Ain't Nothin' but a Book Love Thang: A Reading List from Open Book Night
The evening after the February blizzard, a small group of book lovers gathered in the Corner Room for our monthly Open Book Night. Our theme was “Ain’t Nothin’ but a Love Thang”, and we asked readers to share books they love, books about love, and books about things they love. Love seems to be our preferred February theme. You can find our readers' "book love" recommendations from last year and the year before in our reading lists.
We'd love to hear about your favorite books! Join us for Open Book Night on the second Friday of the month from 6 - 7 PM. For March 10, our theme is "Books Go to the Movies". Come tell us about books you love that have been made into (good or bad) movies, books about making movies, Hollywood history, memoirs and bios of your favorite stars, or any other books that connect to movies.
Our first readerJoan shared a book about a place that she loves. She recommended An Old Merchant’s House: Life at Home in New York City 1835-1865 by Mary L. Knapp, which tells the story of the Tredwell family after they moved to a new townhouse uptown on East Fourth Street in Manhattan. This house, designated a landmark in 1965, has been a museum since 1936. Not only the exterior, but also the interior decor in the Merchant’s House Museum is virtually unchanged since 1832. The author, Mary L. Knapp, the museum historian, also documented the struggle to preserve the house in Miracle on Fourth Street: Saving an Old Merchant’s House. To learn more about the Merchant’s House and its history, watch this episode of Blueprint NYC.
Joan describes An Old Merchant’s House as “an interesting and well-constructed book about life and loves in this period in the history of New York City. The author vividly and accurately portrays life as it was. Anyone interested in the development of the city will thoroughly enjoy how it has been presented.”
Talk of the Merchant’s House led readers to suggest other books they associated with lower Manhattan in the 19th century: Washington Square by Henry James, O. Henry’s short stories, and Herman Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener. And not far from the Merchant’s House on East Fourth Street was Pfaff’s Saloon, home to New York City’s original bohemians, who lived a very different lifestyle from the wealthy Tredwell family just a few blocks away. Justin Martin describes this artistic circle in his 2014 book Rebel Souls: Walt Whitman and America’s First Bohemians.
Readers at Open Book Night just love to recommend books about New York. When we had a dedicated New York evening, our readers recommended these titles.
Our next reader was a fan of tragic love stories. He told us that he particularly recommended two plays by another New Yorker, Robert E. Sherwood, The Petrified Forest and Waterloo Bridge. Both plays were adapted into films. Archie Mayo’s 1936 film of The Petrified Forest, starring Leslie Howard, Bette Davis, and Humphrey Bogart, and Mervyn LeRoy’s 1940 film of Waterloo Bridge, starring Vivien Leigh and Robert Taylor, are available to borrow from the Library.
Amy recommended a novel that was part tragic romance. She revealed that she did not immediately fall in love with The A to Z of You and Me by James Hannah, finding the narrative structure to be a bit “all over the place” at first, but as she continued she appreciated how the author used shifting timeframes to tell this sad hospice care love story about lost love, new friendship, and coming to terms with a life lived.
My pick was When in French: Love in a Second Language by New Yorker writer Lauren Collins. In this recent memoir, Collins recounts her journey to bilingualism, struggling to learn French after she and her French husband move from London to Geneva. As her fluency grows, she gains insights into her own character and way of seeing the world as well as a deeper understanding of who her husband is. Collins is a great storyteller, and she intersperses her personal language learning experiences with mini essays on the nature of language, offering the reader a primer on basic linguistic theory as well as an entertaining look at her own language learning. You can preview the book by reading Lauren Collins’s essay Love in Translation, published in the New Yorker in August 2016.
Thanks to everyone who joined us for Open Book Night! We enjoyed talking about books with you and hearing your recommendations. Check out these other reading lists to see books recommended at past Open Book Nights, and please add your own recommendations in the comments below. Happy reading!