Susan Jane Gilman
q&a with the author Susan jane gilman
What, in your opinion, makes a Grand Summer Read?
Ideally, a “Grand Summer Read” should take you on a fantastic voyage–whether you’re on vacation or not. It’s a big-hearted, sumptuous, literary novel that transports the reader to a different time or place in history–and makes you feel as if you’re stepping in and out of a movie or a dream that you can’t wait to get back to as soon as possible.
Tell us about your own Grand Summer Read, The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street.
It’s the epic rise-and-fall of an indomitable ice cream maker who begins life as Malka Treynovsky, a Russian immigrant who flees to the United States as a child in 1913–only to be crippled and abandoned in the streets of New York City as soon as her family arrives. Yet over the course of the 20th century, she cleverly transforms herself into the fabulous Lillian Dunkle, a celebrated mogul and TV personality known as “The Ice Cream Queen of America.”
Lillian’s rise is tied to the very course of American history and the evolution of ice cream itself, from Prohibition to World War II to the disco days of Studio 54. But she is nothing like the whimsical, motherly “ice cream lady” persona she cannily crafts for herself in public. Conniving, irreverent, and profane, she’s a sharped-witted, kleptomaniac businesswoman who prefers a good stiff Bourbon to a sundae. And when her tactics and her past finally catch up with her, she implodes spectacularly. It’s a sweeping historical novel with a good deal of humor —and a twist.
What have you read and/or plan to read this summer?
I’m a book octopus (a “booktopus”?), capable of grabbing and reading up to eight books at once. Currently, I’m gulping down Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things along with Cervantes’ classic Don Quixote. I’ve just finished (and loved) Jenny Offill’s haunting, poetic, The Department of Speculation; A.M. Homes’ darkly raucous May We Be Forgiven, and Rachel Kushner’s brilliant The Flamethrowers. I’ve got Kate Atkinson’s newest novel on my list, A God in Ruins, along with Brittani Sonneberg’s acclaimed debut Home Leave; Charles Baxter’s latest book, There’s Something I Want You to Do; Karen Jay Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves; Merritt Tierce’s Love Me Back; Talia Carner’s Hotel Moscow; Sarah Hepola’s Memoir Blackout, and Adam Johnson’s upcoming collection of short stories, Fortune Smiles, which is due out in August. These should keep me out of trouble for at least part of the summer.
Where are some of your favorite places/spots to read during the summer?
Not original, but: the beach. Always. Spread out on a lounger or a towel, as close to the water as I can get, under a huge umbrella or a shade tree, wind in my hair, coconutty sunscreen on everything except the actual pages.
Barring that, a couch with loads of pillows, a hammock, or in bed. Any place cool, really, that doesn’t jiggle too much and where I can sprawl. I am not a sitter. I do too much of that already as a writer.
Finally, what are some your Grand Summer Read recommendations?
Besides The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street? Any of the books I’ve just mentioned above. The ones I’ve just finished, I loved. The others, I’m reading now or will be in the next few months. Read them too, then email me via my website at www.susanjanegilman.com and let me know what you think. We can trade opinions–an impromptu, virtual, no-fuss summer book club.