Tag Archives: book club

Literary Adventures: The Five Best Lit Trips for Fall in the U.S.

Fall is the best time for literary travel just about anywhere, including Newport, Rhode island.
Fall is the best time for literary travel just about anywhere, including Newport, Rhode island.

If you’re a traveler, fall, not Christmas, is the “most wonderful time of the year.” Same sites but fewer crowds, cooler temps, and often, lower prices. It’s the perfect time to go so many places, you may find it hard to choose a destination. The answer lies on your bookshelf. Whether they’re classics or “beach reads,” your favorite books can offer guidance and inspiration for a “lit trip” to see the sites of the stories, absorb the environment that inspired the authors, and even walk the paths of fictional characters.  Literary travel allows you to extend the experience of a great book and expand your understanding of your destination. Reading and travel enhance each other, and one taste will leave you yearning to go back for more. Best of all, you don’t need to head for Hemingway’s favorite Paris haunts or Jane Austen’s English countryside to take a lit trip. Opportunities for book-based travel abound in the U.S., too, and many are at their best in fall.

California Wine Country – Vintage Reading

Harvest time in California’s wine regions, typically from mid-August through October, Unknown-13overflows with vibrant golden yellow and crimson colors and the trucks rumbling by overflow with grapes ready for the crush.  M.F.K. Fisher captured the delights of Napa and Sonoma where she lived and wrote her classic essays on food, wine, and life. Jack London also loved the Sonoma area where he lived and wrote in his later years. And, for fans of another type of grape, The Grapes of Wrath (which has absolutely nothing to do with wine), the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, is a short jaunt from wine country, making literature and wine the perfect blend for fall travel.

Read: M.F.K. Fisher, Musings on Wine and Other Libations, (Anne Zimmerman, ed.)

Jack London, Valley of the Moon (another name for Sonoma),

For more contemporary reading, try James Conaway, Nose, and Rex Picket, Sideways.

Explore: the vineyards of Napa and Sonoma counties, and take a side trip to the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas (www.steinbeck.org)

Stay: L’Auberge Du Soleil, Rutherford (www.aubergedusoleil.com)

Eat: pack a picnic and enjoy it on the grounds of your favorite winery or in Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen www.jacklondonpark.com

Events: Fall in wine country means special celebrations of wine and food such as Flavor! Napa Valley in November (flavornapavalley.com), vintner dinners such as those at Grgich winery (grgich.com). Schramsberg winery in Calistoga offers special camps in fall and spring for wine and food lovers (www.schramsberg.com/news/campschramsberg)

Santa Fe – Willa Cather’s Archbishop Comes to LifeUnknown-14

Santa Fe is a sensory fiesta year-round but in fall the aroma of roasting chili peppers adds to the mix. New Mexico’s beauty, dramatic history, and architecture have lured for artists and writers for decades.  Among them, D.H. Lawrence (to Taos) and Willa Cather, who captured the drama of the New Mexico environment as she wrote a fictional version of the real-life story of Bishop Jean-Baptiste Lamy, in Death Comes for the Archbishop.  Shoppers and art lovers will find equally dramatic adventures in Santa Fe.

Read: Willa Cather, Death Comes for the Archbishop

Explore: Bishop’s Lodge which offers a spa, horseback riding, and a chance to see Bishop Lamy’s chapel and home. (www.bishopslodge.com)

Stay: Inn on the Alameda (www.innonthealameda.com)

Eat: The Shed (www.sfshed.com)

Events: Santa Fe Wine and Chili Fiesta (www.santafewineandchile.org)

Newport, RI – America’s “Downton Abbey”1492312

Since the 1800s, America’s wealthiest families have flocked to Newport, Rhode Island, and built summer “cottages” that most of us would call “palaces.” Among them was Edith Wharton, who wrote of her experiences in Gilded Age Newport in books such as The Buccaneers, which is about wealthy heiresses who married into the British aristocracy, much like “Downton Abbey’s” Cora Crawley. You can explore Newport’s Gilded Age mansions as well as its gorgeous seaside sites. The more “off season” you go, the more you can afford live like a Vanderbilt.

Read: Gail McColl and Carol Wallace, To Marry and English Lord 

Edith Wharton, The Buccaneers

Explore: Newport Mansions (newportmansions.org)

Stay: Vanderbilt Grace (www.gracehotels.com/vanderbilt)  Ask about packages that include admission to the Newport Mansions.

Eat: The Mooring (www.mooringrestaurant.com)

Events:

Polo matches, sailing regattas, or just a hike along Cliff Walk.  In Newport you can sample “upper crust activities” or just enjoy the view. (www.gonewport.com)

Nantucket – A Whale of a Trip

You can’t find a more concentrated dose of New England charm than in Nantucket. And, if you’re a fan of Herman Melville’s whale tale, Moby Dick, you know that Nantucket is the place where Captain Ahab’s ship, the Peaquod, set sail.

Read: Herman Melville, Moby Dick,

Nathaniel Philbrick, Why Read Moby-Dick? and In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex

Sena Jeter Nasland, Ahabs Wife

Or for more contemporary tales, read Summerland and other books by Nantucket resident Elin Hilderbrand.

Stay: White Elephant (www.whiteelephanthotel.com)

Eat: Millie’s. Enjoy the sunset and sample a Whale Tale Pale Ale. (www.milliesnantucket.com)

Explore: Nantucket Whaling Museum (www.nha.org)

Events: The Nantucket Maritime Festival. You’ll hear sea shanties sung, see harpoons thrown, and boats raced. (www.nantucketmaritimefestival.org)

Driftless in WisconsinUnknown-15

Because of its geology, the Driftless Area of southwest Wisconsin is a place tailor-made for meandering. And the fall colors are reaching their peak in Wisconsin right now. As David Rhodes explains it in his beautiful book Driftless, “The last of the Pleistocene glaciers did not trample through this area, and the glacial deposits of rock, clay, sand, and silt–called drift–are missing.  Hence its name, the Driftless Region.  Singularly unrefined, it endured in its hilly, primitive form untouched by the shaping hands of those cold giants.” In this area, you’ll meet friendly folks who may remind you of the characters in Rhodes’s book—organic farmers, artists, shopkeepers, and the nice Norwegian lady at the dairy coop.  Amish folks sell produce and hand-made wares at roadside stands, making the entire area a giant farmers market through fall. By the end of your trip, you’ll be reluctant to leave.  But you can return by reading Rhodes’s newest book, Jewel Weed.

Read: David Rhodes, Driftless and its sequel, Jewel Weed

Stay: Charming B&Bs abound in the Driftless Area. Check out The Roth House(therothhouse.com) and the sister property The Old Oak Inn (theoldoakinn.net) in Soldier’s Grove or Westby House Inn in Westby (www.westbyhouse.com)

Eat: Driftless Cafe, Viroqua (www.driftlesscafe.com)

Explore: Amish farms and shops (www.downacountryroad.com) and Wildcat Mountain State Park (www.dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/name/wildcat/)  For more Driftless information see driftlesswisconsin.com

Events: Gays Mills Apple Festival (www.gaysmills.org/Apple_Festival)

Ernest Hemingway in Oak Park, Before The Paris Wife

Get a quick education on Ernest Hemingway with a visit to Oak Park, Illinois.
Get a quick education on Ernest Hemingway with a visit to Oak Park, Illinois.

Ernest Hemingway’s personal life was as interesting and adventurous as his fiction. So, while I was in Chicago recently I took a side trip to the lovely suburb of Oak Park, where I visited the Ernest Hemingway House and Museum.  For Hemingway fans or if you enjoy books about Hemingway such as The Paris Wife, you’ll find a stroll in the author’s old neighborhood is delightful.

In previous posts, such a the one about A Skeptic’s Guide to Writer’s Houses, I’ve discussed the fact that authors’ homes aren’t as interesting as the places where their books are set.  Still, it’s fun to see how an author lived and maybe hear a few stories about family life that may have shaped his world view. For example, when you take the guided tour in the home, you’ll see the little dining room where Hemingway’s grandfather sat with the children for breakfast and encouraged all of them to tell stories.  He didn’t long enough to see what sprang from such encouragement.

So, if you’re in Chicago, make a trip to Oak Park to visit the Hemingway family home. Start at the museum at 200 Oak Park Avenue 708-524-5383, www.ehfop.org  The home where Hemingway was born is one block north.

Oh Canada! You’ll Wish You Could Join This Canadian Book Club On Their Travels

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Boating and Books–a summer cabin in Canada is just one place where this book club meets.

Susan Jessop, a lit lover and travel enthusiast from Ottawa, Canada, contacted me to share her book club’s literary travel experiences.  Little did I know that I’d want to hop in the car and join them for their next outing. She had so much information, I’m going to share it in two posts, starting with their ideas for inviting authors to attend their meetings, and taking short “lit trips” close to home (from cottages to a penitentiary!).  You’ll find their “field trips” inspiring and you’ll want to check out the books she mentions, a nice list of Canadian authors. It’s always interesting to me how people in different regions are reading fantastic books you’ve never heard of. This is how to spread the word about your favorite authors. My next post will feature their really big book club travel tales.

Please tell me a little about your book group.

We are a group of women based in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, our nation’s capital city. The group was established in 1996 and still has 3 founding members.The women come from many different professional backgrounds: urban planners, lawyers, museologists, a token engineer (!) and not unexpectedly, a few public servants… We share a love of literature, good food, wine and laughter! The group has always consisted of approximately 10 women, an optimal number to ensure manageable conversation. We think 10 is the ideal number.

What kinds of local trips or outings has your group enjoyed?  

The group has done a number of local expeditions that related to books we were reading. The first was to Aylmer, Quebec, just across the river from Ottawa to where the book Leaning, Leaning Over Water was set.  This book, a “novel in stories” marked the transition from short story writer to novelist for the author, Frances Itani, who went on to international recognition with her later novel Deafening.  We drove to several sites along the Ottawa River, our best guesses of the locations in the book.  We ended up at a local pub with an astounding international selection of beer, and some locals who it turned out were from the same neighbourhood as two of the book club women who had grown up in Aylmer.

One of our book club participants works at the national Museum of Civilization, and we’ve had a couple of fascinating excursions there.   The first was an evening devoted to the famous Klondike poet Robert W. Service, and featured readings of his poetry in a replica of the “Wildcat Cafe” from his adopted home town of Yellowknife, Northwest Territories.  Tracey Riley, a singer and waitress from that café, performed for us, and we were served authentic grub.  The museum later featured a fabulous exhibit on “The Bog People.” As part of its lecture series, the museum featured Kathy Reichs, (who is both a working forensic anthropologist and a crime writer) so we read her novel du jour Deja Dead and went off to hear her lecture and visit the exhibit.

For the past 9 years or so, we end our season with a weekend of merriment at one member’s cottage, about an hour and a half out of Ottawa.  It’s a great sign off to the book season (we take a summer hiatus).  Our host arranged to have a local author, Merilyn Simonds, attend our meeting to discuss her novel The Holding as well as her earlier non-fiction book The Convict Lover, which some of us also read.  Since the latter book was set in and around the Kingston Penitentiary, we took a field trip from the cottage and had a fascinating visit at Kingston’s Penitentiary Museum. We met with Merilyn a second time a few years later and visited her garden which was the subject of her book A New Leaf, a collection of anecdotes and meditations focused on that very garden.

Do you ever invite authors to attend your meetings?

We have looked for opportunities to invite local authors that we know (or through  a friend of a friend of a friend) or that someone decided to “cold call.” Surprisingly, most authors are flattered and pleased to attend. They sell a few extra books and get direct feedback. We’re always careful to get together a half hour or so before the author arrives to speak frankly about the book (and to make sure we didn’t all hate it!), and that we have a reasonable set of questions to ask. Happily, we have, for the most part, enjoyed those books. We have also welcomed authors: mystery writer R.J. Harlick (whose sister is one of the members) with The River Runs Orange, Terence Rundle West (twice)–Ripe for the Picking and Not In My Father’s Footsteps;  David Sacks, author of a history of the alphabet (!) that was issued under three different titles: Language Visible, Letter Perfect, and the less imaginative The Alphabet.   We will be hosting a new author this May, Missy Marston and her book The Love Monster and next fall, Ruth E. Walker whose book is Living Underground.

And, on many occasions, we’ve taken our “excursions” by way of the silver screen, pairing books with their filmed versions, usually on video but sometimes in theatres.  One member has a sister who’s a film-maker, so we’ve been lucky enough to view some of her films. I should mention too that we have an annual Christmas party (last year accompanied by a karaoke outing after dinner), with a secret Santa gift exchange.

Why take trips? Why not just meet in your homes and keep it at that?

The local trips or discussion with authors brought added context to the discussions and, frankly, were a lot of fun. Didn’t we all enjoy our school field trips a lot more than just the classroom discussion?! The same principle applies here, I think.

 

A Flea Grows in Brooklyn (Sorry, I Couldn’t Help Myself): Fashion, Food, and Reading Among the Hipsters

SONY DSCFrannie Nolan, the heroine of Betty Smith classic A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, just wouldn’t recognize the place. The book opens in 1912 and is set in the (then) tenement-filled Brooklyn neighborhood of Williamsburg. It was a place to get away from.

Now Brooklyn is “IT.”  People flock to Brooklyn for its trendy shops, restaurants, and entertainment. They may make fun of Brooklyn’s hipster aesthetic, but can’t resist those skinny jeans, ironic glasses, scarves and all the other accoutrements of Brooklyn hipsterdom. The style conscious from places such as Stockholm, London, and Paris look to Brooklyn for inspiration. And, if that weren’t enough, Girls, the hit HBO show based on the lives of four post-college friends trying to make it in the big city, sort of a poor girl’s “Sex in the City,” has begun to prompt the show’s fans to go on Girls tours of Brooklyn locations featured in the show.

You don’t have to be a hipster or a Girls fan to have fun in Brooklyn, but when you SONY DSCwalk around places like Brooklyn Flea, you may be inspired to join in the fun.  At the very least, you’ll feel compelled to scrounge through your parents’ old clothes (think Mad Men era) or retrieve a few old dresses or flannel shirts from that box you were getting ready to send to Goodwill. This is no ordinary flea market.  The merchandise is mostly vintage or DIY and displayed in a way that makes it look as classy, and much more interesting, than Fifth Avenue fare.   You’ll find cool jewelry made of repurposed zippers or typewriter keys, dresses that would make Betty Draper envious, and re-claimed-repurposed-recycled furniture. In winter the flea takes place in the former Williamsburg Savings Bank at One Hanson Place, where vendors sell their wares from teller’s windows and the zodiac mosaics on the ceiling make it worth the trip, even if you’re not a shopper.  But during warm weather (April through Thanksgiving,), the market takes place outdoors: on Saturdays in Fort Greene and on Sundays in Williamsburg.

When you’re shopped out, I suggest wandering the Williamsburg neighborhood where you’ll find great restaurants (the Vietnamese restaurant An Nhau works well for a group and has a great patio in back), outrageous chocolate and incomparable people-watching. A walk across the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan offers views of the skyline, the Statue of Liberty, and a sense of walking through the city’s history. If you’re looking for a more formal tour, Big Onion tours offers several walking tours of Brooklyn neighborhoods.

Can’t make it to Brooklyn any time soon? The borough has a literary heritage that’s as distinctive as the rest of its culture so there are plenty of books that will make you feel like you know the place before you even leave the L Train. But break out some eccentric-looking clothes–maybe a spangly dress, or a raccoon hat–before you settle in to read them. Here are a few:

Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

David McCullough, The Great Bridge, non-fiction about building the famous Brooklyn Bridge and This Side of Brightness by Colum McCann fiction about tunneling beneath the East River to create another Brooklyn-Manhattan connection.

Jonathan Lethem, Motherless Brooklyn and The Fortress of Solitude.

Colm Toibin, Brooklyn

Paule Marshall, Brown Girl, Brownstones

Paula Fox, Desperate Characters.

Red Rooster: A Taste of Harlem with a Chaser of Gospel Music

SONY DSCMy family and I enjoyed a tasty brunch on Sunday at Red Rooster in Harlem. Named after a legendary Harlem speakeasy, it’s one of chef Marcus Samuelson’s restaurants and has been a huge hit since it opened (on Lenox Ave between 125th and 126th) in 2010. While the food is stellar, the restaurant has higher goals: “We aim to play a role in the future of Harlem, by hiring our family of staff from within the community; inspiring better eating through neighborhood cooking classes; and buying from local purveyors.”

But there’s more at the Rooster.  We headed downstairs to Ginny’s Supper Club where they offer a Gospel Brunch every Sunday. For anyone who is interested in the literature, music and culture of the Harlem Renaissance , Ginny’s is a great place to get a little feel of what that era was like, whether you arrive on Sunday morning or any evening during the week. The Sunday morning entertainment is considerably more wholesome than in speakeasy days:  Gospel for Teens. Check out the group’s impressive and poignant story top-circlethat appeared on CBS’s 60 Minutes a couple of years ago. Fortunately, we ate before the show started because otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to sit still long enough to fit a forkful of food into our mouths with all the clapping, dancing, and those kids singing their hearts out.

For better or worse, this section of Harlem escaped much of the demolition of urban renewal and redevelopment, so a lot of the original gorgeous architecture along Lenox Avenue remains. After brunch, we walked down Lenox and into Central Park. This is a great excursion for anyone who would like to skip the typical mid-town tourist scene. And, if you’re thinking of heading to Harlem, take a look at any of the books listed below regarding the Harlem Renaissance and you’ll appreciate the neighborhood even more.

Ralph Ellison, The Invisible Man, the complex life of a young African American man in the South and later Harlem.  Winner of the National Book Award.

Langston Hughes, The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes and Not Without Laughter, classic works from one of the most famous figures of the Harlem Renaissance.

David Lewis (ed.), The Portable Harlem Renaissance Reader. An anthology.

James Baldwin, Go Tell It on The Mountain, a semi-autobiographical story of a young African-American boy in 1930s Harlem.

Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God.  Though her story takes place in Florida, Hurston was an important player in the Harlem literary scene.

Laban Carrick Hill, Harlem Stomp! A Cultural History of the Harlem Renaissance. This is actually aimed at young adults, but the book has been so critically acclaimed, it’s great for any age group.

Book Club Travel Tales

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Cindy Hudson with her daughters.

I’m hearing more and more stories from book club members about the terrific lit trips, large and small, that their groups have taken.  I love it! So, I’m starting a new category for this blog: “Book Club Travel Tales,” where you can find ideas in one spot, over there in the right hand column.

In previous posts, for example, I’ve mentioned the travels and events of Go On Girl! Book Club.  Here’s a new addition to the list, a Q and A interview with Cindy Hudson of Portland Oregon.  She is the author of Book by Book: The Complete Guide to Creating Mother-Daughter Book Clubs and has a great blog on the same topic, MotherDaughterBookClub.com. Not surprisingly, she’s active in more than one book group and here she shares a few of their travel experiences.

What kind of trips or outings has your book club enjoyed?

Over the years, I’ve gone on several outings with my book groups. After one group read Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, which focuses on eating locally, we organized a wine tasting day with a potluck lunch focused on ingredients from a local farmers market. We talked to the winegrowers, sipped a bit of their wine and ate incredible food. We discussed what we had learned about eating locally as well as ideas we had for changing their food habits going forward. The pictures from that day show all of us with big smiles. The event was such a hit we knew that we’d be looking at other opportunities to take our group on the road at least once a year.”

We’ve had several movie events, too. We went to see the movie Millions when we read the book by Frank Cottrell Boyce, and we went to see The Secret Life of Bees when we read that book. Also, there were several weekends away that were not book themed, rather they were a chance for us all to get away together and have fun, and we also talked about the book we had read.

Why not just stay home and do your regular meeting?  Why go on an outing or trip? 

Going out as a group is not only fun, it helps you see a side of other members in your group that you don’t get to see in your regular meeting setting. I’ve gone on outings with my mother-daughter book clubs and in the reading group I’m in with my husband, and in each case, we aim for one or two what we call “field trips” a year.

Do these trips bring the members of your group closer together?   

I have found that there’s never enough time to socialize with everyone at book club. In only a few hours we have dinner, try to catch up with other members about what has happened in their lives in the last month or so, and discuss the book. When I go on outings or weekends away I treasure the relaxed atmosphere and the ability to really spend time one-on-one with others in the group. And there’s always a lot of laughing during group time.

Once, when I was on a weekend away with my mother-daughter book club, we started playing music after dinner and the moms began to dance. We all had a good laugh when the girls expressed surprise that their moms would want to dance. They found out we’re people too, and sometimes we just want to have fun.

Any tips or suggestions for people organizing book-related travel?

Make sure you have a good idea of budget before hand. You don’t want to plan something at a luxury hotel if some of the members of your group won’t be able to afford it. Also, if you do go away for a night or more, make sure there are plenty of opportunities for people to branch off and go on their own adventures as well as stay with the group.

Follow Cindy on Twitter at twitter.com/momdtrbookclub

 

Reading the Oscars

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Be sure to check out the L.A. Times great little “Literary Oscar Quiz” to get you primed for this year’s Oscars.  It’s always fun to read the book, then see the movie and it makes a great book group outing.

If you like the book/movie combo, you’ll and to (re)read one of my favorite books, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, now because the movie with Leonardo Di Caprio is coming out in May.  Will it be as good as the book?  How will it compare to the Robert Redford version? This Boz Luhrmann version certainly seems to have a harsher edge than the earlier movie. Check out the trailer.