So last year was weird. Professionally exciting, but politically deeply weird and scary. As a result, my reading tended towards the funny and the familiar. Good for my mental health, but not so interesting to blog about.
As for what 2018 has in store, who knows. It would be nice to get some balance back in the world but I’m not holding my breath. I have two books coming out – more on which later. And hopefully I’ll be able to find space for writing about books again.
One of my Christmas presents was Lilian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney (Daunt Books, 2017), which I finished – appropriately enough – just before midnight on New Year’s Eve. This is just the kind of book I like but which seems to be so hard to find – smart, funny, easy to read, with a joy in “language, its sounds and its rhythms. Rhymes and puns and nonsense, ranging from dumb and fun to witty and profound,” and a story to tell.
Lilian Boxfish is 85 when she sets out on New Year’s Eve in 1984 for a stroll that unexpectedly takes her across the whole of Manhattan and back. Along the way she muses on her life, back from when she was a bright young thing, and the highest paid advertising woman in the USA, and on the changes she has seen in a city she loves. Lilian has traded on her charm and wit all her life, and she continues to do so now in her eighties. A highly successful professional woman at a time when maternity leave was unheard of, she flouts convention, only to struggle when it catches up with her. Lilian may be based in part on the real Margaret Fishback, whose papers Rooney worked on, but her story is entirely fictional.
The book is as much about New York as it is about Fishback/Boxfish, and Rooney has set out to combine the story with her love of flânerie. It must be hard to write about the construction of the World Trade Center post-9/11 without succumbing to dramatic irony, but I think on the whole it’s tackled reasonably successfully, poignant rather than overblown.
Lilian is an appealing guide to her city and her life, over the best part of a century of upheavals, and her quick-witted verses and ads are a real testimony to the real Margaret Fishback – poet, author, advertising woman and proto-feminist, who inspired her.