My internet friend Emily put me onto this great article via her blog, RosieSaysBlog. Jason Diamond, over at Flavorwire, a site I love, recently published a list of the 50 Places Every Literature Fan Should Visit. I’m a bit of a literary groupie, as readers of this blog will know, so I was eager to see how many of the list I’d been to, since I’m fascinated by the environments in which writers produce their great work.
Not surprisingly, I’d visited some of the English ones, Jane Austen’s home and the Bronte Parsonage, as well as others not on the list. But, shockingly, I had never been to the Charles Dickens House. And I’m a big Dickens fan.
Sorry, Mr Dickens
In the US, I’ve been to the Mark Twain house, Ernest Hemingway’s house in Oak Park, IL, and the one in Key West (not on the list), Emily Dickinson’s house, the Algonquin Hotel and Charles Scribner’s bookshop – where I actually bought books before it closed down. And I’ve visited the La Fonda Hotel, (not on the list) in Taos, N.M, where D.H Lawrence’s ‘Forbidden art’ paintings can be seen.
I think it was one of these chairs…
I went to Victor Hugo’s house in Paris in December, (not on the list), but have never been to Balzac’s house (on the list). I have, however, sat in the very same chair that Scott Fitzgerald sat in at the Deux Magots cafe in Paris (on the list). Well, it might have been the very same chair…
But there are so many other places I now want to see. Check out the article out and let me know of any literary places you recommend. There are plenty for me to be going on with, but some of them are in Russia, or other far-flung places, so probably aren’t on my horizon for a while.
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
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
At the beginning of February, I wrote a post on my personal blog called It’s never too late for fun, about a woman, who, aged 88, wanted to sit on the cannons at Compo beach again, and, with the help of friends and strangers, did it. You can see from the photos on that blog just how delighted she was.
Now she’s done it again. Not cannons, this time, but a book. Illustrated, written and published with the help of friends and strangers. And Susan Malloy is very happy indeed. Here’s how it happened:
A year ago Susan, already a successful painter, was in Paris with her grandchildren, aged 10 and 17. As always, being an artist, she was sketching what she saw, when it struck her that there might be other young people who would like an illustrated introduction to Paris. And so the idea for a book was born. When she returned home to Connecticut, she gathered her pen and ink sketches and wrote brief paragraphs to go with each, introducing the famous sights.
Next she approached a friend of hers, another well known and multi-talented artist, Miggs Burroughs. He’s known particularly for his lenticular works (see one here: http: Go to the site and click on one of the black & white photographs to see how they work. If you want to see another, you’ll have to leave the site and come back, since it only shows one at a time.) Miggs designed the layout for the book, and then came the long trek to publication.
A local copying and printing company produced a mockup of the book, and a French teacher in New York looked at it to make sure all the French words were spelled correctly. This is what one of the pages looks like.
Then it was time to find a printer who could print a small but high quality book. Susan turned to her friend, Helen Klisser During, curator of the Westport Arts Center, who immediately decided that a) she wanted to help, and b) she wanted Susan to submit the drawings to the Arts Center as part of the annual juried SOLOs exhibit, which features WAC member artists. The judges chose Susan as one of the artists to be exhibited. Taking the sketches to the local framing shop to have them matted and framed for exhibition, Helen asked the owner for advice on printing. The owner recommended a printer not too far away. He couldn’t do it, but recommended the guy upstairs, who was a printer of specialized materials. He couldn’t do it either, but came up with the name of the man who could, and did. He was Stephen Stinehour, a lifelong publisher of art-quality books, in a tiny town in the North East Kingdom of Vermont. Stephen helped Susan choose the right typography and weight of paper and agreed to print 300 beautiful copies at a very reasonable price.
On the day of her gallery opening, book signing and launch, she sold 50 copies at $10 each, and told Helen that this was one of the happiest days of her life. She’s a living example of what staying consistent and focused on the goal can do. And she’s a testament to the value of friendship and teamwork in making dreams come true.
Susan distributes the books through the Westport Arts Center, the Westport Library, and the Westport Historical Society. You can also buy them from her directly. If you’d like to buy one, let me know and I’ll be happy to put you in touch.