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Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen…

Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk (2017)

by Kathleen Rooney

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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6675822,200 (4.03)154
"Fall 2016 Library Journal Editors' Pick "In my reckless and undiscouraged youth," Lillian Boxfish writes, "I worked in a walnut-paneled office thirteen floors above West Thirty-Fifth Street..." She took 1930s New York by storm, working her way up writing copy for R.H. Macy's to become the highest paid advertising woman in the country. It was a job that, she says, "in some ways saved my life, and in other ways ruined it." Now it's the last night of 1984 and Lillian, 85 years old but just as sharp and savvy as ever, is on her way to a party. It's chilly enough out for her mink coat and Manhattan is grittier now--her son keeps warning her about a subway vigilante on the prowl--but the quick-tongued poetess has never been one to scare easily. On a walk that takes her over 10 miles around the city, she meets bartenders, bodega clerks, security guards, criminals, children, parents, and parents-to-be, while reviewing a life of excitement and adversity, passion and heartbreak, illuminating all the ways New York has changed--and has not. A love letter to city life in all its guts and grandeur, Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney paints a portrait of a remarkable woman across the canvas of a changing America: from the Jazz Age to the onset of the AIDS epidemic; the Great Depression to the birth of hip-hop. Lillian figures she might as well take her time. For now, after all, the night is still young"--… (more)
  1. 10
    The Odd Woman and the City: A Memoir by Vivian Gornick (pbirch01)
    pbirch01: Both primarily concern the joy and serendipity found when walking around a large city such as New York
  2. 00
    Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (Othemts)
  3. 00
    Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan (Othemts)
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    The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs (Othemts)

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» See also 154 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 57 (next | show all)
Lillian is a strange character. The highest paid advertising writer in the United States, she is well liked and well thought of, for a female writer. She has goals that don’t include being someone’s wife, but that is what she becomes. She has ambivalent feeling about being a mother, though she loves her son. It’s no wonder that she has major problems down the road. So now she is elderly, and it’s New Year’s Eve, and she goes for a walk in the city, even in the unsafe parts. She meets people, some new, some old, some nice, some dangerous, reminiscing about her long life. Though we hear much about Lillian’s experiences, I never felt that I really got to know her. Part of her seems to be hidden away and we only get glimpses of the real Lillian. Even discounting the parts that are lacking in the book, the last scene that ends the story was so unreal it was totally unbelievable. The best part of this tale for me was the wonderful performance by the narrator in the audio version. ( )
  Maydacat | Jun 22, 2019 |
In Lillian Boxfish Takes A Walk by Kathleen Rooney a woman’s life is portrayed as she reminisces on New Year’s Eve 1984. She is strolling the streets of the city she loves, New York. The author describes the various neighbourhoods that 85 year old Lillian walks through and relates the impact these neighbourhoods had on her life. This story of a woman who became a highly successful ad copywriter to Macy’s, a published poet, and forged a stellar career in advertising is at times charming while at others quite bittersweet. The story is all the more interesting as it is based on the real life of Margaret Fishback, “the highest paid female advertising copywriter in the world during the 1930s”.

Lillian recounts her celebrated career in advertising and the milestones in her life and adds a richness to the story with the details of life in New York City during the passing decades. Lillian is definitely a character to remember. She’s elegant, smart and fearless. Her life wasn’t always easy, but she proves herself a survivor.

The fact that the author is also a poet certainly shines through in the lovely writing. I did think there were times that the book was a little too over-written but overall this is an intelligent and witty story that I enjoyed. ( )
  DeltaQueen50 | Jun 12, 2019 |
I just finished [Lillian Boxfish] and it was absolutely charming. Not action-packed by any means, but a slow unfolding of her life. Lillian is taking a walk around her favorite city and hometown: New York. It is New Year's Eve and as she meanders through the streets, walking to her favorite haunts, we travel down memory lane with this spunky by elderly woman. She was the highest paid ad writer back in the 1930's, but of course, as soon as she got married she was forced to quit her job and be "just" a mom, as required my society and her employer back then. Lillian didn't surrender herself entirely. LOL. There are a few twists and turns and lots of humor and introspection. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Lillian. ( )
  Berly | May 24, 2019 |
It’s New Year’s Eve in New York City and 83 year old Lillian Boxfish decides to walk to her habitual New Year’s Eve favorite restaurant. Her walk becomes a journey as she walks and reminisces about her life.

She arrived in the city in the 1930’s, an ambitious young woman in a time when women didn’t have careers. She became the highest paid woman in advertising, writing light- hearted rhyming jingles and eventually a few books.

She gave up her career when she married and had a child. Her life took several twists and turns and we see them as she walks and remembers, just as we see the evolution of New York City, changing styles, and women’s roles.

She’s a resilient woman and determinedly cheerful, although an event after her husband left makes me wonder how deep her happiness is and whether she is as self reliant as she seems. It’s a meditation not only on her life, but on changing culture, aging, and of course, New York City, which emerges as a character in itself ( )
  streamsong | May 16, 2019 |
On the last day of 1984, 85-year-old Lillian Boxfish goes for a 10-mile walk in New York City. In many ways it is a walk down memory lane as she revisits places that have been important in her life. She interacts with a number of people she encounters but most of her time is spent in memories of her life in the city.

Lillian had always wanted to be a career woman and she became a successful one: she got a job in Macy’s department store and became “the highest-paid advertising woman in America.” She was also a poet who published a number of books; in many of her poems she scoffed at romantic love but then fell in love at first sight. Though she seems to have led a glamorous life and strived to enjoy life, she also had her personal struggles. She points out that “Happiness and a love of fun are not coextensive, and their relationship may even be divergent. If one were happy, then one might stay in with a book, say, and not go out hunting for fun.”

Lillian is a very likeable character. She is intelligent, witty, and fiercely independent. She has an indefatigable zest for life. Even as an old woman, she enjoys meeting people of different ages and from various walks of life. A rebellious streak means she doesn’t conform to expectations, though she is always graceful and dignified. She believes that, “The point of living in the world is just to stay interested.” One cannot but admire her as she emerged from a very difficult time, has maintained her enjoyment of life, and makes no apologies for “a life that privileged pleasure, poise, and politesse.”

Having lived to an advanced age, she has learned some lessons which she passes on: “it wasn’t that happiness led to humor, but more that humor could lead, perhaps, to happiness – that an eye for the absurd could keep one active in one’s despair, the opposite of depressed: static and passive.” She also advises, “’Do whatever you want. Anyone who tells you you shouldn’t is trying to sell you something.’”

The book touches on a number of topics: racism, the AIDS crisis, women’s rights, and ageism. For example, though she was a great asset to Macy’s, once she became pregnant, she had to leave her job: “the solid rock upon which my success was built turned out to be a snow heap and melted, melted.”
She also realized that though she’d had a remarkable career, her successes “had done nothing to change [Macy’s] in any real way.” The glass ceiling was intact: she “was a novelty, not a paragon.”

Books with older characters looking back at their lives appeal to me, and this one didn’t disappoint. Its conversational tone makes it an easy read. After a number of serious books, I wanted something light and charming. This book is certainly the latter but it does have substance.

Note: Please check out my reader's blog (https://schatjesshelves.blogspot.com/) and follow me on Twitter (@DCYakabuski). ( )
  Schatje | Apr 22, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 57 (next | show all)
Today, Chicago has its own literary flâneuse, Kathleen Rooney. Her new novel, Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk, is about an elderly woman who walks from midtown to downtown Manhattan and back on New Year’s Eve, 1984. But Lillian Boxfish isnt just any elderly woman, she’s a fictional version of Margaret Fishback, the real-life female Don Draper of 1940s advertising and an accomplished poet. And Rooney isn’t just any writer: she walks hundreds of miles every year, exploring cities on foot.

The book bounces around the 20th century and tackles themes of work, time, motherhood, and what it means to be truly in love with a city. It’s one of my all-time favorite New York novels, right up there with Winter’s Tale, Invisible Man, and The Golem and the Jinni. I recently spoke with Rooney about walking, writing, Fishback, New York, and Chicago.

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Kathleen Rooneyprimary authorall editionscalculated
Sands, XeReadersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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