By BARRY SINGER
“Winston Churchill was 40 today,” Margot Asquith noted in her diary on 30 November, 1914. “I wrote and congratulated him on his youth. He has done a great deal for a man of 40.”
Forty is pretty young for most of us — especially a man like Winston Churchill, as assayed by Prime Minister H. H. Asquith’s gimlet-eyed wife—but forty for a bookstore is pretty old. On April 11, 2023, Chartwell Booksellers turned 40. As the world’s only Winston Churchill bookshop, one satisfying path for celebration suggested itself—a festival of the best books about Winston Churchill published during our forty year existence.
Out of this, a video reading series has been born: 40th Readings at Chartwell Booksellers, a chronological voyage through these forty books via forty video readings of their opening pages by guest readers (or the the authors themselves). Weekly.
Yes, an ambitious undertaking. But what fun!
We launched 40th Readings at Chartwell Booksellers precisely on April 11 with actor John Lithgow (who played Winston Churchill on The Crown) reading The Last Lion, William Manchester’s magisterial Churchill biography, the first volume of which was published in 1983, our opening year.
My favorite William Manchester line from Mr. Lithgow’s brilliant reading:
“But Winston Churchill was not a reasonable man. He was about as sound as The Maid of Orleans, a comparison he himself once made. ‘It’s when I am Joan of Arc that I get excited.’”
The following week we presented Book 2, Churchill & Roosevelt: The Complete Correspondence, a three-volume tome whose October 1984 publication party was our first-ever in-store Churchill event, including a brief reading by the man responsible, editor Warren F. Kimball. To our delight, Mr. Kimball returned via video to read Churchill and Roosevelt’s initial exchanges.
My favorite line—from FDR:
“My dear Churchill—It is because you and I occupied similar positions in the World War that I want you to know how glad I am that you are back in the Admiralty.”
Book 3, from 1985, was The Fringes of Power: 10 Downing Street Diaries 1939-1955, by Churchill’s legendary wartime Private Secretary, Sir John Colville. Its opening entries were superbly read by Chartwell Booksellers’ favorite guest reader, award-winning actor Daniel Gerroll, whose many readings at the store included one in 1989 with, of all people, Alec Baldwin that you can listen to HERE.
My favorite Colville Fringes line:
“Unfortunately I can see no Lloyd George on the horizon at present: Winston is a national figure, but is rather too old.”
Our fourth video should just be appearing by the time you read this—Road to Victory, the seventh volume of Sir Martin Gilbert’s Official Churchill Biography, published in 1986; the publication party again held at Chartwell Booksellers. Our 40th Readings at Chartwell Booksellers guest reader: Sir Martin’s widow, Esther, Lady Gilbert.
Barry Singer is proprietor of Chartwell Booksellers in New York City and author of Churchill Style (2012).
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