Books inspiring global pilgrimages

  • Article by: KORKY VANN , Hartford Courant
  • Updated: August 22, 2014 - 12:16 PM

Dedicated readers walk the Hardy Way in Britain, take tea with Janites in Vermont, or just snap a photo of Steven King’s front gate.

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Customers peruse the goods at the Strand bookstore in New York, which advertises “18 miles of books.”

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– Book lovers who head out to visit authors’ homes, museums and grave sites are part of a new chapter in travel called “literary tourism.”

Some focus their storied journeys on places and events featured in works of fiction, (think “Da Vinci Code” tours in Rome or “Sex and the City” tours in Manhattan), and some take the concepts of book clubs to a whole new level. Janites, as fans of Jane Austen call themselves, book Jane Austen-inspired weekends at the Governor’s House in Hyde Park, Vt. Visitors dress in period clothing and discuss plot details over afternoon tea, Saturday dinner and Sunday brunch.

Nathaniel Hawthorne fans relive historic witch trials at performances at the House of the Seven Gables in Salem, Mass. Literary tourists lunch at the famed Round Table at New York City’s Algonquin Hotel and make pilgrimages to legendary book stores, like City Lights in San Francisco and the Strand Book Store in New York City.

There are long-distance walking routes associated with writers, like the Hardy Way, a 212-mile path in Great Britain that follows the works of Thomas Hardy. In Hartford, Conn., literati can follow a trail of 13 granite blocks etched with stanzas from Wallace Stevens’ poem, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.” (The walk starts at the Hartford Insurance Group building on Asylum Avenue and ends in front of Stevens’ former home at 118 Westerly Terrace.)

Connecticut’s own Mark Twain House & Museum is a major destination for tourists. About 50,000 “Twainiacs” from all 50 states and 72 countries toured the Mark Twain House last year, with another 20,000 participating in the house’s myriad events.

“Seeing where writers created their works offers a personal glimpse into their lives and helps bring their words to life,” says Cindy Lovell, executive director of the Mark Twain House & Museum. “For some, it’s a pilgrimage or homage to a favorite author. For others, it’s like visiting an old friend. In all cases, it’s a profound experience.”

Not all destinations are publicized or open to the public — but that doesn’t stop literary detectives from snapping photos of a white clapboard, red-shuttered Bahamian cottage at 1431 Duncan St. in Key West, Fla., the unmarked home of author Tennessee Williams; or driving by Stephen King’s home on West Broadway in Bangor, Maine. (The house has a front gate shaped like a spider web topped by bats.)

There are guides, maps and websites to help book lovers find literary destinations. Literarytourist.com, a travel planner for book lovers, is filled with thousands of listings detailing literary destinations, events and activities around the world, including bookstores, rare book libraries, writers festivals, authors’ homes, antiquarian book fairs and more — all sorted by city. PlacingLiterature.com, an online database of places from scenes in literature, bills itself as the website “where your book meets the map.”

New England is home to many literary locations, including Rudyard Kipling’s home in Vermont, H.P. Lovecraft’s home in Rhode Island, Edith Wharton’s Massachusetts mansion, “The Mount,” in the Berkshires and Robert Frost Farm in New Hampshire, to name a few.

Websites will have calendars of special events, lectures, exhibits and performances, and many have special days when admission is discounted or free.

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