Today is George Washington’s Birthday (b 1732). Presidents’ Day Monday is a federal holiday originally honoring our first president (latterly to include Jefferson, Lincoln and all American Presidents). This holiday is also an attribute to the general who created the first military badge of merit for the common soldier: the Purple Heart (which bears Washington’s image). Washington noted “I conceive a knowledge of books is the basis upon which other knowledge is to be built.” (letter to Jonathan Boucher 9 July 1771)

Non Fiction
If you are fan of American History, you probably know David McCullough from his books, his PBS specials, his commentary, and narration (notable documentaries include The Civil War and Seabiscuit). McCullough is also a presidential biographer, the winner of two National Book Awards, two Pulitzer Prizes, and one of the best-selling historians. He learned about presidential politics early and in raised voices: “My father was totally against FDR. My mother thought FDR could do no wrong. They were both quite hard of hearing … the decibel level at our dining room was high.”

McCullough wanted to be a painter. However, at Yale he decided to major in English influenced by John O’Hara, John Hersey, Brendan Gill and Thornton Wilder. Wilder inspired McCullough to become a writer. Wilder told him how he chose a subject: he would find something he wanted to know more about, learn what was written about it, and if there wasn’t much or it wasn’t good, he would write it himself. The success of McCullough’s first book The Johnstown Flood (1968), enabled him to write full time. He then wrote a book The Path Between the Seas (1977), on the Panama Canal, which President Jimmy Carter used as a key reference book in negotiating the Panama Canal treaties. McCullough wrote three biographies about U.S. presidents. The first, about Teddy Roosevelt” called Mornings on Horseback (1981) won the National Book Award. The second, on Harry Truman, took him 10 years to research and write. Truman (1993) won the Pulitzer Prize.

The third (also Pulitzer winning) presidential biography concerns founding father John Adams. There were no interviews or photographs to help him with his research, but McCullough read all of Adams’ diaries and the letters (over a thousand) between John and Abigail. McCullough wanted to try to get inside the head of John Adams, not just to read what Adams wrote, but also to read what Adams read for pleasure in the 18th century. He read the English classics of Swift, Defoe, Samuel Johnson, Smollett, and Pope. These books allowed him to “marinate” his head in John Adams’ thoughts and vocabulary. He said: “You can make the argument that there’s no such thing as the past. Nobody lived in the past. They lived in the present. It is their present, not our present, and they don’t know how it’s going to come out. They weren’t just like we are because they lived in that very different time. You can’t understand them if you don’t understand how they perceived reality.”

I have a long list of authors I would love to have a lengthy dinner conversation with. David McCullough has always been in the top ten. I have been present as several book signings from Denver to Boston and eagerly await every publication, knowing it will be an incredible read and learning experience. Recently he published a book on Paris, the City of Light, one of my favorite places: The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris.

Yet again McCullough has artfully written about many Americans who went in search of themselves, noting “Not all pioneers went west.” This wonderful book is a series of vignettes, placed in broad categories during an incredibly productive, mesmorizing, exciting era (1830s-1900s). Many of the people you will recognize from Mark Twain to Samuel Morse, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Hawthorne and Emerson. New faces and names were vividly brought to life (Elihu Washburne, Charles Sumner, Henry Bowditch and Thomas Gold Appleton). This history incorporates the cultural dynamics and innovative era which was crucial to and had a profound effect on the development of the American nation. Paris was the place to be for Americans from every state (24+) and from many other countries, in nearly every profession (artists, doctors, writers, politicians, architects, scientists, etc). It was four times the size of NYC and the cultural center of Europe. Our nation owes France much for their timely support during our Revolution, subsequent recognition and trade (the Louisiana Purchase also made our westward expansion possible) and their cultural exchanges. McCullough brilliantly captures the essence of 1800s Paris, from the simple joys of living in the city to the cultural delights to the cultural changes and improvements. We can’t physically travel back in time, but his books are a banquet experience. The Greater Journey is well researched, well paced (riveting even!) and always interesting.

One of the joys of reviewing a book is that I get to revisit a book, re-reading the pages, the quotes, the emotions which so often lead me on to further books, works, people or adventures. I can’t believe I have never been to Saint-Gaudens Memorial Garden National Park in NH. I will rectify that this summer. I have already made a separate trip to see the Farragut Monument in Madison Sq Park, NYC. The extensive Bibliography has given me wonderful treasures for further exploration.

It seems we will always have Paris. Read on and make it your own.

Opening Line: “They spoke of it then as a dream of a lifetime, and for many, for all the difficulties and setbacks encountered, it was to be one of the best times ever.”
Closing Line: “What the new century might hold for them and their generation, there was no telling. For now it was enough just to be in Paris.”
Great Quotes:“It is a queer feeling to find oneself a foreigner.” Nathaniel Willis
“Good Americans when they die go to Paris” Thomas Gold Appleton (quoted by Oliver Wendell Holmes)
“We had no money…but we wanted for nothing.” Isadora Duncan
NBI highly recommend the physical book – it is beautifully produced, well designed to savour the printed word (456 pages). I found it much easier to thumb between chapters and references and used the index to cross check. The Kindle version lacks colour plates but makes a great travel companion.

Book Quote:
“Books serve to show a man that those original thoughts of his aren’t very new at all.” Abraham Lincoln

Paula McLain The Paris Wife
One good book leads to another – if you have read Hemingway’s memoir, A Moveable Feast, you have your next book: The Paris Wife. I liked that he finally recognised what he had lost with his divorce, from this comment: “I wish I had died before I loved anyone but her (his first wife, Hadley).” McLain writes primarily in Hadley’s voice providing her version of events. A previous biography (Sokoloff, 1973) is quite good, but this novel portrays the woman who loved him, for himself, and is fascinating! Paula McLain painstakingly researched the biographies, letters, and Hemingway’s novels, to accurately detail their lives, including their marriage (1921-1926). She is also a poet, which is evident in her language craft and evocative prose which captures the glamour, emotions and trials of the 1920s, Europe and especially Paris.

Hadley (Elizabeth Hadley Richardson 1893-1979) was a 28 year old midwestern girl when she met the 21 year old Hemingway who was already brash and ambitious. You are caught up in their whirlwind courtship and the infinite possibilities that await them in life (even knowing the baggage that came later, you love the current story). Her small inheritance enabled them to move to Paris and initially provided Hemingway with the stable environment which promoted his writing and provided him with material/experiences. You the reader will be charmed by the warm generosity, beliefs and support of Hadley, delighted by the glittering expatriate world which is littered with well known literary and artistic figures (Gertrude Stein, Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, Ford Maddox Ford, Jean Rhys, and many others). You will also be heartbroken when the first Hemingway dissolves, unable to survive the fame, the drinking and womanizing, especially in wake of the birth of their child John Hadley Nicanor Hemingway “Bumby” and her family values.

Hemingway wrote The Sun Also Rises during this time frame, dedicating it to her (and their son) partly in recognition of her sacrifice to his art. The royalties were hers as well. I will always wonder if she had demanded more of him, what greatness they could have achieved together. He desired her because she was not the independent, modern woman, but forgot she was a person in her own right. She always struggled to find her place in his ever changing world but also embraced his adventures, the outdoors, the bullfights, etc.

McLain is also sympathetic to Hemingway, recognising his early troubles, from his controlling mother to the trauma of the great war and his depression. We know the man he became. Most people barely even know Hadley other than one of his wives. Later Hadley married journalist and political writer Paul Mowrer (Pulitzer 1929), eventually moving back to Chicago. He was also the Poet Laureate of New Hampshire (1968). Bumby (1923-2000) went on to become an American writer and conservationist (he finished Hemingway’s memoir, A Moveable Feast).

Read on: Fragile Beasts by Tawni Odell with the bullfighting imagery.

Book Of the Moment:

I will continue this posting soon, as I have several more books to share with Paris as the theme: a children’s book, a memoir and a cookbook!

3 Responses to BookScapes

  1. You can certainly see your enthusiasm within the paintings you write. The arena hopes for more passionate writers such as you who are not afraid to mention how they believe. All the time follow your heart.

  2. Nikki Sircy says:

    Absolutely composed written content , thankyou for selective information .

  3. Ainhoa says:

    admiring the time and effort you put into your blog and detailed information you offer!

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