I have a friend who delivers a hilarious monologue about her book obsession that opens with the line, “My name is Kathy, and I am a biblioholic.” Kathy, this book is a dream come true for you and for all your biblioholic friends.
In NOVEL DESTINATIONS, Shannon McKenna Schmidt and Joni Rendon, two self-described “lifelong voracious readers who share an equally passionate appetite for exploration,” have delivered nothing less than a delightful and long overdue guide for travelers for whom books are a way of life, not merely a diversion. It's a compact, attractive book, chock full of helpful and friendly advice more than sufficient to fuel a lifetime of literary tourism.
In creating a book that goes far beyond the guidance found in the snippets of literary information offered by conventional tourist guides, Schmidt and Rendon recognize that novels have provided “a new dimension to our travel experiences,” while at the same time the literary places they've visited have given them “a deeper perspective on the books we cherish.” They've engagingly demonstrated that book-oriented travel can be as fun and intellectually stimulating as treks to historic sites or tours of classic works of architecture.
The book is divided into two parts. Part One consists of a thematically organized potpourri of literary attractions, ranging from author houses and museums (more than 60 authors of all styles and genres receive mention) to destinations frequented by literary titans Fitzgerald (a small quibble: his gravesite near a busy intersection in downtown Rockville, Maryland is omitted), Hemingway, Twain, Wharton and Henry James, to prominent literary festivals like the Guardian Hay Festival in Hay-on-Wye, Wales, and preeminent libraries. This section concludes with an ample offering of literary lodgings, restaurants and bars, both in the United States and around the world.
One noteworthy example among the many cited is the Library Hotel, in midtown Manhattan, where each of the hotel's 10 floors is devoted to a different category of the Dewey Decimal System. I can personally vouch for the excellent food and charming atmosphere at John's Grill in San Francisco, a favorite restaurant of Dashiell Hammett and one of the settings for THE MALTESE FALCON. A cautionary note to travelers on a budget: the hotel and restaurant recommendations aren't accompanied by any price information, and it's fair to say that many of the establishments cited tend toward the pricey side. The good news is that the authors provide sufficient contact information so that readers contemplating a trip can conduct their own research.
Part Two focuses on tourist opportunities in places associated with the works of 10 icons, among them Bath, England (Austen), Monroeville, Alabama (Harper Lee), Prague (Kafka) and Salem, Massachusetts (Hawthorne) for literary types who are eager to immerse themselves in the world of a favorite author and see the places that sparked their creativity come to life. In this section, Schmidt and Rendon do a fine job of weaving together helpful tourist tips with anecdotes about their author subjects and discourses on the characters and themes of their works.
Like a pair of food critics writing about their favorite restaurants, Schmidt and Rendon are knowledgeable and informative, consistently conveying their enthusiasm for this unique project. This is the kind of book that cries out for frequent updating, and if that's the case, perhaps the authors will consider a couple of friendly suggestions for future editions. In addition to the book's conventional index, a geographic index and some maps to accompany the thumbnail photographs that dot the pages would be welcome. And although there are occasional references to independent bookstores, some more extended coverage of that economically challenged segment of the bookselling world would be useful.
NOVEL DESTINATIONS is the type of book that can be opened to any page to reveal some entertaining or enlightening tidbit. But it should be accompanied by a warning that casual browsing may lead to extended reading and perhaps even a detour into the works of one of the authors who occupy its pages. Whether you're actually planning a literary trip, or simply want to sit by the fireside contemplating that delightful possibility, this volume is guaranteed to provide many hours of pleasurable and rewarding reading.
Reviewed by Harvey Freedenberg(firstname.lastname@example.org) on January 13, 2011