Meghan Cox Gurdon is very enthusiastic about the Omnium Gatherum in The Wall Street Journal today. A fine start to the Memorial Day Weekend for C. Whistler.
If you were to distill the several essences of Adirondack forests, invigorating lake waters, family traditions and a zest for life, and then capture them in the form of a book, you probably could not come closer than “Charlie Whistler’s Omnium Gatherum” (Harper, 258 pages, $29.99). With its rough green cover and mottled pages, this old-fashioned gallimaufry of letters, maps, newspaper clippings, postcards and vintage photographs purports to be drawn from the archives of the fictional Whistler family. In fact, it is the elegant contrivance of writer Philip Delves Broughton, an Englishman who makes his home in the United States and who, in these pages, reveals a deep love of this country and its adventuresome spirit.
The conceit of the book is that five generations of Charlie Whistlers, dating from the mid-19th century, have kept scrapbooks and that a sixth Charlie Whistler, a boy today, has borrowed from his forebears to compile his own “omnium gatherum.” One of the first tidbits that Charlie gives us is a diary entry from 1878, in which his work-obsessed great-great-great-grandfather blames Henry David Thoreau and “Walden” for having bullied him “into looking at my life afresh—and sown disorder.” Thus chastened and inspired, Charles Wilberforce Whistler would build the cabin in the woods on Raquette Lake that would “serve as a foundation for the Whistlers to meet the world on their terms and no others.”
In that same cabin, many decades later, our modern Charlie has pulled together this fascinating collection, in which we find a 1923 chronicle of a trip through the Khyber Pass in a jalopy, the travelers’ “stomachs churning and our brains clattering around in our skulls like dried peas in a can”; a list of the American presidents with the names and types of their pets; the poetry of Aeschylus and William Carlos Williams; accounts of shark attacks, deer hunts and bobsledding; and a lovely letter of consolation after the death of a beloved dog.
Vigorous, eclectic and beautifully designed, this book for young readers is also rather daring. These Adirondacks have no cell towers in them. There’s no family dysfunction, and the only nod to technology’s despotism is the urging of Charlie’s father that he “live a big life” and not one “shrunk to the size of a screen.” Hurrah for that!