Friday, February 12, 2021. It snowed the night before last, starting in the late night hours and running through early morning, seven or eight o’clock. It was a steady light snow and it left a light covering on the sidewalks and the dirty snowmounds left from last week. It was a cold day, in the 30s, and a grey day thereafter. We’re getting a bit of the old fashioned winter right now. That and the ongoing whatever is not enough to lift one’s spirits. You have to work on it.
Alison Lurie, the best-selling novelist, died at week ago Tuesday (December 3rd) in hospital in Ithaca. She would have been 95 on September 3rd. I did not know her although I interviewed her once when she had a new book coming out. I had never read any of her work, and didn’t have time before the lunch to do so. But I like to promote writers and am highly impressed by those of us who are so prolific. A close friend of mine, an actor living in Los Angeles, told me that her novel based in L.A. was the best book he’d ever read about Hollywood.
I remembered my lunch with her only vaguely because of my association with her and Los Angeles. I should add that I am always a little bit cowed by a prolific writer perhaps because I know the enormous amount of psychic and physical energy that goes into the process. And I of course always feel that I’m not expending enough of it. So meeting Ms. Lurie was in itself an act of worship, so to speak, because I knew of her accomplishment and achievement.
Otherwise, I’d long forgotten the details but I looked in our archives and found a record of it. In person, she was a very nice woman; polite, gracious, not verbose. We talked about her work, and her life. A lot of it was thoughts about the state of the world, the state of our society. I wouldn’t refer to her as opinionated but she was very thought-provoking, and gentle about presenting it.
I looked up our lunch and here it is to remind me and perhaps you dear reader about a great lady who has since departed …
This past week, Margalit Fox wrote an excellent obituary on Ms. Lurie.
September 25, 2014. It was Wednesday and Michael’s was bustling. I had the privilege of lunching with author Alison Lurie who has a new book out, just published: The Language of Houses; How Buildings Speak Out To Us. I knew of Ms. Lurie because she wrote a book The Nowhere City published in 1965 about a contemporary couple living in Los Angeles dealing with the Zeitgeist of Southern California life (and vibes). It was, and remains, an important observation of the culture of that part of the world. I have many friends of Southern California experiences who feel that way about the book. She’s written several books including the novel Foreign Affairs, which won the Pulitzer in 1984.
One of the great things about my work is my opportunity to meet people such as Alison Lurie — people who are bright, even genius, and knowledgeable and equipped with a talent to express it so that we may learn, or think. I had no idea what she might be like, or her age, or the way she looked. You can see her the picture that Steve Millington took of us. She was 88 this past September 3rd. I mention that because I knew she was older than I just by her comportment, her assuredness and her natural humility, but I was surprised to learn that she was fifteen years older than I. I was surprised because she has a contemporary sensibility. I am old enough now to know that age does provide a certain wisdom and to the lucky ones a great certain wisdom. You know more. You’ve had more experience, more time to learn more. If you’re paying attention. I have a feeling that Alison Lurie has quite a bit of it.
She has written 11 novels and a book of short stories. She’s written two memoirs as well as “The Language of Clothes,” (published in 1981) considering what we communicate about ourselves in the way we dress.
Her new book “The Language of Houses” considers what our houses communicate about us. She’d been asked to write the book right after the success of her “Clothes” book. But she soon realized it would take a great deal of her time to research. So instead she decided not to bother, although she did take notes about the subject. Over the years, the notes accumulated and there came a moment when she could see a book in what she’d gathered. And so it was.
She pointed out to me that the subject is broader than the individual house. It was about all kinds of buildings, even restaurants. Michael’s, for example, communicated to anyone who entered the space. She pointed out the signs that were obvious on entry, which I demonstrate in the photos above.
I mentioned the populist minimalist décor favored by many whose domiciles you see in the shelter magazines. I told her how I often look at those photos and say out loud to myself: “who lives here?” or “Where do they live?” She replied that the clues were in the spaces where people actually spend their time. The clues to enhance all of us are in “The Language of Houses.”
Last night I found this piece about Alison Lurie in The Guardian four years ago about “dress” and how she’s communicated it at this stage of her life.