By Rebecca Howard
Tulsa City-County Library
In 2011, my colleague Laura Raphael and I launched Your Next Great Read, a personalized readers’ advisory service for Tulsa City-County Library cardholders. This service allows readers to fill out an online survey about their reading habits and preferences, and an actual person (no algorithm here) creates an individualized reading guide. Several libraries across the country have similar services, but I’m pleased and proud that Tulsa’s was among the first. Years have passed, and Laura and I are both in entirely different positions, but Your Next Great Read is still going strong, coordinated by other exceptionally talented and committed library staff.
Having completed hundreds of guides for all types of readers has taught me so much about the reasons why people read. Some readers always want to learn something new. Others want to escape into a richly imagined fantasy world. Many more will tell you that they simply want a good story. While a good story means something different for every reader, it generally means a well-constructed, compelling, and entertaining story that will take the reader out of her own head for a while.
For me, that means a Lip(p)man. Elinor Lipman and Laura Lippman are authors that I consistently enjoy and ones whose upcoming titles are always on my library holds list. And while the subject matter of their novels could not be farther apart, the enjoyment I get from them is very similar. They write “good stories.”
I read a lot of heavy books. A library friend accurately describes my reading taste as “Bell Jar-y.” I have a high tolerance for sadness in fiction. But sometimes, I just want a good story—entertaining, witty, smart, and writerly. This is Elinor Lipman. Reading an Elinor Lipman novel for me is akin to settling in on a rainy Saturday and re-watching the six-hour PBS Pride and Prejudice (Colin Firth version only, please). With Lipman, I know that I am in the hands of a masterful crafts person, one who deeply cares for her protagonist and her readers. Despite their flaws and their funny miscalculations, her protagonists are going to be all right. Lipman is often described as a contemporary Jane Austen for her astute social commentary, lovingly flawed characters, barbed humor, and graceful writing. If you’ve enjoyed books like The Rosie Project or Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, you need to read the original. Start with The Pursuit of Alice Thrift or my personal favorite The Family Man.
For another Lippman, you can’t go wrong with Laura. Before Gillian Flynn and Paula Hawkins, before the “girl” and “wife” books, before the onslaught of unreliable narrators and psychological crime fiction with a feminist slant, there was Laura Lippman. Lippman was a crime reporter before leaving to write full-time, and her journalistic chops show in her tightly constructed, no-holes plots. Her novels have a slow-burn pace with well-placed twists and reveals. For series fans, try Lippman’s Tess Monoghan series. Lippman’s standalone novels are excellent suggestions for fans of Gillian Flynn and Paula Hawkins. Start with Baltimore Blues, the first in the Tess Monoghan mysteries or What the Dead Know (standalone).
Everyone needs a Lip(p)man or two in their reading life. Someone you can depend on for a “good story,” one that allows you to escape from reality for a while and get lost in a well-crafted plot, richly drawn characters, and a little humor. My Lip(p)mans might not be yours, so find your own. If you need help, I’m pretty sure I know a librarian or two who can help.
NOTE: Both Elinor Lipman and Laura Lippman have new releases this year. Good Riddance (released February 2019) by Elinor Lipman—LOVED IT—and Lady in the Lake (forthcoming July 2019) by Laura Lippman—I’m already on the holds list.