Elin Hilderbrand for President


As I write this, I’m about halfway through Swan Song, the newest book by Elin Hilderbrand, published June 11.  It’s called Swan Song for reasons pertinent to the events in the book but also because it’s Elin’s last book.  At least her last book is set on Nantucket.  For now.  (She’s currently co-writing two books with her daughter about boarding school, and she has other projects in the works.)  Elin Hilderbrand’s name has become synonymous with summer reading, and I’m delighted with Swan Song so far, especially as a way to ease into this year’s beach season. 

My bookstore hosted Elin Hilderbrand for an event last fall and since then I’ve become a superfan.  That wasn’t always the case.  For years I worked at a publisher of literary fiction.  We published Philip Roth, Umberto Eco, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Nobel winners Jose Saramago, Wislawa Szymborska, and Gunther Grass. T.S. Eliot, George Orwell, and Virginia Woolf were the mainstays of our backlist.

I recall one day my boss, and great friend, joked to me after a particularly harrowing meeting with our new President about our commercial prospects, “What does she want us to do, publish Elin Hilderbrand?”

From that moment on, Elin Hilderbrand became shorthand for the kind of mass-market publishing we thought we were above.  Oh, how misguided we were.  Neither of us had ever read a book by Elin Hilderbrand.  If we had, we never would have taken her name in vain.

For starters, Elin Hilderbrand is an excellent, accomplished, hardworking writer.  She studied writing at Johns Hopkins as an undergrad and then went to the Iowa Writers Workshop.  Her character development happens at lightning speed on the page.  The collective “we” voice of Nantucket she has developed is a genius move.  She’s like a contemporary Edith Wharton but without all the tragic endings.

At the event we hosted, Elin said reviewers often called her books “breezy.”

“Do you know how much work ‘breezy’ is?” she said, as she told us her process, and the hours, days, months, she spends writing and revising each book.

Now, from the distance of a few years and having become a business owner responsible for my own bottom line, I’m not sure why we frown upon healthy sales.  What’s wrong, exactly, with selling millions of books? Isn’t that—dare I say it—part of the point?  Not just the revenue, but connecting with thousands and thousands of people.  People who come up to Elin and tell her they changed her life, that her books mean so much to them.  There are tears.  I saw it happen, and that was just one average event on one average night in the life of Elin Hilderbrand.

“I’m never going to win a National Book Award.  I’m never going to win a Pulitzer.”

That’s something else Elin said during the event.  It struck me because the National Book Award ceremony occurred only two nights later (Justin Torres won for fiction for his book Blackouts, which is a work of genius so I can’t exactly argue with the decision, I’m just pointing it out for contrast).

In 2003, the National Book Foundation presented Stephen King with its annual medal for distinguished contributions to American letters.  As the New York Times noted at the time, “Mr. King’s selection is the first time that the organization, the National Book Foundation, has awarded its medal to an author best known for writing in popular genres like horror stories, science fiction or thrillers. Very little of Mr. King’s work would qualify as literary fiction.”

Where’s Elin Hilderbrand’s medal?

I think it’s high time we recognized her value.

I’m not exactly a Hilderbrand connoisseur; I’m still freshly on the bandwagon.  But Swan Song is an engrossing delight and one I would highly recommend to pack in your beach bag.

I’ll be discussing the merits of summer reading further in the last of the Book Shop of Beverly Farm’s literary salon series on Sunday, June 23 at 2 p.m. at Hastings House.  I’ll be moderating a panel that will include four authors, all with fresh paperback fiction hitting shelves: Betty Cayouette, author of One Last Shot; Hanna Halperin, author of I Could Live Here Forever; Namrata Patel, author of The Curious Secrets of Yesterday; and Sara Shukla, author of Pink Whales.

Visit for more details.

We hope to see you there. 

Hannah Harlow is owner of The Book Shop, an independent bookstore in Beverly Farms.  Harlow writes biweekly recommendations for us.  See more of what she recommends reading at