Tag Archives: Mark Twain

Go Off The Beaten Page in Memphis

Off The Beaten Page on Beale Street, Memphis
Off The Beaten Page on Beale Street, Memphis

In my opinion, if you’re looking for one place where you can go to get an understanding of the United States–its culture, its history and its struggles–it’s Memphis.  Robert Gordon says in It Came from Memphis, “No city has had more of an impact on modern culture.”

Those are pretty big statements, but after visiting Memphis, I think it’s true. I had never been there until I went on a “reconnaissance mission” while writing Off The Beaten Page:  The Best Trips for Lit Lovers, Book Clubs and Girls on Getaways and by the time I left I felt a tie with Memphis that makes me want to go back to this gritty city on the Mississippi over and over.

It’s not a fancy place, like, for example another Southern city I love, Charleston. But, Memphis moves you. The Memphis mojo makes even the most reserved person want to snap her fingers and start dancing with abandon. In fact, go to the Stax Museum, “Soulsville, USA,” and hit the dance floor there which is surrounded by a video wall. Or, visit Sun Studio where a few guys named Elvis, Johnny, and Jerry Lee recorded their hits. Try to stand still; I dare you. I predict you’ll be rockin’ before you even notice it.

But it’s not all so happy-go-lucky. Memphis was a hub for the civil rights movement and Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated there at the Lorraine Motel, which is now

The Lorraine Motel, and the National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis.
The Lorraine Motel, and the National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis.

the National Civil Rights Museum, another “moving” place.  This is mecca for anyone interested in the civil rights movement.  It’s undergoing an extensive renovation and is currently featuring the exhibit, “Freedom’s Sisters.”  Before you go, read Hampton Sides’ Hellhound on His Trail for background and to feel a very close connection to those events.

Then get rollin’ on the river with Mark Twain.  His classic Life on the Mississippi outlines not only his experience as a young riverboat pilot but also his observations from a later trip on the river where he observes the cotton culture, the people and many other aspects of life on the Big Muddy.  Take a short riverboat cruise and you’ll feel the river’s power and learn a little more about its history and integral role in the development of the country.

Need more excuses to visit Memphis?  Check out a few of the city’s upcoming events including Elvis Week, the King’s birthday celebration (this year from August 10-17), and of course Graceland. The Memphis Music and Heritage Festival takes place every year on

You'll also want to visit the gift shop at the Center for Southern Folklore in Memphis
You’ll also want to visit the gift shop at the Center for Southern Folklore in Memphis

Labor Day weekend. It’s organized by the Center for Southern Folklore. And, now through October you can visit Mud Island Park to see “Discovery: A Journey of Exploration and Imagination of America’s Waterways,” a traveling exhibit of the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium and the National Rivers Hall of Fame.

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I'm Not Enjoying This Book–How Many Pages to Read Before You Quit

I just ran across the answer to a question that people in my book club regularly ask, “I’m not enjoying this book.  How much should I read to give it a fair chance before I toss it aside and take up a book I really like?” So many books, so little time.

The answer is Book Lust Author Nancy Pearl‘s Rule of Fifty. She says: “People frequently ask me how many pages they should give a book before they give up on it. In response to that question, I came up with my “rule of fifty,” which is based on the shortness of time and the immensity of the world of books.  If you’re fifty years of age or younger, give a book fifty pages before you decide to commit to reading it or give it up.  If you’re over fifty, which is when time gets even shorter, subtract your age from 100—the result is the number of pages you should read before making your decision to stay with it or quit.  Since that number gets smaller and smaller as we get older and older, our big reward is that when we turn 100, we can judge a book by its cover!”

Another suggestion:  start skimming.  At least you can participate in conversation about the book.  I just did that with Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian.  It’s a vampire story, so you’d think it would hold one’s attention, but I it so convoluted, long, and full of explanatory letters, I became very impatient.

Or, take the book chunk at a time.  I just started thumbing through the gigantic Autobiography of Mark Twain which is less narrative and more bits, pieces and reflections.  It gives great insight into Twain’s character and I’m going to be quoting from it a lot.  I’m prone to stick with this volume because hefting it gives me enough exercise to forego the gym.  My aching biceps.