The bar, the courthouse, the house on the Mississippi river where “I could step right in the sucker, an easy three-foot drop, and be on my way to Tennessee.” For authors such as Gillian Flynn in her huge fiction bestseller Gone Girl, the setting of a novel plays as crucial a role as the characters themselves. It creates atmosphere, foreshadows what is to come, and sets the pace. But when director David Fincher and his location scouts set out to make a movie based on the novel, it was a challenge to find real world places to match those of Flynn’s imagination. They found them in Cape Girardeau, Missouri.
The movie, released today, has received some pretty great reviews. So, between the book and the movie, I’m betting that plenty of Gone Girl fans will be looking for her in Cape Girardeau, a lovely river town in southeast Missouri, where the movie was filmed.
In case you’ve missed it all, in Gone Girl, Amy Dunne (played by Rosamund Pike) disappears from the North Carthage, Missouri, home she shares with her philandering husband Nick (Ben Affleck) on their fifth anniversary, leading him to be investigated for her (maybe) murder. “If there are married couples here, maybe you should change seats” rather than sit together, said Ann Tenenbaum, the chairman of the Film Society of Lincoln Center, when the film premiered in New York. “Abraham Lincoln said, ‘Marriage is neither heaven nor hell, it is simply purgatory.’ David Fincher will personally escort us there.” As the story progresses, we learn that this is one crazy couple and we find that the narrator isn’t necessarily giving us the straight story. (To see a fun discussion among readers of the book, see Book Journey‘s spoiler page.) The realistic setting adds to the tension.
Stacy Dohogne Lane of the Cape Girardeau Convention and Visitors Bureau told me, “North Carthage doesn’t actually exist, though there is a Carthage, Missouri. The Mississippi River plays such a big part in the book that they wanted to capture a true Missouri river town. Steve Mapel, the film’s location scout, came to Cape Girardeau in the Spring of 2013 and spent quite a bit of time here doing a very intensive search for specific locations. We had such a good time sitting around our conference table with Steve…he’d say ‘I’m looking for a place that has x, y and z’ and we’d all brainstorm a variety of places that fit within those parameters.” David Fincher has said that the view from the Common Pleas Courthouse stairs overlooking the river is what sold him on Cape Girardeau as North Carthage. Gillian Flynn later told Fincher that Cape Girardeau was the place she had in mind while she was writing the book, and he joked in an article that he wish she’d told him that sooner and saved him some time.
Alas, Gone Girl fans probably won’t find Ben Affleck or Rosmund Pike on the streets of Cape Girardeau but the river town makes a great weekend getaway (about two hours from St. Louis). Beyond Cape Girardeau’s movie role as North Carthage, you’ll find intriguing historic and outdoor sites, antiques and shopping, and it makes a great spot for a girls getaway weekend with wineries, spas and more.
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.
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.
January. It’s the same routine every year. The relatives go home, the last toasts to the new year have been made, and I’m feel slightly blue–partly because my kids have left and partly because it’s been crazy cold here in Minnesota. It didn’t get above -11 on Monday. I’m talking Siberia cold.
Though it’s a bit of a letdown when the holiday frenzy is over, the quiet time of January provides a time to reflect on what I’ve done over the last year, new things I’d like to do this year, and after enough procrastination, to get fired up to do a few of those things. Since it’s been too frosty to go out, I’ve had plenty of time to hunker down and “reflect” (okay that’s my word for not getting to work). I looked back at the first post I made on this blog, which was called “Book Club Traveler” then, and I’m glad I took the time to revisit it. I always have giant lists this time of year of all the things I wish I had accomplished, a lot of “should-have-done this and why-didn’t-I-do-that,” things I need to do now. But looking back a couple of years at those first days of blogging, I’m feeling pretty good, optimistic even. My goal was to encourage readers to take their love of literature to the next level and actually travel to the places they read about. I concluded my first post with: “So, this blog will explore the places where literature and travel intersect, how to escape with a good book and understand the places we travel, with or without a book group, through the eyes of authors who have gone there before us. Let’s get out of the living room and hit the road.”
I got enough positive feedback on the concept and enough comments like, “I wish my book club would do that,” that I gradually I came to believe that the concept was worthy of a book. And, as a result, Off The Beaten Page: The Best Trips for Lit Lovers, Book Clubs and Girls on Getaways (Chicago Review Press) came out last May, hence the new name of the blog. The book features 15 U.S. destinations with essays, an extensive reading list, and a detailed itinerary for each. People always ask what was my favorite destination. In January, my favorite getaway is South Beach/Miami, Florida. I’ve written several posts about that trip like this and this. It was just arduous doing research there as you can see from this video. Notice that no one is wearing bulky sweaters or long johns.
However, if you’re dreaming of Florida right now, but not exactly getting there as soon as you’d like, pick up any book by Carl Hiassen for a crazy look at south Florida, especially Miami; Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief; Peter Mathiessen’s Shadow Country about the Florida frontier; or Karen Russell’s Swamplandia! I’m snuggled in with new books to read and dreaming up potential new adventures for the year based on those books. One benefit of travel and reading is that even if I’m home in the deep freeze, I can conjure up previous tropical sojourns to warm my heart if not my fingers and toes.
If you think reading is a solitary pursuit, you need to go to a book festival.
I moseyed down south to the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville a couple of weeks ago and found myself amidst about 30,000 kindred spirits. I strolled among rows of tents full of books and publishers–like an art fair for book lovers–set up on the capitol city’s Legislative Plaza. Program in hand, I had the difficult task of choosing among the 212 sessions, three performance stages, and 325 authors speaking and signing their books during the three-day event.
Sessions (usually about an hour) took place in Nashville’s gorgeous public library,
Legislative Plaza rooms, and in War Memorial Auditorium. Authors talked about their books, like a book club discussion. In fact, book clubs showed up to ask questions and share their enthusiasm for books their groups had read. I especially enjoyed hearing William Landay talk about his experiences as a prosecutor and the ideas that went into writing his bestseller, Defending Jacob. Another of my favorites, Meg Wolitzer, read from her book The Interestings and talked about how her own background influenced the story. But, the fest offers something for lovers of every literary genre, a look at regional writers who you may not know, as well as appearances from big name writers who this year included Bill Bryson, former Vice President Al Gore, Rick Bragg, Roy Blount, Clyde Edgerton, Chuck Palahniuk and others. It was a little slice of heaven for book enthusiasts and the throngs there offered clear proof that, though the publishing industry is changing dramatically, readers are more passionate than ever about books and relish the opportunity to connect with authors and with their fellow readers.
Encouraging the Readers (and Writers) of the Future
I was also impressed with the Festival’s efforts to boost childrens’ interest in literature. It offered sessions for teachers, parents, and young readers from toddlers to YA. Take for example, panels such as “Building Kids Imaginations through Picture Books: Museums, Libraries, Engineers, Mice and More” or “Zombie Tales of the Undead for Teens and Tweens,” or singer Janis Ian reading her book, The Tiny Mouse. In fact, about 60 of the featured authors this year write for children and teens. The biggest event: kids screamed for Rick Riordan (author of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series) like he was a rock star. Read more about the Festival in Publishers Weekly.
If this sounds a little too book-obsessed, for a weekend in the Country Music Capitol, I want to assure you that we took advantage of the other great stuff to do in Nashville. Exhibit A, my new cowboy boots, perfect footwear to wander up and down Broadway, Nashville’s main music thoroughfare, where country tunes pour forth night and day.
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, overflows 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 Life
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”
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)
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 Wisconsin
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)
Literary Travel Isn’t Just for Book Clubs and Girls on Getaways–a guest post from Scott Smith, Edina, MN.
First things first: I’m a guy. I work hard during the week, bleed Maize and Blue sports, track the Wild and Vikes with interest, fire up the grill on weekends and tip back a beer or three in the process. Give me ESPN, a fishing rod, a deck of cards and some Blanton’s, and I’m happy as a clam. I’m not a complete Neanderthal – I do enjoy a good novel now and then, and I love to travel – but I’ve assiduously avoided this “lit trip” phenomenon up to now, largely out of fear of getting my man card revoked.
I’m also a huge WWII history buff, particularly with regard to the D-Day invasion and its
aftermath, and I’ve read just about everything I can muster on the topic. Among my favorites, I’ve nearly broken the spine on Stephen Ambrose’s D-Day; my copy of Anthony Cave Brown’s A Bodyguard of Lies is lovingly dog-eared; and, Ben Macintyre’s Double Cross holds the current place of honor on the dresser next to my side of the bed. From my readings, I can name every landing sector in Normandy, the combat units that landed in each, and when. I know that “Hobart’s Funnies” is not an Australian comedy club and that the Falaise Gap is not a dental imperfection.
Go to Omaha Beach today, as Terri and I did a few weeks ago, and for the uninformed tourist it’s almost impossible to visualize what happened there nearly 70 years ago. Sure, the ruins of a few German gun emplacements are still there, and a couple of memorials (the one on the beach outside of St. Laurent is particularly striking) remind you of the historical importance of where you stand. Otherwise, the eyes see a gorgeous stretch of white sand, turquoise water just beyond it, children splashing in the surf, and lush green bluffs overlooking the seashore, like some Impressionist painting.
But I saw, and experienced, something entirely different. I saw exactly where the 116th
Regiment’s Company A, National Guarders from Bedford, Virginia, came ashore at 6:30 am on D-Day morning – just a couple hundred yards below the gun emplacement at Vierville that’s now a National Guard memorial – and instantly comprehended why that unit suffered over 90 percent casualties in the space of 10 minutes. I looked on the bluffs and the draws above Omaha and witnessed vicariously the extraordinary leadership of young infantrymen who understood that the original assault plan was doomed and improvised their way to success. I visualized the beach obstacles, the barbed wire, the shingle – all gone today – and marveled at the bravery of those who swam and crawled ashore that day. And standing in the American cemetery in the bluffs outside of Colleville, amid row after row of crosses and Stars of David, I saw the selflessness of and the sacrifices made by the “Greatest Generation” in a whole new light.
And so I’m forced to confess. The umbilical between reading and travel isn’t necessarily reserved for book clubs and gals on getaways – it’s there for us XY types too. Maybe it’s a jaunt to Key West, to take in a little fishing with Hemingway’s Santiago. Perhaps it’s that trip to a Wyoming dude ranch with Larry McMurtry in hand. Or it’s a Dodgers game after reading The Boys of Summer. Your call. Like I experienced in Normandy, what you read may give special meaning to what you see. That’s a good thing. And I promise you won’t lose your man card in the process.
From Terri: In addition to Scott’s list of books, I’d add Jeff Shaara’s The Steel Wave, about the D-Day Invasion, which is part his World War II trilogy. It’s a good read, easy to digest.
Travel to the places you read about. Read about the places you travel.