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▫ Some 838 miles of shelves in three buildings on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., house the Library of Congress’ bounty of books and other materials. Visitors should head for the Thomas Jefferson Building, where a visual extravaganza awaits.

 The Library was initially located in a boarding house after its founding on April 24, 1800, and was later moved to the U.S. Capitol. Its first permanent building—bearing former president Jefferson’s moniker—opened in 1897, making it the oldest federal cultural institution in the country.

▫ Why does Jefferson have the honors? After British troops burned the Capitol building and destroyed the library’s core collection of 3,000 volumes, Congress approved the purchase of Jefferson’s personal library—6,487 books bought for $23,950. The volumes that Jefferson originally contributed are on display (southwest pavilion, second floor).

▫ A bibliophile could move in and be right at home in the dazzling, octagon-shaped Reading Room (photo top row, center). It’s spacious (several stories high); gorgeously decorated with golden-color marble columns, statues of writers, artists, and thinkers like Michelangelo and Shakespeare, and a Renaissance-style dome; and has plenty of reading material. The Reading Room can be viewed from an upper level platform called the Overlook. Standing behind a clear plastic partition takes away some of the grandeur, but it’s still an impressive sight.

▫ Let there be light. The library’s light bulb budget is $100,000 a year.

▫ Bacchus, the Roman god of wine, is one of the images adorning the Thomas Jefferson Building’s main chamber. The Great Hall soars 75 feet, rising from a marble floor to a stained glass ceiling. Take some time to soak up the splendor of the Great Hall. Look up, down, and sideways, or you’ll miss its nuances. Woven into the eye-catching display of mosaics, statues, paintings, and decorative details—some of it drawing on the Italian Renaissance style—are themes of literature, music, philosophy, education, and architecture, along with references to the zodiac and mythology and tributes to other countries.

▫ The Guttenberg Bible, on display in the Great Hall, is one of a three-volume set. To reduce wear and tear on the fragile documents, it’s changed out periodically—under armed guard.

▫ Size matters. The collection contains nearly 167 million items, making it the largest library in the world. Of those, 39 million are books (including Novel Destinations) and other printed materials. The rest are films, photos, prints, maps, manuscripts, and sheet music. About half of the books and serials are in languages other than English.

▫ Pick and choose. Every day the library receives 15,000 new items, approximately 12,000 of which are added to the collection.

▫ It’s well worth the time to take a free 60-minute, docent-led tour. It gives a fascinating, more in-depth perspective than strolling through the building on your own (I’ve done both). Learn about the library’s creation and collection, as well as its impressive architectural details. Tours are given several times daily Monday through Saturday, and there’s no need to reserve a spot. Even if 50 or 60 people show up, guides break tour-goers into smaller groups.

▫ Only members of Congress and their staff can check out books. The rest of us can view the digital collection online.

–Shannon McKenna Schmidt

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#WanderlustWednesday A conversation earlier this week with @shapedbystoriesdiane about our literary travel bucket lists has my wanderlust going wild. As much as I dream of making it to a far-flung locale like Guernsey for a tour of Victor Hugo’s house or to Samoa to see Robert Louis Stevenson’s last abode, this year my exploring will be closer to home. A day trip to revisit Washington Irving’s lovely estate, Sunnyside, overlooking the Hudson River in Tarryrown, NY, and hopefully a weekend excursion to the intriguing Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst, MA (finally!). And perhaps a trip to Chicago for the American Writers Museum and Hemingway’s birthplace in nearby Oak Park. What literary locales will you be exploring this year? And if not in person then on the page. #noveldestinations #literarytravel #booksandtravel #travelguide #travelguides #bookstagram #wanderlust #instabooks #igreads #travel @emilydickinson.museum @washingtonirvingsunnyside @americanwritersmuseum #guidebook #travelguidebook #travelgram #passport #booksbooksbooks
Seeing the terrific new movie adaptation of LITTLE WOMEN has me thinking about a road trip to revisit sites related to the story. Surprisingly, this is the first screen version of Louisa May Alcott’s tale to use Massachusetts, her lifelong home, as a primary filming location. “To shoot in Concord, in Massachusetts, in this area, in this environment, was really essential in how I wanted to build this movie,” explained director Greta Gerwig in an interview. “It’s significant. The place matters as much as anything.” ... The Alcott family home and also the most significant locale in the lives of the March sisters, Orchard House, was temporarily recreated on a property in Concord. Louisa May Alcott drew so heavily on real-life details, like the trunk of costumes the March sisters used to stage their plays, that visiting the actual abode is a true delight for fans. Of all the literary locales I’ve visited, this is the place where I most felt like I had stepped into a novel. ... #noveldestinations #travelguide #littlewomen #littlewomenmovie #louisamayalcott #orchardhouse #literarytravel #literarylandmarks #classicliterature #concordma #bookstagram
If I had selected a 7th top title of 2019, it would have been this one. Which surprises me. I didn’t feel as if I completely connected with the story while reading it, but it’s one that I think about a lot—what draws us to romantic partners and friends, especially ones who seemingly are vastly different from us, and how our backgrounds influence the adults we become. I found particularly interesting the aspect of the storyline that deals with autism and the early days of diagnosis and treatment. Plus it’s primarily set in New York City, which is always a plus for me. #thedearlybeloved #booksofig #bookstagram #greatreads #igreads #booksandcocktails

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