I have a friend who is an avid reader of half a dozen book blogs, most of which she tends to forward to my personal e-mail as recommendations despite the knowledge that my own self-imposed To Be Read Pile is incredibly vast and I do not require her help in making it vaster. However there was one recent book that I immediately put on hold, and it paid off.
“Laura, you must read this, it is basically a book about us,” my friend urged. Now, I don’t believe she has actually read it yet, but just going from the description of “two college graduates travel to Europe, shenanigans ensue” was enough to convince me that there were some striking similarities. I have not traveled much, nor would I proclaim myself to be culturally astute—I regularly find myself embarrassed whenever I eat at an Indian restaurant, both me and the waiter constantly trying to outdo the other in a Politeness Contest, and me never quite knowing whether the check should be paid at the table or when I leave. By contrast my friend believes herself to be more wise in the world, banking on the fact that she has been to Europe and parls Fransay,* though I’m sure both of us would stick out like sore Midwestern thumbs were we to embark on a voyage together. Basically our experience would be doomed to be like that of the dynamic duo of Cornelia and Emily in this book.
Our Hearts Were Young and Gay is a humorous travelogue by Cornelia Otis Skinner and Emily Kimbrough, is much in the vein of Mark Twain’s A Tramp Abroad. Set in the Roaring Twenties, Skinner and Kimbrough set forth straight out of graduating Bryn Mawr with the intent of seeing the world. Once on their boat, they are promptly shipwrecked. While still in harbor in Canada. Eventually, despite several misadventures and cultural gaffes, the girls make it to England and later France. Tonally the book reads with the light bubbly sense of humor of Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day as well as a generous dose of slapstick and “What ho” wit of P.G. Wodehouse.
Throughout the book the girls’ adventurousness and ignorance lead them into compromising, embarrassing, or simply outrageous situations. But although they are often mortified, they are never discouraged, still seeking out new experiences and learning new things about the world around them. In many ways this is a “coming of age” story, where Cornelia and Emily want so desperately to be seen as mature adults…and then failing miserably. In the end, though, I think that feeling of inexperience and naiveté don’t really go away for most people. At least, not me, and now that I’ve admitted as much I sure hope I’m not alone in this sentiment. But I suspect I am not alone, and that, after all, most adults are to some extent “faking it.”
**Yes, I know I misspelled it. But I’d rather misspell it on purpose than conjugate the verb parlez incorrectly by accident. Besides, the way I spelled it is accurate to how I mispronounce French to begin with.