“You are all a lost generation.”
My first favorite author (long before I discovered Jane Austen) was F. Scott Fitzgerald.* Perhaps I read The Great Gatsby or This Side of Paradise for school or even one of his exquisite short stories (which quickly became one of my favorite genres) in college, but I somehow stumbled upon the genius and wit of Fitzgerald. He introduced me to the madcap history that is the 1920s and, in this post, I highlight some amazing true stories that bring the decade to life.
The Great Swim by Gavin Mortimer. Not only does this interesting book tell you the history behind the race to be the first woman to swim the brutal waters of the English Channel, it tells the individual stories and heartbreaks of each of the four women in their quest (and the effect of the event on the winner’s life), the cultural history of swimming and especially women’s swimming as a sport, as well as the immense popularity of sports celebrities.
Everybody Was So Young: Gerald and Sara Murphy, A Lost Generation Love Story by Amanda Vaill. In the 1920s, Gerald and Sara Murphy were like the inventors of the “in” crowd (or to use the slang of the 1920s, the “it” crowd). They seemed to start the trend of leaving the states for Europe where it was much cheaper to live after the Great War. This is their love story but it’s also a history of the expatriate community of writers and artists (which included such luminaries as Hemingway, John Dos Passos, Pablo Picasso, Dorothy Parker, and Cole Porter to name but a few) who lived their dreams of freedom and creativity. It was fun while it lasted.
Flapper: A Madcap Story of Sex, Style, Celebrity, and the Women Who Made America Modern by Joshua Zeitz. What a crazy book! The new modern woman comes alive in this cultural history describing the changes in the social acceptance of the independent woman. From the daring swimsuits, the bobbed hair–as an aside, read Fitzgerald’s short story, “Bernice Bobs Her Hair“– and shorter skirts to smoking and drinking in public with men, to the right to vote and individual profiles of fashion designer Coco Chanel, southern belle Zelda Sayre (Mrs. F. Scott Fitzgerald) and actresses Colleen Moore, Louise Brooks, and Clara Bow. Fascinating and wild.
Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin: Writers Running Wild in the Twenties by Marion Meade. In this engaging literary biographical quartet, Meade explores the lives and influence of four women who epitomized the Jazz Age: poet Edna St. Vincent-Millay, satirist, critic, writer Dorothy Parker, writer, artist,dancer Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald, and novelist and playwright Edna Ferber.
Note: This post is the second in a series about wonderful historical non-fiction books I’ve read over the years.
*Stay tuned for a future post.