"I felt as if I’d got into a novel while going about in the places I’d read so much of,” Louisa May Alcott wrote in her journal after seeing the sights of Dickensian London in 1865. Though it’s been nearly 150 years since the writer penned those words, her sentiment still strikes a chord with many a modern-day traveler --- including us, two lifelong voracious readers who share an equally passionate appetite for exploration.
During one of our many transatlantic phone calls (Shannon lives in New Jersey and Joni had recently moved to London), the conversation turned to our two great loves: reading and travel. Shannon had recently returned from visiting Louisa May Alcott’s home in Concord, Massachusetts, with her family, while Joni was preparing for an upcoming trip to Dublin --- not by reading guidebooks but by delving into the works of famed Irish scribes Wilde, Joyce, and Beckett.
It was during this conversation that the inspiration for NOVEL DESTINATIONS struck. We realized that in our travels near and far, we’ve not only looked to novels to provide a new dimension to our travel experiences, but equally, we’ve sought out the literary places in our travels that will give us a deeper perspective on the books we cherish.
We suspect we’re not the only ones for whom the mere mention of Ernest Hemingway’s Key West or Victor Hugo’s Paris is enough to inspire a mad dash to book an airline ticket, pack a bag, and set off for some novel exploration. After all, it’s through the eyes of authors like these that many of us came to know the places we’re eventually able to visit firsthand.
Whether it’s having afternoon tea at Bath’s Pump Room, which Catherine Morland frequented in Northanger Abbey, seeing the room where the Alcott girls (and their Little Women counterparts) “took to the boards” to act out homespun theatrical productions, or sipping a pint in the pub where James Joyce and Ulysses’ Leopold Bloom once did the same, traveling off the page is a thrilling way to see the world. Even celebrated writers felt the allure of following in the footsteps of the authors they admired, such as John Steinbeck, who once dreamed of making like Jack London and sailing across the Pacific on a freighter. As Steinbeck later professed in his memoir TRAVELS WITH CHARLEY, “No two journeys are alike” --- whether the final destination lies within the pages of a favorite book or across the expanse of the open road ahead.
--- Shannon McKenna Schmidt and Joni Rendon www.noveldestinations.com.
Excerpted from NOVEL DESTINATIONS: Literary Landmarks From Jane Austen's Bath to Ernest Hemingway's Key West © Copyright 2011 by Shannon McKenna Schmidt and Joni Rendon. Reprinted with permission by National Geographic. All rights reserved.