Saturday, April 21, 2018

Anita Shreve

They year started on a great note for us. Our friend Kate at Vintage called and asked if we wanted to host Anita Shreve for The Stars Are Fire in paperback. We wound up pairing with the Elm Grove Library and Friends of The Elm Grove Library (FOEGL) for an event at the Elm Grove Woman's Club.

We'd already had two wonderful events with Shreve at Boswell, for our grand opening (she was one of our three ribbon cutters, along with Elinor Lipman and Mameve Medwed) and again when her Stella Bain came out in paperback. We did that as a free event in the store and we were so excited because we had has such a successful event with Kristin Hannah the year before and pre-sales were really strong. We were going to beat our sales numbers from both previous events and nothing warms a publisher's heart more. 

What strong memories I had of Anita Shreve's previous appearances. She'd visited Harry W. Schwartz several times over the years. Back when I worked above the Whitefish Bay Book Nook, Elly and Beverly and Anne and Betsy and Jeanne were selling the heck out of Eden Close and Strange Fits of Passion

Shreve had started writing novels after years of journalism, focusing mostly on the lives of women and families. All that research prepared her for her penetrating insights in her novels. She got the credit, but I'd still call her the ghostwriter for Dr. Balter's Child Sense and its followup. Her own books included Working Woman, Women Together Women Alone, and Remaking Motherhood, which Library Journal said was recommended for academic libraries only. The book definitely hit a nerve with some reviewers, but reading the complaints now, it shows that Shreve was a bit ahead of her time. 

Later on, it was our friend Catherine who became one of Shreve's biggest bookseller advocates. As the manager of the Brookfield store, she had completely fallen in love with The Weight of Water, and was selling a ton of it. The book went on to be shortlisted for the Orange Prize (now the Women's Prize) and won the PEN/New England Winship Award. 

One of my strongest memories of our events with Shreve was when she was scheduled to visit the Brookfield Schwartz for The Pilot's Wife. Closer to the event, her publisher had to cancel because Shreve had an important appearance to make. Yes, it turned out our event conflicted with her appearance on Oprah, where Winfrey had scheduled a show about the novel being her latest book club pick?!

What to do? Well her friend Elinor Lipman had an idea. Why not reschedule the two authors together. So that they did, and what a wonderful evening it was. A bunch of booksellers got to have dinner with the two authors at Bartolotta's in Wauwatosa. I'll never forget when Lipman said, "Anita and I are knitting a baby blanket together. She's doing the dark squares and I'm doing the light ones." I paraphrase. But it still makes me laugh!

Similarly, Mameve and Elinor, and Anita went out after our grand opening with my family. We ate at Hotel Metro. One of my last correspondences with Shreve, after we booked the event and I sent her an enthusiastic note, was her asking me what the name of that cute hotel was from that memorable trip in 2009. 

Our event wound up being cancelled due to emergency surgery. I kind of knew what that meant. And as you know, Shreve passed away on March 29. 

I always felt that when Meg Wolitzer* talked about the different ways we judge men and women writers, Shreve was one of those women who got short shrift. Even though Shreve would sometimes be pigeonholed, I really felt that while she was often examining the same themes, making sense of her world view through writing (like so many great writers), she made a number of creative leaps in terms of time, structure, and perspective. And for a writer who could sometimes get a novel a year, her words were always carefully chosen. It never felt like she rushed.

I wound up reading 12 of her novels and have a fondness for many of them, but after our event was cancelled but before her death, I had put The Last Time They Met on my recommendation shelf. Yes, one of my friends said she threw it against the wall at the end because of the twist, but I really liked that. Very Ian McEwan-y.

For my colleague Jane, it was the quartet of novels set in the same house which she returned to again and again - Fortune's Rocks, The Pilot's Wife, Sea Glass, and Body Surfing. Jane always hoped that Shreve would tell the story of the nuns who originally lived in the home, but unless there's a manuscript hidden in a chest, that tale will have to be written by someone else. 

It can be so hard to say goodbye to someone you lose, but the nice thing about writers is that they leave something behind. I've been remiss in putting up our memorial table, but I promise I'll get to it today.

*Meg Wolitzer in conversation with Jane Hamilton on April 23. Last chance for tickets

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