Archive for the ‘literary travel’ Category
Charles Dickens stayed at the Omni Parker House Hotel during his 1867-68 American lecture tour. While his adoring fans tried to sneak past the security outside his hotel room (yes, even writers get groupies sometimes), Dickens would rehearse for his public readings in front of a large mirror. That mirror is now in the mezzanine level hall by the Press Room, and the marble fireplace from his room is now in the Dickens Room, which is used for meetings and dining.
And that fireplace is the only Dickensian thing about the Dickens room.
The room is a little depressing at first glance. Between the ugly carpeting, the sad bowls of mints on the conference table and the employee slowly folding linens, I wasn’t sure I was even in the right place. The only way I knew I was in fact in the Dickens Room (aside from the plaque outside) was the huge portrait of Dickens on the wall and the bust of him on the fireplace.
Dickens was part of the Saturday Club, a small group of friends who got together on the last Saturday of every month. Other members included Ralph Waldo Emerson and Nathaniel Hawthorne. They would get together to read, critique, and discuss. And it was there that Dickens gave the first public reading of A Christmas Carol in 1867.
If you decide to snoop around the historic Omni Parker House Hotel like I did, take a peak inside the restaurant because it has a pretty impressive history: Malcolm X was once a busboy, JFK proposed to Jackie at one of the tables, and it’s where the Boston Cream Pie was invented. Even though the piece of pie I ordered was a little overpriced, it was still worth it.
I came across the website BiblioTravel while researching a previous post, and since I found it extremely useful and the internet is all about sharing useful information (in addition to the cat videos), I thought I’d share it with you here.
BiblioTravel is a free online resource for identifying books set in distinct locales. Perfect for those of us who like to learn more about a place we’ve been or are planning to go to by reading about it in a book.
The website has 3834 books and 1847 locales, with New York City at the top of the list of most books per locale. You can search by place or by book to find what you’re looking for. And if it doesn’t already exist on the site you can add it (here are the guidelines).
As an example, if you’re looking for a Young Adult book set in Venice, you’ll be pointed in the direction of For the Love of Venice by Donna Jo Napoli. Or how about a Children’s book set in South America. A Bicycle for Rosaura by Daniel Barbot is set in a small town in Venezuela.
I looked up Toronto and was amazed to discover over a hundred books set in my hometown. Sometimes it can be just as nice to read books set in your own backyard as it is to read books set in far off destinations.
John Steinbeck, who grew up in Salinas in the 1900s, wrote a novel about a street lined with sardine canneries in Monterey, California. He called that street and the book Cannery Row, but it was based on the actual street called Ocean View Avenue. Later (about 13 years after the book was published), that street was renamed Cannery Row in honour of the book. And today when you walk the quiet street, there is evidence of how proud residents are of Steinbeck and of the famous novel he chose to set there.
There are quotes from the novel everywhere, along with artistic interpretations of the book. Edward Ricketts was a marine biologist that Steinbeck used as the inspiration for his marine researcher character Doc Ricketts, and at 800 Cannery Row you can see Ed Ricketts’ actual lab, which was the basis for Doc’s marine lab in the novel.
Steinbeck called Cannery Row “a poem…a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream.”
If you’re a fan of the book or of Steinbeck in general, it’s worth the trip to beautiful Monterey to see Cannery Row. And if you’re in the area, you can also check out the National Steinbeck Center and The Steinbeck House , both in Salinas.
This region of the California Coast isn’t just Steinbeck country. Many other authors have roots there:
- Robert Louis Stevenson visited Monterey in 1879 and legend has it that the setting for his classic novel Treasure Island was inspired by Point Lobos in nearby Carmel.
- Henry Miller lived in Big Sur, and his home is now the Henry Miller Memorial Library, which is right off of Highway 1.
- Jack Kerouac also spent some time in Big Sur in 1960. He wrote the autobiographical novel Big Sur based on his experiences there.
Charles Dickens visited America and Canada in 1842. His itinerary is one that I would gladly follow even today:
Boston → New England → New York → Philadelphia → Washington → Richmond → Pittsburgh →
Cincinnati → Louisville → Midwest & St. Louis → Niagara → Toronto → Montreal → New York
You can read what he thought about each place in his book, American Notes.
I confess that I haven’t read it but that I’m currently searching for a really nice edition of this travelogue to add to my Dickens collection.
When I heard about the DVD series Dickens in America hosted by British actress Miriam Margolyes (I know she seems like a random choice, but she’s a huge Dickens fan), I decided to commit five hours of my life to watching all 10 episodes.
This should be obvious, but I think the only people who would like this series would be really, really big fans of Charles Dickens. But that being said, while I was a fan going in, I’m definitely an even bigger fan now and am more interested in reading everything he’s ever written.
Here are some of the highlights of the Dickens in America series:
- Watching the stops at the Omni Parker House in Boston, the Berg collection at the NYPL, and Niagara Falls. I’ll be doing a separate post on Dickens’ time in Canada, it’s just that good.
And now for the, um, lowlights:
I’m curious to hear what others think of this series. There are only two reviews on Amazon (one five star, the other only one star). If you’ve seen it, let me know your thoughts by posting a comment!