A Thousand Words - A Vision of the Year 2012, circa 1912

A delightful look at what the French thought the year 2012 would look like, including Projector phones, flying cars, submarines, and vacations to the moon!


Literary Pilgrimages in the U.S.A.

Being a certified book geek, my idea of the perfect vacation is a nice literary pilgrimage.  I may be a little loosy-goosy in my definition of what constitutes a literary pilgrimage - could be anything from a visit to an author's home to hoisting a pint in a pub that just happens to have been featured in a favorite novel - but I know 'em when I see 'em!

Following is a list of particularly well-know literary destinations in the U.S.  I freely admit that the list is skewed towards authors I like ... for instance, I can't imagine ever wanting to visit anything having to do with Stephanie Meyers, so you won't find any Twilight-related sites here.  But you will find options for paying homage to American favorites such as Harper Lee, Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, and a host of Transcendentalists.

(With thanks in advance to the authors of all the websites, books and blogs that I've looted for ideas!)
  1. Alabama
    1. Monroeville.  The birthplace of Harper Lee. Every May, Mockingbird enthusiasts descend upon the city for a staging to the play adaptation by the Monroe County Heritage Museum.
    2. Montgomery.  Here you'll find the only museum - housed in a residence Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald once occupied - dedicated to the famous couple. 
  2. California
    1. Cannary Row.  No homage to Steinbeck is complete without a visit here.  Sadly, the Row has been all redeveloped so it doesn't much resemble the story any more, but if you travel a little farther, to Salinas, you can visit the Steinbeck Home & Museum.
    2. Glen Ellen.  California's so proud of the fact that Jack London lived in their fair state, they've turned the whole area into Jack London State Historic Park!  You can tour the cottage where he wrote his books, and then enjoy the rest of the park, which includes a dam, a lake, and a bathhouse built by the author.
  3. Connecticut
    1. Hartford.  Though it's a long way from the Mississippi, Mark Twain build a gorgeous house here which is still available for touring.  And if that doesn't take the whole day, no worries: Harriet Beecher Stowe lived next door.  The site now houses the The Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, devoted to exploring the contemporary face of race relations, class and gender issues, economic justice and education equality.
  4. District of Columbia.  I'm sure many authors have lived here, but if you come, be sure to time your visit with the annual National Book Festival, hosted on the National Mall.  Tons of authors, readings, and events, making this a book geek must-do.  Or, make a weekend of it and include a trip to the National Archives and the Library of Congress.
  5. Florida
    1. Key West.  Hemingway spent many years here with second wife Pauline.  You can see the studio where he wrote, plus about 100 descendants of the cats he used to keep there - they are everywhere! (And don't forget to order a drink at Sloppy Joe's, one of Papa's favorite bars!)
    2. Orlando. As long as you're in Florida, you probably ought to consider a visit to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, a whole theme park devoted to the Harry Potter franchise.  I hear that the crowds are atrocious and everything's expensive, but where else in the world can you buy a wand and order a pint of butter beer?
  6. Georgia
    1. Atlanta.  Visit the Tudor revival apartment house where Margaret Mitchell penned her immortal tome of the Civil War, Gone With the Wind. 
    2. Milledgeville.  Huh?  Turns out this oddly named town is host to Flannery O'Connor's farm, Andalusia.  She wrote some of her best works here, including Wise Blood, and died on the farm in 1964 at the age of just 39.
    3. Savannah.  Come see the city that inspired Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and, while you're there, stop by Flannery O'Connor's childhood home.
    Kinsella's Field of Dreams
  7. Iowa.  Yes, there are literary things to see in Iowa!  Thanks pretty much exclusively to W. R. Kinsella, who set so many of his short stories in this state, to include Shoeless Joe.  In Dyersville you can visit the 'Field of Dreams' they reconstructed for the movie version of the short story; or, in Iowa City, visit the Black Angel statue that makes such a memorable appearance in The Iowa Baseball Confederacy.
  8. Kansas.  Would you believe I can't find a single museum or locus for Frank Baum's Oz books in the whole state? So if you want to get your Oz on, I guess you'll just have to book a room and wait for tornado season.
  9. Louisiana.  With respect to literature, this state is all about New Orleans: Vampires and zombies and voodoo ... oh my! Ann Rice lived here while penning her vampire stories (she's since moved). John Kennedy Toole set his Confederacy of Dunces here. (I hear they've even erected a statue of Ignatious T. Reilly somewhere in the city.)  And if that wasn't enough, it's the home of one of my favorite fictional characters, James Lee Burke's Dave Robicheaux.
  10. Maryland.  Stop through Baltimore and visit Edgar Allen Poe's grave.  If you time your visit right you may even encounter the "Poe Toaster," a mysterious individual who, every year on the anniversary of Poe's death, leaves roses on his grave.
  11. Massachusetts
    1. Arrowhead. Cozily ensconced in the second-floor library of this historic farmhouse, Herman Melville wrote his most famous novel, Moby Dick.
    2. Boston. Take a walking tour of the homes and haunts of Emerson, Hawthorne, Thoreau, Alcott, Longfellow, Henry James, Charles Dickens and more.
    3. Cambridge.  Here you'll find the home of Henry Longfellow, one of my favorite American poets. The house also served as headquarters for General George Washington during the Siege of Boston in 75-76. In addition to its rich history, the site offers unique opportunities to explore 19th century literature and arts.
    4. Concord.  Talk about killing two birds with one stone!  Before The Wayside served as Nathaniel Hawthorne's lifelong home, it housed Louisa May Alcott and her sisters (who called it Hillside).
    5. Concord.  Ralph Waldo Emerson was another notable Concord resident.  Emerson House is still furnished with the writer’s memorabilia and keepsakes. Here, Emerson lived most of his adult life, wrote his famous essays “The American Scholar” and “Self Reliance,” and died in 1882.
    6. Concord.  Turns out almost as many writers died as lived in Concord, as a visit to Sleepy Hollow cemetery will attest. Visit the graves of Henry Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Louisa May Alcott, and other notable New England authors.
    7. Cummington.  Here you'll find the summer home of poet William Cullen Bryant.  Editor of the Saturday Evening Post for 50 years, Bryant had an unparalleled impact on American thought and literature.
    8. Harvard.  The ranks of authors who have attended Harvard include Henry James, John Updike, Norman Mailer, and poet e.e. cummings.  Plus, it's a lovely campus in its own right.
    9. Lenox & Pittsfield.  Home to The Mount Estate, where Edith Wharton lived out much of her life. This gorgeous property includes three acres of formal gardens designed by Wharton, who, in addition to writing terrific books, also happened to be an authority on landscape design - who knew?
    10. Sudbury.  Here you'll find Longfellow's Wayside Inn, the oldest operating inn in the country but, of course, most famous for being the eponymous location of Longfellow's Tales from a Wayside Inn.
    11. Walden Pond.  Transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau famously "roughed it" on the banks of this pond from 1845-47, commemorating the experience in a novel of the same name.  Thoreau may have been something of a wuss (I've heard he actually spent a lot of the time hanging out with friends/relatives, letting them feed him), but his pond is undeniably pretty.
    12. West Hartford.  Visit Daniel Webster's house and take the tour - maybe you'll pick up some tips for your next game of Scrabble!
  12. Minnesota
    1. Walnut Grove.  There's a Little House on the Prairie Museum there that's supposed to be quite lovely.
  13. Mississippi
    1. Rowan Oak.  William Faulker's Mississippi home, a Greek Revival edifice that pre-dates (and survived) the Civil War, is visited by thousands each year.  I haven't been there, but am picturing sleepy lanes lined with ancient live oaks trailing draping tendrils of Spanish moss ...
  14. Missouri
    1. Hannibal.  A pilgrimage must for fans of Mark Twain and two of America's most famous fictional citizens, Tom Sawyer and Mark Twain.  I hear the town's somewhat cheesy, but who cares when you can tour Indian Joe's actual cave!
    2. Springfield.  Fans of Little House on the Prairie won't want to miss the Laura Ingalls Wilder Home & Museum just outside of Springfield. 
  15. Nevada.  There's Vegas, and then there's Hunter S. Thompson's Vegas. If you're visiting the latter, I suggest you bring an extra bottle of aspirin and drink lots of water.
  16. New Mexico.  If you're travelling through Taos County, consider calling in at Kiowa Ranch, the only home ever owned by D.H. Lawrence.  Though he didn't live here long, he did write most of St Mawr here, and began The Plumed Serpent.  The site has been added to the Register of National Historic Places. 
  17. New York
    1. Amherst. Poet Emily Dickinson was born and lived most of her life at The Homestead, an estate here.  The museum offers guided tours of the house and grounds.  Maybe the gardens will inspire you to pen a few untitled poems of your own.
    2. New York City is full of sites that have featured in literature - way too many to list here.  So I'll confine my recommendations to two locations, both hotels: 1), the Algonquin, where Dorothy Parker and the Vicious Circle once met; 2) the Chelsea, in honor of its long history as the haunt of drug addicts, alcoholics, writers, and sometimes all three, to include Thomas Wolfe, Dylan Thomas, Tennessee Williams, Mark Twain, Allen Ginsberg, O. Henry, Jean-Paul Satre, and Jack Kerouac; and 3) Library Way, a stretch of sidewalk on East 41st Street between Fifth Avenue and Park Avenue that features famous quotes from 96 or so famous authors.
    3. Tarrytown.  Here you'll find Washington Irving's Sunnyside nestled on the banks of the Hudson River.  After touring the museum, by all means stretch out on the grounds and take a nap - who knows what might happen!
    4. Long Island.  Walt Whitman, the "Poet of Democracy," was born here in 1819. The farmhouse, West Hills, has since been added to the National Register of Historic Places. The museum houses tons of Whitman artifacts, which is appropriate for so complex a man.
  18. Texas.  Baylor University in Waco hosts a Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning Museum.  Soooo romantic!  Or, just drive across the state taking in the ruggedly beautiful scenery and reliving in your mind every Louis L'Amour or Zane Gray book you ever read.
  19. Virginia
    1. Chincoteague Island. Yes, there really are wild horses there.  And one of them is bound to be named Misty.
    2. Poe House/Museum in Richmond
    3. Richmond.  Edgar Allen Poe definitely moved around!  But if you miss his house in Philadelphia, his dorm room at the University of Virginia, and/or his grave in Baltimore, there's always the house he lived in while residing in Richmond, now a museum.


Book Look - Yiddish Policemen's Union, by Michael Chabon

Have just finished my second time through the book and remain dazzled. In this outing more than any of the others that came before, Chabon modernizes and Americanizes the magical realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez to create a work that seamlessly blends fantasy and reality to create an alternate universe that is at once exotic, meticulous, poignant, and brutal.

What starts off as a fairly familiar-seeming plot (morally and emotionally bankrupt detective with nothing left to believe in but the truth, no matter how devastating, investigates a crime, uncovering layers of duplicity, brutality, and betrayal) soon assume entirely unfamiliar contours when you realize that the setting is an alternate universe (in which the Jews, post-WWII, have been settled not in Israel, but in Alaska); the crooks are a sect of ultra-conservative Jews; the locals are Tlingit Indians; and the murdered man may be the world's long-awaited Messiah. Now add chess, espionage, ancient Jewish law, snow-streaked streets, bush pilots, heroin, love, yiddish slang, wolves, red cows, and miracles ... top with Chabon's brilliant prose ... mix thoroughly, and watch something brilliant happen.

Ultimately, this book isn't about a crime: it's about a succession of rootless people yearning for a place to belong. It's the timeless search of the Jews for a homeland, of Meyer Landsdown for a reason to believe, of a boy messiah to be accepted for who he is rather than who everyone wants him to be, that elevates the book to something much, much more ambitious than simply an exercise in yiddish noir. As anyone who has read Kavalieri and Clay knows, Chabon is as deft at creating fully-realized, sympathetic characters as he is at crafting dazzling metaphors. You don't have to believe Chabon's alternate history to understand that beneath the literary fireworks, this is a story about diaspora and the fundamental yearning of all living things to find their way back to the place where they belong.