If you’re reading this post, please go to the new version of this blog, Off The Beaten Page Travel.
It’s been quite a while since my last post because I’ve been hard at work on a forthcoming book entitled Off the Beaten Page: The Best Trips for Lit Lovers, Book Groups and Girls on Getaways, which will be out in May. The book explores the idea of literary travel– what it is, how to plan lit trips large and small, and 15 of the best places in the U.S. for where you can both explore the settings of great books and have a great time with friends. I’m starting the new year with a new blog, Off The Beaten Page Travel, which will work in conjunction with the book, serve as a place to update lit lovers on my literary travel adventures as well as a forum where readers can share their ideas, too.
I have moved the content from Book Club Traveler to this new blog, so if you’re a subscriber to BCT, please subscribe to Off the Beaten Page Travel (www.offthebeatenpagetravel.wordpress.com). You’ll find both the information from the last couple of years along with new and frequently updated thoughts on reading and travel. The goal will remain the same as my tagline says, “Travel to the places you’ve read about. Read about the places you travel.”
My book club took a little F. Scott Fitzgerald tour in St. Paul a few weeks ago. We walked around the neighborhood where he was born and grew up, taking in his various residents and hang-outs and staring as so many Fitzgerald pilgrims do at the house where he was born at 481 Laurel Avenue. (See my previous post on the St. Paul Fitzgerald tour. We gathered just off the front porch and gazed up like a bunch of tourists and in a few minutes one of the people who live in the building, Richard McDermott, saw us and called us in for a little talk about the building, which was a real treat because he was instrumental in preserving the building. I was sad to see in the Minneapolis Star Tribune an article about him and the fact that he has terminal cancer. He has done much to preserve Fitzgerald’s heritage in St. Paul and had regaled visitors from around the world, including Azar Nafisi, with stories about the building. Here’s an article about the charming Mr. McDermott
I’m working on a book about reading and travel and searching for book clubs around the country who have taken a book-related trip together. I’d love to hear from you. Send comments. Thanks.
I’m heading over to the Literary Death Match (LDM) tonight, which sounds like some sort of mixed martial arts combat. But, there will be no Junior dos Santos, Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva or other UFC luminaries at tonight’s competition at the Nomad World Pub in Minneapolis. (I’m hoping to see some beefcake, but keeping my expectations low.) Despite its violent-sounding name, LDM is a comedic/literary competition that has made its way around the globe and regularly stops in the Twin Cities. These are great events for book clubs to attend together. Four authors read something they’ve written and three literarily (is that a word?)-inclined judges offer their comments on each reading, with an emphasis on humor rather than violence, though there is sometimes beer-fueled mayhem as the audience votes on the winner. Everyone goes home happy—no bruises, even to their egos.
Tonight’s readers include L.A. Times-award-winning young-adult novelist Pete Hautman (The Big Crunch and The Obsidian Blade), Minnesota Public Radio Electric Arc Radio‘s Stephanie Wilbur Ash, poet and author Juliet Patterson (author of Truant Lover) and poet-musician Jeffrey Skemp (author of Spent). The judges: Jamaican native Marlon James (author of The Book Of Night Women and John Crow’s Devil), cartoonist and host of the Lutefisk Sushi podcast Danno Klonowski, and former journalist turned sci-fiction writer Dennis Cass.
LDM creator and host Todd Zuniga works as hard as any fight promoter to put these shows together and hopes eventually to bring LDM to television. He says, “Literary Death Match started because there was a real need to evolve literary events beyond a bar reading where Reader 1 would read for 12 minutes beyond the time limit, Reader 2 would read a slice-of-life blog entry they wrote earlier that day and Reader 3 would blow everyone’s mind. We wanted an event where everyone was Reader 3. So, we went around and asked literary entities and asked them to send us someone to represent them. Secondly, we wanted to seamlessly integrate comedy into a literary night, and that’s where the judges come in — regardless if the story was about a bad day at work, or surviving cancer.”
Todd shares my passion for making reading a way to create community and sees a trend toward people seeking entertainment and social connection through activities that exercise a bit of brainpower like LDM, a cerebral form of extreme cage fighting. He says, “LDM is a highly intellectual event, but we’re also zany and love bolts of silliness. I’m my mother’s son, so I want everyone in the room to feel good after it’s done. And what’s better than having a real conversation with someone fantastic? Our goal is to get people to read, and to keep helping people to understand that books aren’t always a solitary, lonely affair. We want to fill the room with the smartest, kindest, most fascinating people we can find. So, after the event they can talk about Etgar Keret’s Suddenly a Knock at the Door before they talk about the latest episode of Mad Men or Breaking Bad.”
Um, I have to figure out who Etgar Keret is before I can join that conversation, but I am looking forward to watching a few rounds of literary pugilism. Kudos to The Loft Literary Center for sponsoring this event.
I just got back from a few days in New Orleans where I caught a portion of the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival. The fest features famous writers, actors and authors (this year including Piper Laurie, Amanda Plummer, and playwright John Guare) performing and discussing their work and that of Tennessee Williams. Touring around the city, I was amazed to see New Orleans’s huge comeback after Katrina. I thought I would see areas that still looked demolished, but with a few exceptions the city is back in shape and New Orleans tourism has hit the level it was before 9/11. Beyond that, the city is as crazy as ever, with an above-average level of drinking. As an example of “only in New Orleans” behavior, I offer the Stanley and Stella Shouting Contest, which caps off the Tennessee Williams Festival. Click on the following link and watch the video that appears at the end of the page. It’s just great. www.nola.com/news/index.ssf/2012/03/photos_and_video_stella_and_st.html
Though the South by Southwest music, film and interactive fest has dominated Austin lately, the city has has a ton to offer year-round including great food, shopping, and music coming out of every doorway on 6th Street. In addition, if you have an extra day on your visit to Austin, you’ll find plenty to see, do and eat in the Hill Country west of Austin. It offers a chance to see the Texas countryside, with stunning wildflowers in spring, and even a few longhorn cattle.
Head first to Fredericksburg, a charming town that German settlers founded back in the mid-1800s. A trip down Main Street there is like a walk back into the old west, lined with historic limestone buildings, but with cute shops that cater to tourists on the inside. If it’s hot, you’ll find plenty of beer gardens and craft beer to slake your thirst.
Turn back in the direction of Austin, and pay a visit at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Ranch, home of our 36thPresident, and known as the Texas White House during his presidency. Be sure to read Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream or Billy Lee Brammer’s, The Gay Place which is about Texas politics and Lyndon Johnson to get the most out of your visit here. The ranch is now operated by the National Park Service. You can tour both an historic Texas farm and the Texas White House, circa 1968. It’s a great way to get off the road and see what a Texas ranch looks like, get a look at the lovely Pedernales River, and see the ranch house as it was, right down to the clothes in the closets.
End your day with a stop in Driftwood at the legendary rib joint and meat-lovers heaven, the Salt Lick. (Cash only and B.Y.O.B. or purchase a beer and wine a the wine bar next door.)