Catching up on Anne Tyler - Noah’s Compass

In anticipation of Anne Tyler's next release, French Braid, which is coming out next March, I decided to read the very last Tyler I hadn't read, Noah's Compass. I had gone on a Tyler* binge in the mid-1980s, scooping up some of the mass markets at the old Womrath's Bookstore in Fresh Meadows, back when they were published by Fawcett Popular Library and Playboy, but after Digging to America (2006), I stopped for a few books. I don't know why - I liked Digging a lot. It was partly that in the last years of Schwartz and the first years of Boswell, I was reading a lot less, and a lot of my reading was focused on authors we were hosting. And sadly, we never hosted Anne Tyler. She just didn't seem like a person who would do that sort of thing.

Noah's Compass (which says October 2009 on the Knopf hardcover but has a January 2010 on all websites) and The Beginner's Goodbye (2012) were both quiet for us, but A Spool of Blue Thread  (2015) led a Tyler resurgence, perhaps due to the Booker Prize shortlisting. Whatever it was, it led me to read that book, whatever else had come out since 2006, and each subsequent book as we received advance copies. 

Anne Tyler is in the air this year. The authors of two of my favorite novels of 2021, Katherine Heiny for Early Morning Riser and Jessica Anya Blau for Mary Jane, cited Anne Tyler as an influence. I can use as proof the fact that in both cases, I went back and read one of each author's previous novels - that's not something I do often. Blau went so far as to set Mary Jane in the Roland Park neighborhood of Baltimore, though her book, unlike Tylers, calls attention to the covenants that were in place in that neighborhood until the 1970s. Our heroine unknowingly becomes a nanny to one of the early Jewish families - the father, is not just a doctor, he's a psychiatrist. 

Like in many Anne Tyler novels, the Cones shop at Eddie's supermarket. After talking with Blau about Eddie's the institution, I learned that the Jewish Museum of Maryland had an exhibit on the supermarket, and that lead me to realize that Eddie's owners, the Cohens (different spelling but effectively the same name as the family in the book) would not have been allowed to live in the neighborhood where they were a beloved institution.

Folks who haven't paid attention to Mary Jane should. Our sales are good, but there are other indies around the country that are selling it hand over fist. And we're still hearing about readers' very enthusiastic reactions to the book, such as former Boswellian, now Whitefish Bay Librarian Sharon.

My friend Michael, knowledgeable about all things Baltimore, clued me in that for the holidays, there is an Eddie's jigsaw puzzle (its official title is "To Market, To Market") made by New York Puzzle Company. If you're wondering why we haven't made a Boswell puzzle, we've certainly thought about it, but the minimum printing is 500. Grocery stores, even indie ones, have a lot more traffic than book stores. On November 7, the University of Maryland Puzzle Club attempts to put together the 1000-piece puzzle before the Charles Street location closes for the day.

In Noah's Compass (and by the way, the Noah of the title isn't a character, but that guy in the ark), Liam Pennywell goes to the Charles Street Eddie's where he runs into the mother of a character he is seeing, only she doesn't know who he is. Her identity is revealed when she is forced to say who she is for her house account. They don't make her do that at the Roland Park location, as everyone knows who she is. 

I liked reading Noah's Compass, with its classic Tyler-esque hero. Unlike some of her other books, where he is counterpointed by a very strong female character, the yang to Liam's yin, we have instead here have a number of distinct and interesting women, but they are all definitely supporting players. But hey, now I know why they put crayons on the rejacketed paperback.

I can't tell you how French Braid, Tyler's next book is, because I haven't read it. But to quote Mameve Medwed, author of Minus Me, who reviewed the book for the Boston Globe, Anne Tyler never disappoints, and Mameve hasn't lied to me yet. 

*The first Anne Tyler novel I read was Searching for Caleb, suggested to me by my college friend Julia. This is the only Tyler novel that I have read twice.

Copyright Boswell Book Company 2014