Choosing a book to read is much more difficult than choosing clothes to wear. The latter involves mere consideration of season and occasion, the former is more precarious – what will suit my mood and reading time available? I cannot be alone in realising my just-before-bed-but-not-every-night reading slots cannot accommodate a book I’ve mistakenly grabbed which is replete with multiple complex characters and a fast-moving plot. Thereby lies insomnia or frantic re-tracking as I’ve forgotten who’s who! How good would it be to have reviews which suggest books to read as a banquet, e.g. on a long day at the beach, and those suitable for consumption as snacks, e.g. on lunchbreaks or pre-bed?
For dipping in and out of, Lilian Boxfish Takes a Walk (love the title alone) is eminently snackable. Loosely based on Margaret Fishback, a real successful poet and notable female advertising copywriter in 1930s New York, this book takes us on a stroll through 1984 New York on New Year’s Eve, where the redoubtable Lilian, now in her eighties, relives her remarkable life and muses on the buildings, parks, restaurants and stores that have made New York a city she has loved for decades. The cast of her peers, family and workmates is limited, so there’s no confusion if you leave it for a few days. The interesting facts about the city (e.g., the Empire State Building was built to enliven the city in the Depression but lay empty for months), insight into working women’s lot pre-WW2 (she worked for Macey’s Department Store) plus the diversions into the stigma and treatment of mental illness in the fifties offer much to intrigue. There’s lots of lyrical prose, poetry and insightful remarks to make you think- but not too much to tax a pre-sleep brain. Author Kathleen Rooney drew on archive material and Fishback’s family for inspiration but acknowledges the book as fiction. Ms Rooney is herself a poet as well as an academic at DePaul University in Chicago and a contributor to the New York Times Magazine and Chicago Tribune amongst others. Verdict? Amusing, consumable in bites and illuminates the thirties through fifties in New York pre-Mad Men.
Lilian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney. Published by Daunt Books, 2017, ISBN978-1-911547-01-3. I am indebted to my thoughtful son David whose birthday present book subscription to Mr B’s Emporium resulted in this delightful book dropping through my letterbox!