Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Senior Lit Table? The Codger Table? Or Should I Call it Harriet Chance's Corner? More About the Rise of Senior Heroes and Our Event with Jonathan Evison on Tuesday, September 29, 7 pm.

One trend that you cannot miss in publishing, but has not really been written about fully (or at least I haven't been able to find a definitive story on this) is the steady rise in novels with senior citizen heroes. And we're not talking sixty-somethings here, but seventy and eighty-somethings.

What do they have in common? They are generally comedies, or have comic elements. One would call them quirky. And for some reason, we tend to really like them.

Right now, our most popular book of this sort has been Etta and Otto and Russell and James, by Emma Hooper, but looking around, we know that a lot of people are in love with A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman.  I bought it on a recent trip to visit my sister and gave it to her when she complained that I was only sending her sad books. Nancy Quinn, former Schwartian and now at the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center, recommended this one to me as well. 

One book coming in paperback that Jane has been hot on is Florence Gordon, by Brian Morton, and I've picked this as our November selection for our in-store lit group. The paperback is out on September 1 Here's her review.

"Finally, at 75 years of age, New York women's rights activist and celebrated writer, Florence Gordon, has reached the time of life to set her no-nonsense insights into a memoir, only to have that plan interrupted by the sudden retirement of her longtime editor, the impertinent demands of an ex-husband and the marital squabbles of a returning son and daughter-in-law. When an unexpected diagnosis further intrudes on Florence's plans, and she is forced to make life altering decisions, it is to her trusted granddaughter Emily that Florence looks for assistance. Readers will be both captivated and annoyed by this family's attempt to resolve their conflicts and by a fascinating matriarch who is all the more valued for her inherent straightforwardness. Florence Gordon is one literary character I would love to meet for lunch!" (Jane Glaser)

One book that had a good run at Boswell is The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce. Her follow up, The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy also qualifies. The Hundred-Year-0ld Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, by Jonas Jonasson recently played at the Downer and had renewed sales. And while they might be on the sad side of quirky, I also included Astrid and Veronika, by Linda Olsson, and Plainsong, by Kent Haruf.

Here's Jane Glaser's review on The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy: "Miss Queenie Hennessy is dying and she starts writing an extended letter that takes readers into the backstory of her relationship with former brewery colleague, Harold Fry, who is walking a 637 mile trek to see her, sending postcards along the way, asking her to 'wait for me.' As simultaneous quixotic journeys are taken, one by foot along the open roads and one with pen on paper from the confines of hospice, this gracefully written story reveals Queenie's life and what led to her sudden move away, 20 years ago, from Harold's friendship to the consolation of a sea garden cottage in the north of England. Reminiscent in tone, with a supportive cast of well-drawn characters who are a blend of heartbreak, humor, and joy, Queenie's journey is storytelling at its best. Read as a companion to the Man Booker shortlisted title The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry or as a stand-alone compassionate portrait of one woman's life filled with selfless love and steadfast hope, this is an engaging story that will stay with readers long after the last page is turned. I loved it!"

One book that crosses quriky senior with psychological thriller is Fiona McFarlane's The Night Guest. I read it and can vouch that it stands at the intersection of quirky and creepy.

Can you think of other books in this sub-genre? I think Honore de Balzac's Old Goriot fits the bill. And I'm thinking Ernest Gaines' The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman might qualify as well. I haven't read the book so I'm not sure if the character is really present in the novel as 110, or it's simply a framing device.

Other recent books that fit in this genre include the recently long-listed for the Man Booker, A Spool of Blue Thread, by Anne Tyler, and Let Me Be Frank with You, by Richard Ford, who will be coming for a ticketed event at Boswell on Thursday, October 15, cosponsored by Osher.

Here's Boswellian Jannis Mindel's rec for Tyler's latest: "Anne Tyler's new book delves into the inner workings of multiple generations of the Whitshank family. The narrative moves back and forth through the decades examining the various members of the family as they gather for vacations and live changing events. Abby and Red live in the house that Red's father Junior built back in 1936. Eventually the couple's adopted son Stem moves in with his family after Abby suffers one too many bouts of forgetfulness. Older son Denny, always the one to drive a wedge into situations, decides to move back in as well, causing further strife. Tyler is spot on when she shines her lens on families and her hometown of Baltimore. A Spool of Blue Thread is another thoroughly engaging novel by a master storyteller."

The first book I came across and loved is alas, now out of print. It's a novel by Alice Adams called Second Chances. But looking back, they felt they were so old but I'm now suspecting the characters were too young to qualify for this piece. I'll bet they weren't even 70. Now I've got to reread it and find out.

But the new book that's got us thinking about this, because there's always something new that has me take up the pen, and most likely there's an event too, is Jonathan Evison's This is Your Life, Harriet Chance. We've already had three great reads on this book and we're so looking forward to his event at Boswell on Tuesday, September 29.

Here's Boswellian Sarah Lange, to tell us a little more about the book: "After Harriet's husband dies, she takes his place on an Alaskan cruise. But is he really gone, and can Harriet forgive him when she finds out his secret? As her daughter joins her on the trip in another unwelcome surprise and Harriet's present story unfolds, Evison makes use of a series of smart, engaging flashbacks--this is Harriet's life, after all. Filled with charm, humor and hope, Harriet Chance will appeal to the author's many fans and those of Wally Lamb. It will also earn Evison new admirers, as there's plenty to love in this insightful, feel-good story."

Evison also got a great advance (starred!) review in Kirkus. The anonymous critic writes "Evison writes humanely and with good humor of his characters, who, like the rest of us, muddle through, too often without giving ourselves much of a break. A lovely, forgiving character study that's a pleasure to read."

This is Your Life, Harriet Chance has a pub date of September 8, so we expect to see the book arrive at Boswell in the next few weeks In the meantime, why not preorder a copy with us or your favorite independent bookstore?

Then join us on Tuesday, September 29 and celebrate the life of Harriet Chance with Jonathan Evison and Boswell. And in the meantime, do you have a favorite entry in the flourishing codger lit genre? Please share it with us!


Sam Sattler said...

Another good one for your Senior Lit table is Clyde Edgerton's "Lunch at the Piccadilly." It's home to a couple of those "senior heroes" you mention...and they even when the admiration of some of the younger set. Fun book.

Daniel Goldin said...

That's a good one! I haven't read it but I have read Clyde Edgerton. And then you reminded me that his fellow Algonquin-ian Jill McCorkle's last book was Life After Life, which completely fits the bill.