Friday, December 18, 2009

I Obsess Over My Barbara Pym Hardcovers

When I was working in New York, our offices at Warner Books (now Grand Central) were located in the same building as a very large B. Dalton. What was very cool was that at one time, you could enter the store directly from the subway station (and then later on, you couldn't).

My boss Ling had become good friends with Jeff, the store manager, and they liked to chat about what was and wasn't working. But I didn't know a soul in the store; it was a large space and I just liked exploring it.

One of the highlights for me was the shelf of Barbara Pym hardcovers (mentioned in the last post). At one point, they had a faceout of almost every title, reissued from E.P. Dutton. How did they get so popular? In the 1980's, Barbara Pym mania swept the nation, or at least a little tiny subsegment of it. Anne Tyler was a huge fan, as was John Updike. English literary critics voted her the most underrated writer of the 20th century. After having her manuscripts rejected for many years, it led her to start publishing again. And yes, of course, I'm too lazy to verify anything I just stated--let's just assume my memory is correct, although it often isn't.

It seemed like everyone I knew was reading her. And what a joy the experience was. I wound up getting them all in hardcover and in paperback. I read the unfinished manuscript. And I even read the letters--name another author I can say that about! The 13 books have a place of honor in my dining room, the copy of A Glass of Blessings is somehow more faded than the others, perhaps because, being partial to it, I left it out longer in direct sunlight.

For some reason, Excellent Women is the one that prevails. I don't know if the plot is so different, or if it's title just perfectly sums up what Pym is all about. It's a similar dilemma to Anita Brookner, where everyone reads Hotel du Lac because it won the Booker, but there are many perfectly wonderful titles in her library. But I'll save that for another posting.

Why isn't there a series of BBC shows based on these novels? Wouldn't they be perfect for Masterpiece Theater? Or is that all classics now. Oh, remember when they dramatized the Lucia novels?

1 comment:

mdillon said...

I have no idea why these books aren't more popular. They are the funniest best books I have ever read. Personally, No Fond Return of Love is my favorite but I have read every one of them many times and listened to one of them (I can't remember which) on tape, narrated by her niece.