Twice Roosevelt: Eldest grandchild of Franklin and Eleanor writes about the pitfalls of privilege

Curtis Roosevelt was in Boston recently to promote the paperback release of his book Too Close to the Sun: Growing Up in the Shadow of my Grandparents, Franklin and Eleanor. It’s an interesting childhood memoir that suggests just as every silver lining has a cloud, every silver spoon has some tarnish.

Having already travelled across the United States speaking at various engagements, the almost 80-year Roosevelt braved a rainstorm to speak to an attentive crowd at the Boston Athenæum. His accent almost too antiquatedly posh to be real, he apologized for his damp pants cuffs and facetiously expressed regret that he hadn’t brought any spare “trouse” with him. His writing is similarly sprinkled with, and made more interesting by, his occasional use of archaic, rarified vocabulary.

Curtis Roosevelt, an intelligent man well-versed in political matters, doesn’t only sound like FDR when he speaks, he looks like him as well. Despite these superficial resemblances, his grandfather’s charming, easy-going manner is something that comes very difficult to him. He admits this, just as he admits he never had the determination or strength of character that made both Franklin and Eleanor larger-than-life. However, like a member of royalty or the relic of a saint, people see in Curtis Roosevelt a special importance that exists beyond what’s observable. Roosevelt understands this too, and his conflicted feelings about it are a major theme of both his book and his life.

Eleanor being Teddy Roosevelt’s niece, Curtis’ family had celebrity even before FDR was elected to public office. After his grandfather became president, 3-year old Curtis and his sister moved into the White House with their mother. Known to the press as “Sistie and Buzzie,” this towheaded duo became what Curtis calls “a full-blown, pint-sized double act… familiar as five-year old movie star Shirley Temple to a nation hungry for distraction from breadlines and boxcars.”

The world in which he grew up was a strange one. He had a chummy relationship with FDR, his busy presidential grandfather (“Papa”), but Curtis’ mother (“Mummy”), like Eleanor (“Grandmère”), had an awkward difficulty expressing affection towards children. The person towards whom he felt the most love, his African-American nanny, suddenly and unceremoniously disappeared from his life when it was decided he was too old for coddling. He felt most at home at the White House, or at the Hudson River mansion of his staunchly Victorian great-grandmother Sarah Delano Roosevelt, but he was shuffled from the care of one person to another to such a degree that he never formed a genuine child-parent bond with anyone.

He was raised like American nobility, yet young Curtis was often plunked down in situations for which he was ill-prepared. He remembers his first week at school and his bewilderment at having to go to the bathroom without his nurse present to unbutton his pinafore, sit him on the toilet, and flush afterwards. He recalls a summer camp where kids were amazed at an 8-year old unable to tie his own shoes. He recollects his sense of relief when, at 10-years old, he was finally allowed to exchange his conspicuous short pants for long ones like those worn by other boys at his school.

In many cases, his childhood was a mirror image world where the common was extraordinary and the extraordinary common. He was comfortable riding in a car with the president as they passed cheering crowds, yet uncomfortable on play dates with other children. He knew what utensils to use at a formal dinner, but mundane activities such as playing baseball or watching a movie were alien to him. Guarded by vigilant Social Security officers, he was often barred from normal activities like bike riding and hide-and-seek.

Nature and nurture combined to make Curtis an odd child and, as he admits, “a wimp.” He describes how he was “either wildly overexcited or paralyzed with fear” in various situations. As much as he loved living at the White House and the feeling of being someone special, he was taught to be – or at least to pretend to be – embarrassed by it as well. With relatively little experience socializing with other children during his early development, some of his fondest memories are of rare situations when he did so successfully.

(Photo: John Stephen Dwyer)

Curtis Roosevelt knows the circumstances of his privileged childhood, even with its disadvantages, are more likely to provoke jealousy than sympathy. Nevertheless, it’s hard not to sympathize with the fatherless little boy crying in the bathtub off the Lincoln bedroom without a compassionate adult to comfort him. Likewise, his personal stories remind us that while money can indeed buy creature comfort, problems like divorce, substance abuse, crippling illness, and suicide spare very few families, even those brandishing such esteemed surnames as “Roosevelt.”

For those with interest in its subject matter, Too Close to the Sun: Growing Up in the Shadow of my Grandparents, Franklin and Eleanor is a very enjoyable read. It’s a quick and easy read too; the print is large and the illustrations are many. While one could fill a bookcase with memoirs written by members of the Roosevelt family, this one has its own niche that presents a particular set of intimidate details that won’t be found in any other volume. Most obviously, those having a particular fascination with Franklin and Eleanor will be drawn to it, but there’s also interesting content herein for anyone with an interest in blue-bloodedness, class dynamics, or the inheritable prestige of the US presidency.

An Interview

During his visit to the Boston Athenæum, I spoke briefly with Curtis Roosevelt. After walking in the pouring rain, lecturing for over an hour, and signing multiple copies of his book, the 79-year old Roosevelt was justly impatient to be on his way. Nevertheless, graciousness is so ingrained in him that he allowed me to ask a few questions.

JSD: You describe growing up in the White House as a mixed experience. Would you offer any advice to Mrs. Obama that might maximize the good and mitigate the bad for her daughters?

CR: No, absolutely none. I wouldn’t dare give advice. Those children are different as all children are different. They certainly are very different than my sister and I. And it was a totally different era than they’re growing up. Particularly with the intrusiveness of the media today. That’s why I give absolutely no advice whatsoever.

JSD: I have a particular interest in genealogy. Coming from one of the most genealogically notable families in the United States, do you have any reflections on how awareness of one’s genealogy might inspire someone, or, conversely, how it might be felt as a burden?

CR: I happen to be one of those people who prefers to read biography and autobiography more than any other style. But as far as genealogy is concerned, I was raised on it. You’d be surprised how extraordinarily adept my grandmother was in tracing back her lineage back to the Livingstons and so forth, and it had meaning. It wasn’t just dates and so forth as history used to be taught. It had real meaning. But beyond that I haven’t pursued it. Although I would say, being dubbed the family historian, that probably I know more about the family genealogy than anybody else in the family.

JSD: We have your great-granduncle Teddy to thank for the creation of the National Parks Service. But FDR also enacted measures that were of huge benefit to the NPS. Do you have any recollections about your grandfather’s particular love of nature?

CR: Oh yes! Driving around with him at Hyde Park, in his Ford, he doing the driving. [He was] fascinated with trees particularly. There are a couple books on that that are not quite old. They must be 30 or 40 years old. You can find them in the library, [these books about] FDR and conservation and the environment.

JSD: Many remember the dramatic circumstances surrounding [African-American opera singer] Marion Anderson not being allowed to perform at Constitution Hall and how it led to your grandmother’s resignation from the DAR [Daughters of the American Revolution]. Do you recall any circumstances when the ethnicity of people close to you such as Beebee [Curtis’ Black nanny] or Mr. Mingo [the family’s Black butler] caused a situation which you, as a child, found confusing or uncomfortable?

CR: You probably forget that when I grew up, the nation’s capitol, Washington DC, was a Jim Crowe town. So you know, that’s the way it was. So particularly as a teenager, when I was let out, so to speak, a little more, and the leash was taken off [I realized] that’s the way it was in Washington.

No, not my most riveting interview, but talking with Curtis Roosevelt was a memorably exciting experience nonetheless. I’ve met some members of the Roosevelt family before, mostly Teddy’s great-grandkids, and I’ve even worked with the spouse of one on a daily basis. But none were “twice Roosevelt” or spent years in the White House of FDR and Eleanor. Shaking his hand, knowing that he has probably shaken hands with over a hundred world leaders whose names I’d recognize, I felt the power of notability by association – exactly the phenomenon that has characterized his life and serves as a main motif in his book. It’s an interesting thing to think about.

Wolff at the Door: A Foray into the Boston Athenæum

She wrote, “Posh library. Sanctuary for eminent Bostonians. Brahmin enclave. There has always been a mystique surrounding the Athenæum“.

Yet when, as young woman, Katherine Wolff discovered the Boston Athenæum’s fortress-like door, she wasn’t intimidated. Curious, she entered. I asked if coming from the state of New Jersey, so far from the compass of Beacon Hill’s shadow, had much to do with her being undaunted by the Athenæum’s stately façade or, more importantly, its exclusive reputation.

“No,” she told me “I’ve always been a trespasser.”

Scholarship often requires trespassing in areas of thought which people have portioned off, re-examining institutionalized understandings, and delving into private lives. Wolff does this and opens the door for the curious in Culture Club: the Curious History of the Boston Athenæum, recently published by University of Massachusetts Press.

Educated Bostonians being some of the most textually self-referential people ever, the Boston Athenæum has already been written about, repeatedly and at length. Wolfe turns this into an advantage, as the time is right for someone to write not only a new history of the Athenæum, but also a fresh histiography as well. Wolff has some fascinating things to say about what has already been said, elucidating points by putting them in the context of her own theories.

Class-based interpretations of the Boston Athenæum dominate scholarly analysis. But Wolfe believes that prominent scholars have been distracted by rigid ideas of high and low culture. She also calls the emphasis on separating high culture from popular entertainment “a particularly American preoccupation.” So, rather than focusing her discussion on class, Wolff concentrates on culture. She examines the role the Athenæum played (or failed to play) in shaping the evolving identity of the young United States. She looks at “the vexing relationship between democracy and culture.” In these things, she places emphasis on the “emotional history” of matters personal, aesthetic, and political.

The author describes how certain early Americans looked to the lowest ranks of English aristocracy for a genteel, yet seemingly-meritocratic, model to follow. Her description of the Athenæum’s origins in “the attempt of a worried and self-conscious group of anglophilic readers to ennoble their nation through a purposeful institution” doesn’t necessarily contradict what she calls “the founding myths,” but it’s more candid, better contextualized, and easier to grasp emotionally.

While sharing a sense of stewardship, members haven’t always agreed who and what they are stewarding. Opposing personalities and contradictory ideas have resulted in conflict. The principle of accessibility versus the benefits of separation is a matter of perennial concern. Some of the most interesting pages of this book explore these various tensions.

Adding to the curious history of the Athenæum are colorful characters, some with well-known names or pedigrees that add interest. In seeking to illuminate the emotional lives of these people, Wolff poured over intimate letters exchanged between its 19th century founders, a process she likens to “going back in time only to eavesdrop.”

When Katherine Wolf lectured at the Athenæum last month, her main subject was the correspondence between William Smith Shaw and his intimate friend Arthur Maynard Walter. Shaw, formerly a private secretary for his uncle John Adams, was a bibliomaniac collector of all things written. While his relationship with the younger Walter may have not been physical, their emotion-charged messages had the tropoi of love letters.

Wolff’s revelation that Walter died at age 26 brought gasps from the audience. She opined how the Athenæum then became, in effect, Shaw’s “new lover.” She mentioned how a contemporary even kidded Shaw by referring to it as “your Grecian wife.”

Though her book is appropriately objective, Wolff is under the Athenæum’s spell as well. Standing before a truly gigantic painting of one of the Perkinses, facing a rapt audience seated between a Gilbert Stuart and busts from Jefferson’s breakfast room, she describes the Athenaeum as a “perfect space.” It does have many endearing old charms.

The building holds an art collection of unimaginable value, and galleries feature new exhibits, but it’s not really a museum. The author, who admits to being a “library addict,” reminds us that the Athenæum was and is, firstly, a library. In this, it’s very much a living place. It’s even a welcoming place, and the ranks of its membership are permeable.

Wolfe points out the sort of lectures and reading groups increasing seen in public libraries is similar to what the Athenæum has been doing all along. It’s true, but the Athenæum retains a refined and idiosyncratic character that keeps it distinct. Photography is forbidden past the threshold, but one may enter with a well-behaved dog. In the reading room, the air is disturbed only by the perfume of fresh floral arrangements–the pitterpat of laptop use is not allowed.

Shaw’s “Grecian wife” is so fetching, one might overlook that serious research takes place here. The Athenæum has important resources for inquiry into local, American, and English history. As Wolff mentions, most of the interior is reserved for paid members and researchers with proper credentials. While the annual membership fee is more than a token sum, it’s not exorbitant. Easily, one could spend as much on just a few hours of diversion (dinner and a show, a sporting event) rather than a year’s access to one of the city’s most pleasant and fascinating places.

Katherine Wolff, who received her doctorate in American literature and history from Boston University, began formal analysis of Boston Athenæum history while she was still a student. When asked what she would work on next, she laughed and said “maybe a children’s book” before hinting that she had ideas for more grown-up books as well.

Culture Club: the Curious History of the Boston Athenæum is engagingly and written and full of intelligent analysis. If your personal library has well-worn texts by Thomas H. O’Connor, this book deserves a place alongside them. It could be an appropriate text for courses in Boston history, post-colonial identity, and various topics in American Studies.

Editor’s Note: The Boston Athenæum offers heavily discounted memberships to those under 41 and does open up its doors to the public for art exhibitions and some of its lectures. Those with more interest might be interested in this 1851 history or this 1907 one (both now in the public domain and thus downloadable) as well as this video on the Brahmin accent, featuring two old blue bloods in, I’m pretty sure, the Athenæum.

Elevator Repair Service Reads “Gatsby” Part 2

A late follow-up to my earlier post on the play.

Elevator Repair Service’s Gatz continues at the ART through February 7th (tickets $20-75 per part), though it’s clearly not as successful as Sleep No More, which is impossible to get tickets to any more unless (I hear) you make a nice little membership donation, or The Donkey Show, for which people are still lining up at Zero Arrow for. As far as productions actually at the Loeb go, the unfortunate (but somewhat expected) bomb that was Best of Both Worlds might’ve sold less tickets, but Gatz doesn’t seem to be generating the local audience it deserves, much less one that matches the hype. My girlfriend attended Part 2 last Friday and reported slim attendance. I’m figuring it’s Gatz‘s duration that’s scaring people away even if it is, as I said in my last post, its greatest strength.

As much as I liked the show, particularly through the last hour or two, it does have a lot of cheap meta-humor that resembles the lesser jokes of an episode of 30 Rock. I’ll provide a few examples, mostly from Part 1, where the text is basically mocked, not in order to convey anything, but, it would seem, to force a few laughs out of the audience (who also thought it was funny that Wolfshiem’s “business” was named the “Swastika Holding Company,” remember the book came out in 1925) to break up the monotony.

“Only Gatsby, the man who gives his name to this book, was exempt from my reaction” → Nick, in an emphasized gesture, turns to the cover to check if it indeed says “Gatsby” on it.

“Father agreed to finance me for a year and after various delays” → The office phone rings.

“They knew that presently dinner would be over and a little later the evening too would be over and casually put away.” → A piece of paper is put (away) into a filing cabinet.

“He was a son of God–a phrase which, if it means anything, means just that” → Nick shrugs, not understanding what Fitzgerald or the phrase means.

“Sometimes in the course of gay parties women used to rub champagne into his hair” → Jim Fletcher (playing Gatsby) is bald.

“”Keep your hands off the lever,” snapped the elevator boy.” → The elevator boy (played by the sound guy who handles the sound on-stage and plays about a dozen small roles) tells his passengers to keep their hands off his laptop.

“”All right, I’ll tell him.” Abruptly he slammed the door.” → The butler (again the sound guy) presses a button on his laptop triggering a sound effect of a door slamming.

Scott Shepherd (as Nick), Susie Sokol (as Jordan), Tory Vazquez (as Daisy), Jim Fletcher (as Gatsby). (Gene Pittman)

Scott Shepherd (as Nick), Susie Sokol (as Jordan), Tory Vazquez (as Daisy), Jim Fletcher (as Gatsby). (Gene Pittman)

It’s been a while since I saw it and all six hours is a lot to take in and process, but I do have some general impressions to relate. Jordan (Suzie Sokol for the performance I saw, but three actresses through the run) seemed a comic exaggeration of herself. She seemed out of place in both the settings of Gatz and Gatsby, though this is not necessarily fault of the actress(es), but rather Elevator Repair Service’s reading of the character.

If you don’t remember from high school, Jordan and Nick’s romance develops largely between the lines of the novel, as the book isn’t really about Nick and his girl, but Gatsby and his. ERS cleverly stages Fitzgerald’s mostly impressioned romance by having Jordan appear on stage next to Nick more and more as the play progresses, even if she’s not involved in the passage Nick happens to be reading. Jordan herself reads the passage from Chapter 3, where she relates to Nick Daisy and Gatsby’s failed romance and her wedding to Tom, another smart touch that effectively stages the shift in narration and the burgeoning intimacy between Nick and Jordan.

Gatsby is so popular and accessible because it is a page turner. Fitzgerald withholds most of the facts (if we can in fact rely on our narrator) of who Gatsby is until Chapter 6, more than halfway through the novel. Up until then, Gatsby is a mystery and the primary object of a reader’s “desire to know.” ERS conveys Fitzgerald’s sense of mystery by having Gatsby float on and off stage from the beginning of the play, before the character actually enters the narrative–just as Fitzgerald drops his name from the get-go without telling us who he is.

Chapter Two’s New York apartment party, where Nick tags along with Tom and Myrtle, is probably the most elegantly staged scene of the play and deservingly so, because it’s one of the book’s best parts and the only look we get at Myrtle’s true colors. With just some music, a few chairs pulled together, and a couple of liquor bottles and glasses that appear out of a filing cabinet, ERS and director John Collins covey the passage’s utter sense of drunken chaos, with Myrtle mumbling to herself. For me, here, ERS surpassed the novel. The second New York (failed) party scene in the Plaza Hotel just before the car accident (pictured above), is not pulled off quite as well, but it’s certainly striking to look at and is a theatrical tableau of the highest merit. Too often local productions slack on their purely visual elements.

Laurena Allan (as Myrtle), Scott Shepherd (as Nick), and Annie McNamara (as Catherine). (Gene Pittman)

Laurena Allan (as Myrtle), Scott Shepherd (as Nick), and Annie McNamara (as Catherine). (Gene Pittman)

About a quarter of Louisa Thompson’s set, that’s actually a little small for the Loeb stage, holds nothing more than two or so rows of steel shelving stuffed with papers and file boxes. It’s actually one of the more elaborate prop/set pieces of the entire production and functions more as a metaphor to Gatz‘s narration and narrator than a component of the shabby office that doubles as the novel’s settings.

There are a number of narrative hiccups in The Great Gatsby. Portions of the novel’s chronology don’t quite add up and when Nick asks Gatsby “What part of the middle-west?” he’s from, Gatsby replies “San Francisco.” Some attribute these chronological and geographical errors to Fitzgerald’s laborious process of re-writing and the fact that he lived abroad while writing much of the book. Others think they were intentionally inserted by Fitzgerald to signal to his more meticulous readers that Nick’s narration is, at least in part, unreliable. Even though I’m not crazy about Fitzgerald, I’m in the second school, and I think ERS is as well. The jumbled, unorganized files articulate this unreliability, this sense of disorder. The Jazz Age tragedy which Nick recounts is manifested here in these records that, given their dishevelled state, aren’t a complete (or completely accurate) record.

The 100 most used words in The Great Gatsby:

created at

Going down at the Boston Athenæum…

You don’t have to be a member of the Boston Athenæum to enjoy some of its offerings. “Poetry at Noon” presents thirty-minute lunch-hour poetry readings on the first Wednesday of the month freely to the public.

February 3rd, Sam Cornish
Samuel James Cornish grew up in Baltimore, but has lived in Boston for much of his working life. He was a teacher at the Highland Park Community School in Roxbury, and was also active in the “Poetry in the Schools” program in Boston and Cam­bridge. In the early 1980s, he was the Literature Director of the Massachusetts Council on the Arts and Humanities and a Creative Writing Instructor at Emerson College. Among his many awards and achievements are grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Massachusetts Council on the Arts. The author of nine books of poetry and two children’s books, he has been published in many periodicals, including Essence, Plough­shares, the Harvard Review, and the Christian Science Monitor. In 2007 he was chosen to be the first Poet Laureate of Boston.

March 3rd, Robert Farnsworth
Robert Farnsworth has published two collections of poetry with Wesleyan University Press: Three or Four Hills and a Cloud (1982), and Honest Water (1989). His poems have appeared widely in periodicals across the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. For seven years he edited poetry for The American Scholar. His most recent book, Rumored Islands, was released in January from Harbor Mountain Press. He was awarded a NEA Fellowship in poetry in 1990, a PEN Discovery citation in 2005, and the poet’s summer residency at the Frost Place in Franconia, NH in 2006. Farnsworth teaches at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, where he lives with his wife and two sons.

The Boston Athenæum presents Poetry at Noon, a series of readings on the first Wednesday of each month. Readings take place at the Boston Athenæum, 10 ½ Beacon Street on Beacon Hill near the State House. The 30 minute events begin at noon, and are free and open to the public. No reservations are required. For more information, visit or call (617) 227-0270.

The Athenæum’s first-floor exhibitions are always open to the public. Artist + Poet: George Nama & Charles Simic opens February 10th and runs through April 10th. Selections of Nama’s recent etchings, sculptures, gouaches, and artist’s books inspired by Simic’s poems will be on view.

George Nama. Study for Wonders of the Invisible World and Other Poems, by Charles Simic, 2005. Gouache with black chalk.

George Nama. Study for Wonders of the Invisible World and Other Poems, by Charles Simic, 2005. Gouache with black chalk.

Elevator Repair Service Reads “Gatsby” Part 1

Elevator Repair Service‘s Gatz (@ the American Rep through Feb. 7) at six hours (not counting the breaks and intermissions) is marathon theater. Even if you do all ten hours of the Boston Theater Marathon, this is something entirely different. It takes the patience of an ardent reader, or at least someone set on getting their hundred bucks worth, to listen to someone read a book all day, especially a book where you already know what happens. But, for those that stick around, and Gatz only works if you see both parts, it offers that unique pleasure inherent to the novel, that has so much to do with the duration of the narrative.

There’s nothing like finishing a good book that you’ve been committed to for hours or days or weeks and it’s a completely different feeling than that which comes at the end of the shorter narratives of plays and films. Aside from offering resolution, the final chapter of a (good) novel engenders a feeling of contentment, satisfaction, and peace–a moment of nirvana that validates the time you’ve put into this text. A Dan Brown book, like a television movie, might sufficiently tease our desire to know to force us from one chapter into the next (or through commercial breaks), but it takes a book like The Great Gatsby to bring us to a satisfying melancholic awe during and following its final lines.

Once the full-text recitation of Gatz reaches chapter 9, our narrator Nick (Scott Shepherd) puts down his paperback and relaxes into the confident and vaguely Western-accented voice that he slowly builds towards throughout the entire play. He recites the final chapter of Gatsby with ease–to think that in chapter one he intentionally stumbled over “Dukes of Buccleuch.” It rolls of his tongue as he faces us, and speaks to us, without the book below his eyes for the first time. Chapter 9 is one of the most meticulously contrived chapters in the book and, even though it’s not, it feels like a eulogy to the character whose mysterious identity is what makes the book such a page-turner, and thus so accessible and popular. Shepherd narrates it with a solemn elegance that’s not just apt to Fitzgerald’s prose and subject matter, but also to the process of reading, or finishing, a book. What Gatz does so superbly, is translate the act of reading to the stage, taking an inner process and experience and making it a shared and performed one.

This season we’ve seen the ART do more “immersive” theater, where we’re thrown into nontheater settings so that we might have more unique and “fun” theatrical experiences, but this is the first one, despite its epic duration, that turns the volume down and works to extract and transfer an inner relationship we all have with the novel. Rather than attempt a large exterior theatrical experience (e.g. the party of the The Donkey Show, the active puzzle of Sleep No More), it reaches for a deeply personal interior experience that’s not usually activated inside of a theater. The final chapter of Gatz is worth all six hours and more flawless than anything in Shakespeare Exploded, because having that moment of completing a novel at a play, in a theater, is something special and different.

Of course, there is some lag leading up to those compelling final scenes that force one to a standing ovation. The play builds upon its self slowly and while Fitzgerald’s language may offer rewards to those who pick up the book and read a passage or two, Gatz doesn’t, even if you know the text as well as Scott Shepherd. Stay tuned for part two.

Read part 2 of the review.

Scott Shepherd (as Nick) and Kate Scelsa (as Lucille). (Chris Beirens)

Scott Shepherd (as Nick) and Kate Scelsa (as Lucille). (Chris Beirens)

A Bevy of Bartering Bibliophiles: The Boston Book Fair

Despite the severe changes the Internet has made in the rare books business (levelling out prices, eliminating all the manual effort from the hunt for that evasive volume, etc.), the 33rd annual Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair occurs this weekend, Nov. 13-15 at the Hynes Convention Center. The fair draws 120 rare book dealers from the U.S., England, France, the Netherlands and Germany; such big names in the industry as Between the Covers and Bauman. Even if you’re not in the market for that first edition of Tender is the Night with dust jacket, it should make for an interesting hour or two this weekend. Admission is $8 (a cut goes to the BPL) on Saturday and Sunday ($15 for Friday night tickets, good through the weekend, for those wanting first dibs) and includes a few bookish activities

  • A lecture by Bob Clark, Archivist of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library; Never Destroy Anything: The Story of Franklin Roosevelt’s Presidential Library and Museum.
  • Author Allison Bartlett will discuss her new book, The Man Who Loved Books Too Much: The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession.
  • Free appraisals, Antiques Roadshow style. I wonder if they’ll see a lot of Reader’s Digest Condensed Books?

  • In conjunction with the fair are the Print and Ephemera and Fine Art Shows.

    The featured items list makes for an interesting bit of window shopping; J.D. Salinger’s High School Yearbook, first editions of Hemingway and Fitzgerald, and a rare copy of The Tale of Peter Rabbit (children’s books have always been big sellers in the rare books biz). Two items are shrewdly tied into Hollywood’s recent output–surprising in an industry that resists trends much more adamantly than the art world. Boston’s own Brattle Book Shop is featuring a signed first edition of Amelia Earhart’s 20 Hrs, 40 Mins, whose value will no doubt be inflated by the recent Hillary Swank movie. Also featured, though not on said list, is a copy of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking you won’t want to spill Béarnaise sauce on and probably not the edition Amy Adams used in Julia & Julia.

    I’ll be on the lookout for some Updikes to add to my humble collection.

    Six Norton Lectures by Orhan Pamuk

    Orhan Pamuk, Nobel laureate and critically acclaimed novelist, gave the first of a series of six lectures this past Tuesday to a densely packed crowd at Harvard’s Sanders Theater. The Norton lectures were first endowed in 1925 as a yearly lectureship pertaining to poetry, in the broadest sense of the word. Past lectures have been delivered by scholars, poets, novelists, artists, composers, musicologists, architects and conductors. T.S. Eliot, Copland, Robert Frost, Stravinsky, E.E. Cummings, Lionel Trilling, Borges, Harold Bloom, John Cage, Frank Stella, Umberto Eco, and most recently, Daniel Barenboim, have all once stood at the podium the podium that now belongs to Pamuk.

    The lectures are usually published by Harvard University Press. In the case of Leonard Bernstein, they have actually been released on video. Pamuk no doubt has some tough acts to follow. On Tuesday he began most humbly with his first lecture, The Naïve and Sentimental Novelist, which, once stripped of its central reference to Schiller’s On Naïve and Sentimental Poetry (and this is easily done), was a most sincere testament to the pleasures of reading novels. Helen Epstein of Arts Fuse wrote an excellent review.

    I’ll note that, at least from my seat on Tuesday, he isn’t the easiest speaker to hear clearly. He actually has his lectures translated from Turkish into English. Much of what is spoken is read and rather accented. It was a pleasure nonetheless.

    The first drew a large crowd, which will likely dwindle in the coming weeks. I’m sure much of the buzz is due simply to the history and prestige behind the lecture series. I arrived about twenty minutes early and, after waiting in line, was one of the first to take a seat in the balcony.

    The Lectures continue through November 3rd at 4:00 p.m. at Harvard’s Sanders Theater, are unticketed, free, and open to the public.

    Tuesday, September 29: Mr. Pamuk, Did You Really Live All This?
    Tuesday, October 13: Character, Time, Plot
    Tuesday, October 20: Pictures and Things
    Monday, October 26: Museum and Novels
    Tuesday, November 3: The Center