It has taken me the entire summer to appreciate Chasing Sylvia Beach by Cynthia Morris. No, I’m not a slow reader, but I happened to take a big chunk out of this novel just before doubling my workload so I could go on vacation the last week in August with no work hanging over me. I had to put it down.
So here I was today, post-vacation, this beautiful escapist novel staring at me, my precious butterfly bookmark tassel hanging out showing so much more to be read. But the apartment needed cleaning (badly) and so I set up a little reward system. Scrub down the bathroom and you get to resume the book.
Over 200 pages later, I put it down, satisfied. I can smell the disinfectant in the spotless bathroom and I’ve enriched myself. Not a bad Saturday afternoon.
What Morris has done here is get me thinking about what is beyond this life, and in turn, what is possible in this one. She made me transcend, through her main character Lily, time and what is considered typical and just go with it. Lily time travels to 1937 Paris and comes to know her literary hero, Sylvia Beach, the expat who founded the famed Shakespeare and Company bookstore there.
I love that as it all transpires, Lily examines what she is doing and what she misses about the life she left behind in Denver. As I read, it felt like a call to examine my own existence. Would I time travel given the chance? Is that escapism or a better option? Hmmmmm.
A favorite passage:
Here, in Paris’s dark past, she was experiencing what she’d always wanted: she was writing; she was working alongside Sylvia Beach, her cherished heroine; she had met and kissed a very charming French man; and she was finally involved in something bigger than her — even if she didn’t know what it was about — and didn’t that make life more interesting than any day she’d spent in Denver?
And while Morris and I share a love of books, I was delighted that she taught me some things along the way in her story. Lily was more schooled in the world of Hemingway than I, but I was also heartened that her parting gift was Ulysses, a great work I made a point of reading during a journalism fellowship 15 years ago.
I hope Morris will bring Lily back in a sequel so I can find out if she liked it, too.