Back to Paris in the 20's

My friend Sally Allen of Westport’s Hamlet Hub writes a regular column about books, which I love. So I’m pleased to let you know about a recent one where she falls under the spell of Paris in the 20’s. As you know, Paris was a favorite haunt of ex-pat American writers, who used to hang out in various cafe’s and at Shakespeare and Company, an English bookstore run by Sylvia Beach (which still exists). I love books that take me back in time, and so does Sally. I’ll let her tell you about it;

Reading the 20’s

My reading list this year (all two weeks of it) has been all about the 1920s, and it’s given me an idea.

But before I get to that, let me say, the 1920s is not “my” decade, meaning if a car/time machine were to whisk me away to some bygone era I idealize, as happens to nostalgia-prone Gil Bender in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, it would probably take me to the 1940s or maybe the turn of the century (19th – 20th), rather than the 1920s.

Shakespeare & Company, Paris
Shakespeare & Company, Paris

However. It just so happens that I watched and was fully charmed by Midnight in Paris before Christmas. Iconic authors and artists incarnated by actors who seemed almost born to play them. A hopeful, happy ending. What’s not to love?

Besides this, the current selection for WestportREADS—Westport’s town wide reading program that promotes conversation and community through the shared experience of a book—is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby,” a Great American Novel about the American Dream. It’s an inspired choice for our town since Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda lived here in 1920, and one critic has argued that traces of Fitzgerald’s Westport stay linger in “Gatsby.”

So I had the 1920s on the brain when, about to get on a flight back to Connecticut on New Year’s Day, I decided I needed a paper book (can’t read e-books during take-off and landing!). The scant bookshelves in the airport store offered two viable options—Paula McLain’s “The Paris Wife” or a novel by James Patterson whose title I can’t remember. With “Gatsby” on my reading list, I had to pick McLain’s fictional reconstruction of the relationship between Ernest Hemingway (with whom Fitzgerald collaborated) and his first wife, Hadley Richardson. The novel begins with their first meeting in Chicago and follows them to Paris where they lived for most of their five-year marriage.

The novel, which McLain researched meticulously, was elegant and engaging, and I would have enjoyed her soothing, rhythmic prose even if I were not in a 1920s frame of mind. Still, as a complement to Fitzgerald’s classic, “The Paris Wife” was a good pick. Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda appear in the story, and even though most of the novel is set in Paris…read on here

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