I was delighted to see this coverage of Off The Beaten Page in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. I hope it inspired others to make their travels “literary travels.” Check out the article, Literary traveler goes ‘Off the Beaten Page’ and please be sure to tell your friends.
The subject of this photo challenge is to share a photo that for “foregoes the straightforward.” No one did that better than Frank Lloyd Wright, as you can see from these pictures of a Wright-designed house in Ebsworth Park, Kirkwood, MO, near St. Louis. It was completed in 1955 for Russell and Ruth Krause. I couldn’t photograph the interior of the home, but the house is famous for its Wright-designed furnishings, which are odd and uncomfortable-looking, as full of zig-zags as the exterior. But, I think creativity was Wright’s goal, not comfort.
Wright’s life was even more fascinating than his architectural ideas and it’s been the subject of a number of books that I highly recommend, especially if you’re going to visit any of his famous buildings. Be sure to read the non-fiction book Many Masks: A Life of Frank Lloyd Wright by Brendan Gill, and the fiction works Loving Frank by Nancy Horan, and T.C. Boyle’s The Women.
One of the literary blogs I enjoy following is Book Journey, where Sheila DeChantal comments on books, her book club and her life. She did a nice write up of my appearance at the Brown Bag author series at the Brainerd Public Library. Thanks to the Friends of the Brainerd Public Library and to Sheila. Be sure to check out and follow Book Journey.
There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks.–Raymond Chandler, “Red Wind”
I’ve never been a huge fan of crime fiction, but I’ve found I can’t resist Raymond Chandler, the king of the detective novel, because he can turn a phrase like no one else. Sit down with one of his classics–Farewell, My Lovely or The Long Goodbye, for example–and you’ll soon find yourself on the hunt for “Chandlerisms” like “as conspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food.” His dialogue and similes are so crazy and over the top I want to memorize them and use them in my own conversation.
Beyond the similes, you start to recognize in Chandler’s work all of the hallmarks of “hard-boiled” and “noir” detective fiction–the shadowy scenery, the sleazy criminals, and Phillip Marlowe, the epitome of the tough and surprisingly idealistic private eye. The dialogue, the setting, and the characters are all as familiar as the nose on a washed-up boxer’s ugly mug, but it was Chandler who created them and, in the process (along with fellow crime writers Dashiell Hammett and James M. Cain), pioneered a uniquely American literary genre and style.
Bogie and Bacall brought his hard-boiled characters to life on the big screen and his stories have been the subject of parody by everyone from Woody Allen to Steve Martin to Garrison Keillor. As Paul Auster, a modern crime writer, says, “Raymond Chandler invited a new way of talking about America, and America has never looked the same to us since.”
The Los Angeles area of the 1930s and 1940s was rife with organized crime, greed, and celebrity scandals. In particular, daily life in Santa Monica, the beachfront town on the western edge of Los Angeles where Chandler lived for a time and which appears as Bay City in his books, offered plenty of material from which to draw his stories.
If you visit Santa Monica and the Los Angeles area, it’s fun to read Chandler’s books and those of his crime fiction contemporaries and picture the area as it was then. He described it as a place with “lots of churches and almost as many bars.” It’ll add a little depth to your understanding of the area, beyond Hollywood and UCLA/USC football. Esotouric offers literary tours of Los Angeles including one focused on Raymond Chandler and another on James M. Cain. You might also enjoy their podcasts. In addition, the Santa Monica Conservancy offers walking tours that cover Santa Monica history.
Santa Monica’s “mean streets” have been replaced by glamorous shopping streets such as Montana Avenue and the Third Street Promenade. Yet, enough of the old Bay City remains today to get your imagination moving, including the famous Santa Monica Pier and Main Street’s deco-era City Hall, the scene of many of Phillip Marlowe’s coming and goings. Of course, there’s still the harbor and “beyond it the huge emptiness of the Pacific, purple-gray, that trudges into shore like a scrubwomen going home.”
Salem, Massachusetts, makes a nice day trip from Boston and if you’re there, a stop at the House of Seven Gables is a natural for lit lovers or anyone who likes the occasional glimpse of really old colonial homes. Author Nathaniel Hawthorne’s cousin, Susanna Ingersoll (and other ancestors who played a part in the Salem Witch Trials of 1692), lived in the house and he visited there frequently. He stated that his book, The House of Seven Gables, was a complete work of fiction, based on no particular house. Nonetheless, as you tour the tiny, dark rooms typical of the era in which it was built (the late 1600s), it’s easy to see how such a house could set the author’s imagination rolling. The site also offers a chance to tour the house in which Hawthorne was born (which was moved to this site) along with several other buildings of that period.
If you haven’t read The House of Seven Gables, the novel follows a New England family and explores themes of guilt, retribution, and atonement, with overtones of the supernatural and witchcraft. For me, the book doesn’t compare to Hawthorne’s classic, The Scarlet Letter. However, it was an inspiration for the horror fiction writer H.P. Lovecraft who called it “New England’s greatest contribution to weird literature.” That seems a backhanded complement to me.
While you’re in Salem, I also recommend stopping at the Salem Maritime National Historic Site, a short walk from the House of Seven Gables. The National Park Service operates it and you can wander through old wharf buildings, the Custom House where Hawthorne worked when he wasn’t penning famous novels, and other buildings of the colonial era.
Salem was, of course, the home of the famous Salem Witch Trials which were the focus of Arthur Miller’s classic play, The Crucible. The National Park Service Visitor Center (2 Liberty Street) is a great place to get quality background on that incident. It’s ironic that Salem has made a cottage industry out of the witch trials when our puritan ancestors were so thoroughly opposed to witches. Unless you’re a fan of super-tacky witch paraphernalia and occult museums, stick with the Park Service displays on the subject and skip the other witchy tourist traps.
You know you’re in Minnesota when you find yourself at the intersection of Hiawatha Avenue and Minnehaha Parkway. Overlooking the Mississippi River, Minnehaha Park is one of Minneapolis’s oldest and most popular parks. Minnehaha Falls, the park’s centerpiece, became a tourist destination after the publication of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem “The Song of Hiawatha” in 1855.
Longfellow never visited the falls in person and there’s not much fact in the poem; the real Hiawatha lived in New England. Nonetheless,
“Hiawatha” became America’s most widely read poem of the nineteenth century, spreading the fame of Minnehaha Falls and the uppermost regions of the Mississippi and the “shores of Gitche Gumee by the shining Big Sea waters.”
The falls are on Minnehaha Creek which flows from Lake Minnetonka west of Minneapolis, through the city and on into the Mississippi River. By late summer they are often reduced to a trickle. In fact, one year (almost 50 years to the day) President Lyndon Johnson was scheduled to view the falls on a visit to Minneapolis, but they were almost bone dry. In order to create something worth seeing, the city had to open many fire hydrants, upstream and out of sight, to feed water to the creek.”
That’s not the case this year. June brought the all-time largest rainfall in Minnesota, which created new bodies of water and raised the level of the Great Lakes. That meant little Minnehaha Falls became a raging torrent and it lured professional kayaker Hunt Jennings to give it a go. Over the falls he went to the surprise of many bystanders–and he emerged in one piece.
I don’t suggest kayaking over the falls, but if you visit the park, a safer bet would be to try out Sea Salt Eatery for fish tacos and other goodies amidst the beauty of the park.
The article offers inspiration for anyone in a book club who has been thinking of organizing a book-inspired getaway. You’ll want to read other articles there, too, about the “positive difference books make in people’s lives.” So true.
Travel to the places you read about. Read about the places you travel.