I learned a lot about Dorothy Parker by reading A Journey Into Dorothy Parker’s New York by Keven C. Fitzpatrick. The Dorothy Parker portrait of New York has seeped into the bones of everyone. Skeptical, witty, cynical, smart, fashion conscious and status obssessed–it is hard to know whether Dorothy Parker accurately reflected New York City, or created our image of New York City.
I already knew that travelers following her trail should visit the Alqonquin Hotel (now a literary landmark) where the famous and witty writers known as the Round Table hung out. I didn’t know that she lived most of her life in Manhattan, within walking distance of Central Park. I didn’t know that she moved a lot, and many, many of the buildings she lived in or worked in are still there.
Her witticisms fill pages of books or web sites devoted to quotations. A born writer, she wrote theater reviews for Vogue magazine when when she was twenty-five years old and earned her reputation as the sassiest voice in New York.
Her forte was short stories, poems, articles. What a great twitterer she would have been. The building where she worked for Conde Nast still stands at 19-25 45th Street, although the company later moved. You can even sleep at the Algonquin, but hopefully you will not be quite as bleary and alcohol-fuled, or as busy with the affairs that kept Parker bed-hopping. The take-no-prisoners wit came from an emotionally fragile soul whose life in retrospect looks anything but cheerful.
Parker’s early stories abounded in satire and sharp portraits of the society she grew up in. However in her later years, she turned to writing more serious pieces. Her interests in life became less frivolous, as well.
That is why her ashes and memorial plaque are in Baltimore instead of in NYC where she spent her life. A passionate supporter of civil rights, she left her estate (the rights to all her works) to Martin Luther King. When he was assassinated ten months later, the estate reverted to the NAACP, whose headquarters are in Baltimore.
This book, which is packed with very good maps and pictures, would be a good guide to New York, and to the free-wheeling age of the twenties, even for those not interested in Dorothy Parker.
Have you read Dorothy Parker? Have you stayed at the Algonquin? Tell us about your experiences. (And don’t forget to sign up for e-mail delivery of A Traveler’s Library–for a few more days it gets you three chances on the Grand Prizes, as well as all these juicy travel and book and movie tidbits at least four days a week.)
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One of the most popular and quoted blogs about books, Bookslut, printed an interview last November with David Del Vecchio of Idlewild Books in New York.
Reading quotes like this, “My main advice to a first-time traveler would be to read something from, or at least set in, the place they’re going.” and “The books that are most compelling to me have always been books that transport me to another place or time…”, it is all I can do to stay chained to my computer chair instead of flying directly to JFK. But before going to Manhattan, according to DelVecchio, I need to read…” Bartleby the Scrivener and Washington Square, which are both set in the 19th century of course, and Three Bedrooms in Manhattan, a Simonen book from the 1940s that has a very Hopperesque feel to it. Enemies, A Love Story is another great book, also set in the ’40s.”
And besides, I can, if I don’t mind skipping the tactile and olfactory joys of a bookstore, shop at Idlewild on line.
I encourage you to stray away from A Traveler’s Library and read the interview with Del Vecchio. The Book Slut’s introduction reveals that she is one of us, also. “My preferred way of learning about any subject is through reading literature,” she says.
Thanks goodness for places like Idlewild Books. Here are a few more bookstores for travel literature: