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The Gilded Chalet by Padraig Rooney

I will be the first to admit that I am not one of the most well-read book readers. I know very little of great literature other than the books I had to read for school (such as The Scarlet Letter, Moby Dick, Great Expectations, etc). So, when The Gilded Chalet:Off-piste in Literary Switzerland by Padraig Rooney came in the mail, I was not sure what to think. Once I started reading the book, I grew to enjoy its excerpts from great Western writers and its history of those writers in Switzerland and the world.

From the publisher:

From Rousseau to the Romantics, from James Joyce to James Bond, from Conan Doyle to Le Carre, from Hemingway to Hesse to Highsmith – Switzerland inspired them all.

In the summer of 1816 paparazzi trained their telescopes on the goings on of poets Byron and Shelley – and their womenfolk – across Lake Geneva. Mary Shelley babysat and wrote Frankenstein. Byron dieted and penned The Prisoner of Chillon. His doctor, Polidori, was dreaming up The Vampyre. Together they put Switzerland on the map.

Switzerland has always provided a refuge for writers attracted to it as an escape from world wars, oppression, tuberculosis. or marriage. While often for Swiss writers from Rousseau to Bouvier the country was like a gilded prison or sanatorium. The Romantics, the utopians (Wells, D. H. Lawrence) and other spiritual seekers (Hesse), viewed Switzerland as a land of milk and honey, as nature’s paradise. In the twentieth century, spying in neutral Switzerland, spawned espionage and detective fiction from Conan Doyle to Maugham, Fleming, and Le Carre.

Padraig Rooney finds the rooms crammed with curios: lederhosen and Lepidoptera, spas and spies, fool’s gold and numbered accounts. Literary detective work and treasure chest, history and scandal, The Gilded Chalet will make you strap on your skis and come off-piste to find out the real Swiss story.

Rooney clearly knows his literature. He examines nearly two centuries of writers and their works and how those writers were influenced by their stays in Switzerland. It is a magnificent tribute to a country many only see as being a banking and holiday country, with a dash of international organizations.

I am fascinated to learn little things about the writers in the book. For instance, I had no idea that Lord Byron and Percy and Mary Shelley hung out together in Switzerland. They were quite close.  In fact, Mary Shelley’s stay near Lake Geneva greatly influenced her writing of Frankenstein.

Although Rooney has benefited from his stay in Switzerland (teaches English at International School Basel), he is not shy in criticizing it – everything from its Calvinist roots to its shady dealings with Nazi Germany to its international banking scandals. Rooney seamlessly weaves these criticisms in with his discussions of the various writers.

A Happy Marriage Across Party Lines

Living together so long has taught us that it is possible to tolerate our opposition on serious issues because we agree on what matters most, which is that the camaraderie we have created in every other sphere is more basic, and far more precious, than ideology. Nobody makes me think and laugh, or comforts me when I cry, the way he does. The things that bring us together are deeper than the things that could have torn us apart; we can finish each other’s sentences on every subject but politics. He loves me for what I am, which includes the ways I am maddeningly different from him.

The wife of one of my favorite authors, Richard Brookhiser, discusses marriage with someone on the opposite end of the political spectrum.

Source: A Happy Marriage Across Party Lines

Meet Brock Clarke (The Happiest People in the World)

Via Book Page (I am reading The Happiest People in the World at the moment so if you wonder why all the Brock Clarke links …)

Jonah Goldberg on writing a book

The problem, you see, is that people who don’t write books don’t know what an unending, unyielding ass-ache they are. I’d compare them to a non-stop flight in a middle seat between John Goodman’s sweaty former body double who’s now jobless because he “let himself go” and a runny-nosed, cotton-candy-loving small child who is hard to distinguish from a deadly pathogen vector.

But I can’t make that comparison — because writing a book is worse than that. You see there’s nothing “non-stop” about writing a book save the constant yearning to either reach the destination or the unending sound of the siren on your shoulder counseling you to give up and beach the ship. Even though you’re often surrounded by people, you’re always alone in that community-of-one called “the author of your unfinished book.”

It’s more like a years-long journey with constant layovers, cancelled planes, and rerouting through Newark. Every time you push away from the keyboard, it’s like deplaning just long enough to see if Wolfgang Puck Express has finally decided to more accurately rename itself “Bowel Stewery on the Go.”

I know what you’re thinking right now: “Stewery isn’t a word.” To which I ask, “That’s your objection to this rant?”

Jonah Goldberg in today’s G-file

Authors we have lost and other collected, er, miscellany

(image: Yin and Yang Koi Fish)

Sorry for my lackadaisical posting of late even by my standards. Football season started, I had home and car repairs, my family has been passing around viruses like a science experiment gone wrong, and I have been preparing to teach a Sunday School class, so not a lot of time for book reviews or blog posts.

Sadly, today I learned of the passing of two authors that have been featured here on CM and motivated to post. Probably the most well-known, and most recently featured, is Graham Joyce who passed on Tuesday after a fight with cancer.

I had most recently read Some Kind of Fairy Tale and enjoyed it (even if I did have a few nits to pick).  Sad to lose such a creative and interesting author at such a relatively young age (Joyce was 59). R.I.P.

I also learned this week of the passing of Dr. W. Wesley McDonald. McDonald was the author of Russell Kirk and the Age of Ideology.  A book which was the subject of the first review I had published in a magazine.  I also had the chance to interview Dr. McDonald (Part I and Part II).

I had something of a more personal connection to Dr. McDonald (besides the fact that both of us received our Master’s from Bowling Green State University) as we belonged to some of the same list serves centered on Russell Kirk and traditionalist conservatism, and I had actually connected with him on Facebook. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends.

Rather than ending on this sad note, allow me offer some good news. A couple of authors who I have regularly enjoyed have books coming out:

Rock star writer, and “Friend of the Blog”, Gwenda Bond is coming out with Girl On A Wire which is a Kindle First September Pick.  As result of the Kindle First deal, I am reading it now.  Plus, she is coming out with a YA novel starring Lois Lane in 2015.

One time fellow lit blogger Laila Lalami has just had her second novel, The Moor’s Account, released.  I grabbed a copy from the library and it is in the TBR soon pile.  I did a Q&A with Lalami in 2009 after the publication of her novel Secret Son.

And today I found out that Brock Clarke has a new novel coming out in November called The Happiest People in the World. I am scheming even as we speak to get my hand on an ARC. I was able to do Q&As and interviews with Clarke in the early to mid 2000s when he was at the University of Cincinnati. Maybe I will try to catch up with him and discuss his last couple of novels …

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