Synopses & Reviews
There are many ways to show our devotion to an author besides reading his or her works. Graves make for popular pilgrimage sites, but far more popular are writers' house museums. What is it we hope to accomplish by trekking to the home of a dead author? We may go in search of the point of inspiration, eager to stand on the very spot where our favorite literary characters first came to life--and find ourselves instead in the house where the author himself was conceived, or where she drew her last breath. Perhaps it is a place through which our writer passed only briefly, or maybe it really was a longtime home--now thoroughly remade as a decorator's show-house.In A Skeptic's Guide to Writers' Houses Anne Trubek takes a vexed, often funny, and always thoughtful tour of a goodly number of house museums across the nation. In Key West she visits the shamelessly ersatz shrine to a hard-living Ernest Hemingway, while meditating on his lost Cuban farm and the sterile Idaho house in which he committed suicide. In Hannibal, Missouri, she walks the fuzzy line between fact and fiction, as she visits the home of the young Samuel Clemens--and the purported haunts of Tom Sawyer, Becky Thatcher, and Injun' Joe. She hits literary pay-dirt in Concord, Massachusetts, the nineteenth-century mecca that gave home to Hawthorne, Emerson, and Thoreau--and yet could not accommodate a surprisingly complex Louisa May Alcott. She takes us along the trail of residences that Edgar Allan Poe left behind in the wake of his many failures and to the burned-out shell of a California house with which Jack London staked his claim on posterity. In Dayton, Ohio, a charismatic guide brings Paul Laurence Dunbar to compelling life for those few visitors willing to listen; in Cleveland, Trubek finds a moving remembrance of Charles Chesnutt in a house that no longer stands.Why is it that we visit writers' houses? Although admittedly skeptical about the stories these buildings tell us about their former inhabitants, Anne Trubek carries us along as she falls at least a little bit in love with each stop on her itinerary and finds in each some truth about literature, history, and contemporary America.
"The phenomenon of visiting writers' houses as a form of literary homage has existed for centuries, as literary enthusiasts have toured the homes of Shakespeare and countless other writers to connect, become inspired, or pay tribute. Trubek (Writing Material) offers an amusingly jaundiced eye towards this notion by visiting the homes of several writers, from of Louisa May Alcott to Hemingway to Poe, in an attempt to discover what draws people in and what connection they might be able to experience from this much remove. The end result is an interesting jaunt through American literature and the American preoccupation with fashioning (and profiting from) sacred spaces, coupled with genuinely fascinating little-known biographical information about iconic authors. Trubek is brutally honest (and occasionally funny) about what does and does not feel meaningful, and her travelogue is well-written and quick. While she does seem to harp on the same themes again and again, occasional moments of genuine emotion make it worth the trip. Trubek does a great job of following a succinct formula and readers in search of an objective look at writers' houses worth visiting will find this a useful guide.
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Anne Trubek takes booklovers on a tour of eight notorious spots-Mark Twain in Hannibal, Earnest Hemingway in Ketchum, Louisa May Alcott and Henry David Thoreau in Concord-to examine why such great pains are taken to meticulously preserve these homes and, as importantly, why we persist in visiting them in such strong numbers.
Why is it that we visit writers' houses? Although admittedly skeptical about the stories these buildings tell us about their former inhabitants, Anne Trubek carries us along as she falls at least a little bit in love with each stop on her itinerary and finds in each some truth about literature, history, and contemporary America.