Books and Bourbon

Winter has finally arrived, and I’m ready. So is the “Cherry Bounce,” a bourbon-cherry-Cajun concoction I’ve been fermenting for six months in a crock in the basement. I’ve got stacks of wood to stoke the fire and stacks of books to stoke my mind. On a cold night they make mighty fine companions. Who needs the tropics? If you can’t appreciate a Rehoboth winter then you don’t deserve a Rehoboth summer.

Truly, wintertime is a great time for sipping bourbon and reading books. As you hunker down for the next couple of months, let me suggest a few titles.

West of Rehoboth was written by Alexs Pate and published by HarperCollins in 2001. Pate is a professor of African American and African Studies at the University of Minnesota and the author of numerous books, including the New York Times bestseller Amistad: A Novel. Amistad was subsequently made into a movie. Pate spent time in West Rehoboth as a boy and his descriptions of juke joints on Hebron Road and segregation should be interesting to anyone with a penchant for Rehoboth history. West of Rehoboth is out of print, but you can get it via the Internet or at the Rehoboth Library.

DuPont: Behind the Nylon Curtain by Gerald Colby Zilg is a fascinating and often unflattering look at the du Pont family and the Du Pont Company from their beginnings in 18th Century France and highlighting their influences on American invention, business, and politics. The book was nominated for a National Book Award in 1974. I’ve read that when the first edition came out the du Pont family played hardball with publisher Prentice-Hall and anyone who dared review the book favorably. Prentice-Hall caved in and slashed its print run and advertising, despite high demand for the book. Ultimately Prentice-Hall let it go out of print altogether. It’s a long book — 500+ pages — but it’s worth it if you’re interested in the family or the company. I found a copy via the Internet.

The Beach: The History of Paradise on Earth is written by Lena Lencek and Gideon Bosker, who specialize in pop culture and who have collaborated on nine books. The Beach examines the shifting significance of beaches to Western cultures through the centuries. Lencek and Bosker talk about how the beach reflects cultural beliefs about sexuality, class divisions, aesthetics, and leisure. I enjoyed their discussion about why Americans first began going to the beach, including the story of the early Methodist seaside communities on Martha’s Vineyard and in Ocean Grove, New Jersey. Ocean Grove, you might not know, was the inspiration behind the founding of Rehoboth. Some critics call the book history light and deride its focus on the American beach experience. So what? Great old movie posters, photographs, artwork, and odd tourist brochures are sprinkled throughout the book. It was published by Viking in 1998.

Jim Thompson: The Unsolved Mystery. In 1967, American businessman Jim Thompson disappeared into the jungle in Malaysia. He was never found. People disappear all the time. But, Jim Thompson wasn’t just anyone. He was a Delawarean, a bon vivant, a designer of country houses, the father of the Thai silk industry, an art collector, a businessman, a historian, and the most famous American living in Asia. He designed the first Rehoboth bandstand and several cottages around town. The book was written by William Warren and published in 1998 by Archipelago Press in Singapore. The first half of the book tells the story of Jim Thompson the interesting man. The second half explores various hypotheses about his disappearance. The book is out of print, but can be purchased on the Internet.

The Big House: A Century in the Life of an American Summer Home by George Colt is much more than the story of a family that can no longer afford to keep their summer house on Cape Cod. It’s also a well-written tribute to old beach houses, the kind without recessed lighting and wall-to-wall carpeting. You know, houses with wooden floors, porches, outdoor showers, and lots and lots of lamps. If you like elegant writing and days at the shore, you’ll enjoy this book, published in 2003 by Scribner and available in paperback.

Cherry Grove: 60 Years in America’s First Gay and Lesbian Town tells the story of how this little enclave on Fire Island evolved in the 1930’s into America’s premier gay resorts. Hurricanes, theme parties, public sex, tensions with the straight community – lesbian author and anthropologist Esther Newton covers it all. She spent five years talking with old residents of the Grove to pull it all together. I found it quite surprising, the parallels between Cherry Grove and Rehoboth. The book was published in 1995 by Beacon Press.

As I Lay Frying: Tales from Rehoboth Beach is Fay Jacob’s second book. Like her first one, it’s a compilation of her Letters columns. But, in addition to her commentaries, Fay tells the story of Anyda Marchant and Muriel Crawford, a lesbian couple who met in the 1940’s and purchased their home in Rehoboth almost fifty years ago. It’s a story that’s part of our local gay history and Fay’s book is the only place you can get it. You can get in various locations around Rehoboth, including BrowseAbout and Lambda Rising. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, this is not a blatant attempt to suck up to Fay because she’s my editor.

Philistines at the Hedgerow: Passion and Property in the Hamptons. If you think things are out of control in Rehoboth, wait until you read about what’s been happening in the Hamptons over the last 20 years. Obnoxious neighbors. Petty fights. Slimy real estate agents. Inept governing bodies. Author Steven Gains chronicles the history of the Hamptons, combining gossip, real estate, and social commentary to tell the story of one of America’s great summer resorts. It was published by Little, Brown and Company in 1998.