East Falls author Larry Benjamin checks out a neighbor’s first novel, a romantic romp set among book stacks in the New Jersey Pine Barrens.
Having heard Kathy Anderson read from her award-winning collection of short stories, Bull and Other Stories, I knew what to expect from her debut novel, The New Town Librarian—humor, ranging from sly to laugh out loud funny. And here she delivers that. In spades. The book is funny and full of wry observations about people, desire and the world of libraries.
Nan Nethercott, a 50-year-old queer librarian in Philadelphia is looking for…something. That something turns out to be that simple yet elusive thing so many of us spend years, sometimes a lifetime, searching for–happiness. A happiness that combines a job, a home, a feeling of home, warm meals and love. Anderson warns us though, “If she got to that level of happy, she’d be the first woman in her family to do so, which would be quite an achievement among the martyrs, worriers, and sad sacks she came from.”
Nan undertakes her search for happiness through job listings. We are told, “Nan never concerned herself about her qualifications for jobs before she applied for them. She could dream, couldn’t she? Other people played the lottery or spun the online dating wheel; she applied for jobs.” That’s exactly right. Nan’s job search is as haphazard as choosing lottery numbers. Yet, while there is often something desperate and pathetic about compulsive lottery players, Nan is neither. Nan is that friend we all have, the one who makes us shake our head and roll our eyes but who we always root for and will never give up on.
Finally Nan lands a new job as the town librarian in the idyllic little town of Pine Tree, New Jersey, whose Main Street, flanked by stately sycamores, are walked by quite an assortment of characters. Nan is undeterred by the fact that the town library is located in the former jail; there are bars on the windows of the subterranean children’s reading room. The townspeople are no less odd.
First, we meet the blowhard Philip “Pip” Conti, the library board president and superintendent of schools. About him, we learn, “He had a head as big as a moose’s and carried himself like a former football star, cocking his head and pausing as if he heard applause every time he spoke.” Some are intriguing, mysterious, like Jeremy: “He was bone-thin, in a town of well-fed children. He was dressed in worn clothes and old shoes, a thrift store look about him…His clothes smelled unpleasant, as if they’d been slept in for many days. He gave off a nasty whiff of unwashed boy.”
Then there are Joe the dog whisperer and Immaculata, Nan’s landlords, both “old as Rome,” who provide food and homemade wine and familial advice. And T, a motorcycle-riding red flag so obvious that when she first appears to seduce our Nan, I wanted to leap onto the pages, grab Nan by the hand and pulling her behind me shout, Run Nan, Run. You in danger girl! Later when Nan, having felt the sting of the red flag slapping carelessly in the wind, suffering from an enflamed libido, called T, “She made it clear this was a one-time deal, a sexual emergency.” This was so authentic—who hasn’t been there?—I found myself mumbling, Yeah girl, I feel you.
There is disappointment and loss, but the story skips along with hope and optimism. When addressing loss, Anderson manages to extract joy and light from what came before. Having finished reading the book days ago, I still think about Nan. I imagine checking in, asking her, Girl how you feeling? I imagine she responds, Feeling good as hell.
The New Town Librarian is fresh as a summer breeze, full of promise and hope the way Nan describes it “Hope felt like that third glass of wine on a rainy night, a little luxury to warm herself by.”
The book is a charming and impressive sophomore effort; I can ‘t wait to read Kathy Anderson’s next book.
👀📖🙌 ENJOY! ✨📚🌈 The New Town Librarian is available in paperback and digital via Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Nine Star Press (the publisher). PRO TIP: download the author’s handy Book Club guide with great discussion questions anyone can use to dive deeper into the story.
🏳️🌈🆓📚FREE BOOK GIVEAWAY📚🆓🏳️🌈
Win one of six signed copies of Kathy Anderson’s hilarious & hope-filled novel, The New Town Librarian. To enter, just send us your name & contact info to email@example.com (subject heading: Book Giveaway) or reach out to us on Facebook/Instagram/Twitter. We’ll choose six random readers on March 19th — International Let’s Laugh Day — who’ll get a free first edition to celebrate the importance of laughter in our lives.
She’s here, she’s queer, she’s the new Town Librarian—but is it too late to make a fresh start??? Find out for free, and share the joy. (18+ only)
ABOUT KATHY ANDERSON:
Local readers will recognize Kathy Anderson from her innovative plays that transformed East Falls businesses into mini-theaters, to the delight of captivated neighbors. She’s also been publishing wry, poignant, and terrifically funny fiction for many years, including Bull and Other Stories (Autumn House Press, 2016), a short story collection which won the 2015 Autumn House Press Fiction Prize. The New Town Librarian is her first novel. Follow Kathy on Twitter and Facebook, and kathyandersonwriter.com. She and her wife make their home in East Falls.
ABOUT THIS REVIEWER:
Larry Benjamin is an award-winning LGBT author who tells rich stories with vivid characters determined to find – or make – their own place in the world. Larry’s most recent novel, Excellent Sons (his fifth), won the prestigious Lambda Literary Award for Gay Romance in 2022. Larry lives in East Falls with his husband Stanley and their two dogs, Gatsby and Atticus. Follow WriterLarry on Twitter and AuthorLarryBenjamin on Facebook.
🎙️🎙️Kathy + Larry: It’s a Fallser Double Feature at Giovanni’s Room! 🏳️🌈💕
Both of these gifted storytellers will read from their books and entertain audience questions.
Friday, March 24th, 6PM
Philly AIDS Thrift at Giovanni’s Room
345 South 12 Street (map)
Free & open to the public 🆓🎟️
FROM THE BOOKSTORE: Our historical building is not ADA-compliant past the first landing on the first floor, and the rest (three stories) is inaccessible except for stairs. This is an issue we inherited with the building, and we are very invested in amending the conditions, but this is how they stand as of now and probably for some time in the future. We do deeply apologize for any inconvenience.
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