Courting Greta

By Ramsey Hootman

(Gallery, $16, 374 pages)

Who is this author?

I was tempted to write: “That Ramsey, she’s a hoot, man,” but I don’t want you to stop reading. But then again, she is. Hootman says she spent her first five years on a sailboat, then grew up in Northern California. She’s got quite a resume: she has worked “as an assistant to the blind, sold used and rare books, taught English in mainland China, studied in London, provided end-of-life care for an elderly couple, assembled fairy merchandise, made optical parts for satellites, and toured Italian villas as a travel writer.” She’s married to a programmer and they are raising their child in the San Francisco area. She has also released two short Kindle books this summer: “His Father’s Son” and “Christmas in the Californios, 1833.”

What is this book about?

This is a funny, quirky, bitter and sweet novel about a guy named Samuel Cooke – no, not that Sam Cooke – who seems to have struck out in the love department. After all, he is unquestionably nerdy, being a computer whiz as well as the congenitally handicapped user of elbow crutches and ankle braces. Women are drawn to him, but maternally, not romantically. True, he’s made a pile of dough in the computer industry, but he’s more or less given up on finding his true love. But life can be funny, quirky, bitter and sweet as well, and when Samuel decides to teach programming skills at a high school, he crosses paths with the tomboyish, tart and apparently humor-impaired gym coach who is 12 years his senior, Greta Cassamajor, and totally unexpected sparks begin to fly. And so he begins courting Greta, which also means facing some tough truths about himself. If all romances were as fun as this one, well, what a wonderful world it would be.

Why you’ll like it:

Who doesn’t love a fresh take on love? With its unconventional characters, snappy geek meets girl plot and  not-at-all saccharine characters, this book is a fun read that also makes you marvel at how complicated, yet how simple, love can be.

What others are saying:

Publishers Weekly says: “Hootman’s terrific debut, a most unlikely romance, involves a 34-year-old crippled computer geek and a middle-aged Sue Sylvester–like gym teacher/basketball coach with a penchant for addressing him as “Mr. Cooke.” Samuel Cooke joins a Northern California high school’s faculty to teach programming classes after taking a 10% stake in the successful software firm that formerly employed him. Despite being warned against gym teacher Greta Cassamajor, a 46-year-old who towers over and outweighs him, he feels strangely attracted to her. Recognizing Greta’s prickly nature and uncompromising attitude, Samuel nonetheless sets out to navigate a relationship with her. He has the outward social graces she lacks, but hidden underneath is fear, anger, and self-pity, particularly over the congenital birth defect that forces him to use elbow crutches and ankle braces. While Samuel faces the school’s unprincipled principal, outdated computers, and difficult students, Greta proves remarkably perceptive and caring. By the end of this surprisingly sweet, if sometimes bitter, novel, Samuel has started to appreciate everyone else he has on his side, including his housekeeper, who helps him woo Greta, a nosy fellow teacher, and an old boss who advises him that “in real life, you spend a lot of time on your ass.”

Says Library Journal: “Samuel is a shy, withdrawn computer programmer in need of a change in his life. He thinks a new town and a teaching job will do the trick, but when he falls for Greta, the school’s imposing tomboy gym teacher, he discovers that change can come from unexpected places. In this charming, unconventional first novel, an unlikely pair stumbles down a rough road of romance and self-discovery with all the emotional and physical baggage that middle age—and disability—can bring. VERDICT Hootman gives readers a refreshing, original love story about two socially awkward yet utterly fascinating people….”

Internet Review of Books says: “I am a person—like the protagonist—who has a significant mobility impairment. I too married after becoming disabled, and so the story here—man with spina bifida meets, courts, and marries woman who sees him as a man rather than a man-disability—is too close for comfort, so close in fact that I tend to argue with the writer that every emotion, action, reaction doesn’t meld with my concept of how a crip lives in the real world.…but Ramsey makes it work, and despite any quibbles from the crip crowd that Samuel’s experience isn’t the experience of a real crip, the author has done an extraordinarily good job of creating a believable character with a disability….and anyone with a disability who is honest and introspective enough to confront the darker demons of their own personality will tell you that it is sometimes hard not to be angry, self-centered, self-pitying, and frustrated. It something every sophisticated person learns to recognize—we are shaped by outside forces sometimes out of our control, and if we’re strong enough and willing enough, we can sometimes will ourselves into being a better person. …

“ ‘Courting Greta’ is a damn fine read, especially considering the author is venturing into country generally left unexplored in literature and film.”

When is it available?

You can find this one at the Downtown Hartford Public Library and its Mark Twain and Goodwin branches.

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