“Tepper Isn’t Going Out” by Calvin Trillin
By Calvin Trillin
213 pages. Audio: 5 hours and 23 minutes.
Would you believe me if I told you that one of my favorite novels of the new century has no dramatic action, not a single moment of pulse-pounding excitement, no moment of knee-slapping humor, and that you can easily read it in a couple of evenings? Well, this is that book.
Calvin Trillin is a highly respected American author. I doubt this will be the book he’ll be remembered for but, oh, it is so much fun!
Our hero Tepper lives in New York City and has an unusual hobby. He searches for the perfect parking place and when he finds it, he parks there for as long as it is legal. So he just spends a couple of hours sitting in his car in this parking space. For those of you who have not been to New York City, I will tell you what the rest of us already know: it is the most impossible place in America to park. So here is Tepper quietly sitting in his parking place that somebody else needs. As most of us have done, other drivers come along and want to know if Tepper is getting ready to drive away so they can have the space. But the answer is, “Tepper isn't going out.”
A newspaper reporter discovers Tepper and thinks this is an interesting story. After he writes his story, everyone else wants to know, “What does Tepper know that we don't?” So it doesn’t take long before Tepper becomes a sort of parking guru. People begin to watch out for him, and when they spot Tepper, they ask if they can come into his car and sit with him. To which Tepper happily replies, “Sure, why not?” They then proceed to tell Tepper all of their life's problems.
If you have been asking yourself why I am including this in a list of books for ministers, other than the fun factor, this is why: this book becomes an interesting meditation on the ministry of presence. It would be too much of a spoiler to describe Tepper's car conversations any further than this, but let me just say that what Tepper gives to his interlocutors is his attention. And it turns out that can be very helpful. Who would've guessed that?
There are other storylines in the book, including a mayor who sees Tepper's behavior as a force of chaos that must be battled and extinguished in his city. And the book takes a very interesting twist toward the end that might make you rethink everything that's gone on to that point. But I am on the verge of saying too much.
The book jacket describes this as a “wise and witty story of an ordinary man who perhaps innocently changes the world around him.” Maybe that's an over sell, but I have recommended this book to dozens of people and everyone has liked it. I have considerable confidence that if you take an afternoon and read this book, you will soon be pressing it on somebody else saying, “You have to read this.”