It was morning, well after coffee and breakfast time. We were sitting on the couches at the gym, four intelligent women, after barre class, decked out in our Lululemon, feeling good—mind and body exercised. We were about as alert as we ever get. I couldn’t even complain that I had been working since 4AM…I hadn’t.
“Does anyone have a book they can recommend?” asked one woman, as she sipped her coffee.
“Me! I said, enthusiastically. “A Little Life… You’ve got to read that.”
“I read that over the summer,” she said. “Loved it.” Others agreed.
“Commonwealth.” Someone else suggested.
“I just finished that,” I told her, “really good, but not great. In my opinion, doesn’t fall into an ‘fabulous’ category.”
Another woman told us about a book of short stories she was reading that she thought was fantastic. “… it’s by Hester Cohen,” she said with authority.
“…And the name of the book?” I asked hopefully.
“I can’t remember,” she sighed, and in the ensuing silence, she went on her phone to start researching.
I piped in again, “I just started a book that is supposed to be really awesome. It won a prize. Maybe the Pulitzer.” And as I was talking, I knew that, like the other woman, there was no way I was going to remember the title. And I didn’t actually think it had won a Pulitzer, but I was pretty sure there was some prize involved.
“And the name of that book?” someone asked.
And then there was another silence, because I had no idea what the name of the book was. I could see the cover of the book in my mind—mostly red, with some white and black. I just couldn’t make out the title. No one has ever accused me of having a photographic memory.
“I think it was an Oprah award winner, not a Pulitzer” I said sheepishly, thinking they must think I am the biggest idiot in the world. “Anyway, I’m pretty sure it won a prize.”
And then I had an epiphany. “Actually, I think the title has the word ‘Train’ in it.”
“Girl on a Train?” someone guessed.
“No. But that was a good one.”
“The Orphan Train?” someone else guessed.
“No. But that was a good one too.”
I knew it wasn’t really a train—something was wrong with that image. I just couldn’t make out what it was. But “train” was all I could think of.
“What’s it about?”
“I’m only on page 2, but I think it’s about slaves escaping the south,” I said. I still didn’t make the connection. It was my friend who just turned 50 who had the thought.
“Do you mean The Underground Railroad?” she said.
“OMG, that’s it!” I exclaimed, and fell laughing on the couch. I knew, of course, that the Underground Railroad is not a real train in the sense of a locomotive, but that is where my mind took me. Train. Railroad. Pathetic.
“Who’s the author?”
“Don’t go there,” I said.
Just then, the woman who suggested the short story book had her answer.
“I found it!” she exclaimed, “The name of the book of short stories is Unravished. But it’s not by Hester Cohen, it’s by Hester Kaplan.”
No one blinked an eye. She was very close. I, for one, was impressed she remembered the Hester part. I probably would have been distracted by the Scarlet Letter connection.
Clearly, it takes a village (and Google) get a good book recommendation after 50.
And by the time I got home? I couldn’t remember the title of any of the books that had been recommended. I actually could not remember the name of the woman that had suggested the short story book. As I say, I’m pathetic, but hopefully I can still provide a laugh or two.
*The Underground Railroad is a 2016 novel by author Colson Whitehead. It tells the story of Cora and Caesar, two slaves who make a bid for freedom from their Georgia plantations by following the Underground Railroad. It actually won the National Book Award for Fiction, and it was, in fact, an Oprah Pick. Here is a great review from the NY Times.