Thursday, March 14, 2013

On Elinor Lipman's New Novel, The Library Literary Lunch, and Technological Change.

Remember our grand opening? It seems like so long ago, and in fact, for many people, four years is a long time ago. Our ribbon was cut by Anita Shreve, Mameve Medwed, and Elinor Lipman. Such a wonderful day it was. Can you believe it's now day 1440?

Well, it's time for Elinor Lipman's new novel, and while it is not on sale until April 16, I need to start talking it up because I'm delighted to note that Lipman is the keynote speaker for this year's Friends of the Milwaukee Public Library Literary Lunch, taking place on Tuesday, April 23, at the Pfister Hotel. Here's the link to their website. And we've just added an easy place to buy tickets using your credit card. Here it is! It's $65 including the tax. Ticket price includes the book and lunch. No gift card option on this one, but don't forget, it makes a wonderful gift. Thanks, Stacie.

The View from Penthouse B is everything I could have hoped for and more. I wrote out my rec immediately after closing the last page. 

"First the somewhat recently widowed (two years, really) Gwen-Laura Schmidt is offered space the apartment of her sister Margot (messy divorce, then lost her half to Bernie Madoff). Then they take in the recently out of work (Lehman Brothers) Anthony, a young man who can bake a mean cupcake. Soon Margot’s ex-husband, just out of jail, and Anthony’s sister, the naughty nanny, are lurking about. It’s not that this isn’t the best ready-made family ever, but the question is, is this the happy end to a story or just the muddling middle for Gwen? The answer is, a bit of both. I am generally giggly with delight when I start a Lipman novel, and The View from Penthouse B didn’t let me down one iota. Lipman can see through a character with a bite of an omelet or the choice of a scarf, and combined with her precisely parsed wit and sharp but sweet take on life, it makes for one joyous read"

Yes, joyous. This might be not the adjective you'd expect about a novel that at the center is about a character working through grief. But that sort of counterpoint is at the heart of much of Lipman's oeuvre. At the heart of each novel is generally a woman (though at least once a man) who is surrounded by craziness, is actually quite funny, but whose self image is anything but--a little insecure, but a smart judge of character and the world. In short, she (and once he) is someone you can root for.

I have said in the past that while Lipman's novels are well reviewed, if she were British, they would be seen as triumphs. Americans have trouble with comedy. Too sweet and it's a romance; too sour and its a satire. Veering one way lessons critical reception, while veering the other destroys even remote commercial potential. It doesn't seem to be a problem across the Atlantic.

I've read all of Lipman's published novels (perhaps there are works that she chose not to release) since her first, Then She Found Me. I've mentioned before that my coworker Jeanne was the first super-fan among my acquaintance. But what strikes me is what Jeanne did when she wanted to compliment the author. She sent a postcard.

Yes, a postcard. And that's what I would have done too, and did. I sent postcards to several authors I liked over the years, and every so often we'd get something back. I first met Lipman at a publisher dinner for Then She Found Me, and she was with several other authors from Pocket, including Bret Lott and Wally Lamb. So when Lipman first came to Milwaukee (this is actually all chronicled in a 2009 post) for Isabel's Bed, she found a circular with booksellers recommending their favorite novels. I had written something up for She's Come Undone (before Oprah, of course) and she brought it back for Wally, and what did he do? He sent me a postcard.

So now of course contact is pretty instantaneous. You put something out there, and a few minutes later, Stacie is telling me about the various Tweets. And of course we all wonder whether in the age of instant and compressed plotlines of life, can a person sit through a novel?

I only talk about this because I am obsessed with how technology has changed novels. I was convinced that so many authors were setting there books in the near past (pre 2000) in the last few years because they couldn't figure out how to work out cell phones and GPS and search engines and social networking into their plotlines. Where's the coincidence if nothing happens by mistake?

So one of the things I noticed about The View from Penthouse B is how seemlessly the technology was integrated into the story. We didn't have to read a string of emails, but there was email, and Facebook, and online dating, and instant messaging. I think this is where the indirect quotation smooths things out, a technique that I've also found used to good effect by Adam Langer.

I don't think any of you understand how much this meant to me. It meant I could still read novels after all. I didn't have to sit through a novel told completely in text message (not that other interests of Japanese teen girls aren't compelling to me) if I don't want to.

And here's the thing I've noticed about technological change. Despite all the new ways to communicate with people, our card sales are pretty good, and from what I've seen, there are plenty of younger people than me who are card crazy. And every so often I still receive a note from an author, and not a bulk mailing either, but a boxed note or postcard, hand written. It never fails to blow me away. But I suppose an author I love posting on the Boswell wall isn't so bad either.

Sign up for the Milwaukee Public Library Literary Lunch now! Visit their website for an invite, or you can contact Valerie at (414) 286-8720. Or as I mentioned, visit our website and buy the ticket right now. If you are a Friends member, you get a $10 discount, and in that case, you should definitely call Valerie, as we are only offering the general ticket, not knowing who is a Friend and who is just an Acquaintance.

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