Anyone who has talked books and reading with me knows that my favorite book of this century is Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout. I love it so much that I become nearly speechless when trying to explain this love to others. When I learned that Strout was coming to D.C.’s Politics & Prose last Tuesday to talk about her new book, The Burgess Boys, of course I had to go. The author was a lovely speaker, funny and authentically self-deprecating, discussing her empathy for her characters, her mess (her word, not mine!) of a writing process, and the panic that sets it when the process takes too long, which apparently it always does. She is not a fast writer, as those of us who await her books can confirm.
I allow myself the pleasure of re-reading Olive Kitteridge about once a year. Before I set off to Politics & Prose earlier this week I looked at the notes I made after my most recent re-reading, which was right around last Thanksgiving. “I’m struck after reading only the first chapter, ‘Pharmacy,’ at Elizabeth Strout’s skill in withholding information,” I wrote in my notebook. “She could fill in the meaning. . . then and there, which is probably what I would do, which would provide clarity but reduce the art and beauty of the writing. Strout has the patience to allow the uncertainty to breathe there for a while. . . .”
So I had this in mind as one of the reasons I love Olive so much when, on Tuesday, I stepped up to have Elizabeth Strout sign The Burgess Boys as well as a new copy of Olive that I bought because, well, just because I’m allowed to have two copies. I told her that Olive Kitteridge was my favorite book of this century. And then–I became nearly speechless, even though I was prepared to deliver at least one actual reason for my love of her book. We laughed and then the friend I was with explained that I tell every reader I know about Olive and that she, my friend, was Exhibit A, as she was there to buy her (first) copy of this fine book. What more does an author need to know about why a reader loves her writing? And so this is why, in her inscription, Strout called me her “ideal reader.” Of which I am proud.
I have never screamed at a rock concert, never stood in line to meet a celebrity, never read Us Weekly. So forgive me for prattling on; I am new to being star-struck.
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