Thursday, April 17, 2008

Eat where Tennessee Williams Ate (Books - Novel Destinations)

Novel Destinations, published by National Geographic , who were nice enough to send me a copy, calls itself a guide to literary landmarks. It is, but writers Shannon McKenna Schmidt and Joni Rendon really seems to have fashioned a volume caught between being a coffee table book and a travel guide that isn't quite either. It's not so much the content that is the problem as the format. It is a hardcover edition, which makes for a solid and attractive volume on the one hand, but more clunky than I would want to take on a trip. However, it is smallish and sports only small black and white photographs if what you were hoping for was a National Geographic coffee table book. It does offer lots of ideas of travel destinations for a book nerd -which is its strength. However, the organization of the book does not make it very practical. The first section offers travels ideas divided by literary genre, which is cumbersome as far a travel guide is concerned. George Bernard Shaw's Home in Britain is followed by Ibsen's in Norway and then O'Neill's in the U.S. For a while this section features writers' homes but then suddenly veers off and tells you where Tennessee Williams ate. Then a new section begins with destinations connected only to poets, featuring Yeat's favorite wooded paths and Carl Sandburg's farm within two pages of each other. It's fun to thumb through, but isn't much practical help for the traveler. I would appreciate a book organized either by destination or writer so the next section was more helpful. Divided by individual writer, you can follow F. Scott Fitzgerlad from his home and the site of his marriage to Zelda to Paris (but no destination mentioned), an inn in Asheville, North Carolina, and to a restaurant they dined at in St. Paul de Vence. Now, I have no problem with being given an excuse to return to St. Paul de Vence, but the collection of destinations in this section, while satisfying some literary curiosity, is a bit of a hodgepodge. Literary festivals are included in another section, walking tours connected to writers in another. Yet another is devoted to places to stay in a section more typical of a travel guide. It does have contact information but its outlook is strictly literary - don't look for price ranges or reviews on the comfort of the beds. The last section offers destinations arranged by writer, with a more comprehensive way you might spend a visit. For example, Harper Lee in Monroeville, Alabama gives you sites in the town connected to her writing or her life, places to stay and to eat, a production of To Kill A Mockingbird, a writer's symposium in the area, directions on how to get there. This section is the most successful one if you wish to use this book as a reader looking to actually guide your travels. I would have enjoyed it more if the entire book had been organized this way. Otherwise, this volume is more of a curio for book nerds - not without its enjoyments - good, perhaps, as a gift for that reader in your life to whom you don't want to give one more bookstore card.

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