By September 11, 2012 0 Comments Read More →

Enough of Calvin Trillin

Perhaps best known for his magazine writing in the New Yorker and other publications, Calvin Trillin is one of the great American humorists. He made small waves in book group circles a few years ago with the 2006 publication of About Alice, his loving tribute to the wife who served as his muse, and in comic essays, his straight man, for so many years. Alice died of cancer in 2001 at the age of 63, and Trillin wrote his lovely little book to set the record straight, give Alice the woman her due and show the world that she was more than the woman from the essays who constantly battled to keep him in line.

It’s  a great book, but there is more Trillin for groups to get to know, and his works would make the centerpiece for a delightful meeting. For instance, try his food writing, now mostly collected in The Tummy Trilogy, a hysterical but still insightful look at the regular foods–chili, bagels, buffalo wings, boudin, barbecue, crawfish, pierogies, cheese steaks, and Chinese takeout, for instance–that Americans love to eat. A compilation of American Fried; Alice, Let’s Eat; and Third Helpings, it’s loaded with Trillin’s trademark self-deprecating humor, with insight about regional differences, and with enough mouth-watering food and descriptions of overeating to leave your stomach rumbling. I recommend getting your members to bring along your community’s own best local standbys in greasy takeout bags to accompany the discussion.

If you’re a fan of About Alice, also try Messages from My Father, another Trillin tribute, this time chronicling his father Abe, a taciturn Russian immigrant who instilled many of the values that made Trillin’s writing what it is (and Calvin looks like him too). It’s a book that captures the essence of middle America in the post-war years with affection and poignancy. Or you might prefer Family Man, a book written before Alice’s death that catalogs Calvin’s eccentric approach to parenting.

Trillin’s one novel has a uniquely American subject: the quest for a good parking spot. Tepper Isn’t Going Out chronicles a New York City man who knows how to get good parking spots, then infuriates everyone else by sitting in his car with no intention of driving away. This launches an escalating string of events as people in ever higher places, including a mayor obviously derived from Rudy Giuliani, do battle with the good-humored parking anarchist.

To capture a little bit of everything Trillin, look for 2011’s Quite Enough of Calvin Trillin. It collects forty years of droll fun including his political poems, a bit of the novel, plenty of Alice, and a whole role call of the small peeves that Trillin mines for comic gold. While this might be Quite Enough for one book, I’ll be among those who continues to look for Trillin’s humor as long as he can still write it.




About the Author:

Neil Hollands is an Adult Services Librarian at Williamsburg Regional Library in Virginia, where he specializes in readers’ advisory and collection development. He is the author of Read On . . . Fantasy Fiction (2007) and Fellowship in a Ring: a Guide for Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Groups (2009).

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