Monday, August 22, 2011

William Morgan – Monadnock Summer

David R. Godine has put the romance back into writing books and publishing them.

Many of us writers have endured the book signing at the mega-store at the suburban mall. You sell maybe seven copies in two hours, and are rewarded with a cup of tepid coffee. Or worse, I once signed books at a pleasant independent bookseller's in Providence, RI. But it was snowing, hard, and no one showed at all, much less bought books. Too often meeting the public in this way is just something to be endured in the vague and vain hope of sales and fame.

But my book signing experience left the realm of the dreary and morphed into the wonderful with an event in August. Monadnock Summer: The Architectural Legacy of Dublin, New Hampshire was launched at the annual meeting of the local historical society. Just as Dublin is not your average rural town, its historical society is rather special, having among other things a fireproof archives building. For example, the society's president, Henry James, is the son of a modern architect, Sandy James, who worked in town; his grandfather, Alexander James, was an important painter in Dublin; his great-grandfather was William James, the philosopher and brother of Henry James. The histo
rical society supported my research and then my book. And now they were offering a limited edition of hardbound copies of Monadnock Summer to their members.

Knollwood, the house where the meeting was held, is a rambling shingle-covered estate built for President Taft's Treasury Secretary, Chicago grocery mogul Franklin MacVeagh, in 1899. (Taft visited twice while president and planted a tree here.) The architects were Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge, the successor firm to the great H.H. Richardson of Trinity Church fame. One of the largest houses in town, Knollwood has an 180º distant view, including an unparalleled prospect of the mountain. The desk where I sat to autograph books had been Secretary MacVeagh's. After the festivities at Knollwood, I spent the night at David Godine's Dublin house, one time summer home of Mark Twain.

Book signing at Knollwood, August 12th, 2011, with Henry James
(photo by Sharron Monaghan)

If we put aside the circumstances of a visit to a most unusual town (hence the need for a book about its architecture), all of this would not have happened were it not for Godine himself. I knew of David at Dartmouth – one of the Ray Nash circle, a budding letterpress master – but I did not know him. Years later, Godine turned down one of my book proposals (rightly so, I know now). About the time the publisher to whom I was contractually bound expressed puzzlement at the value of an architectural history of one village in New Hampshire, I reconnected with David at a supper party in Dublin. When I sent him the manuscript, he replied within a few days: "This is well researched, well written, is about a subject I love, and why wouldn't I want to publish it."

The publisher-author experience from that point on was one of the best ever. Carl Scarbrough is a meticulous editor and a talented designer. That Monadnock Summer is a beautiful book reflects the entire David R. Godine aesthetic. Why wouldn’t I be happy?

William Morgan, among the preeminent chroniclers of New England's built environment, has documented the patrimony of this rich region in numerous books and teaches at Princeton and Brown. David R. Godine, Publisher is proud to publish his latest, Monadnock Summer: The Architectural Legacy of Dublin, New Hampshire, in August 2011.

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