The Greater Journey : Americans in Paris

From Ellen Druda
Author:  David McCullough
The Greater Journey : Americans in Paris
“Not all pioneers went west.”  McCullough looks at Paris in the 19th century as the other destiny for Americans as they looked to expand their horizons as a new nation.  Starting in 1830, we watch the prominent citizens come and go: Samuel Morse, James Fennimore Cooper, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Henry James, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Mary Cassatt, John Singer Sargent, Mark Twain, P.T. Barnum, and many more make their way there for short or extended stays.  We see the beautiful City of Lights blossom into a metropolis filled with beautiful architecture, large fragrant gardens, and cosmopolitan citizens of the highest taste in fashion and the arts.  We are witness, via the unforgettable diary entries of diplomat Elihu Washburne, the Franco-Prussian war and the long siege of Paris.The book ends with the Universelle Paris Exposition of 1900 as the new century begins, noting the changes just around the corner with the exhibited paintings of the teenage Pablo Picasso.

A Box of Darkness: The Story of a Marriage

From Catherine Given
author: Brady, Sally Ryder
A Box of Darkness: The Story of a Marriage
When I heard that this book was in the same vein as Joan Didion’s “The Year of Magical Thinking”, I had to try it.  The two memoirs share many themes and are equally un-putdown-able.  In recounting the story of the Bradys’ lives, Brady smoothly carries us back and forth from her present-day fear and loneliness as a new widow, through her tumultuous 46-year marriage. Sally Ryder Brady’s intelligence shines through in a straightforward, easy style that rings true.  

As I blazed through A Box of Darkness, I felt that I was spending a weekend with a great new friend.   Like Didion and her husband, John Gregory Dunne, the Brady’s were productive and distinguished writers.  Despite her husband Upton’s increasingly narcissistic and erratic behavior, Sally remains steady and calm.  She’s trapped by her love for a man so self-absorbed that he can only give the family negative attention.   She sticks it out with Brady, whom she calls her “Best Beloved,” but his alcoholism, unexplained disappearances and mercurial moods take a heavy toll. 

As they continue to socialize and conduct business individually and as a couple, they mix with famous people:  bicoastal writers, publishers, actors, producers, and restaurateurs.  Sally’s strength in the face of Brady’s mistreatment is all the more remarkable for her ability to retain her dignity and self-esteem  in these elite circles.

Like so many women of this era, Sally manages her large, active family’s life with vigor and grace, giving her children all she can, thinking little of her own needs.  When Upton dies at 76, she is simply bereft.  Worse, she soon uncovers troubling evidence of a secret life he was leading, and struggles to piece together who her “Best Beloved” really was.

Let’s take the long way home: a memoir of friendship

From Jackie Cantwell
author: Caldwell, Gail
Let’s take the long way home: a memoir of friendship
This is an account of the author’s friendship with Caroline Knapp, the
author of Pack of two and Drinking: a love story (among others), who died
of lung cancer in 2002 at the age of 42.  I liked Ms. Knapp’s articles in
Glamour magazine.  Theirs  was a very close friendship.  They were both
single writers with dogs living in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Both women
were recovering alcoholics.  Gail was a swimmer and Caroline was an avid
rower on the Charles River.  They taught each other their favorite sports,
went on vacations together, trained their dogs together and spoke every
day.  Does anyone even have friendships like this anymore?  I imagine that
Ms. Caldwell agrees with Socrates’ statement that “the unexamined life is
not worth living”.  She deftly delineates the meaning of their friendship
and how important Caroline was to her.  The grief she endures brings to
mind that of Joan Didion in The year of magical thinking.  Ms. Caldwell is
a masterful writer. This is a heartrending tale, a four-hankie memoir. 
Read it if you’re strong enough.