Last weekend we decided to drive east instead of west. About two and a half hours’ drive are the Pawnee Buttes, rising up out of the flat plains like giant, misplaced sand castles. To get there, you have to hold your nose through dairy towns and take care to stop at one last outpost of civilization before about a 45-minute stretch of boondocks. You’ll be pretty sure you are heading the wrong way; the wooden painted signs are so weatherbeaten that they are hard to read, the asphalt trucks apparently abandoned their paving task shortly off the highway. There is even what can only be called a ghost town there in the sticks — a cluster of abandoned houses that once optimistically catered to tourists of the Buttes. But then, you’re there.
What is so arresting about this little pocket of Colorado? For one thing, you can’t see it coming — it just sort of shimmers into being at the last minute like an apparition from the Wild West. Empty field, empty field –boom. Humongous towers. It reminds me in that way of Black Canyon, only in that case the last-minute jaw-dropper falls down, a yawning cavern hewn out of the earth like the battle scar from some great axe. In both cases, we tourists begin to mutter “nothing to see here” before rounding that final corner.
And that makes me wonder — what else is hiding in plain sight? What gobsmacking wonders of the world lie forgotten on the back 40 of some dairy farmer’s fields? Or, for that matter, in our back yard? On the palm of my hand?
It reminds me of last year’s viral video, the little orange guy who makes us happy. Who knew he was hiding in the back of your brain?
So much depends on having the eyes to see, the perseverance to track down marvels, the determination to squash the muttering. Pinch your nose and take a drive — it’s worth the trip!
Last week we took the kids to a great second hand bookstore called 2nd and Charles. It was vast. Since they weren’t bound to recent bestsellers, we found all kinds of treasures that Barnes and Noble doesn’t stock and the library has forgotten. I found a great copy of Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping, and my sweet Abbey walked out with a stack of books — $1.50 for Emily of New Moon. You can’t find that anywhere!
Got me thinking about my deep and insatiable love of books, the slow, sad, extinction of the indie bookstore, and the places I absolutely need to go before I die. So here’s my Book Loving Bucket List — three author’s haunts to explore, three experiences to plum, and three places to shop. All of the photos below are links to fuel your own daydreams. Enjoy!
Vermont is one of the only states back east I’ve never visited, and Robert Frost is such a favorite. While I’m at it, I’d love to swing over to Amherst and visit the Emily Dickinson house (and maybe Mark Twain’s, Louisa May Alcott’s… OK, maybe just a dozen or so in New England. Why not?) I think Frost’s words and his landscape were so wedded, you’d feel you were walking into a poem. “A breeze discovered my open book / And began to flutter the leaves to look.”
There are scads of Jane Austen tours that take you through the countryside she knew and loved, but of course, the must-see spot is her actual house. I can only imagine it’s packed. All the time. Because Mr. Darcy! Emma! Says Miss Austen, “The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.” Wow, Jane. Don’t hold back.
Little bit influenced by the scenery, not gonna lie. I am loving reading Les Mis right now, but it is work in spots, for sure. But Guernsey! And not only would I need to pack Les Mis, but The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which is one of my all-time favorites. I might need to stay for a week. Clear the calendar.
Y’all, this looks so great. Last night when I couldn’t sleep I started daydreaming about a writer’s museum. Why is there not one? It was a happy thought, and when I googled it today, lo and behold, there’s one coming! And I don’t even particularly like Chicago — but now it’s on the list. Yippee.
So The Rabbit Room is more of an online destination, and it is fantastic. Enough distraction to derail a month of workdays. But they actually do host really incredible events, often at the Art House in Nashville, pictured above. They have this crazy idea that art and music and faith and stories all flow out of the same great place. I don’t have the chutzpah to join in, but I’d love to be a fly on the wall. From their website, “Through books, movies, theater, and other media, the magic of storytelling has the power to shape not only our minds, but the world around us. And story, like music, has the kind of magic that not only draws people closer to one another, but draws them further up and further into the great Story.”
The Glen Workshop is the brainchild of Image Journal and Seattle Pacific’s MFA program. I torture myself by looking into it every year and then not going. (Money. Sad but true.) Participants in the MFA go to two residencies per year, one in Whidby Island, one in Santa Fe. The Santa Fe version is open to non-MFA students as well, and brings in an amazing assortment of artists from many disciplines, authors, and crazy respected speakers. Someday, friends. Someday.
So it’s not better than Guernsey. It doesn’t beat Santa Fe. But it’s practically local, a mere 8 hours away. I’ve been to Signs of Life (the only one on the list with this distinction) several times, and it’s my favorite bookstore in the world. So very cool. Like The Rabbit Room and The Glen, this little gem is saturated in an Art/Faith/Mystery worldview that embraces visual arts, poetry, theology, and literary fiction. There’s a café for chatting, a gallery for contemplating, and lotsa books.
I love the whole gutsy story of The Last Bookstore. You have got to click on the link above and watch this beautiful little story, of a guy who was pretty broken, who nevertheless had vision and determination, who built maybe the coolest bookstore you’ll ever see. Redeem your next visit to LA with something extraordinary.
I think I could live here forever. It is the land of books. An entire village of bookstores. And where the books aren’t shelved in shops, they’re shelved up and down the streets and ruined castle walls, honor system style. Just be sure to buy a round-trip ticket or you’ll spend all your traveling money and be stuck there forever. Unless that’s not such a bad thing, after all.