Homes With Books

We were down in London yesterday. It was a beautiful weekend here. I grabbed this picture, at the edge of London’s Trent Park, near sunset:

[A striking sunset, October 21, 2018. Trent Park, Enfield, London. The park’s famous obelisk is at the left. Photo by me.]

Another weekend, come and gone. I’m thinking about my mother a lot in recent weeks – October 26 is the 3rd anniversary of her death – and this morning I found myself also pleasantly remembering how the house while I was growing up was full of books. I would not be the person I am now had it not been.

My uncle (who died exactly two weeks before my mother), as you probably know, was a novelist from the early 1980s until a few years before his death.

My mother also “inherited” my grandfather’s large, early 20th century, library:

[“Emerson’s Essays,” published by the Spencer Press, 1936. Photo by me, 2015.]

My father especially enjoys history: his volume of Thucydides was probably the first “grown up” book I’d ever at least attempted to read. (I was age ten.) My mother was more into romance fiction: her volumes of Herman Wouk (which made its own impression on me), and others like him filled the lounge bookshelves.

All of which led me here to this post this morning. I’ve noted previously what are my top five favorite novels. Here they are again, summarized:

1) Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen (1813). I don’t have to explain more. Do I?

[Photo by me, 2018.]

2) The Last Of The Mohicans: A Narrative of 1757, by James Fenimore Cooper (1826): Considered the first great American novel. I confess when I first read it I became more interested in โ€œCoraโ€ and โ€œAliceโ€ than, say โ€œChingachgookโ€ or โ€œHawkeye.โ€๐Ÿค“ Near the conclusion, well… โ€œCora?โ€๐Ÿ˜ฑ When I first read it I was about 15, and I recall my mom warning me about the ending.๐Ÿ˜ฃ

3) The American, by Henry James: Rich American businessman “Christopher Newman” heads to France to find himself… and hopefully a wife and… well, you have to read it. Written in the 1870s, it is generally considered the first “American in France” romantic novel. But James was never happy with it, considering it too “lightweight” and not realistic enough, and returned to it thirty years after it was published, trying to “fix” it.

4) Ah, But Your Land Is Beautiful, by Alan Paton (1983). His “fictional” autobiography of the 1950s in apartheid South Africa is stuffed with both real people and fictionalized real people, including the fictional version of himself – “Robert Mansfield,” who, due to his liberal politics and fearing for the safety of himself and his family, emigrates. Paton told an interviewer: “I didn’t like him, so I sent him to Australia.”

[Photo by me, 2016.]

5) The Winds of War by Herman Wouk (1971): An incredible novel about the USA and Europe from roughly 1939 until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Fictional characters – some really excellent and memorable – interact with real historical figures and among many real events while the USA maintains an uneasy neutrality as war comes to engulf Europe. Dated in some ways, but if you read this and write historical romantic fiction, damn it, you know with what you are “competing.” Wow.

Those are not listed necessarily in order, but those are the five. If those above are my favorite five novels, I thought it might be fun to expand the list. Here are five other sources that similarly made a huge impact on my life and my efforts as a writer:

6) When I was a pre-teen, my parents bought me a children’s version of Encyclopedia BritannicaBritannica Junior Encyclopedia. They would buy a couple of volumes each week, in alphabetical order, from the local supermarket. I recall they had to buy about the last ten volumes all at once because they’d learned the sale was being discontinued – a purchase that was then a huge financial outlay for them. That set all told cost them A LOT of money at the time as young parents. My father still has them in his basement, I believe. I would sit and read them “for fun.”

7) Jefferson And His Time, by Dumas Malone . A university professor – my graduate advisor – recommended it to me. Malone was the University of Virginia scholar who spent nearly 35 years (1948-1981) writing this 6 volume life of the author of the US Declaration of Independence, Virginia governor, Minister to France, first Secretary of State, Vice-President, and 3rd President. Doing so, Malone also discovered Jefferson had indeed probably been having the “legendary” affair with the enslaved woman, Sarah “Sally” Hemings (who was also quite possibly Jefferson’s late wife’s unacknowledged half-sister). The core of Malone’s discovery: in meticulously researching the times of Jefferson’s travels between 1790-1810, coupled with Jefferson’s having kept detailed slave birth/death records, Malone demonstrated she never had children when he was away from his Monticello estate in Virginia, but did have them about nine months after he returned home. Uh, oh! However, Malone felt it was not definitive evidence and he disputed it afterwards for years, claiming also that Jefferson himself had denied the affair in a letter (which he had). But near the end of his life Malone (who died in 1986) admitted the affair probably did happen. In 1998 DNA evidence proved that in all probability Jefferson did father her children. In short, Jefferson, uh, lied in that letter.

8) A History of Modern France in three volumes from 1715-1962, written between 1957-1965, by Alfred Cobban. “For a thousand years France was a monarchy, it has been a republic less than 200,” he noted. I recall devouring the entire thing in university, and one of the three volumes made several plane trips to and from France in my backpack… in the era before Kindles.

9) The Army of the Potomac Trilogy by Bruce Catton. My dad had all three hardcover volumes, written in the 1950s, about that US government (northern) army in the Civil War (1861-65). It is now on a shelf in the Catskills. It was groundbreaking for its time because most histories of the war up to then had been written largely from a southern perspective. Catton also had such a light touch and readable style: you were reading “heavy” stuff and yet did not necessarily realize it. His prose remains vivid with me to this day.

[John Marshall, by the Library of America. Photo by me, 2018.]

10) Nearly anything 1700s and 1800s in the Library of America. Above is a volume of the writings of John Marshall I have here with me in England: Marshall was quite a guy, which is why “he” will be in my new novel. They are gorgeous (and expensive) collectables covering great writers in American history – both fictional and non-fictional. (My many other volumes are in the Catskills.) They make wonderful presents for a reader in the family.

So that’s now ten “books.” As I look at that list again, I can only but smile. As if it is any surprise now about what my writing influences have been!

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Thatโ€™s it. Staaaay… Good pile of books.๐Ÿ“š๐Ÿ˜‚ . Have you seen the reports? I read this morning a previously unpublished Hemingway 1956 short story is being published for the first time. It appears itโ€™s *way* different than anything weโ€™ve seen of his before.๐Ÿค” . In this one, okay, now, apparently his narrator – who bears nooooooo resemblance at all to Hemingway – and others are drinking wine and talking about war in a hotel bar… and (wait for it, because you wonโ€™t believe this, really) theyโ€™re in Paris.๐Ÿ˜‰๐Ÿ˜๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ๐Ÿ‡ซ๐Ÿ‡ท . #ErnestHemingway #books #stories #humor #humour #Hertfordshire #England #writers #writing #writersofinstagram #authors #authorsofinstagram #novels #expats #expatlife #photos #photography #romance #fiction #fun #France #Paris #office #afternoon #bookshelf #pileofbooks

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If you have kids, or plan to, buy them books. Have books on the lounge shelves that YOU read and enjoy. Set a good example.

And have a great Monday, wherever you are. ๐Ÿ™‚

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