I first encountered Anne Tyler in 1991. I was a senior in college, taking an elective course called Popular Literature with Dr. Gerald Siegel. That was an excellent class. We read In Cold Blood, I, Robot, and Gone With the Wind. I recall vividly a really bad unintentional pun from Mitchell's lengthy novel, something along the lines of:
When life hands me a bowl of lemons, I make a meringue, Scarlett said tartly.
Dr. Siegel read that aloud as part of a longer passage, and then the pun struck him, he sniggered, said "Oh, God," and the class fell apart. Strange that I remember such a thing so clearly, 16 years later. Strange that after taking dozens of literature classes at four universities I can still remember the syllabi of most.
I also remember Tyler's Breathing Lessons rather clearly, and I'm a notorious forgetter of novels. A sort of clueless grandmother who likes the Grateful Dead features prominently. There's some confrontation at a family planning clinic. Whatever! I liked the book enough to buy The Accidental Tourist after that semester, but didn't read it until now.
Tyler has a great comic touch; she creates warm, familiar characters, and her books are light without being insipid. At least that's true of the two I've read. Macon Leary appealed to me because I've got some things in common with him, things I despise and try to change. His manner of changing--however fictional--done me good.
It's also fun to read novels featuring locales like York Road, Towson, Timonium, Lexington Market, and waitresses who call patrons "hon." I remember Anne Tyler shopping at the Towson Borders from time to time. She was very gracious, very humble (unlike some Baltimore-based novelists). One time we had dozens of copies of five or six of her novels in hardback as remainders. She signed them all and we stacked them around the Info Desk with Signed by the Author stickers and they sold like hotcakes.