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May 29, 2008

Book Club Road Trips

Posted by carol

Today Shannon McKenna Schmidt teams up with Joni Rendon, with whom she wrote Novel Destinations: Literary Landmarks from Jane Austen's Bath to Ernest Hemingway's Key West, to share some of their favorite pairings of books and literary locales. Their suggestions just might inspire your book club to take to the road or the skies this summer...or perhaps journey vicariously through the pages of these novels. For a chance to win a copy of Novel Destinations and a tote bag filled with literary- and travel-themed items, some of which come directly from author houses in the U.S. and Europe, visit

Whether it's roaming the Yorkshire moors that Emily Bronte depicted so vividly in Wuthering Heights or having lunch in the Victorian ambience of John Steinbeck's boyhood home in California, visiting the places where the stories got their start can add a new dimension to your book discussions. Reading group getaways can be as low-key as visiting a local or regional author house or literary festival or as ambitious as planning an overseas or cross-country getaway. Another idea is to take in a production of the Bard's works at one of the many Shakespeare festivals in the U.S. and around the world. Here are some ideas to get your book club travels started. Bon voyage!

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott/ Orchard House, Concord, Massachusetts
Along with learning about Louisa May Alcott's interesting life, a visit to Orchard House is like journeying through the pages of Little Women. She drew heavily on her family members and their home for the characters and the setting, and it's fascinating to see things like the trunk of costumes the March sisters used to stage their plays and the parlor where Meg got married.

East of Eden by John Steinbeck/ National Steinbeck Center, Salinas, California
A reading of John Steinbeck's semi-autobiographical novel East of Eden would be enhanced by a visit to the California countryside he describes so vividly in the tale. Visitors can take a walking tour of the town, explore the interactive National Steinbeck Center and dine at the Steinbeck House, the writer's birthplace and now a luncheon restaurant serving delicious fare made from Salinas Valley produce.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee/ Old Courthouse Museum, Monroeville, Alabama
Each year in Monroeville, Harper Lee's hometown, a two-act production of To Kill a Mockingbird takes place. The second part unfolds in the courtroom she used as the model for the one in the book (an exact replica was recreated on a Hollywood sound stage for the film version), and playgoers act as trial spectators. It's a unique opportunity to see the novel come to life. At the Old Courthouse Museum are exhibits devoted to Lee and Truman Capote, her childhood friend and the inspiration for Dill in To Kill a Mockingbird.

To Have and Have Not by Ernest Hemingway/ Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum, Key West, Florida

Hemingway resided on sun-drenched Key West through much of the 1930s, and the isle provided the backdrop for his only novel set in the U.S., To Have and Have Not. The depression-era saga of a charter boat owner forced into smuggling contraband was penned in Papa's secluded writing studio in the back of his home at 907 Whitehead Street. And no visit to Key West would be complete without stopping by two Hemingway-related watering holes: Captain Tony's Saloon and Sloppy Joe's, where you can sip the tangy signature drink that Hemingway himself once enjoyed, the Papa Dobles.

The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl/ Longfellow National Historic Site, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Uniquely, the yellow brick manse at 105 Brattle Street appeals to lovers of both contemporary and classic literature alike. Once home to poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, it was the setting for his lively Wednesday night Dante Club meetings. Little did he know the intimate scholarly gatherings in his cozy study would be immortalized two centuries later in Matthew Pearl's bestselling historical novel. Special "Dante Club" tours are occasionally arranged by the Longfellow National Historic Site, with Pearl --- who resides locally --- serving as a guest guide.

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank/Anne Frank House, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Touring the secret annex in the canal-side warehouse in Amsterdam where Anne Frank and her family lived in hiding for two years adds a new dimension to the experience of reading her diary. To realize exactly how small the space is, to see the map on which her father optimistically charted the progress of Allied forces in Normandy and, of course, knowing the tragic outcome, really brings home the hardships they endured.

Northanger Abbey and Persuasion by Jane Austen/ Jane Austen Centre, Bath, England
Jane Austen set portions of two her novels in Bath, and modern-day Jane-ites entering this Regency spa town can't help but feel as though they are stepping back in time. The perfect jumping off point for an Austenian literary sojourn is the Jane Austen Centre, which displays period costumes, Regency artifacts and copies of the author's correspondence that shed light on what life was like during Austen's Bath years. Afterwards, be sure to have tea at the Regency-era Pump Room, where Austen herself often "took the waters" and where Catherine Morland parades with gossipy Isabella Thorpe in Northanger Abbey.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte/ Bronte Parsonage Museum and Yorkshire Moors, Haworth, England
From an eleven-room brick Georgian parsonage in the picturesque village of Haworth, Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte roamed the brooding moors, most famously depicted in Wuthering Heights. After visiting the Bronte Parsonage Museum, hike the windswept, heather-covered moors to the stone ruins of an isolated farmhouse known as Top Withens, credited as being the setting of Heathcliff's domain in Wuthering Heights.

Ulysses by James Joyce/ James Joyce Museum and Tower, Dublin, Ireland
Possibly one of the world's most atmospheric literary locales is an imposing stone tower on the south coast of Dublin where James Joyce briefly stayed in 1904. He wove elements of a mysterious incident that occurred there --- a gunshot rang out over his bed one night --- into the opening scene of his masterpiece, Ulysses. Dublin is full of literary riches for book groups, including the Dublin Writers Museum. Wind down the day with the extremely popular Jameson's Dublin Literary Pub Crawl, which includes a visit to Davy Byrne's pub, where Ulysses' Leopold Bloom lunches on a gorgonzola and mustard sandwich and enjoys a glass of burgundy.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo/ Notre-Dame Cathedral, Paris, France
Paris' famed medieval cathedral was the backdrop for Victor Hugo's sweeping story of deformed bell-ringer Quasimodo and the beautiful gypsy dancer, Esmeralda. After marveling at Notre-Dame's ornate interior, follow in Hugo's footsteps and climb the towers of Notre-Dame for a sprawling view of the city. Other intriguing sites are the staircase leading to "Esmeralda's cell" (located in the bookstore) and le bourdon, the cathedral's largest bell, rung by Quasimodo. Also in Paris is the Maison de Victor Hugo, a stately townhouse where the author moved with proceeds from the bestselling The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.

---Shannon McKenna Schmidt and Joni Rendon