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Why I'm Writing This Book

Birthdays at the Beach: The Idea

One of my New Year’s Resolutions for 2012 was to...finally…read Moby Dick.
Wanting to reward myself for this noble intention, I thought: I should get started
on this tome in the Herman Melville Room at the Sylvia Beach Hotel: that would
be an appropriate start to such an endeavor!

Around the time I had this inspired idea, I had just read a wonderful book about
books: Tolstoy and the Purple Chair, by Nina Sankovitch, which recounted the
author’s year of reading (and reviewing in a blog) a book a day for a year (!) This
memoir, which had been recommended by a member of my book club, reminded
me that there are other committed bookworms in the world like me, and that
there might be quite a number of readers who would appreciate a book about
one of my favorite places in the world: the Sylvia Beach Hotel, in Newport,
Oregon.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the place, the Sylvia Beach Hotel is the
latest incarnation of an imposing turquoise building perched on the edge of Nye
Beach on the Central Coast of Oregon. The structure has been there about one
hundred years. As the Sylvia Beach Hotel, it just celebrated its 25 th anniversary.
It is the namesake of a woman named Sylvia Beach, who ran a famous bookstore
(Shakespeare & Company) in Paris, which was frequented by ex-patriots such as
Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald during the 1920’s, and the entire place
is devoted to the care and feeding and comfort and joy of the Gentle Reader:
http://www.sylviabeachhotel.com/home.cfm?dir_cat=39281

Each room is dedicated to (and decorated “in the style of” an author). There are
no telephones or televisions or internet connections in the rooms, but you can
find all of the works of the authors for your reading pleasure. The restaurant is
named “Tables of Content”, provides two dinner seatings, and a fabulous
breakfast. There is a library on the top floor, just in case a guest did not arrive
with enough of his or her own reading material. And, of course, the beach is just
outside the door.

So, back to my concept: I decided I wanted to share the Sylvia Beach Hotel with
the world (as I was still running into people, even avid book readers in Oregon,
who had never heard of it). I wanted to write about:

  • the history of the hotel;
  • Sylvia Beach and Shakespeare & Company;
  • the two best friends (Goody & Sally) who now own the hotel;
  • the hotel authors and their lives and their works;
  • the author rooms and the stories of their decoration by the friends of the owners;
  •  my own stays at the hotel;
  • my own reading memoir relating to the hotel authors; and
  • Newport and the Central Coast of Oregon.
But, of course, I needed a structure, a plan, a theme, and I finally had a “light
bulb moment”: I would stay in every room at the Sylvia Beach Hotel on the
birthday of the author. He/she and I would have our own private little party.
And I would bring a modest birthday gift to the room: an item suitable to the
rest of the décor that would remain behind (because it’s only polite to bring a
present to a birthday celebration). Hence, my title: Birthdays at the Beach.

My first step was to attend the 25th Anniversary celebration of the hotel on March
10, 2012. As there is no “Sylvia Beach Room”, I stayed in the brand new Amy
Tan Room (which replaced the original Tennessee Williams Room). I was only
the third guest to sleep in Amy Tan, whose birthday is in February. But Amy, as
was I, was born in the Year of the Water Dragon (1952), so 2012 is an especially
auspicious year for both of us, according to Chinese astrology. We both turn 60
this year, which is (most likely) the only year in our lives when both our birth
animal (the Dragon, one of 12 in the zodiac) and our birth element (Water, one of
five) coincide again after our birth date. So, to honor the Anniversary, I brought
a small gift to the Amy Tan Room: a porcelain dish, decorated with two dragons.
And, after careful consideration, I found the perfect spot for it: the back of the
tank in the bathroom, where it is just the right size to contain the spare roll of
toilet paper.

So, that’s my project. I have invited friends and family to join me on my trips to
the Sylvia Beach Hotel over the coming year. But I have had wonderful times
there on my own, with my books, and with other like-minded guests. I have no
idea how long it will take me to do all the reading and writing this book will
require, but I anticipate it all with great pleasure.

Kelly Paige

Lake Oswego, Oregon

April 18, 2012

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