"Chasing Sylvia Beach" with author Cynthia Morris

It's another rainy Monday in Paris. In between wondering when they're going to turn on the heat in our apartment building and trying to convince myself that it's time to take our summer clothes to the cellar, I've been thinking about Shakespeare & Company and Sylvia Beach.

While most visitors to Paris are familiar with the iconic English bookstore located near Notre-Dame, not everyone knows that it was originally opened by Sylvia Beach on November 17, 1919. After a brief introduction to Beach during a "Writers of the Left Bank" walking tour, I wanted to learn more about this American expat who generously offered hospitality and encouragement to struggling authors. Good things must come to those who wait and incessantly scroll through their Twitter feed because that's how I discovered that Cynthia Morris, the author of the novel Chasing Sylvia Beach, was offering a free Sylvia Beach walking tour of Paris last Friday. In spite of a two hour dental appointment to replace some fillings in the morning, I pushed myself to meet Cynthia by the statue of Henri IV on Pont Neuf in the afternoon. I wasn't disappointed.

As the sun cast a rosy glow over the buildings lining the Seine, Morris explained her long fascination with Sylvia Beach, who was "curious, brave, and above all, devoted to books and people who write them." Resolute in her desire to introduce more women to this literary pioneer, Morris obtained a grant from the Alliance Française to study Beach's private letters at the archives in Princeton University. Unable to find the secret that would shed new light on the woman who lived life as a daring adventure,  Morris decided to change course and write a historical novel.


Pausing in front of Le Danton, a charming cafe perfectly situated at the confluence of five roads near the Odeon metro stop, Morris mentioned the challenges of writing a novel set in 1937, for it's only by entering some sort of dream state where the writing process becomes almost mystical that an author is able to fully capture the essence of the past. The people coming and going, the buses and the streets - they all have to be true to the period. After we made our way to the building where Shakespeare & Company was previously located at 12 Rue de l'Odéon, the author enthusiastically pointed to the wooden front of the  Librairie Guénégaud next door and exclaimed, "There. That's what Sylvia's bookshop would have looked like!"

If you would like for Cynthia Morris to transport you back to the days of Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce and Gertrude Stein, pick up a copy of Chasing Sylvia Beach. Many thanks to Cynthia for a very educational tour!

Time for me to run because I'm going to a chocolate talk and tasting at Shakespeare & Company this evening. In a time honored tradition, they still host author events just as Sylvia Beach did when she opened the beloved English bookshop in Paris.

Please click here to read more about Chasing Sylvia Beach on Amazon. The 21 customer reviews are all 4 and 5 stars.

Plaque at 12 Rue de l'Odéon. "In 1922. In this house. Mlle Sylvia Beach published "Ulysses" by James Joyce."

Comments

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    1. I'm so happy that you asked because that's exactly what I wanted to know when I typed the caption for the photo but didn't have time to check before I rushed off to Shakespeare & Co. Putting on my detective hat, I figured that JJ would be for James Joyce and F would be Foundation but the SS didn't make any sense. It turns out that it's an acronym for "James Joyce Society of Sweden and Finland" because they're the ones who put the plaque on the building. I visited their website but it's meaningless since I can't read a word of Swedish...or is it Finnish?!

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  2. Ha. I could only come up with "James Joyce Society of San Francisco" -- who would have thought "Sweden and Finland?" Odd society.

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    1. ""James Joyce Society of San Francisco" - very clever! I wish that I would have come up with that one, Bob!

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    2. I think I was in too big a rush that morning, as the context bypassed me. I should have been able to decipher JJ for James Joyce given your topic.

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  3. Thanks so much, Mary Kay, for this great post! It was a real delight to have you on the tour, and fun to see your note taking turned into such a wonderful blog post.

    Until we meet again...

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    1. It was my pleasure, Cynthia! Your enthusiasm about Sylvia Beach is contagious. I thoroughly enjoyed the tour and look forward to immersing myself in your book. There's a good chance that I'll travel to London next week and it's going to accompany me on the train.

      Good luck with your book tour in the USA! As I mentioned on Friday, I'm really impressed by the creative ways that you've thought of to introduce "Chasing Sylvia Beach" to a wider audience.

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  4. Interesting post! Wish I could have joined you -- I've also bought Cynthia's book and look forward to reading it.

    Cheers and hope the chocolate was yummy - on to that post next.

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    1. I wish that you could have joined us, too! It was thanks to your tweet that I learned about the walking tour! Thanks to Twitter, I've been following your progress around the globe.

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