Long Island Author Comes To Port To Discuss Newest Book

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Ellen Pall to give a talk at The Dolphin Bookshop for her new book, Must Read Well

Ellen Pall’s newest novel.

Long Island author Ellen Pall is visiting Port’s The Dolphin Bookshop to discuss her newest book, Must Read Well. Pall grew up in Roslyn and has authored more than a dozen novels and has written for The New Yorker, The New York Times and other publications.

On Thursday, Sept. 22, at 6:30 p.m., Pall will discuss her new book. Must Read Well is available now as an e-book and audiobook; the book will be available in hardcover on Oct. 18.

According to Ellen Pall’s website, “Must Read Well immerses the reader in an escalating game of cat-and-mouse between two women: a millennial scholar driven to deceit to reach her goals and a frail octogenarian no less capable of deception.”
The book is narrated by Liz Miller, a Ph.D. candidate desperate to finish her dissertation. The novel opens when Liz’s boyfriend dumps her, leaving her to couch surf at her best friend’s apartment while trying to find an affordable place to live in NYC. Liz finds a posting for an unusually cheap apartment in Greenwich Village. In exchange for the low rent, the tenant must read aloud daily to the vision-impaired landlady.

After examining the posting more closely, Liz realizes the landlady is Anne Taussig Weil. Anne is the author of the 1965 international blockbuster The Vengeance of Catherine Clark and the woman whose cooperation held up Liz’s dissertation on feminist works of mid-century women novelists for the last four years. Determined to finish her Ph.D., Liz sets her hesitation aside and meets the landlady who decides to let her move in.

Liz learns that Anne’s search for a reader comes from a desire to revisit a time in her life from years ago that involves a passionate and disastrous secret love affair. The friendship grows between the two women as Liz reads to Anne, and Liz deals with an internal struggle, torn between betraying Anne to finish her dissertation and keeping her secrets and being left with crippling student loans. Then, the game of “cat-and-mouse” begins.

Pall’s love of reading began at a young age, which fostered a love of writing. “I lived in books from the time I could read, and I could read very young,” said Pall. “I could read upside down and backward.”

 

Ellen Pall. (Photos from ellenpall.com)

“By the time I was 12 years old, I thought I wanted to be a poet and thank god I didn’t do that because I wrote some terrible poetry,” Pall joked. “But to be lost in a good book is one of the greatest pleasures for me. I love to get lost in my imagination and someone else’s imagination.”

Pall’s novels range in genre from mysteries to Regencies to romance. The newest novel Must Read Well, was inspired by a note Pall pinned to her bulletin board years before beginning to write this book.

The note reads: “Woman who can no longer read hires someone to read her own journals to her.”

“It was just this thing that came out of the blue,” said Pall when recalling the note. “I thought how poignant if you couldn’t read your own most intimate writings and you had no choice but to ask someone else to do it. Who would you ask? And it really stuck with me for years, and finally, it took the form of this book.”
When deciding who would be the one to read the confidential stories from Anne’s past with, Pall researched her options.

“I called the Lighthouse Guild [in New York City], which does readings for the blind, because I thought maybe a person would choose that,” said Pall. “But then I decided I wanted a different type of character, so the other half of the plot came to me of a scholar who is desperate for information about Anne.”

When considering who you trust to read intimate details and thoughts from crucial moments in your life, a friend or family member might be awkward. Sharing personal stories with those close to you wasn’t an option for Anne in Must Read Well, which is why she sought out a tenant to help, decided Pall.

While at first, the situation seems mutually beneficial for Anne and Liz, Liz gets a place to live, information on the author her dissertation surrounds, and Anne gets to revisit an episode from her past. But Liz’s seemingly good situation turns out to be more complicated than she anticipated when she realizes she must deceive Anne for things to work out.

“I liked the messiness of it because Liz would certainly consider herself a feminist, and she’s trying to bring to light and celebrate the impact that Anne’s books have in liberating women and bringing feminism forward in its own way,” said Pall. “Liz is so desperate she really can’t live without getting her Ph.D. If she doesn’t get her Ph.D., she has $100,000 plus of loans to pay back in tuition, and she’s not in a good situation; she has no one in her life, her parents are gone, and no siblings, so she’s determined.”

Pall discussed a novella by Henry James called The Aspern Papers. The novella is based on Percy Shelley, a romantic poet who had an affair with someone. In the book, the character knows the mistress has letters from Shelley of the affair, and now that she’s old and can’t see very well, he goes with her to fake business cards and gets access to the letters.

“We stand on the shoulders of giants,” Pall said when discussing The Aspern Papers. “I like that [in Must Read Well] it’s two women instead of the male predator. I guess that’s a very peculiar way to bring women forward, that they can be just as unscrupulous as any man. But Liz is morally conflicted; she’s not thrilled to do this. Which the character [in The Aspern Papers] is not.”

The concept that a younger woman is betraying an older woman for the sake of her dissertation on a novelist whose books empower women is a unique and ironic conflict. Pall explores the idea that even older women can be just as unscrupulous as younger women.

“I think that when we think of a little old lady, we think of them as harmless, and that’s not true. They are just women who got old,” said Pall. “ I feel like the younger generation, and even the older generation, tends to have that picture in their head of this person who is grey-haired and frail. But Anne is very ambitious; she betrayed someone in a big way; she is no angel. The story within the story, which is about an extramarital affair, is very explicit, and she has to let Liz read it to her.”

In Must Read Well, Pall explores internal conflicts, the friendships between women, and many more situations involved in Liz and Anne’s respective lives. Advanced reviews of the novel have described the book as ‘gripping,’ ‘riveting,’ and ‘tantalizing.’ Must Read Well is available now as an e-book or pre-order in hardcover at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and BookShop.org
For more books from Pall, visit ellenpall.com

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Julie Prisco is the editor of the Port Washington News. She graduated from SUNY Albany in the Spring of 2021 with a degree in English and Journalism. PHONE: 516-403-5155 EMAIL:jprisco@antonmediagroup.com

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