simplicity.”
“Sadness is like a maze. You make some mistakes along the way, but eventually you find your way out.”
“It’s pretty natural to be curious about where you come from.”
“I stand my ground on open mics. Not everyone should be encouraged to find their inner artist.”
“Knowing you has been a great kindness in my life. You will survive this. We both will.”
“There was no magic formula. Every writer has to figure out her own routine.”
“If Daniel’s own dog couldn’t make Sheila feel less alone, she didn’t see how a group of depressed middle-aged widows could help her resolve her grief. She saw her sadness that way, as something that could be reduced but never vanquished.”
“Those who love us often don’t know how to help us. We have to help ourselves first.”
“Honey, don’t you know men become children when their egos are bruised? You have to fawn over him a little.”
“It’s difficult seeing parents for who they are, rather than who we want them to be.”
“You have to believe what’s true.”
“There are three things in life that matter—your partner, your job, your place. One of those three has to be number one. The other two have to come second.”
Questions & Answers
© 2018 Amanda Leitch