“No cookies, but do you have vodka?” Massachusetts-born author Elinor Lipman asked from the podium in Brookline Booksmith’s basement on Thursday night while she read the first few chapters of her newest book, Good Riddance. This statement is but one of the outlandish remarks that Geneva—a middle-aged filmmaker and across-the-hall neighbor of the novel’s protagonist, Daphne—utters by the end of the second chapter.
Lipman told the audience before her reading that in 1992 she inaugurated the independent bookstore’s author reading series at the Brookline Public Library. Now, having published 13 other books since her first, Lipman’s distinctly quirky literary voice has accumulated quite a following. Some of the audience, most of whom were middle-aged women, had read every single one of her novels and were so eager for the more that they began reading Good Riddance as soon as they sat down.
Under the conspicuous red cover lies a story that transpires from an attempted disposal of a dead woman’s yearbook—one that contains layers of commentary following the lives of the Class of 1968. It was dedicated to the yearbook moderator and an English teacher at the high school, June Maritch, who penned the reports, and who left the artifact to her daughter, Daphne.
Daphne tries to recycle it in a comically millennial act of decluttering, and inevitably ends up with her life even more cluttered when Geneva, a socially inept, “boundary-challenged chatterbox,” picks it from the trash and delivers it back to Daphne with the brilliant idea to make it into a movie.
The idea for the novel was born out of an annotated yearbook found at a flea market in New York, where Lipman now resides. Her significant other, Jonathan, found and purchased a yearbook from Keene, N.H. that contained notes about students—who had gotten married, were divorced, looked old, wore the same thing at the last reunion. The important stuff. They poured over its contents, and Lipman found drama, judgement, and the premise of a new book.
After her reading, she burned through a lot of topics: Aside from the new release, Lipman spoke about her mother, her other books, her characters, her late husband, the editing process and the necessity as a writer to be open to their suggestions, her son, Jonathan, and being an author.
She’s unreserved but thoughtful. When asked about her writing process, specifically whether she keeps a running list of ideas in her mind while she’s working on one novel, she scoffed.
“Christopher, do you have a backlog of ideas?” she asked the back of the audience, where Christopher Castellani, author of six novels, was observing from the back. He said “no.”
“Good, because I don’t want to insult you,” she said. “I don’t trust people who have a backlog of ideas.”
Emphasizing exactly the right details that bring the humor out of the situation, Lipman has a fantastic gift of taking serious stories and making them funny. She’s a conversational speaker. Her stories, already so personal and animated, become all the more intimate through the hiccups in her memory that prompt her to ask the crowd for help—mostly with local geographical discrepancies—with some hints presented in a “wait, wait, don’t tell me!” type of guessing game.
Lipman’s readers, laughing at every other sentence she spoke, absolutely adore her, which isn’t difficult because each audience member felt like everything she said was meant just for them. Likewise, she has much respect for her readers and their dedication to her work.
Always remembering a piece of advice she received from Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tracy Kidder at the beginning of her writing career, Lipman is constantly working on a piece of writing to feed her fans, to focus her nervous energy from a new book release, and to simply write for the act of writing.
“I’ve been to readings where authors—this happened once, I won’t say who it was—the author was in New York and she still had on her blue jeans, and she was huffing and puffing, and they’re saying ‘Oh, she had to take a train, and the train didn’t get in, and it was snowing,’ and, you know, there are people in the audience who want to write and are thinking, ‘If only my train would be late, and I could be there doing a reading,’” she said with a smile. “So I can’t complain.”
Featured Image by Mary Wilkie / Heights Editor