By February 8, 2009 0 Comments Read More →

Emily Hahn: A Heroine for the Ages

When I was a bookseller, I took delight in seeing the sales increase on the books I handsold or wrote “shelf-talker” reviews for. Somehow, seeing circulation statistics rise on a book in the library doesn’t give me quite the same thrill. There is something about your words, your recommendation, inspiring enough confidence for a customer to open their pocketbooks and keeping the book in print.

One book whose sales went way up after I wrote a little shelf-talker review (it wasn’t selling much at all prior) was Nobody Said Not to Go: The Life, Loves and Adventures of Emily Hahn by Ken Cuthbertson.

Emily “Mickey” Hahn was born in Missouri in 1905, and went on to do extraordinary things for a young woman of her time throughout her life. First there are her many travels abroad on her own: to the Belgian Congo, England and China. She became a New Yorker writer when a friend shared her letters with an editor there. Her style was crisp, clear, witty and full of the vigor she brought to everything she did. Hahn went on to write essays, fiction and nonfiction, amassing over 50 books on a variety of topics.

But it is her time in Shanghai in the 30s and 40s that really showcases the confident, convention-breaking woman she was. Let me show you what I mean:

“Though I had always wanted to be an opium addict, I can’t claim that as the reason I went to China.”

While in China, Hahn did smoke opium. She also became the lover of a married Chinese poet. She had an affair with and later married British spy Charles Boxer, who shared her sense of adventure.

Ken Cutherbertson’s biography of Hahn chronicles the amazing life of this fascinating woman who was well-known in her day but is less so now. Seal Press also re-released her essay collection, Times and Places, under the name No Hurry to Get Home, which culls together her writings about her childhood, time as the sole female geology student at the University of Wisconsin, to her time in Shanghai, to her life as a writer in New York. I happen to also really love her memoir, China to Me, which gives even more insight into that tumultuous period in Hahn’s life.

Emily Hahn is a wonderful subject for a book group. I can absolutely see a group digging into these books and more to discover and relive Hahn’s affairs and adventures, all told with her signature style and humor. She packed more into one lifetime than seems possible.

Whether you find these books at your local bookstore (the biography appears to be out of print) or library, you will not be disappointed. I still can’t get enough of the enigmatic Emily Hahn, and I daresay that if you seek her out you will be just as riveted and enthralled.

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About the Author:

Misha Stone is a readers' advisory librarian with The Seattle Public Library. Follow her on Twitter at @ahsimlibrarian.

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