Tag Archives: books

Weekly Photo Challenge: Up, Up and Off The Beaten Page in Chicago

Wherever you go in Chicago, it's important to keep looking up at the city's fabulous architecture.  Above, one of the latest additions to  Chicago's skyline, Cloud Gate, a.k.a. The Bean.
Wherever you go in Chicago, it’s important to keep looking up at the city’s fabulous architecture. Above, one of the latest additions to Chicago’s skyline, Cloud Gate, a.k.a. The Bean.

My book, Off The Beaten Page: The Best Trips for Lit Lovers, Book Clubs, and Girls on Getaways comes out May 1.  So, between now and then, I’m offering a glimpse of the 15 U.S. cities featured in the book.  Here’s a preview of the Chicago chapter, entitled “The Tales of Two Architects:”

Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic Paul Goldberger says, “Architecture is one  area in which we in New York truly do have a second city complex toward Chicago–not the other way around, as it is in so many other realms. And for all that has happened over the years, little has changed in the sense that those of us in New York, as well as the rest of the country, still have of Chicago as being the essential city of American architecture.”

But you don’t have to be a connoisseur of skyscrapers to understand Chicago’s pivotal place in architectural history and the innovative, risk-taking outlook that continues to make Chicago “America’s City.” Two books have generated sky-high interest in Chicago by combining the stories of the city’s architectural lions with juicy plots.  The first, Erik Larson’s The Devil in The White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America.  The other book, Nancy Horan’s Loving Frank, a novel of historical fiction, tells the tale of architectural genius Frank Lloyd Wright’s scandalous relationship with his client, Mamah Borthwick Cheney.

Each chapter in Off the Beaten Page includes an essay about a couple of books that create a theme or focus for your visit to that city, extensive reading lists, and three-day itineraries that offer ways to experience in person the books you’ve read and have fun in other ways, too. For example, the White City is long gone, but you can get a taste of what is was like by taking a tour with the Chicago Architecture Foundation. Wander Jackson Park, the site of the World’s Fair in The Devil in the White City, then tour Millennium Park, a modern-day bookend to the architectural innovation that began with that fair.  Wherever you go, keep looking up.

Dennis Lehane’s Boston

And speaking of Boston (see my last post), I want to emphasize how well Dennis Lehane’sbook books convey the Boston “voice,” and life in the tough, working class parts of Boston where he grew up. You may not want to actually spend your vacation in the Dorchester neighborhood, for example, but you can visit those places through Mystic River, Gone, Baby, Gone and his latest, Live by Night, which all make great reads before a trip to Boston and a nice diversion from the Freedom Trail.

I saw Lehane last week when he spoke at Pen Pals, the author series that raises funds for the Hennepin County Library system which serves the Minneapolis area. He’s one of the best speakers I’ve ever heard, mixing insightful literary observations, stories of his relationship with Clint Eastwood who directed Mystic River, writing for HBO’s The Wire, and hilarious anecdotes about his gigantic Irish American family.  He learned his storytelling expertise at family gatherings (and sometimes in bars) where his dad and his uncle told “true” stories that changed with every retelling.

You can see how his skills as a raconteur translate to novel writing, which he says is a much more difficult task than screen-writing. His novels, like his storytelling, incorporate great pacing, tightly wound plots, and characters drawn from the Boston streets. That’s one reason that Lehane isn’t, in my opinion typical of the crime genre where anyone with a laptop seems able to get published.  His work could better be described as well-crafted literary fiction…with a purpose.  One of his comments about fiction sticks with me: fiction is “the lie that tells the truth.”

On your way to Boston?  You’ll also want to pick up some of the books that Lehane suggested in a In  New York Times interview, which included classics such as The Friends of Eddie Coyle, by George V. Higgins, The Last Hurrah and The Edge of Sadness, by Edwin O’Connor, and in nonfiction, Common Ground, by J. Anthony Lukas. I also have scads of other Boston books on the reading list in Off The Beaten Page: The Best Trips for Lit Lovers, Book Clubs, and Girls on Getaways.


Off the Beaten Page in Boston

Literary travel doesn't have to be too serious. I love this sign in Rockport, Massachusetts.
Literary travel doesn’t have to be too serious.

My book, Off The Beaten Page: The Best Trips for Lit Lovers, Book Clubs, and Girls on Getaways comes out May 1.  So, between now and then, I’m offering a glimpse of the 15 U.S. cities featured in the book.  First up, Boston, Massachusetts where, with the help of great books, you can experience the city’s colonial heritage as well as its maritime tradition.  Each chapter offers an essay relating a couple of books to the city to create a theme for your trip, an extensive reading list, and a detailed itinerary…. read the book, go see where the story takes place.

9781416546818_p0_v2_s260x420Boston itineraries include colonial sites from the perspective of the founding mothers, whose story has only recently begun to be told.

You can also experience  “fish tales” such as Moby Dick

bhc_wwor  The Perfect Storm through activities such as sailing or whale watching in the Stellwagen Banks Marine Sanctuary with the New England Aquarium.

Shades of Moby Dick.... a breaching whale in the Stellwagen Banks off the coast of Massachusetts.
Shades of Moby Dick…. a breaching whale in the Stellwagen Banks off the coast of Massachusetts.


Major League Vacation: Baseball Books to Inspire Your Summer Travel

It’s 33 degrees here in Minneapolis, a might nippy for the Minnesota Twins Unknown-9home opener. I suspect there will be more hot coffee ordered in the stands than cold beer, and fans will wear hats and mittens instead of their usual sun screen.  Nonetheless, things will warm up soon and for lovers of Major League Baseball everywhere ‘tis the season to both take in a game and to check out the latest additions to the library of baseball lore.

The best baseball stories make great literature even if you’re not the most devoted baseball fan.  They’re always stories of moral crises, human foibles, victory, defeat, and ultimately the character of America. Minneapolis author John Rosengren has his own contribution on deck, just in time for the season opener, Hank Greenberg: The Hero of Heros.  Greenberg, a Hall of Famer, played in the 1930s and 40s, primarily as a first baseman for the Detroit Tigers (who incidentally, the Twins will play this afternoon). One of the great power hitters of his generation, he racked up home runs and RBIs the way Hillary Clinton has logged frequent flyer miles. But what Rosengren zeros in on, and what makes the story most interesting, is Greenberg’s integrity in the face of the intense religious and racial bigotry of the times. He was the first Jewish superstar in professional sports and played against the backdrop of the Hitler era, the anti-Semitism of Detroit’s Henry Ford, and that of his own teammates. Greenberg became the center of national attention in 1934 when he refused to play on Yom Kippur, though the Tigers needed him to win the pennant race. He was also among the first players to welcome Jackie Robinson to Major League baseball.

Rosengren will speak about his book at the National Baseball Hall of Fame  in Cooperstown, New York, on May 18, which brings me to the idea of baseball-related travel. He advocates Cooperstown as not only a must for baseball fans but also as an attractive and historic destination for those less passionate about the sport. While Cooperstown is mecca for baseball pilgrims, he also suggests a jaunt to the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory, an iconic place in baseball history.  Of course tons of people make visiting baseball stadiums across the country a priority for their summer travel.  Check out one of the best blogs I’ve seen about baseball stadiums as travel destinations, Yards of Summer, from another Twin Citian, Tyler Sachse. He offers reviews of the parks he has visited, some great photography from his trips, and his own list of recommended baseball reads.

So, all you boys and girls of summer…. indulge your passion with a few baseball field trips. And to enhance your travel, here’s a list of baseball books, both recent and classic, to pack along.

Babe: The Legend Comes to Life, Robert W. Creamer. Our most famous baseball player ever, in the context of his times.

Bang the Drum Slowly, Mark Harris. Baseball fiction, yes, but Bang the Drum has also been called “a haunting meditation on life, death, friendship, and loyalty.”

The Catcher Was a Spy, The Mysterious Life of Moe Berg, Nicholas Dawidoff. Berg is characterized as a strange fellow who was a professional ball player, a spy during World War II, and who ended his life in poverty.

Eight Men Out: The Black Sox and the 1919 World Series, Eliot Asinof. Lance Armstrong and his USPS team were by no means the first to shock and disappoint their fans. This book covers one of all-time biggest sports scandals, set against the end of World War I and the beginning of the Roaring Twenties.

Hank Greenberg: Hero of Heros, John Rosengren. See above.

Jackie Robinson: A Biography, Arnold Rampersad. The gripping story of the first African American man to in baseball, subject of the current film 42 The Movie.

Moneyball, Michael Lewis. The book behind the movie, the story of Billy Beane, manager of the Oakland A’s, and his struggle against the conventional wisdom of baseball management.

The Natural, Bernard Malmud. The fictional story of Roy Hobbs (remember the Robert Redford movie?), considered the best baseball book of all time.

October 1964, David Halberstam.  The 1964 World Series between the Yankees and Cardinals as seen against the social and political tumult of the 1960s.

Shoeless Joe, The Iowa Baseball Confederacy, and other books by W.P. Kinsella.  This author’ books combine baseball with a rich imaginary world. (Shoeless Joe was the inspiration for the movie Field of Dreams.)

You Know Me Al: A Busher’s Letters, Ring Lardner. The hilarious fictional letters of a bush league pitcher who blames everyone but himself for his failures.

More Book Club Travel Tales: Exploring Lubeck, Germany, with Thomas Mann

Visiting Lubeck, Germany on a Thomas Mann-inspired tour.

This is the second part of an interview with Susan Jessop who has shared with me the experiences of her fabulous book club in Ottawa, Canada.  In my previous post, we covered some the group’s ideas for book-related travel close-to-home and some suggestions for Canadian authors you’ll want to add to your reading list, no matter where you live.

Next, we cover the group’s big trip:  to Lubeck (a.k.a. Luebeck), Germany. Admittedly, they have a leg up because Susan has family there, hence, the inside scoop on accommodations and tours.  I’ve never been to Lubeck, but from the pictures I’ve seen it’s old town area looks wildly charming. She has excellent tips to make a successful trip. Hopefully, their ideas will inspire you and your travel companions to venture out into the world with a few good books.

So, Susan, tell us in a nutshell about your lit trip to Germany.

I’m not sure who launched the idea initially but as I own a condo in the town of Lubeck, Germany and my brother has several tourist apartments, I thought that this was quite doable. I checked with family for dates and availability. Once we’d settled on a date, I agreed to put together a program and run it past our group (I was really hoping for full executive control knowing that I’d wear this if we took a haphazard approach!). We had a planning meeting with the six ladies who finally committed to going.

I settled on the book Buddenbrooks: A Family in Decline written by Thomas Mann in 1918 at the age of 23. The selection was a no-brainer as there is nary a German alive who doesn’t know of and admire this book. Thomas Mann won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923 mainly for this novel. Lubeck is the setting for the book and many landmarks are Unknown-5still there today. In fact, a few years earlier a German production was filmed on location and my sister-in-law and nephew were film extras. It was a natural choice, but at over 700 pages and written almost 100 years ago I was worried the ladies would kill me if they didn’t like it!

Our itinerary included a hop on/hop off tour, which had the worst English translations imaginable, of the city highlights. We were in stitches as we travelled through town. Fortunately, the tour I arranged at Buddenbrook Haus [if you can read German, check out their Web site, http://buddenbrookhaus.de%5D was led by a highly competent tour guide who captivated us for two hours on Mann family lore. We also arranged for a viewing of the movie (the very one featuring my nephew walking down the street from behind!). My brother has a wonderful retro home theatre complete with red velvet movie seats for 20. He served us champagne and home made popcorn! We also took an afternoon boat trip up the Trave River to the Baltic Sea where the Buddenbrooks holidayed, and a day trip to Hamburg where one of the characters lived. In between, I made sure there was lots of down time for shopping and entertainment (notably wine and good food). I think we had a really good time. The book was also a great read and really came alive as we walked the streets of this lovely medieval town.

Did the trip bring your group closer together? How so?

I think the trip did bring us closer together. It’s an interesting group.  Some women are close friends but mostly I would describe us as acquaintances that really enjoy each others’ company in the context of books. We all know the old adage that traveling is the surest way to get to know someone, for better or worse! We did indeed get to know each other better. There was a cranky moment or two, but when you have that many independent, take charge women together, it’s bound to happen!

Did it give you a greater understanding of the book(s) you read relating to the trip and the culture where you traveled?  Please explain.

Absolutely! My imagination has been fueled by reading all my life, but as an English major in university, the feelings I had when I finally walked through the locations from my favourite novels were special.

 Any tips or suggestions for people who are organizing book-related travel?

I think I implied in one of the previous answers that planning is really important! You want to make sure that you have your activities lined up and not left to chance. If you’re the organizer, ask your book club members for permission to take charge and give them a bit of a preview before the trip to confirm that you’re not out in left field. Our trip was about 6-7 days but I still made sure there were a couple of down days. For sure the first day has to be relaxed to allow for some recovery from jet lag if that’s a factor and leave time for shopping during the trip.

One other thing that proved to work well was that I provided a budget in advance, so that folks could have a sense of what the costs would be for the week (everything but the airfare). I collected the money at the beginning and we made all our purchases from “the kitty,” including food, wine, restaurants, admissions, bus, boat and rail fares, etc… I had calculated it quite carefully and we came in almost exactly on the Euro! As such we had no fussing around money and going to the bank, etc…

Anything else you want to add?

Do try this! Book club outings enrich the experience! You could reasonably begin with a local outing and move up to a weekend and finally an international trip. We are starting to talk and plan our next trip to Bath, England …. Jane Austen territory!!!! Woo Hoo. One of our members has a sister in Bath and she is doing some reconnaissance for us. One activity we’ve discussed is bringing her sister’s book group together for a meeting with ours while we are there. Now that will be interesting!

Oh Canada! You’ll Wish You Could Join This Canadian Book Club On Their Travels

Boating and Books–a summer cabin in Canada is just one place where this book club meets.

Susan Jessop, a lit lover and travel enthusiast from Ottawa, Canada, contacted me to share her book club’s literary travel experiences.  Little did I know that I’d want to hop in the car and join them for their next outing. She had so much information, I’m going to share it in two posts, starting with their ideas for inviting authors to attend their meetings, and taking short “lit trips” close to home (from cottages to a penitentiary!).  You’ll find their “field trips” inspiring and you’ll want to check out the books she mentions, a nice list of Canadian authors. It’s always interesting to me how people in different regions are reading fantastic books you’ve never heard of. This is how to spread the word about your favorite authors. My next post will feature their really big book club travel tales.

Please tell me a little about your book group.

We are a group of women based in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, our nation’s capital city. The group was established in 1996 and still has 3 founding members.The women come from many different professional backgrounds: urban planners, lawyers, museologists, a token engineer (!) and not unexpectedly, a few public servants… We share a love of literature, good food, wine and laughter! The group has always consisted of approximately 10 women, an optimal number to ensure manageable conversation. We think 10 is the ideal number.

What kinds of local trips or outings has your group enjoyed?  

The group has done a number of local expeditions that related to books we were reading. The first was to Aylmer, Quebec, just across the river from Ottawa to where the book Leaning, Leaning Over Water was set.  This book, a “novel in stories” marked the transition from short story writer to novelist for the author, Frances Itani, who went on to international recognition with her later novel Deafening.  We drove to several sites along the Ottawa River, our best guesses of the locations in the book.  We ended up at a local pub with an astounding international selection of beer, and some locals who it turned out were from the same neighbourhood as two of the book club women who had grown up in Aylmer.

One of our book club participants works at the national Museum of Civilization, and we’ve had a couple of fascinating excursions there.   The first was an evening devoted to the famous Klondike poet Robert W. Service, and featured readings of his poetry in a replica of the “Wildcat Cafe” from his adopted home town of Yellowknife, Northwest Territories.  Tracey Riley, a singer and waitress from that café, performed for us, and we were served authentic grub.  The museum later featured a fabulous exhibit on “The Bog People.” As part of its lecture series, the museum featured Kathy Reichs, (who is both a working forensic anthropologist and a crime writer) so we read her novel du jour Deja Dead and went off to hear her lecture and visit the exhibit.

For the past 9 years or so, we end our season with a weekend of merriment at one member’s cottage, about an hour and a half out of Ottawa.  It’s a great sign off to the book season (we take a summer hiatus).  Our host arranged to have a local author, Merilyn Simonds, attend our meeting to discuss her novel The Holding as well as her earlier non-fiction book The Convict Lover, which some of us also read.  Since the latter book was set in and around the Kingston Penitentiary, we took a field trip from the cottage and had a fascinating visit at Kingston’s Penitentiary Museum. We met with Merilyn a second time a few years later and visited her garden which was the subject of her book A New Leaf, a collection of anecdotes and meditations focused on that very garden.

Do you ever invite authors to attend your meetings?

We have looked for opportunities to invite local authors that we know (or through  a friend of a friend of a friend) or that someone decided to “cold call.” Surprisingly, most authors are flattered and pleased to attend. They sell a few extra books and get direct feedback. We’re always careful to get together a half hour or so before the author arrives to speak frankly about the book (and to make sure we didn’t all hate it!), and that we have a reasonable set of questions to ask. Happily, we have, for the most part, enjoyed those books. We have also welcomed authors: mystery writer R.J. Harlick (whose sister is one of the members) with The River Runs Orange, Terence Rundle West (twice)–Ripe for the Picking and Not In My Father’s Footsteps;  David Sacks, author of a history of the alphabet (!) that was issued under three different titles: Language Visible, Letter Perfect, and the less imaginative The Alphabet.   We will be hosting a new author this May, Missy Marston and her book The Love Monster and next fall, Ruth E. Walker whose book is Living Underground.

And, on many occasions, we’ve taken our “excursions” by way of the silver screen, pairing books with their filmed versions, usually on video but sometimes in theatres.  One member has a sister who’s a film-maker, so we’ve been lucky enough to view some of her films. I should mention too that we have an annual Christmas party (last year accompanied by a karaoke outing after dinner), with a secret Santa gift exchange.

Why take trips? Why not just meet in your homes and keep it at that?

The local trips or discussion with authors brought added context to the discussions and, frankly, were a lot of fun. Didn’t we all enjoy our school field trips a lot more than just the classroom discussion?! The same principle applies here, I think.


Book Smart: The Discussion All Book Lovers are Having

I have to share this little video from today’s New York Times in which David Carr and A. O. Scott discuss print versus electronic books.  This is exactly the discussion that all book lovers are having right now.  David Carr is very funny.  He used to live in Minneapolis.


Book Club Travel Tales

Cindy Hudson with her daughters.

I’m hearing more and more stories from book club members about the terrific lit trips, large and small, that their groups have taken.  I love it! So, I’m starting a new category for this blog: “Book Club Travel Tales,” where you can find ideas in one spot, over there in the right hand column.

In previous posts, for example, I’ve mentioned the travels and events of Go On Girl! Book Club.  Here’s a new addition to the list, a Q and A interview with Cindy Hudson of Portland Oregon.  She is the author of Book by Book: The Complete Guide to Creating Mother-Daughter Book Clubs and has a great blog on the same topic, MotherDaughterBookClub.com. Not surprisingly, she’s active in more than one book group and here she shares a few of their travel experiences.

What kind of trips or outings has your book club enjoyed?

Over the years, I’ve gone on several outings with my book groups. After one group read Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, which focuses on eating locally, we organized a wine tasting day with a potluck lunch focused on ingredients from a local farmers market. We talked to the winegrowers, sipped a bit of their wine and ate incredible food. We discussed what we had learned about eating locally as well as ideas we had for changing their food habits going forward. The pictures from that day show all of us with big smiles. The event was such a hit we knew that we’d be looking at other opportunities to take our group on the road at least once a year.”

We’ve had several movie events, too. We went to see the movie Millions when we read the book by Frank Cottrell Boyce, and we went to see The Secret Life of Bees when we read that book. Also, there were several weekends away that were not book themed, rather they were a chance for us all to get away together and have fun, and we also talked about the book we had read.

Why not just stay home and do your regular meeting?  Why go on an outing or trip? 

Going out as a group is not only fun, it helps you see a side of other members in your group that you don’t get to see in your regular meeting setting. I’ve gone on outings with my mother-daughter book clubs and in the reading group I’m in with my husband, and in each case, we aim for one or two what we call “field trips” a year.

Do these trips bring the members of your group closer together?   

I have found that there’s never enough time to socialize with everyone at book club. In only a few hours we have dinner, try to catch up with other members about what has happened in their lives in the last month or so, and discuss the book. When I go on outings or weekends away I treasure the relaxed atmosphere and the ability to really spend time one-on-one with others in the group. And there’s always a lot of laughing during group time.

Once, when I was on a weekend away with my mother-daughter book club, we started playing music after dinner and the moms began to dance. We all had a good laugh when the girls expressed surprise that their moms would want to dance. They found out we’re people too, and sometimes we just want to have fun.

Any tips or suggestions for people organizing book-related travel?

Make sure you have a good idea of budget before hand. You don’t want to plan something at a luxury hotel if some of the members of your group won’t be able to afford it. Also, if you do go away for a night or more, make sure there are plenty of opportunities for people to branch off and go on their own adventures as well as stay with the group.

Follow Cindy on Twitter at twitter.com/momdtrbookclub


Go on Girl! This is one inspiring book club. Part One.

While some book groups struggle to meet regularly or to get everyone to read the book goongirlbookclubbefore they meet, others take the reading group concept to a whole new level.

In the course of doing research for my upcoming book, Off the Beaten Page: The Best Trips for Lit Lovers, Book Groups, and Girls on Getaways, I was looking for book clubs that travel and do other interesting things together– beyond the typical meeting that includes book discussion, wine, and dessert, not necessarily in that order.  One of the most impressive groups I came across was the Go On Girl! Book Club.  They’re headquartered in New York but GOG has become a national organization with 30 chapters in the following 13 states.

Their mission: to encourage the literary pursuits of people of African descent. The group started with Lynda Johnson, Monique Greenwood, and Tracy Mitchell who all worked at Fairchild Publications as editors. Says Johnson, “Tracy and I were avid readers. She loved coming of age stories and I loved any and everything surrounding the Harlem Renaissance writers. Tracy and I were both reading the novel No Easy Place to Be by Steven Corbin and would discuss it over lunch. Monique heard our intense conversations and originally thought we were discussing real people. We told her she had to read the book; she did and joined our conversations. Based on our discussions Tracy suggested we get a small group of friends together and form a book club. It was during that first meeting that the foundation for GOG was set. Ironically, we had 12 women attend, all with different tastes in books.”

This formed Go On Girl! Book Club’s commitment to read 12 different genres a year, one for each month. They also decided to limit their group to 12 women to make for manageable book discussions. Eventually, various members of the group moved to other parts of the country and they established GOG chapters wherever they went, starting with Washington, D.C. and Chicago. They didn’t set out to form a national organization.  “Our growth happened very organically,” says Johnson.

But they eventually became women on a mission. “We chose to read writers from the African diaspora to support those authors and experience stories about ourselves. The publishing industry didn’t realize that a large black readership existed until the publication of Terry McMillan’s books. We quickly discovered so many wonderful black writers who weren’t getting recognition or support. We wanted to let them know that we realize they exist and are reading and discussing their books. We hosted book signings and readings for some of those authors and then decided to recognize them with our annual author awards weekend. We just wanted a platform for African American writers. There were so many great writers out there who we felt were following the tradition of Toni Morrison, James Baldwin and a host of literary writers from the Harlem Renaissance but not getting the recognition they needed. We felt we could do that for them as a book club and discuss and enjoy some great stories at the same time.”

Ultimately, GOG became a national, non-profit reading organization.  They give out scholarships to encourage writing of stories about the black experience. “We decided to give a scholarship to an aspiring writer studying literature/communications and an unpublished writer struggling to be read. And, if that’s not enough, for the last 20 years, the GOG chapters have come together in a different location each year, to connect with each other and to host author awards that have been attended by some of the luminaries of the literary world including Walter Mosely, Bebe Moore Campbell, Terry McMillan, and many others.

Impressed?  Read more about the Go On Girl! book club in my next post.

The American Stories Behind Downton Abbey

My book club is reading The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin this month.  It’s a fairly 852358-BK-1-lrglight read, but just right to get any fan of Downton Abbey primed for the launch of season three this Sunday, January 6, on PBS.

Americans have a long-standing fascination with the British aristocracy. For example, while millions of Londoners piled in around Buckingham Palace to enjoy the festivities surrounding Kate and William’s wedding in 2011, there were probably an equal number of Americans (clad in funny hats) who stayed up all night to watch all the pomp and romance of the royal wedding on TV. And, we’re totally hooked on Downton Abbey,  the story of  life in the Edwardian country house of the Crawley family and their cadre of servants that has become stratospherically popular, I mean Justin Bieber popular.   Through the American Heiress, and other books, most notably, Edith Wharton’s The Buccaneers, American readers have a special connection to the Downton drama. Here’s why:

Before the fictional Cora became Downton’s Lady Crawley, she was the beautiful daughter of a dry-goods multimillionaire from Cincinnati. In the real world of the late 1800s, similarly wealthy American families, especially the newly rich who had yet to scratch out a place in Unknownoutrageously closed and rigid social world of this country’s wealthy elite, (the “500” of Mrs. Astor), looked across the pond to forge their reputations. The young women of these families became known as “buccaneers.” Marriage to a British aristocrat brought status to the social climbing wealthy Americans and their wealth brought an infusion of vital cash to the increasingly impoverished British aristocrats, who because of taxes and inheritance rules, were forced to cast a wide net to find relationships that could bring new wealth to support their estates. A win-win?  As you’ll see from the following book list, not always.

To Marry an English Lord, by Carol Wallace and Gail MacColl, offers an excellent nonfiction look at these buccaneers who inspired the Downton Abbey series. To-marry-an-English-Lord-for-web

The Gods of Newport by John Jakesabout life among the wealthy in Gilded Age Newport, Rhode Island.

Amanda Mackenzie Stuart, Consuelo and Alva Vanderbilt: The Story of a Daughter and a Mother in the Gilded Age. The non-fiction story of how Consuelo Vanderbilt was forced  into a loveless marriage to the Duke of Marlborough.

Also, any of Edith Wharton’s other classics such as The Age of Innocence, The House of Mirth and The Reef, offer a great look at life among America’s Gilded Age elite.