Monday, July 6, 2020

Touring colleges with Abbi Waxman and her fourth novel - I WAS TOLD IT WOULD GET EASIER (virtual event on July 7, 2020)

Last year one of our surprise bestsellers was Abbi Waxman’s third novel, The Bookish Life of Nina Hill. It’s not actually that much of surprise – as a bookstore, we tend to get excited about bookseller protogonists. Over the course of the book, Nina, who was raised by a single mom, finds out that she was in the will of her father, and turns out to have a much larger family than she could have imagined, with all the ups and downs that this would entail. At the same time, Knight’s Bookstore is having financial problems, while Nina juggles running book clubs, events, and a street festival. Outside of work, Nina’s into competitive trivia. This is a delightful romantic character with a Bridget Jones vibe. No wonder the book hit a nerve with our customers. You can read this 2016 article about Chevalier’s the actual bookstore in the Larchmont Village neighborhood Bookselling this Week, or to be precise, Bookselling 200 Weeks Ago.

I enjoyed the book so much that I read another of Waxman’s novels, The Garden of Small Beginnings, about a recently widowed mom who takes a gardening class. And then I read another, Other People’s Houses, about a woman who runs a one-person carpool service for the families on her block, and what happens when one of the neighbors is caught in an affair. I guess that's all of them, except for the 12 page book she wrote in fourth grade about a magic chicken's adventures.*

The stories are all set in the same Los Angeles neighborhood, Larchmont Village, and as I started reading the books, I noticed that major characters in one story would pop up in the other novels. I’m not generally a fan of sequels, but I love this sort of companion novel, which can be as serious as Marilynne Robinson’s cycle that includes Home and Gilead, Tana French’s thrillers, or the reappearance of characters in the beloved novels of Barbara Pym. I still remember gasping with delight when the heroes of A Glass of Blessings showed up as tourists in No Fond Return of Love.

So you can only imagine how excited I was to learn that Waxman’s next novel, I Was Told It Would Get Easier was scheduled for June of 2020. Like the folks on Good Reads always say, we were provided an advance copy of the book courtesy of Berkley Books. I think it’s time for my staff rec.

“Jessica, a forty-something lawyer, hires a service to take her and her daughter Nina on a college tour of top-rated east-coast schools. They are not doing this alone – along for the tour is a highly-motivated degree-less father and his son, an academic mom who has her son’s life scheduled in hour increments, and model-turned-film exec’s wife and her influencer daughter. Jessica’s dealing with some serious workplace sexism that is preventing her mentee from getting promoted, while Emily’s got her own problems with a cheating scandal at school. And why are they on a tour to schools like Princeton when Emily’s rocking B’s? By the end of the tour, let’s hope that mother and daughter see each other for who they truly are. If you loved The Bookish Life of Nina Hill, fear not – they may not be organizing author events and book clubs, but Emily’s got a lot in common with Nina. The interpersonal relationships are great and Waxman’s comic charms shine brightly. I give it an A!” (Daniel)

If you are quoting yourself in the context of a blog, do you need quotation marks? I really don’t know. And yes, I know that college tours are likely virtual now.

After reading these books, I started feeling the need to know more about Waxman. Sometimes this is not the greatest idea – my sister Merrill was just telling me that the worst thing that happened to her regarding a not-to-be-named author was reading an interview with her and finding she didn’t like her. But that’s not the case with Waxman. I learned from her website that she was born in England, which explains the cross-cultural characters. There are also a lot of single moms, but she’s happily married to her husband. And needless to say, mother-daughter relationships play a strong role in her books, and she has three kids. And yes, she lives in Los Angeles. But it’s hard to imagine she wouldn’t have lived in Los Angeles for at least a bit – there’s such a strong sense of place in the stories. I’ve read some really great books that captured a place without the author living there, but rarely do they return to that location in a subsequent book without some first-hand knowledge.

Once I finished I Was Told It Would Get Easier, I passed it on to two other Waxman fans - Jen, who originally convinced me to read Nina Hill, and Jenny, who could empathize with the plotline of a mother and daughter on a college tour, having two daughters in college herself. Unlike Jenny’s kids, my parents didn’t travel around with me to schools, but they paid for a school bus trip (sans parents) to several schools in New England. I also took the Jessica role in the story when I visited several Philadelphia-area schools with my niece Jocelyn. From these experiences, I did learn that you can make snap decisions about schools very easily, but on the other hand, you have to remember that they are not a complete picture.

Another reader whom I thought would enjoy the set-up of Waxman’s novel was Margy Stratton, producer of the Women’s Speaker Series, as she was in the process of shepherding her own daughters through the college process. I proposed to Berkley an event at the Lynden Sculpture Garden, and for a few weeks we were discussing a visit to their beautiful grounds on Brown Deer Rd. But alas, the decision to tour fell through. But but! - in the age of COVID, with us pivoting to virtual events, we were able to go back to the publicist and see if a Zoom event would work. And it did. And so we have one scheduled for Tuesday, July 7, 7 pm, a virtual Women’s Speaker series event, cosponsored by the Lynden Sculpture Garden, with Waxman in conversation with producer Margy Stratton.

More about I Was Told It Would Get Easier.

Publishers Weekly: “Waxman expertly navigates the fraught shoals of college admissions in this spot-on tale…. Waxman’s alternating first-person narration from Jessica and Emily rings true, while a memorable supporting cast…provide excellent support…This sweet treat doesn’t require a college-bound child to enjoy, though anyone who has helped their offspring weather the admissions process will definitely appreciate this sharp send-up.”

Jen Steele, Boswell bookseller: "Jessica Burnstein and her 16-year-old daughter Emily are off on a week-long college tour. While Jessica hopes for some mother-daughter bonding time, a crisis at work may end up interrupting her plans. For Emily, dealing with the pressure to go to college and get good grades is very stressful, and she's unsure how to tell her mom what she really thinks. Along the way they have fights, awkward encounters, unspoken truths, and an overzealous college tour guide to deal with. Funny, emotional and relatable, Abbi Waxman delivers another feel good novel!"

Library Journal: “This book’s strengths are the exploration of the mother-teen daughter dynamics and relationship and the author’s remarkable gift for realistic, witty dialog. Verdict: Recommended for fans of mother-daughter fiction with both lighthearted and serious moments.”

I should note a couple of things here. One: we also have cute Waxman book plates (above left) for folks who purchase I Was Told It Would Get Easier. Two: It is a very rare thing nowadays for me to go back and read backwards, not just one novel but two – that is saying something. Three: Register for the event with Abbi Waxman in conversation with Margy Stratton on July 7 here at 7 pm CDT. Four: Purchase the book here. Five: Donate to the Lynden Sculpture Garden here. Six: See you on Tuesday, July 7, or if the event already, happened, you can watch the event here.

*Not yet confirmed to be a real book.

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