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With wisdom, humor and regret, an 85-year-old takes a walk

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'Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk'
'Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk' by Kathleen Rooney
Courtesy of St. Martin's Press

Every week, The Thread checks in with booksellers around the country about their favorite books of the moment. This week, we spoke with Jenny Lyons at the Vermont Book Shop in Middlebury, Vt.

Vermont Book Shop has a very famous former customer: Robert Frost. The poet loved to stop by the store when he was staying at his cabin in nearby Ripton, Vt.

But Jenny Lyons, who is the marketing manager at the shop, is channeling fiction, rather than poetry, for her current recommendation. She has been talking up "Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk" by Kathleen Rooney to customers. 

The novel is based on the real life of Margaret Fishbach, who wrote ads in 1930s New York City, at a time when few women were in the industry. Rooney has reinvented Fishbach as Lillian Boxfish in the book.

The novel opens in 1984, when Boxfish, now her in 80s, decides to take a walk — her walk is the structure of the book.

"She's 85 years old now, and she's still very sharp and very smart, and she still lives in the city. She takes a walk all around the city on New Year's Eve and reminisces about her life," Lyons said. 

"It only took a chapter before you're like: I really like Lillian. It would be fun to walk around the city with her and hear what she has to say."

For Lyons, the book was a pleasant escape.

"To me, books are still an escape, a way to get away from everyday life and immerse yourself in someone else's life, in someone else's experience," Lyons said. "A lot of contemporary fiction can be rough, challenging, important to read — and this has its importance as well — but it was also just pleasant and enjoyable, and I think that's what resonated with me right now."

Lyons also had two other recommendations for eager readers. Katherine Arden's "The Bear and the Nightingale" is the first in a trilogy.

"Its genre, technically, is fantasy, but it's a magical tale that's steeped in Russian folklore and set in medieval Russia," Lyons said. She considers it more of a crossover novel than a traditional fantasy book — it bears similarities to Tea Obreht's "The Tiger's Wife." 

Her third recommendation is for "The Signal Flame" by Andrew Krivak, whose previous novel, "The Sojourn," was a finalist for the National Book Award. His new novel, Lyons said, is "quiet and powerful and kind of reminds me of Kent Haruf."

It follows a family of Hungarian descent in Pennsylvania. Their son is missing in action in Vietnam. The book traces their relationships with their community, with the land and with each other.

Lillian Boxfish Lillian Boxfish