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A Jazz Party for the Books

Photo by Oliver Scott Photography, Jazz Age Lawn Party

I’ve always been a little obsessed with the 1920s, and after seeing Woody Allen’s summer movie Midnight In Paris, which is about a struggling writer who magically gets to visit Paris in the 1920’s every night at midnight and party with literary giants like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Earnest Hemingway, I became even more interested in what it must have been like to live in that time. As luck would have it, every summer New York City hosts a fabulous Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governor’s Island, in Manhattan harbor. Live music, an excuse to get dressed up in your finest vintage glad rags, and the best people-watching the city has to offer? I was sold.

But how do you get in the mood to travel back in time? Books, of course! In preparation for the Jazz Age Party I listened to the audiobook of Vixen by Jillian Larkin on my drive to the city, and it was the perfect frothy story to immerse myself in, from the slang to the historic costume details. The era was filled with so many tantalizing details that still ring true to teen lives today. Have you ever wanted to rebel like a flapper and get a liberating haircut? And Prohibition! What teen can’t relate to the forbidden nature of bars during the 13 years when alcohol was illegal in the U.S.A.?  For the extreme sports daredevils of the 21st century, look no further than Charles Lindberg’s trans-Atlantic flight to get a sense of how excitingly groundbreaking this era was. With larger than life figures from Babe Ruth to Harry Houdini, almost anyone can find a way to relate to the Roaring 20s. And there are so many other great Jazz Age stories to choose from!  Here are just a few of my favorites:

Bright Young Things by Anna Godbersen. From the author of the Luxe series, a new story about flappers and small town girls making it big in New York in 1929.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. So I’ll admit that this is one of my favorite books of all time, and just hope that it hasn’t been poisoned for anyone by the stigma of Assigned School Reading. Poetic writing, flawed characters, and lush descriptions of what made the glamorous society of the 1920s so legendary, from one of the figures who helped the era to earn its reputation as “The Roaring 20s.” You can also watch John Green lead an online discussion of the book.

Harlem Summer by Walter Dean Myers. It’s impossible to think about the 1920s without thinking of the Harlem Renaissance. So much of America’s culture was shaped in that time and place, especially musically. Myers puts readers in the very heart of the action through Mark Purvis, a 16-year-old saxophonist who finds himself on the wrong side of the mob.

Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen. This 2007 Alex Award winner makes my list because the dust of the Depression in 1932 is offset by the fantasy of running away to join the circus. The tarnished glamor of the setting only heightens the romance.

If you’re looking for other suggestions to take you back to a bygone era, check out the 1998 Popular Paperbacks list called “Teens From Other Times”

So what heroes from fiction would you like to hang out with? What era would you go back to visit? And what books have inspired you to throw a party fit for a flapper?

— Mia Cabana, currently re-reading The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton (once you get started on the history, its so easy to keep going back farther… Woody Allen seems to agree!)

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  1. Oh man, this post makes me jealous of your excellent party-going opportunities AND makes me want to read books set in the gilded age!

  2. I love this post! Makes me want to drink bathtub gin and read one of these books!

  3. Mia Cabana Mia Cabana

    Maybe the secret to making historical fiction appealing to teens is to throw a big fun party!

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