Posts Tagged Elinor Lipman

book review: On Turpentine Lane

lipman

On Turpentine Lane  by Elinor Lipman. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt| February 2017| 305 pages | $24.00| ISBN: 978-0-544-80824-9

RATING: ****/5*

Faith Frankel, a thirty-two-year-old single woman, moved back to her hometown and works in stewardship at her alma mater, a private school. She recently purchased a house with a questionable history. Faith’s fiancé quit his job to trek across the country living off of Faith’s credit cards. He’s not walking for a cause but to find himself and Faith’s rather bothered by the photos with various women  he keeps posting to social media. Faith’s father has become a painter, specifically making Chagall knock-offs and personalizing them. He becomes involved with a younger woman setting off some issues with her parents and the rest of the family (mainly Faith and her brother). While juggling her fiancés antics with her father’s new career and her mom’s meddling, her brother hustles with his snowplow business in the small western Massachusetts town.

Why someone so smart and independent would remain engaged to this unaware guy? What’s appealing about Faith is that she’s not obsessed with getting married even though she did get engaged to her boyfriend before he embarked on his cross-country walk. She enjoys her work but isn’t obsessed with it. While her friends can’t understand why Faith moved back home from Manhattan, she’s thrilled to make a cozy home on Turpentine Lane. She’s content with her straightforward comfortable career and her new house.

Author Elinor Lipman describes Faith’s position as writing thank-you notes (by hand!) to donors. I have worked in stewardship and never wrote notes by hand. But I let it go as it’s a small town and a private school and a novel. In the Q & A that arrived with the press materials for the novel there’s this question: “Faith works at a private school as Director of Stewardship. Is that a real job?” Do people, particularly in publishing and writing, not know about it? At another point in the novel there’s mention of a landline. I don’t know anyone under 50 who still uses a landline.

The local police keep searching Faith’s basement for murder evidence based on an anonymous tip. After finding a creepy photo album in her attic, Faith invites her handsome coworker, who recently split with his live-in girlfriend, to become her housemate. It’s not long before the longtime friends become romantically involved. Her brother and her mother end up helping Faith investigate the strange photo album and its connection to the past owner. This all sounds rather madcap and it could go terribly awry. In Lipman’s hands it’s a clever and delightful read.

A native of Massachusetts, Lipman graduated from Simmons College. I am also an alumna. I’ve read every one of Lipman’s novels. My favorite is The Inn at Lake Devine. I also really like Isabel’s Bed and Then She Found Me (which was adapted into a film starring Helen Hunt). Her novels tend to be witty, engaging and feature multifaceted, appealing and flawed female characters. Is there any more intriguing kind of woman? If you’re looking for a sharp and entertaining read, On Turpentine Lane will definitely satisfy.

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Elinor Lipman will read at Porter Square Books, Cambridge, Mass. on Thursday, March 2, 2017.

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book news: The Inn at Lake Devine making Off-Broadway debut

inn at lake devine

Exciting news! one of my all-time favorite books The Inn at Lake Devine by Elinor Lipman makes it’s Off-Broadway debut this fall beginning October 7. ROAD TRIP anyone?

The Inn at Lake Devine
At Shetler Studios, Theatre 54
244 West 54th St., 12th Floor
between Broadway and 8th Avenues, NYC.

tickets

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The View from Penthouse B: book review

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The View from Penthouse B by Elinor Lipman . Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (April 2013). Contemporary fiction. Hardcover. 272 pages. ISBN 9780547576213.

It starts off all charming and filled with situational-comedy-setting humor as a widowed sister moves into her divorced sister’s penthouse. Younger sister Betsy suggests that middle sister Gwen-Laura and older sister Margot might make ideal housemates. Gwen-Laura’s been a widow for two years, her husband died suddenly from a congenital heart condition. Margot endured an acrid and publicized divorce when her fertility specialist husband decided to impregnate some of his clients himself. Also, she lost money to Bernie Madoff. They’d never been close. Margot rather lavish and Gwen rather goodie-goodie. “It was kind of her not to make me admit my most obvious shortcoming: I would be a sad roommate who couldn’t be counted on for any fun at all.” They take in a younger gay guy, Anthony [a cupcake baking former Lehman Brothers financial analyst] as housemate and form a modern family.

When Charles, Margot’s ex-husband, gets out on parole and moves into the building he starts wiggling his way back into his ex’s life through bi-weekly dinners that Margot initially refuses to attend. But old feelings start to defrost. The focus shifts to heavy matchmaking for Gwen. Urging her to write a personal ad and sign up for online dating. There’s amusing writing about dating in your 40s and 50s.

About an ad Gwen ran in the New York Review of Books:

“No one answered, and I knew why. The competition in that highbrow publication where women aiming for a man with books on his shelf, art on his walls, smoked salmon in his refrigerator, and tenure. I was at a distinct disadvantage, lost among ads posted by Ivy Leaguers with advanced degrees in Masculine Preferences.”

The strong bond that develops between the disparate sisters kept me reading The View from Penthouse B. They depend on each other as never before and care deeply for each other’s happiness and well-being. Along with Anthony, Margot and Gwen have quite the set-up in penthouse B that anyone would envy. [It was our nuclear family. As of that day, it was the only portrait I could paint of the widow Gwen-Laura Schmidt where she was neither lonely nor alone.”]. This would’ve been enough for me but apparently in women’s fiction all women MUST get married or married again or they be failures.

RATING: ***

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

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I Can’t Complain: book review

can't complain

I Can’t Complain by Elinor Lipman. Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (April 16, 2013). Essay/nonfiction. Hardcover. ISBN 978-0-547-57620-6.

“Will I blurb a book because its editor implores me charmingly? No. Will I take a stab at it? Yes. When do I decide? I read until something stops me: Clunky sentences. No life. No story. Too much story. Too many italics. Too earnest or pretentious or writerly.”
–“Confessions of a Blurb Slut” from I Can’t Complain by Elinor Lipman

Elinor Lipman writes wryly humorous and astutely observant novels. Previous published in The Boston Globe [“I Married a Gourmet,” “The Best Man,” “Ego Boundaries”], Good Housekeeping [“Good Grudgekeeping”], The New York Times [“Confessions of a Blurb Slut”] and various other periodicals and anthologies, this collection of essays provides insight into her personal life– family, marriage, friendships, writing career and her husband’s death.

She debates the complexities to RSVPing in “No Thank You, I Think”—“I have a companion quirk to the saying of no: I must explain why I’m turning down an invitation, lest the potential host guess the truth, that I simply don’t want to go. I always RSVP with an excellent reason and ask the same in return, a little emoting and a lot of regret.” Describes growing up the sole Jewish family amid Irish in a Lowell neighborhood with a St. Patrick’s Day column titled “A Tip of the Hat to the Old Block”—“I still don’t know why Father Shanley regularly joined us for corned beef and cabbage, but it might have been his preference for deli-style over rectory-style boiled meat.”

In a section of essays, Lipman contemplates being a writer and the publishing business from naming characters [“Which One is He Again?”] to the expectations for blurbing books [“Confessions of a Blurb Slut”] to the long journey from novel to the screen [“My Book the Movie”]. Then there’s tackling more serious issues in “I Touch a Nerve”– “Sometimes I add this, hoping to broaden the topic and get me off the hot seat: A novel about a Jewish family is a Jewish novel. (I name a few.) One cannot bring forth an American novel about the Everyman Family and name them the Shapiros unless the author is making a point. Ethnicity, religion, and race can’t be dropped casually into a novel as if casting a television commercial with a multicultural aim.”

She’s quite witty and endearing. Lipman writes in a conversational tone that makes you want to befriend her, confide in her, drink tea and chat for hours. You can savor the essays over time or enjoy in one sitting and return to them frequently and share them.

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

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Some Summer Reading Suggestions

Close Your Eyes by Amanda Eyre Ward

Devoured this mystery/thriller and story about self-discovery and an amazing brother-sister relationship. It’s a complete page turner. [longer review soon]

The Pursuit of Alice Thrift by Elinor Lipman

In this engaging story, Lipman delves into an honest and amusing portrayal that follows a late-bloomer in her journey toward self-confidence and contentment. Alice Thrift, an unhappy and socially backward surgical resident in Boston brings her head up and out of her shell through a series of odd events—a mistake in surgery, participation in a birth and the central focus of the book: her doomed relationship with an unsuitable salesman. Lipman creates genuinely warm and hilariously zany characters just like those you might pass in your daily life.

Feminista by Erica Kennedy

Erica Kennedy turned out a feverish bitch lit novel with an astounding eye for the often ridiculousness aspects of social-climbing, societal expectations and prosperity. The central figure 33-year-old Sydney Zamora is outspoken, hard-working and independent and rocks the combat boots. She’s also a bit pissed off at everything. She literally says whatever is on her mind with little editing. This lovely, sassy biracial Manhattan celebrity journalist earns a fantastic salary for glossy magazine Cachet and works very few hours per week. But is she truly happy? Why can’t women have both great careers and great personal lives? Will powerful female executives with families ever NOT be asked how they manage to “balance” it all? Will single women over 30 ever stop being asked if they have plans to “settle down?” Will society stop looking at single women over 35 as anomalies or freaks? In FEMINISTA, Kennedy manages to delve into such multi-faceted issues with adept style, wit and an innate knowledge of what motivates and infuriates today’s women.

BEAT by Amy Boaz

As Beat opens, an American and her 7-year-old daughter explore the Louvre. Days pass and the duo wander the streets of Paris from café to museum to bistro to park. Once it has been established that this is not a vacation for Frances and her daughter Cathy but an escape from the New York suburbs, the reader starts to wonder why this mother moves from one seedy hotel to another with one eye over her shoulder during this excursion. Through flashbacks that piece together a fiery romance, author Amy Boaz methodically reveals the reasons. Through dazzling, smart, dynamic writing, Boaz spins an enigmatic, unique story about dissatisfaction, passionate love, and the value of individual character. Boaz writes vividly and thoughtfully. Beautifully written, Beat often read likes poetry.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake stands out from other novels with its delightful and richly woven central character Rose. In tasting any homemade food, she has the innate and unusual ability to discover the feelings and secrets of the person who prepared it. When she’s nine, her mom serves her lemon cake and it’s quite upsetting for the young girl. But soon she grows into her special gift. She finds ways to embrace it or avoid it. Rose’s gift and its impact on her life– both positive and negative– slowly unfolds in a quiet yet riveting fashion that overflows with emotion. Rose’s special gift changes her relationships with her mother, father, unusual brother [who also has a strange secret], as well her societal interactions. Aimee Bender writes exquisitely. The fairy-tale magic realism propelling The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is charming and irresistible.

The Swimming Pool by Holly LeCraw

The Swimming Pool contains far too many secrets that could have devastating effects on all involved. The setting: Cape Cod. Siblings Jed and Callie take some time off to stay at the family’s house on the Cape. Jed leaves his job in Atlanta and Callie leaves her husband back in Greenwich, Conn. The story involves intricate family secrets that connect two families in rather unexpected ways. Both Callie and Jed have many questions and unresolved feelings toward the deaths of their parents. LeCraw deftly unravels the past and mixes it with the present through a riveting narrative style.

Tethered by Amy McKinnon

Amy MacKinnon’s an exquisite writer who arranges sentences with precision and care. TETHERED delves into the absolutely necessary, though some might feel morbid field of undertaking. MacKinnon provides the pertinent details and visuals. In Clara Marsh, TETHERED has the ideal detached heroine who left her own painful childhood behind to pursue this unusual profession at a funeral home in Brockton, Mass. [her mother died in a car accident leaving her to be raised by an abusive grandmother]. She leads a quiet and solitary life and prefers it that way. She gardens and even has her own perfect secret garden that few people know about. Gardening is her escape. When a young girl, Trecie, begins hanging around the funeral home and then shows up in child pornography, Clara is reluctantly drawn into a case along with Detective Mike Sullivan. The case is also connected to an unidentified child [nicknamed Precious Doe] who died three years prior. The funeral home gave her a service and buried her. Signs lead to the Reverend and then even to Clara’s own boss who treats her as his daughter. Who really is the mastermind behind this child pornography ring and will it be too late to save Trecie from the same fate as poor Precious Doe? TETHERED is a clever thriller that keeps you turning pages and guessing to the end.

Dead Light District by Jill Edmondson

In Dead Light District, Author Jill Edmondson has added exactly the right amount of research to this novel to provide background information and advance the plot but not bog the reader down in details. Private Investigator Sasha Jackson learns about sex trafficking, sex trade and prostitution—probably more than she’d ever expected. It disgusts and scares Sasha to think about the mistreatment and exploitation of women throughout the world. This provides her with a moral dilemma at times in searching for the missing Mexican call girl, Mary Carmen. Did Mary Carmen leave on her own accord or was she kidnapped or did a former pimp find her? When a pimp is found murdered, for Sasha, all signs point to Mary Carmen and she’s not so sure that’s all that bad a thing. Couldn’t Mary Carmen have acted in self-defense? Edmondson has created the ideal character in Jackson—liberal morals, ex-drummer/singer turned PI, single woman over 35 who’s sassy and fun.

The Social Climber’s Handbook by Molly Jong-Fast

Through acerbic wit and a ruthless plot, author Molly Jong-Fast highlights greed, excess and selfishness in the quick moving The Social Climber’s Handbook. It’s an amusing and sometimes disturbing novel about moneyed and powerful Manhattanites. The clever Jong-Fast provides a diabolical twist making The Social Climber’s Handbook an even juicier read. Dick and Daisy Greenbaum, an unhappy couple with two disaffected young daughters, possess affluence and status but lack an affinity for each other or anything of real importance. What happens when their protected world collapses around them? Jong-Fast applies a critical eye to marriage and family amidst the standards of “the wacky world of wealth.” Some parts are cringe-inducing and others laugh-out-loud.

The Singular Exploits of Wonder Mom & Party Girl by Marc Schuster

This is a refreshing novel about a woman facing the realities of getting older and losing her comfort zones through divorce. Using wit, situational humor and deft observations, author Marc Schuster constructs a fast-paced story with various twists and turns.
One night when she’s out with a co-worker, she tries cocaine and soon finds she really likes it. Audrey’s Wonder Mom by day and Party Girl at night. Soon the lines blur and she’s a real mess. Audrey can no longer keep her dark secret. While becoming a drug addict may be extreme, author Marc Schuster uses it as a metaphor for many quick fixes that Americans use to solve their issues. The Singular Exploits of Wonder Mom & Party Girl hovers between amusing and tragic but doesn’t cross the line too much in either direction.

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Why Do Authors Sign Books?

What’s the point of having a book signed? Why do authors even sit at a table waiting to sign their latest offering for an  often endless line of readers?

 When an author scribbled, “Amy, enjoy the read.”  I was not thrilled. And then years later, I feel I should keep the book merely because it’s signed. I’m getting rid of many signed copies because they don’t “add” any personal value to my bookshelf. Just clutter. Recently, I interviewed two authors and they signed, “Have fun reading.” Really? Not: “It was really nice talking to you” or “Thank you for the interview.” When I met Jonathan Lethem and we were tentatively planning an interview during a signing, I walked away and opened my book. It read: “I look forward to speaking to you.” Now that is a class act and why I have a literary crush on him.

I have pitched this piece to many many publications since November and while I think it is a fantastic idea, I guess I live in my own world because editors never like my ideas. Thus I never get paid to write.

I contacted some authors and these nine (thank you!) responded to my questions (even from a book tour, my literary crush Jonathan Lethem): Elinor Lipman, Tom Perrotta, Mameve Medwed, Jonathan Lethem, Dick Lehr, Erica Kennedy, Meg Cabot, Jacquelyn Mitchard and Matthew Pearl.

Note the heavy Boston connection. That’s because the literati reside here! No offense anyone. Both Elinor Lipman and Mameve Medwed are Simmons alumnae like me so they HAVE to agree to speak to me (The Simmons Code—not really!). On another aside, in 1999, Tom Perrotta answered a “fan” letter I wrote to him and met me at a Starbucks to discuss writing—I had completed my masters in journalism at Boston University in 1995—I haven’t gone very far since then– but I will always remember feeling that he took an interest in my works in progress.

Here are their responses [and some of my questions interspersed].

Elinor Lipman

ELINOR LIPMAN [The Family Man, Then She Found Me, Isabel’s Bed, The Inn at Lake Devine]

I always come away from a signing feeling that it’s been part Old Home Week and part Fan Appreciation Night. People tend to tell me how much they’ve read and/or their favorite of my books, so I’m always looking for an original thing to write that expresses my gratitude for their devotion or even just coming out on a rainy night. Maybe once every 20 people, I get to write something that has a little originality based on what they’ve told me or a connection we have. Anthony Burgess once wrote in a friend’s book–and this friend is a shy, non-flirtatious, serious academic–“I’ll never forget our night in Paris.” I think that remains for me the high-water mark in inscription humor. I like to repeat something that the person in line has told me about the friend or mother or daughter for whom the book will be a gift, something like, “I hear you are a true-blue fan (Mary told me…)” etc. I never just sign my name unless someone says, “Signature only,” and I think it’s insulting to a reader to write the same few words in every book, especially something banal like “Best wishes.” Often the book signing portion of the evening–one on one with a reader– is the time that you hear the most touching and meaningful things. I’ve been moved to tears by some little testimonials.

 

Tom Perrotta

TOM PERROTTA [The Abstinence Teacher, Little Children, Election, the Wishbones]

Interesting questions. I do try to interact a bit with everyone, but it can be challenging. Partly it just depends on the size of the group–it’s easy to give twenty people a minute or two of your attention, but harder when it’s fifty or sixty. Some writers are more outgoing than others–they have the skills of the politician, and I don’t mean that in a negative sense. I do my best, but that kind of thing doesn’t come naturally to me.

I like the signing–it’s nice to have real human interaction with people who read my books. I know that I still get a kick out of meeting writers I admire. Also, writers are the most accessible of “celebrities”–if you really want to meet a writer you admire (with the exception of Salinger or Philip Roth) you can probably do it. You can’t really say the same about movie stars or rock stars.

I try to write something personal when I can, but again, sometimes you don’t have time to come up with something clever or specific. The analogy I use is yearbook signing when you’re a senior in high school–sometimes you don’t have anything particular to say, so just write the equivalent of “I enjoyed being in Biology class with you!” So it definitely helps if the person has interviewed you, or if you’ve had some sort of interaction with them before the signing.

 

Mameve Medwed

 

MAMEVE MEDWED [How Elizabeth Barrett Browning Saved My Life, Mail, Of Men and Their Mothers]

I always love to meet my readers, the biggest thrill on earth, and I try to talk to each and every one of them. We authors sign books to illuminate the bond between writer and reader. I work hard to make each inscription personal. If it’s someone I know or have been interviewed by, it’s a pleasure to refer to that connection in the inscription. That a person has bought my book gives me a sense of responsibility to that reader and makes me want to give him or her the best experience possible. If no one shows up, I sign the bookstore stock, a generic “with best wishes”. But I, like almost every writer I know, adore the one on one and will happily go on signing forever. It’s a privilege and an honor.

Jonathan (Amy Steele's literary crush) Lethem

 JONATHAN LETHEM [Chronic City, Fortress of Solitude, Motherless Brooklyn]

Amy, here’s a couple of answers, on the fly — sorry about the lack of luck placing your good interview. [Turns out it DID get placed in The L Magazine].

Steele: What kind of inscription do you write when you sign books?

I’ve fallen into the habit of automatically writing either “All best wishes” or merely “All best” — though with my handwriting people tell me they often think I’ve written “Auf bill wishers” or “At last” or “Awl bent wirrs” or something else meaningless. I really should either slow down and get this right or stop completely.

Steele: Have signings gotten any easier?

It really depends so much on the setting — sometimes there’s a long line, and it is especially full of people who seem to be standing in an uncomfortable place or not enjoying any kind of conversation, or there are great numbers of collectors with vast piles of multiple items, and then I tend to get into an industrial mode and try to just push through, not avoiding interaction completely but always focused on getting to the next person. In other circumstances, in a comfortable, fun bookshop or where everyone seems relaxed I’ll let myself stop and talk to people much more, which can be quite enjoyable, in fact, and I’m usually glad when I do slow it down. But the great enemy of this is loud music in the background, all too often the case, and then I find it can be quite difficult to hear people speak when they come up to the table — a situation made worse by the fact that I’m seated and they’re standing. Probably I should stand up.

 

Dick Lehr

 

DICK LEHR [The Fence, Black Mass]

Steele: When you are at a book signing, are you operating in assembly mode or do you get a chance to interact?

I’ve done both. It all depends on the size of the crowd. I’ve been at signings where I’ve had to crank them out and been borderline rude to keep the line moving, which I don’t like. Some book buyers want to chat a bit, but if there’s 25 or more people waiting, and the one person in line has no clue, I find myself feeling for all the other folks waiting in line (I know I hate waiting in any kind of line!). So I’ll be pushy and do anything to get to the next person. It’s weird, on the one hand, you want a ton of people in line buying the book, but I’ve also had some really interesting conversations when there’s only been a small line and that allows for some actual talk.

Steele: How do you feel about signing books in general?

I actually feel honored and privileged that someone wants one of my books signed.

Steele: What kind of inscription do you write when you sign books?

When cranking, date, best regards and my name.

Steele: What has happened at book signings when no one has been there to get a book signed?

Only happened a couple of times at a bookstore; I end up browsing for books. I love bookstores. With my first book signing experiences, this would be a bummer, but now it’s all taken in stride.

Steele: What has been your best book signing experience?

Black Mass was a national bestseller, and some of the signings were wild, with long lines extending out of the store. There was a bit of a carnival atmosphere and real uplifting that the book connected with so many readers.

Steele: How have signings changed/gotten easier as you’ve written more books [become more experienced] i.e. do you tend to interact more and sign different things/ more personal messages?

Yes, like I said, it’s much more a matter of stride. Whatever happens happens. Unless I know someone and personalize the signing, or unless someone has wording they want me to use, I simply do a fairly straight autograph

 

Erica Kennedy

 

ERICA KENNEDY [FEMINISTA, Bling]

I only did book signings for my first book, Bling. I went on a 10 city tour but even with that big publicity push I don’t think it did much. There was really no way then for people to know you would be at the book store other than your picture in the window. The most people I had was maybe 50 and that was at the NY signings in Manhattan and the B&N in Brooklyn Heights around the corner from where I lived then because it was people who knew me.

But when you’re doing it in a store they have a set amount of time for you to talk and then you have to sign books and they move everyone along so I’d just sign my name and whatever the person might have asked me to write to them. I would stay and answer questions for 2 hours if I could but they don’t let you do that. Which sucks.

On the 10 city tour there were a couple where no one showed, usually independent bookstores which the pub wants you to hit – in my case, black owned bookstores. But there were others when there were really cool, fun chicks who I really appreciated being able to talk with.

Nowadays, you could alert people to signings through Facebook and Twitter but publications do them less because no one has marketing money. I don’t really care because I don’t think they do much. Publishers need to do other events than just going to a bookstore but they just do what they’ve always done even if it doesn’t work anymore.

But when I send books to people now, I write a personal inscription. I just sent one to a big Hollywood actress who shall remain nameless who is reading it for movie consideration. I thought a while about what I should write because I knew she would be reading it for a very specific reason. I wanted to make her think this would be an interesting character to play. But I don’t know her so who knows how she or her people will receive that. Who knows if it will even get to her. And no, I won’t tell you what I wrote. That’s between me and her 25 people!!! LOL

I have never gotten a book signed by anyone. It doesn’t matter to me. I’m not sure why people want books signed but if they ask me, I do.

 

Meg Cabot at book signing

MEG CABOT [Queen of Babble series, Allie Finkle’s Rules for Girls series, The Princess Diaries series]

Hmmm, these are all good points.

I think it was Margaret Atwood (or one of those quirky British lady authors, anyway) who said that wanting to meet the author who wrote your favorite book is like wanting to meet the cow who produced your favorite hamburger.

I have to say for the most part, I agree with her. Meeting favorite authors, for me anyway, has invariably been disappointing, since they’re often big grumps who in no way should be released amongst the public.

But that’s why they’re such great writers, usually. They just sit home, thinking up weird thoughts, which they then write down. Why let them out? Just keep them home, where they belong and want to be.

But I’ve also thoroughly enjoyed some of the signings of favorite writers I’ve been to, specifically Sue Townsend (Adrian Mole series), and Robert B. Parker (Spenser Series), among a few others, and have kept the books I had them sign. I never asked for a personalized copy or introduced myself because I know how hard signings are on authors, who are shy for the most part. I just asked them to sign the book as mementos of the fun time I had at their signings.

I would hope other readers felt the same about my signings as I’ve felt about my favorite authors.

That’s all I have to say about that.

 
 

Jacquelyn Mitchard (l) with fan at book signing

JACQUELYN MITCHARD

[The Deep End of the Ocean, No Time to Wave Goodbye, Still Summer]

Book signings used to be a HUGE deal — like huge numbers of people turned out for even authors who were NOT Dan Brown or Jodi Picoult. It was a novelty, a chance to hear and see the person who wrote something you liked. The shekels shrunk. The publishers panicked. They either sent people to way too many places, overexposing them, or way too few. Signing a book was once a sort of assembly line, but with the occasional really moving personal encounter.

I loved signed books. They are my treasures. I don’t care if they are even signed to ME. One of my most cherished things is my favorite book (A Tree Grows In Brooklyn) signed by Betty Smith to HER agent, easily 15 years before I was born, given me as a birthday gift by my agent. When they are inscribed with special love (as my book signed by my pal Karin Slaughter, “to my pal, Jackie, the fighter,”) because she was with me the day I learned that we’d lost everything in a Midwestern investment scam, they have a special meaning. But I would rather just have a name than “Enjoy the read ..” or some such … I have a special thing I write: “Settle for more …” I think everyone should hear that. To me, they’re never clutter. They’re always either a memory or an encounter, or something I loved, or something someone THOUGHT I would love. That matters too.

I have a signature. Period. It’s become sloppier and more artful over time but it’s my only signature. If I’ve met the person before, I’m more likely to make it a personal, hopeful message.

People who want to write want signed books. People want gift books signed as a surprise by a favorite author. I’ve never signed one “thanks for last night….”

Dickens signed books and even table napkins. [nice transition to the hysterical Matthew Pearl]

Matthew "See You in Hell" Pearl

MATTHEW PEARL [The Last Dickens, The Poe Shadow, The Dante Club]

Steele: Why do authors sign books?

Authors will do pretty much anything they’re told to do.

Steele: How do you feel about signing books in general?

I have to admit, I never went out of my way to have a book signed as a
reader. Even these days, I’d usually only get a book signed if a
friend of mine wrote it. That said, I’ve never been a collector of
anything, and I respect the preferences of those who like their books
signed.

Steele: What kind of inscription do you write when you sign books?

By nature, novelists aren’t the best slogan writers. I’m happy if
someone wants it customized in a particular way, less thinking for me.
I do come up with a catchphrase for each book. You can’t think of
something new each time. For The Dante Club, I write “Welcome to the
Club” (which replaced “Go to Hell” after I worried I might offend
someone who didn’t get it) and for The Last Dickens, “Find the ending”
(since it’s about Dickens’s unfinished novel). For The Poe Shadow, I
write “See you in 1849,” which is when the novel took place, though
one reader pointed out that sounded like I was giving out my hotel
room number. It’s not true, of course. I’m really giving out Ben
Mezrich’s hotel room number.

Steele: If you have met someone or done an interview, what kind of thought will
you put into the signing?

I do my best, but it’s hard to wow anyone with a few words, especially
if you’re in another country and don’t speak the language. I always
feel awful writing “Muchas gracias” to a reporter in Spain, I feel
like they often politely smirk at me.

Steele: How have signings changed/gotten easier as you’ve written more books i.e.
do you tend to interact more and sign different things or is it just an
assembly line?

I wouldn’t describe it as an assembly line, and I always do like to
interact. It’s nice now that a reader might have several of my books.
That’s a nice feeling. Sometimes people ask me to sign a book that I
didn’t write, though, like an antique edition of Poe or Dante. I try
to talk them out of it.

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Book Readings: Do I get my book signed?

My friend Adam is a huge fan of Jonathan Safran Foer who is reading from Eating Animals tonight for Brookline Booksmith. He told me he wouldn’t wait to get the book signed and that he usually doesn’t. I’m giving him my review copy. He’s helped me a lot with my web site and it’s the least I can do! He’s read Everything is Illuminated four or five times! So I got to thinking about going to reading and getting books signed by authors. Sometimes, what’s the point?

When an author just writes, “Amy, Enjoy the read, xx” I’m not that thrilled. And then years later particularly if it’s a book I will not read again, I feel I should keep it because it’s signed but it is just clutter. I am getting rid of signed copies of Betrayal (about Boston Catholic Church), The Passion of Artemesia, something by Linda Fairstein and I See You Everywhere. I just have so many books to read and new books coming out all the time and there’s the library, I’m not opening these books up again and they don’t “add” to my bookshelf.

But these do– because they have PERSONAL messages:

Don’t Cry by Mary Gaitskill– “To Amy, to whom I want to say I actually AM a feminist.”

Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem– “For Amy. Looking forward to talking.”

Election by Tom Perrotta– “It was great meeting you. Good luck with your writing.”

Of Cats and Men by Nina de Gramont– “To Amy, Great to meet you. With All Best Wishes,”

The Fence by Dick Lehr– “To Amy, Thanks for the interview and Best Regards”

The Ladies Man by Elinor Lipman– “For amy, with thanks for your kind words. Enjoy!”

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