A very special feature of this year's Friends of the Library Richard D. Whittemore book and author luncheon was the reading of selected letters to and from Noel Coward. Professional actors Simon Jones (as Coward), Geoffrey Johnson and Pauline Lee read from the critically acclaimed book by Barry Day, The Letters of Noel Coward. (The New York Times called it "a first-class biography.") Day, who was one of the speakers at this year's luncheon, edited and published this compilation of letters to and from the immensely talented Noel Coward, playwright, lyricist, actor, composer, director, writer, and much more. Day said of Coward, "He did everything, knew everything. He was a Renaissance man of the 20th century."
A great deal of Coward's was with his mother Violet, with whom, Day said, "He had 50 years of love and irritation." The book includes letters, most of them previously unpublished, to and from leading celebrities of Coward's time, among them Ira Gershwin, Daphne du Maurier, Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, Tallulah Bankhead, David Niven, Elizabeth Taylor, Virginia Woolf, and many, many more. They also included members of the royal family. The selections that were read at the luncheon brilliantly captured Coward's acerbic wit, intelligence, wide knowledge, diverse interests, frankness, and high level of literacy.
Barry Day, like Coward, was born in England. He currently splits his time between New York, London and Palm Beach. In addition to seven previous books about Noel Coward, Day has written about Dorothy Parker, Oscar Wilde, Johnny Mercer, and Rodgers and Hart. He has written and produced numerous plays and musical revues and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and a trustee of the Noel Coward foundation. He was awarded the Order of the British Empire.
Also presenting at the luncheon was Brian Hall, author of Full of Frost: A Novel, a fictionalized version of the complex and somewhat tragic life of the brilliant poet, whose works are known to almost everyone, but whose complex life is not so well known. Hall, who was a featured speaker at the 2003 book and author luncheon, said, "It's great to be back." Hall noted that Frost never made notes before he spoke publicly; in the same spirit, Hall spoke without notes.
Hall described his approach to the book, which consists of a lot of very small chapters to capture the feeling of poetry in prose form. He said, "The idea of each chapter is to present that little moment, and when it's done, stop." Rather than following Frost's life chronologically, Hall said that he followed "threads." One of those threads was Frost's visit to Russia, where he met with Khrushchev in the middle of the Cold War. Hall said that when he ran across an account of that trip, the kernel of the book was formed. "Before writing this book," he said, "I really didn't know a lot about poetry." The book, Hall said, "is as factual as if it were a biography."
Brian Hall is the author of two other novels and three books of nonfiction. His articles have appeared in The New Yorker and The New York Times Magazine. He lives with his family in Ithaca.
This year's book and author luncheon was held at a new site-the lovely Harbor Links Clubhouse. In her welcoming remarks, FOL President Amy Bass thanked the community residents for passing the library budget by an overwhelming two-to-one majority. Following the luncheon there was a raffle, and both authors remained after the formal presentation for book signing and informal conversation.