Beverly Hills Literary Escape

I’ve been reading with great jealousy about the first annual “Beverly Hills Literary Escape” which takes place October 22-24.  Since I’m just returning from a trip then, I can’t make it to Beverly Hills, but the lineup sounds fantastic and hopefully there will be a second annual event. Their web site has already inspired me to place an order for David Ulin’s The Lost Art of Reading: Why Books Are Important in a Distracted Time.

Organizers bill the event as “an exciting weekend of unique events designed for the discerning reader. An intersection of literary culture and entertainment, BHLE brings together food, wine and books. Offering insider access to the country’s most sought after authors through novel experiences set amidst the luxury of Beverly Hills.”  Check out the activities and the list of authors who will be on tap.

http://bhliteraryescape.com

My book club has read several books by authors who will be at this event.  Some favorites include Thrity Umrigar’s The Space Between Us and Gail Tsukiyama’s novels Women of the Silk and The Samurai’s Garden.

I chuckled when I read that a portion of proceeds from event tickets and book sales will benefit the Beverly Hills Public Library.  I haven’t spent a lot of time there, but from what I’ve seen of Beverly Hills, their library is probably in pretty good shape already. Nonetheless, the event’s organizers, Julie Robinson and Tyson Cornell, are hitting what is for me the sweet spot where literature connects with community—when readers go “beyond the book” so share ideas and meaningful conversation with authors and fellow readers, face to face.

For those of us who won’t be mingling in the luxury of Beverly Hills, the event is a good one to inspire our own local literary “salons” on a smaller scale.

Advertisements

Breathless in Boulder, Colorado

Boulder rocks, as they say, especially if you’re outdoorsy, a foodie, or a ghost aficionado. Within easy reach of downtown Boulder there’s a great variety of outdoor activity, though at 5430 feet, a brisk walk taxes the lungs of flatlanders like me. Slow and steady, plus a lot of water, does the trick. You also have to pace yourself with eating to stretch out the enjoyment.

Hit the Trail
Try the hikes that start at Chautauqua Park, at the base of the Flatirons, the symbol of Boulder. This is also rock climbers’ heaven.

While you’re there, visit the Colorado Chautauqua House, a historic landmark that began with the turn-of-the-century movement educate and enlighten working-class citizens by creating gathering places dedicated to learning. Known as Chautauquas, the public spaces offered a place for traveling lecturers, politicians, writers and entertainers to deliver their message to large crowds. In continuous operation since July 4, 1898, the Colorado Chautauqua is one of only three remaining Chautauquas in the country. Today, it is home to concerts, cultural events, educational programs, recreation and historic preservation. The cabins here look like a cozy place to stay and the dining hall comes highly recommended.

You can hit the trail on wheels, too. Rent bikes and hit the Boulder Creek Trail, which for me was slow ride up and a very fast ride down. It’s also fun to cruise the beautiful campus of University of Colorado, and then stop for a beer outside at a huge array of downtown bars and eateries. For further relief from all this exertion—and to sooth knotty muscles–an afternoon at the spa at the luxurious St. Julien Hotel is just the tonic. The hotel offers Sunday morning yoga, too.

Foodie Fare
Bon Appetit named Boulder the “foodiest town in American” in its October, 2010 issue.
To sample some of the reasons why Boulder topped the list, stroll the Farmers Market then grab coffee, tea, breakfast or lunch at the fabulously detailed Boulder Dushanbe Tea House, a gift of Boulder’s sister city Dushanbe in the Republic of Tajikistan.
From 1987 -1990, more than 40 artisans created the decorative elements of the Teahouse, including its hand-carved and hand-painted ceiling, tables, stools, columns, and exterior ceramic panels. My other favorite dining experiences: Salt and The Kitchen, both located on Pearl Street.

Bookish in Boulder
Pearl Street is also home to a number of independent bookstores, with both new and used books. I like the Boulder Book Store with its café next door. While you’re there, check out Boulder: A Sense of Time & Place Revisited by Silvia Pettem.

Finally, if all this doesn’t make you breathless, perhaps a good fright will to the trick. Fans of Stephen King’s book, The Shining, will want to make a trip to Estes Park (a drive of about 45 minutes) for a look at the Stanley Hotel, King’s inspiration for the book. They offer The Stanley Hotel Historic Ghost Tour. For anyone planning to stay in this lovely hotel, they assure visitors that the spirits there aren’t as malevolent as those in the novel.

"Little Bee" and the National Reading Group Month Book List

October is National Reading Group Month, which in my opinion should really be a year-round celebration. The National Women’s Book Association sponsors events and activities during the month. Part of the mission for NRGM is to increase public awareness of the joy and value of shared reading. Each year they prepare a list of featured books that are excellent suggestions for book groups. See
http://www.nationalreadinggroupmonth.org/ggr_selections.html

One of my book clubs is currently reading a book from that list, “Little Bee,” by Chris Cleve. Thinking in terms of relationship between literature and travel, this book inspires the armchair variety of travel.   The story revolves around a British couple and a Nigerian girl and their brutal experience on a lonely beach in Nigeria.  Not to give too much away but the novel was published in Britain with the title “The Other Hand.” While I love adventure travel, some destinations are best visited through the pages of a book.

Franzen and Fitzgerald in St. Paul

I just finished Jonathan Franzen’s book, “Freedom,” much of which is based in Minnesota, particularly, St. Paul. Anyone visiting St. Paul can walk through many of the areas that set the stage for the opening chapters of the book. That includes the restaurant W.A. Frost, which offers world-class outdoor dining, and it’s a place where my book club meets annually for dinner, conversation, and to soak up the ambiance in a neighborhood rich in literary tradition.

This is the neighborhood where Franzen’s characters, Walter and Patty, get their start, renovating a house on the fictional Barrier Street which is, in reality, St.Paul’s Ramsey Hill neighborhood. It’s also the place where F.Scott Fitzgerald grew up (Frost’s was a drug store then) and where he worked on his first novel, “This Side of Paradise,” along with classic short stories. Check out the St. Paul Public Library’s Fitzgerald “Homes and Haunts” itinerary http://www.stpaul..ib.mn.us/pdf/fitzgeraldbrochure.pdf

Fitzgerald is known as the chronicler of the Jazz Age. One wonders if Franzen, who, in “Freedom” chronicles the cultural flashpoints of the last three decades, will have the staying power of Fitzgerald.

Splitting the Tab Made Easier

One of the most annoying and embarrassing features of traveling with a group is paying up at a restaurant.  Separate checks?  Did everyone ante up the right amount?  She has two drinks and I had none…. (Okay, I admit, it’s often women who do this.)

It’s not just dining out.  The problem of booking and paying for things as a group—things like theater tickets, tours, or group lessons is usually a headache, no matter how organized the group.  One interesting alternative to this hassle is a new service called WePay.com The online service lets groups settle expenses without the hassle and without toting around large amounts of cash. It allows people to set up shared online banking accounts and simplify the process of collecting and spending, group money.

Here’s how it works:  You open an account, add everyone who will pay in, and set the amount due.  When all have paid in, We Pay allows one person, the group administrator, to spend the money via a prepaid debit card, electronic transfer or a request that WePay send out a paper check. Group members can see who paid or not and make comments on the account site and shame nonpayers into paying, which, depending on your sense of humor, could be a lot of fun.

Of course, WePay makes money from your transactions. It collects fees from money deposited into the accounts: 50 cents per deposit when the account only accepts collections from bank accounts and 3.5 percent of the deposits when the account accepts collections from both bank accounts and credit cards.  Still, paying the tab in such a hassle-free fashion might be worth it.   www.wepay.com

A Literary Taste of Chicago

 

Chicago History Museum

 

I was in Chicago last weekend for a writers conference and ventured out into the sweltering heat for a trip to the Chicago History Museum www.chicagohistory.org/

For anyone who has read just about any story that takes place there (Erik Larson’s Devil in the White City, Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie, Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, and on and on), this museum reinforces that reading experience with relics, tours, special exhibits and more—everything from the Great Fire to meatpacking, the World’s Fair to a great collection of historic wedding dresses. My favorite quote on the wall there is from Mayor Richard Daly in 1968:  “This is Chicago, this is America.”

Also, this is the city of the first skyscraper, and buildings so high that, in the words of Carl Sandburg, “They had to put hinges on the top two stories to let the moon go by.” The history museum and the Chicago Architecture Foundation offer boats tours on the Chicago River that blend architecture, history and a chance to be out on the water. http://caf.architecture.org/

Happiness and Meaningful Conversation

Anyone looking for scientific understanding of why book clubs are so popular, check out the July issue of Scientific American Mind. An article entitled “Skip the Small Talk: Meaningful Conversations Linked to Happier People” reports on a study of the relationship between conversation and happiness. It quotes one of the co-authors of the study, University of Arizona psychologist Matthias Mehl who says “the mere time a person spends in the presence of others is a good predictor of the person’s level of happiness.” According to the study, the happiest subjects also participated in a third as much small talk and had twice as many in-depth conversations as the most unhappy participants.

Of course, if you’re in a book club, you already knew that.

Read about the study online at http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=skip-the-small-talk

Travel to the places you read about. Read about the places you travel.