Tepper Revisited

Sometimes sitting alone in my car, I feel luxuriosly safe when all around me is too chaotic to bear. The car is parked, of course, and no one else is around. I listen to the classical radio station, close my eyes, and just drift. Sometimes I read old New Yorker magazines. Calvin Trillin’s Tepper comes to mind (from “Tepper Isn’t Going Out”); maybe it’s time to reread the book. But it’s on a shelf somewhere else, not here in my car.

I reviewed the book over ten years ago but I can still use it’s lesson in patience, especially now. Here’s my review:

A lesson in patience – that’s what the nurse said about her elderly patient. She will do what she wants, when she wants to – so time would be better spent accepting that idea and just being patient. The patient was teaching everyone around her to be patient – a recent lesson from my personal experience.

Patience in characters is hard to find. Often impatience is the character flaw that moves the story, but one of my favorite characters is Murray Tepper, the personification of patience. Tepper is the invention of Calvin Trillin, satirist who writes for The New Yorker. Trillin once noted that “…Marriage is not merely sharing the fettucini, but sharing the burden of finding the fettucini restaurant in the first place.”

In his book, Tepper Isn’t Going Out, Trillin gives Tepper patience and wisdom, mixed with lots of humor. For anyone who has lived or spent time in New York City, the complementary characters in the book, and the descriptions of New York neighborhoods and politics will make you smile.

Tepper sits in his car, patiently reading his morning paper in the evening, seemingly not bothering anyone. But, sitting patiently in a car becomes a red flag – and not only for those seeking a parking spot. Tepper becomes “the psychiatrist is in” Lucy from Peanuts to some, the guru on the mountaintop to a few, and a source of annoyance to others – as he sits patiently in his car. Even if the innuendo and satire passes over your head, the journey you will take in reading this book is hilarious.

Throughout all the hysterics of others, Tepper stays calm and Trillin brings the book to a calm and logical end. Patience is a virtue hard to acquire, and there are many who are willing to teach us a lesson in forbearance – we meet them everyday through bureaucratic jumbles and personal interactions – and Tepper is one of them.

Friday the 13th

I always look forward to reading the Washington Post Book Club essays by Ron Charles, but I don’t always get to it until later than posted. Today Charles explains “Paraskevidekatriaphobia, the fear of Friday the 13th.” The Urban Dictionary says once you pronounce it, you are cured.

Editor Vanessa Cronin suggests a few books to read today, including a Jack Reacher novel by Lee Child – Bad Luck and Trouble, Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s hilarious Good Omens, and the book that might have started it all – Friday the Thirteenth written in 1907 by Thomas William Lawson.

I am currently reading Mrs. March by Virginia Feito, about a New York Upper East side wealthy socialite who suspects her author husband has mimicked her (not favorably) as the main character in his latest bestseller. Although starting out as a mild narrative, it is morphing into a Patricia Highsmith type of slow-boiling thriller. In her review for the New York Times, Christine Mangan says:

“By the time we approach the end, there is little doubt as to the fate of Mrs. March. And yet the final pages are shocking nonetheless, and readers may find themselves tempted to return to the beginning in order to understand just what Feito has so convincingly managed to achieve within her accomplished debut.”

I can’t wait – seems like a good page turner for Friday the Thirteenth.

What are you reading today?

Book Lust

Librarians always know the best books to read, and Nancy Pearl, Librarian of the Year in 2011, and NPR commentator and book reviewer, combined her recommendations into a book – Book Lust. Published in 2003, I am just getting to it, and making my list from it. Pearl has written a few sequels since then but this is a good place to start.

The book chapters are organized alphabetically by theme from “My Name is Alice” (authors) to “Zen Buddism” and “Zero,” and I started by skipping around, landing on “Magical Realism, Intriguing Novels, and First Lines to Remember.” Ultimately, I just flipped through all the pages, taking notes as I went, looking for new reads, and gratified when I came across a familiar title I had read.

Here are a few for my to-read list:

  1. Dorothy Sayers’ Gaudy Night uses a reunion at Oxford as the setting for an academic mystery without a murder.
  2. John Banville’s The Untouchable is based on Sir Anthony Blunt, art historian, Keeper of the Queen’s Pictures, and one of the infamous group of Cambridge spies.
  3. Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal Dreams tells about Cosi Noline, who comes home to Arizona to find an ill father, complications in love, and a town facing an environmental threat.

Pearl includes a separate section – “One Hundred Good Reads, Decade By Decade,” from 1900 to 1990s; the book includes an overwhelming list of titles with separate sections for her favorite authors, including Barbara Pym and Gore Vidal. It’s impossible not to find something to read.

What I’ve Read and Enjoyed Lately – but not Reviewed

  • The Paris Library by Janet Charles – based on the true story of the heroic librarians at the American Library in Paris during World War II
  • Dream Girl by Laura Lippman – Another thriller from the author of “Lady in the Lake.” With traces of Rear Window, this is a page turner.
  • The Vixen by Francine Prose – Although it’s been almost seventy years since Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were executed for espionage, Anne Sebba’s biography on Ethel Rosenberg recently brought the story back into view. Francine Prose brings her fictionalized and somewhat askew version of Ethel Rosenberg into her new novel The Vixen. Maria Semple , one of my favorite authors, calls it ” a rollicking trickster of a novel, wondrously funny and wickedly addictive.”

What I’m Reading Now…

  • The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller
  • Such A Quiet Place by Megan Miranda

Should It Stay or Should It Go

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post with the title question “Should We Stay or Should We Go,” I am facing the dilemma of culling my bookcase – what books should stay and which should go?

Although it is more likely books on my shelves have been read and forgotten, it is with horror that I realized I have books gathering dust I’ve never read. Some were lovely gifts, some were well intentioned purchases for future reference, some I had no idea why they were there. In good conscience I could not give away a book I’d never read, so I ventured into the realms of the forgotten books.

Nora Ephron died too young but left behind a wealth of humor and sarcasm that would have made Dorothy Parker proud. Two years before her death in 2012, Ephron began organizing the 557 page memorial to herself in The Most of Nora Ephron, published in 2013. The book seemed overwhelming when I received it, and because I was one of the many readers who took her death personally, I kept the book but could not read it. Now I am laughing through her descriptions of her ex-husband, the “Jewish prince” who cannot find the butter in the refrigerator in “Heartburn,”and pausing from Ephron’s profiles of famous women to look up Julie Nixon Eisenhower to see if she is still alive (she is).

The Most of Nora Ephron includes her books, plays, scripts, early columns, graduation speech, poems – even a few recipes, some no one should ever make – lima beans and pears in molasses.

I read her entertaining “Afterword” to the screenplay of When Harry Met Sally and her homage to Gourmet Magazine. I skimmed over her irate blogging on the politics of Bush and Cheyney and found her funny and poignant poem on the last page of the book – “What I Will Miss” – anchored with “pie.”

Ephron’s voice came back to life in the pages, and despite pausing to watch Meryl Streep play Ephron in her autobiographical movie, I finished reading it in a day.

Back to what to do now having read The Most of Nora Ephron. I could donate the book to the libary, give it to a friend to enjoy, or return it to the shelf next to my copy of The Most of P. G. Wodehouse. What would Lionel Shriver do?

Should We Stay or Should We Go

At the beginning of the vaccine distribution, I was inordinately miffed at somehow being classified as too young to be vaccinated. Having overcome my umbrage, I found Lionel Shriver’s Should We Stay or Should We Go had me considering old age again. Although the author is 64, she uses 80 as the marker for the beginning of being “really old.”

When her father dies after a long and debilitating illness, Kay Wilkinson can’t cry; she is relieved. Determined to die with dignity, her husband Cyril makes a proposal. To spare themselves and their loved ones such a humiliating decline, they should agree to commit suicide together once they’ve both turned eighty – end it all before it gets any worse. A medical Doctor, Cyril has access to Seconal and neatly places the pills in a black box in the refrigerator, to be washed down with a good wine when the time comes.

Although the subject matter is morbid, Shriver uses Gallow’s humor to good advantage. I knew by page fifty there was not a simple solution to the dilemma of Kay and Cyril when the chapter title “The First Last Supper” promised more adventures to come. Shriver creates a parallel universe in alternate chapters, showing how their decision on that fateful birthday could resolve. If they cut their lives artificially short, what might they miss out on, or what horrors might they escape?

Shriver cleverly creates thirteen chapters of scenarios, including surviving cryogenics, being hit by a bus, using long-term health care to live at the London version of the Ritz old folks home, contrasted nicely with no health care and living on the government dole at a place right out of “Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” And she addresses the “five-minutes-to-12 syndrome” – the temptation to hang on until it’s too late, and lose the opportunity to decide anything. Sometimes it’s good to stay, sometimes it’s better to leave.

Some chapters have them leave; others have them stay, and Shriver, an American writer living in London conveniently connects the Leave or Stay to the Brexit vote. Later, the Covid pandemic shows them in two versions of lockdown, one in dire straits of near hunger and isolation, the other living so well they are reluctant to rejoin the fray after quarantine is lifted. Shriver also tackles the future of immigration and its unexpected effects on the old couple.

The topic is becoming popular: Roz Chast humorously addressed it in her New Yorker style cartoon book – Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant, and Derek Humphry’s 1991 self-published Final Exit: The Practicalities of Self-Deliverance and Assisted Suicide for the Dying, was on the New York Times bestseller list for over four months. Katie Engelhart’s 2021 book, The Inevitable, is about people determined to exercise control over their own deaths.

And yet, most of us will put up with anything rather than die. Shriver notes that most think “If they ever do die – not that most people believe in their heart of hearts that they ever will – they’ll be wise, warm, funny, and sound of mind until the very end, with doting friends and family gathered round.” But it doesn’t always work out that way.

My mother, who died at 94, after a life of never going to the hospital except to give birth, and 5 last days of slow decline, told me – “Noone wants to leave the party.” Shriver would caution – make sure there’s still a party.

At times disturbing and even gruesome, Shriver’s sardonic wit provided enough comic relief to keep me reading, and her ingenious possibilities kept me wondering what would come next.