If you want to come to my next book group in which we discuss both the 2011 novel The Paris Wife by Paula McClain and Ernest Hemingway's memoir A Moveable Feast, be prepared to know the difference between Gloria Steinem and Gertrude Stein.
I mention this because book group leader extraordinaire Elaine Elinson, who led me in a discussion of both of these books, recently overheard one tourist telling another that she was not to miss the Gloria Steinem exhibit at the Contemporary Jewish Museum.
Now I am sure that one day soon there will be a Gloria Steinem exhibit there--or maybe Gloria will just show up herself.
But still I wonder what happened if the tourist actually showed up at the museum. There she would have seen the severe lifesize photos of Gertrude Stein sans aviator glasses, and wondered about her early years as a Playboy bunny.
Clearly there's a dramatic opportunity here in which Gloria-- or a character playing Gloria --conjures up the ghost of Gertrude--a la Hillary Clinton and Eleanor Roosevelt.
All of which is a roundabout way of telling you that my book group is taking advantage of the renewed interest around here in the artists and writers of the Lost Generation . Right now there are two museum shows devoted to its godmother--Gertrude Stein. In fact, our culture mavens have proclaimed this to be the cultural Summer of Stein .
And you can share the excitement at the Seeing Gertrude Stein show at the Contemporary Jewish Museum--
The Steins Collect show at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art--
Despite my sarcasm about the hype--these both are excellent shows--and you can catch them before they both close after Labor Day weekend.
But now back to the books:
Since our book group does not meet in July, we decided to focus on not one but two related books focused on Paris in the 1920s:
The Paris Wife-- historical fiction about the relationship between Ernest Hemingway and his first wife Hadley--and their marriage between 1921-1926.
A Moveable Feast--Ernest Hemingway's own memoir about those years--during which he gathered the material for his novel The Sun Also Rises.
My book group will not be reading The Sun Also Rises this time around.
But your group could take it on!
So what's the big deal with the Lost Generation ? And why now?
Let's start with the irresistable tagline for The Steins Collect show:
American expatriates in Bohemian Paris when the 20th century was young!
Ah--the young 20th century.
Yes, there had been a horrific World War--but who knew a second one would follow?
The Great Depression was a decade away and hemlines were rising and American women had just gotten the vote!
A simpler time?
Maybe or maybe not.
Certainly not for the waves of immigrants arriving in the United States.
And certainly not for the war widows and orphans of Europe.
But amongst the monied and upper middle classes, the clothes were great, the Jazz Age had begun, and despite prohibition in the States, everyone was drinking
As the tenth anniversary of 9/11 approaches, nostalgia grows for the The Lost Generation. (Stein, by the way, is believed to have coined the Lost Generation phrase, as a term for the disillusioned Americans and Europeans who gathered in Paris and Pamplona to make art and/or watch others make art. Stein, herself, did both, as a poet, playwright and impressionist art collector--and muse to Hemingway and Ezra Pound and Pablo Picasso, and Matisse and go to the museum shows to find out who else.)
Woody Allen captured the sentiment and the zeitgeist well in his most popular film in years--Midnight In Paris--where actors playing Hemingway (Corey Stoll) and Stein (Kathy Bates) make cameo appearances..
But back to the books:
Says the Amazon.com review of A Moveable Feast:
Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley, lived happily on $5 a day and still had money for drinks at the Closerie des Lilas, skiing in the Alps, and fishing trips to Spain. On every corner and at every café table, there were the most extraordinary people living wonderful lives and telling fantastic stories.
Here are Hadley and Hem in Austria with their son nicknamed Bumby in 1926
Of course, the happiness could not last. Three wives and many novels and dispatches later, Hemingway shot himself in 1961.
(A Moveable Feast was published three years later in 1964)
(This is the 50th anniversary of his death--another reason for renewed interest in his work)
And for a look at his last days, read the op-ed piece that his buddy A.E. Hoetchner wrote last month in the New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/02/opinion/02hotchner.html?_r=3&scp=3&sq=Hemingway&st=cse
I imagine that there will be some good French wine and cheese at book group--some nostalgia, some feminist analysis of what it means and meant to be a Hemingway hero and a discussion of whether Hemingway's first wife Hadley, who lost his manuscripts and forgot her birth control--all on a single train trip--was a tad passive agressive.
And we will begin with a quote from film critic A.O. Scott, who in his review of Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris, writes:
"The past seems so much more vivid, more substantial, than the present, and then it evaporates with the cold touch of reality. The good old days are so alluring because we were not around, however much we wish we were."
Causes Lauren John Supports
Keplers Bookstore Circle of Friends (Menlo Park)
Friends of the Menlo Park Public Library
Book Group Expo
Marin Agricultural Land Trust...