Searsport bookstore snags big author for event

David McCullough
Photo courtesy of Left Bank Books in Searsport
David McCullough
Posted Sept. 04, 2011, at 3:04 p.m.
Last modified Sept. 04, 2011, at 6:30 p.m.

SEARSPORT, Maine — Left Bank Books may not be the largest bookstore around, and Searsport is far from the biggest town. But that won’t matter to the many book lovers and history buffs expected to come to a free book signing event with Pulitzer Prize-winning author and historian David McCullough on Saturday, Sept. 10.

“We just look forward to a line around the block,” bookstore co-owner Marsha Kaplan said Tuesday. “It is such a treat for a small town that generally gets overlooked and driven-through to have an author of this stature come.”

She, Barb Klausmeyer and Lindsay Krause own the 750-square-foot bookstore, where excitement has been building over McCullough’s visit.

“I look forward to seeing the people who come by — I always enjoy meeting readers,” the author said Thursday. “Searsport is a delightful town. Also, I believe strongly in independent bookstores, and Left Bank Books is a great example of a store in that category … The atmosphere there is conducive to friendship and friendliness. I expect to feel right at home.”

He’ll sign copies of his newest book, “The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris,” a group portrait of dozens of important Americans who studied and worked in Paris between 1830 and 1900 before returning home with ideas that changed the United States.

McCullough, a part-time Camden resident who also has narrated the documentary series “The Civil War” and the movie “Seabiscuit,” has been to the bookstore before, in a memorable 2005 visit when his book “1776” was published. People lined up around the block then, Kaplan said, and the town’s only police cruiser drove back and forth — probably less to keep the peace than because such a crowd is unusual in the midcoast community.

“We’ve never had a day like it,” she said.

For six years, every time one of the owners saw McCullough on television or read something that he’d written, they would write him a little note to let him know that they had great memories of the day he came to Left Bank Books. Now that he’s returning, they are thrilled.

“It’s just a complete privilege, and he is the most gracious man,” Kaplan said.

McCullough’s new book came about after years of research and writing. He said in a 2009 interview that he was ready for a change of scenery, after spending much time writing about Colonial America in 2001’s “John Adams” and, of course, “1776.”

“I’ve never had a better time than with this [subject,]” he said of writing about the Americans in Paris.

Some of the important travelers he wrote about are the poet, essayist and anatomy professor Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., pioneering doctor Elizabeth Blackwell, abolitionist Charles Sumner and painters John Singer Sargent and Mary Cassatt.

“They were ambitious to excel in work that mattered greatly,” McCullough wrote. “Not all pioneers went West.”

He said last week that he hopes people who read the book will learn about the men and women who shaped the country’s history in sometimes unheralded fields.

“I also felt the whole time I was working on the book that there were wonderful stories about exceptional people, and they were stories I wanted to tell,” he said.

Through the researching and writing process, he made a realization that he hopes readers will make, too.

“While talent is rare and valuable, talent alone is not what brings about the excelling of the kind that this book is about,” McCullough said. “What is consistent through all of the individual experiences that I’ve written about is how hard each of these people worked. Very often, the people with the most talent are the people who work the hardest.”

Left Bank Books is too small a venue for a reading by the author, Kaplan said that those who come out won’t be disappointed.

“He’s wonderful to talk to about why reading is so important,” she said of McCullough. She also had a plea meant for the ears of the public relations department for other publishing houses.

“Authors of equal or smaller stature turn us down all the time, saying ‘You’re too small!’” she said. “But even small towns in Maine have wonderful readers.”

David McCullough will sign his newest book, “The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris,” at 10 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 10, at Left Bank Books at 21 East Main St. in Searsport. The event is free and open to the public. For more information or to reserve copies of his books, call 548-6400.

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