Friday, July 13, 2018

Anne Tyler's new novel The Clock Dance, Anne Tyler's reissued backlist, Anne Tyler's display, Anne Tyler musings

On the occasion of Anne Tyler's 22nd novel, Vintage has repackaged 19 of her 21 paperback titles (everything but Vinegar Girl and A Spool of Blue Thread) with uniform editions. And celebrating that, we have a display up. And to commemorate that, being that I have read 21 of the 22 novels (the only novel I haven't read is Noah's Compass, which came out just as we were opening Boswell), I have gone back through my files and found some of my old reviews that I wrote up. I started keeping track of the books I read when I started my first publishing job in 1982, but I did not start taking notes until 1986

If Morning Ever Comes (1964)
The Tin Can Tree (1965)
A Slipping Down Life (1969)

The Clock Winder (1972)
While I read all the Tyler's for the sake of completeness, I would say that The Clock Winder was the first of her books that seems to me to be vintage. I mean, you can see that the writer of A Slipping Down Life is Anne Tyler, but Evie still feels like a young character written by a young writer, like it could have been a very, very very good YA novel. And her later young characters don't feel like that.

Celestial Navigation (1974)
When Warner bought Popular Library (I think a consent degree forced them not to include it in the Fawcett sale to Random House/Ballantine), we got the rights to Celestial Navigation and Earthly Posessions for maybe a year until the rights wound up moving to Berkley. This was back in the day when paperback houses bought rights and didn't reprint the titles from their sister hardcover divisions. And now it's usually not even a separate division. I had already read them by then, but I did wind up reading a whole bunch of P.D. James this way.

Searching for Caleb (1975)
Searching for Caleb is the first Anne Tyler book I read. It was recommended to me by a college friend named Miriam who is also forever remembered because she shared department store memories of growing up in Berkeley, California, where the family shopped at Hinks. What I love about old department stores is that they did not worry about goofy names. If Bamberger is a good enough name for our family, it's good enough for Newark.

Earthly Possessions (1977)
Several times in Anne Tyler's early works, she did what I now called the Springfield Shuffle, which I have named after the Simpsons practice of creating a first act that has nothing to do with the rest of the story. Earthly Possessions did it best. If you want a nice surprise, don't read the copy.

Morgan's Passing (1980)
I read all the above titles in little mass market paperbacks in Fawcett Crest, Popular Library, Berkley, and Playboy mass market paperbacks. I found a number at this bookstore in Fresh Meadows, Queens, that lived in the shadow of Bloomingdale's. When the Bloomingdale's announced their closing, I think this store closed an hour later. In addition to this Playboy edition, I also owned a copy of Shirley Hazzard's The Transit of Venus, which I was convinced the publisher bought because of the vaguely erotic-sounding title.

Dinner At the Homesick Restaurant (1982)
This is the first Anne Tyler I read relatively close to pub date, when it came out in paperback. Later I read how few copies you had to sell in those days at that time of year to hit the hardcover fiction list and I was kind of shocked.

The Accidental Tourist (1985)
I was doing a mix of work reading - Andrew Greeley's The Angels of September, Jayne Krentz's Sweet Starfire, and not one but two Karen Robards titles, Dark Torment and Wild Orchids, while also devouring Song of Solomon and Less Than Zero. I can only imagine someone looking at this list and saying, "Who is this crazed person? This is the only Anne Tyler book where the film has burrowed into my consciousness such that it's hard for me to remember the novel without thinking of William Hurt, Kathleen Turner, and Geena Davis. And yet, only one other film and two other television adaptations.

Breathing Lessons (1988)
This was my #1 book of October 1988, out of ten books read. My #2 was Walking Distance, by Marian Thurm. I wrote: One long day in the life of Maggie and Iran Moran of Baltimore. Married for many years, they still continue to confound each other. On their way to a friend's funeral, they make many side trips with Maggie even trying to reunite her son with his ex-wife. I have read every Tyler and am still happily surprised with how she can grow with each book. I appreciate the wonderful cover and the sea green top stain." And of course it was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.

Saint Maybe (1991)
Saint Maybe came in at #2 for the month of December 1991, but #1 was Jane Smiley's A Thousand Acres. The notes: "Another Baltimore eccentric family! This time, Ian Bedloe reacts to life's unmanageable ironies (he feels responsible for the death of his brother) by raising his brother's kids and joining The Church of the Second Chance, a combination parody of splinter churches and a wonderful covenant of Tylerisms. I guess the whole thing is a meditation on guilt and redemption, told in classic style."

Ladder of Years (1995)
The book came out in May, but Ladder of Years was my #1 book of March, out of 7 total. #2 was Alice Mattison's Hilda and Pearl. Writing then: "As my coworker Elly said, 'Ladder of Years is for all those times that you looked at the complication in your life and said, "I could just get in my car and keep going."' Celia Grinstead has come to exactly that point...I love the way Tyler can show the odd sides of the most commonplace situations and people." I now avoid writing quotes within quotes within quotes, but I was younger then.

A Patchwork Planet (1998)
Tyler had a lot of competition in April 1998, with novels from Jane Hamilton, Anita Brookner, Kay Gibbons, Dorothy Allison, and David Leavitt fighting for reading supremacy. How exhausting - so glad I don't rate books anymore. I guess I didn't really take to the plot of Barnaby the hero choosing between the organized, down-to-earth Sophia or a chaotic, antic alternative.

Back When We Were Grownups (2001)
"Anne Tyler revisits the themes of earlier novels in this tale of a young woman (Beck) who marries into a family of eccentrics, the proprietors of The Open Arms, a party planning business." And that family of party planners is anything but jovial." As Beck gets more and more wrapped up in the family, she questions whether this is the life she was meant to have.

The Amateur Marriage (2004)
"The Amateur Marriage changes course to bring Tyler’s characters to life in a slightly new setting. For one thing, there is a historical sweep to this novel, or as close as you are going to get to one. The story starts in the 1940’s and continues on for fifty-odd years. I love the way Tyler tells the story in episodic bursts, jumping years and leaving the reader to fill in the details."

Digging to America (2006)
"Tyler has a very powerful voice, and for some, that make the stories begin to run together. But in Digging to America, she now brings in a bit of multiculturalism, by including an Iranian family in the mix, which she did not attempt to do while her late Iranian husband was alive." I'm glad she was able to do this!

Noah's Compass (2009)
The Beginner's Goodbye (2012)
I want back and read this after the triumphant return of A Spool of Blue Thread. I don't have strong feelings. Here's an interesting aside - because Penguin Random House does not allocate ISBNs by division, Tyler's backlist was able to move from Ballantine to Vintage without changing ISBNs. I've seen that happen within divisions, with Fawcett titles migrating to Ballantine, or Three Rivers titles becoming Broadway, but never between divisions. If this has been done before, let me know as you know I love trivia like this.

A Spool of Blue Thread (2015)
It was like the British finally looked at Tyler's work and said, "Hey, this is pretty good," and that led to the Man Booker nom, and that led to more publicity, and boy, this book sold much better than her last few.

Vinegar Girl (2016)
I liked the story, but maybe not as much as my former colleague Sharon. I do love that Anne Tyler said that she hated Shakespeare and that's why she wanted to rewrite The Taming of the Shrew. Here's more from Ron Charles in The Washington Post. And then you have to watch the Ron Charles hilarious video!

Clock Dance (2018)
"When Willa Drake, living in a Tucson golf community with her husband, gets a call to take care of her son’s girlfriend’s daughter while the girlfriend is treated for a gunshot wound, she jumps into action. Now, one should note that this is not her granddaughter, her son is not involved with the girlfriend anymore, and she doesn’t even know any of the people involved. How did she get to this place? Clock Dance has a ready, set, go type of structure where three pivotal moments in Willa’s life point her towards Tylertown (it's a neighborhood in Baltimore, full of quirky characters and piquant observations). If you read a lot of Anne Tyler novels (and if you don’t, you should), you’ll notice some recurring motifs, like a woman wandering into a family life that isn’t hers, a couple crossing the country to save a child, or the recognition that the family you’re dealt isn’t always the family you want. And if you haven’t read her before, this wonderful novel is a great place to start."

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