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This Saturday marks the start of England’s week long celebrations honoring Shakespeare, who would have turned 444 on April 23. Since I can’t make it out to Stratford this year, I hope to join one of this weekend’s Sonnet Walks in London, which highlight the Tudor history of the city in the accompaniment of twelve sonneteers.  

I’m also excited about the 2008 theatre season kicking off at the Globe with Wednesday’s performance of King Lear.  If you haven’t already got your hands on tickets to the season’s sold-out inaugural show, you can still join in the pre-performance birthday celebrations alongside the Thames, where a miniature Elizabethan theatre will be floating down the river before docking in front of the Globe.

But the ideal place to celebrate the bard’s birth is his Warwickshire birthplace of Stratford upon Avon, where an annual parade sets off next Saturday morning from his birthplace (pictured above) and culminates with the laying of floral tributes on the dramatist’s grave in Holy Trinity Church. Throughout the weekend, the town takes on the atmosphere of a lively Elizabethan carnival as musicians and members of “Shakespeare Live” stroll the streets performing scenes from the Bard’s repertoire.

Even if you can’t visit during the celebrations, Stratford is a must-see at any time of year because of its amazingly well-preserved Tudor architecture and its four Shakespeare-related properties. My favorite is Anne Hathaway’s cottage, an enchanting thatch-roofed dwelling surrounded by hollyhocks and climbing roses. It was in this fairytale setting where the bard wooed his future wife.

“We are in a snug little cottage keeping house,” Edgar Allan Poe wrote of the five-room bungalow he lived in for three years in the Bronx in what was then a rural township north of New York City. The humble cottage, home to the writer from 1846-1849 and where his 25-year-old wife died of tuberculosis, has been moved across the street from its original location to what is now Poe Park. It’s a surreal site to see the 200-year-old dwelling — the writer’s last residence — situated in the midst of urban sprawl.

Poe is well-remembered with four literary landmarks, and in recent months I’ve been on the writer’s trail. In addition to the cottage in the Bronx, I paid a visit to the Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum in Baltimore, where the items on display include his traveling writing desk, and the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site in Philadelphia, which contains the eerie basement and fireplace featured in the short story “The Black Cat”   (candlelight tours of the house are given in October).

Next on my Poe itinerary is the Poe Museum in Richmond, which has an exhibit speculating on possible causes of the 40-year-old writer’s unsolved demise. Poe died several days after being found disoriented and roaming the streets of Baltimore, uttering the final words, “Lord, help my poor soul.” In his novel The Poe Shadow, Matthew Pearl — who wrote the Foreword to Novel Destinations — delves into the mysterious circumstances surrounding Poe’s death. –Shannon McKenna Schmidt

img_0322.jpg“Behold us,” Rudyard Kipling enthused in 1902, “lawful owners of a grey stone lichened house–AD 1634 over the door–beamed, panelled, with old oak staircase, and all untouched and unfaked.” After years of transiency and travels, the Bombay-born author of The Jungle Book and other tales had found “a real house in which to settle down for keeps” in the English countryside. Kipling went on to live in the sprawling Jacobean manor, known as Bateman’s House, until the time of his death thirty years later. 

As my book club is in the midst of reading Kim, set in colonial India and considered to be his masterpiece, I thought it would be fitting to journey down to Sussex and report back to the group what I’d gleaned about the domestic life of the beloved English author. Although I’ve visited dozens of author houses while researching Novel Destinations, Kipling’s home immediately became one of my favorites, perhaps because of its sheer splendor and old age or the fact that its original Jacobean decor (stone doors, 17th century oak panelled walls and floors, Inglenook fireplaces, etc.) remains remarkably intact. Equally interesting were the house’s austere, medieval-era furnishings, which, I learned, earned the Kiplings a reputation for having an  “uncomfortable hard-chaired home.”  

img_0325.jpgBateman’s remains almost exactly as the Kiplings left it, and among the many items that fascinated me were the bronze plaster wall hangings depicting characters from The Jungle Book,  created by the author’s ceramicist father. Although it was a rainy, blustery day, my husband and I enjoyed a walk around the multi-acre grounds to see Kipling’s pristine 1928 Rolls Royce and take in the pond and rose garden he designed himself and paid for with his 1907 Nobel Prize winnings. 

Prior to residing at Bateman’s, Kipling and his American wife lived for a few years in Dummerston, VT, in a custom-built home they christened “Naulakha“, a Hindi word meaning “jewel beyond price.” Today, the house (which is chock-full of its original furnishings, including Kipling’s pool table), can be booked as a vacation rental.

For deep-pocketed Kipling fans visiting London, I recommend a stay at Brown’s Hotel, built in 1837 by Lord Byron’s valet. The author penned portions of The Jungle Book during stays at the luxe hotel, and sadly, the Kiplings were lodging at Brown’s when the writer suffered a hemorrhage and was rushed to the hospital. He died of a perforated ulcer six days later on January 18, 1936, the day of his forty-fourth wedding anniversary.–JR

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“Lexicographer: A writer of dictionaries; a harmless drudge that busies himself in tracing the original, and detailing the signification of words.”
Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language

With so many tourists queuing up at the marquee sites here in London for Easter weekend, my husband and I decided to pay a visit to a more off-the-beaten-path attraction: the 17th century house where famed lexicographer Samuel Johnson toiled for nearly a decade compiling the first comprehensive English-language dictionary. Published in 1755, the 2,300 page tome contained some 42,773 words accompanied by 114,000 illustrative quotations (you can peruse a copy, as I did, while visiting his home). By custom, the devoutly religious Johnson set aside each Easter Eve for meditation, weighing up his achievements and failures over the past year, so Saturday seemed a fitting day to pay him homage.

Johnson’s birthplace in Lichfield, Staffordshire, has also been preserved as a museum, and both houses are gearing up for special events and exhibitions to mark Johnson’s tercentenary in 2009. Next to Shakespeare, Johnson is said to be the most quoted of English writers, known for such witticisms as, “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.” As a Londoner myself, I couldn’t agree more.

The Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival kicks off next Wednesday, March 26th, in the Big Easy. A five-day line-up includes author events and workshops, literary-themed walking tours, a book fair, poetry readings, stage performances, panels such as “Wit & Wisdom: Southern Humor at Its Best,” a Stella and Stanley shouting contest, and more. The latest installment of the festival’s popular “Breakfast Book Club” focuses on the writings of Kate Chopin, who lived for a time in New Orleans and set parts of her controversial novel The Awakening in the Crescent City.

If you’re in New Orleans, dine at Galatoire’s at Tennessee Williams’ favorite corner table or drop by Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, a Bourbon Street watering hole the playwright frequented.  

yatestower.jpgWith St. Patrick’s Day putting the spotlight on all things Irish and March being Irish-American Heritage Month — and sadly, a trip to Ireland not in the cards for me any time soon — I’m visiting the Emerald Isle on the page. Right now I’m reading Dubliners, James Joyce’s short story collection set in Ireland’s capital at the turn of the twentieth century, and plan to follow that with Nuala O’Faolian’s novel I Dream of You (I enjoyed her previous book, Are You Somebody?: The Accidental Memoir of a Dublin Woman) and the travel narrative Round Ireland with a Fridge. For more reading suggestions, the Tuscaloosa Public Library has a list of novels set in Ireland.

If you’re lucky enough to be planning a trip to Ireland, be sure to visit some of the country’s literary sites during your travels — places like the Yeats Tower (see photo) in County Galway and the James Joyce Museum and Tower outside Dublin. And if you’re in Dublin, make time for the Jameson Literary Pub Crawl; local actors lead bibliophiles to watering holes where classic Irish writers sipped for inspiration. Joni can attest to the fact that it’s a spirited way to spend the evening.

 

Tying in to a more recent book, the Angela’s Ashes Walking Tour takes trekkers to Limerick sites depicted in Frank McCourt’s autobiography. –SMS

wharton_the-mount-with-japanese-anenomes-by-david-dashiell.jpgThe Lenox, Massachusetts estate where Edith Wharton wrote The House of Mirth and other novels is faced with imminent foreclosure due to financial difficulties, the New York Times recently reported. Trustees of The Mount have launched a fundraising campaign to save this National Historic Landmark, and $3 million needs to be raised before April 24, 2008. Pledges can be made at www.edithwharton.org, and they won’t be called in unless the monetary goal is reached — so there’s no risk to pledging a donation.

Wharton designed the house and gardens, and in addition to its literary significance The Mount is notable for being one of only 5 percent of National Historic Landmarks dedicated to women.

[Photo courtesy of David Dashiell and The Mount]

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The only good thing about being sick is the extra time to read. Thrillers and other gripping, fast-paced stories are a necessary remedy for making it through a wicked head cold. At the rate I’ve been going through books, I’m grateful to have access to my library’s offerings with the #libbyapp for an immediate and seemingly endless supply. I recommend all of these reads, in sickness and in health. I especially liked #Transcription by #KateAtkinson about a young woman recruited by MI5 in London during World War II and #LoveandRuin by #PaulaMcLain about Martha Gellhorn, a celebrated war journalist and Hemingway’s third spouse (the only one of his wives to leave him). #greatstorytelling #thankgoodnessfornovels #bookstagram #igbooks #theflightattendant #thedeathofmrswestaway #intothewater #librarylove
This was my book club’s most recent read, selected by me. I always find it a bit nerve-wracking when it’s my turn to choose, and I start making a list of possibilities several months in advance and narrow it down from there. I’m happy to report that LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE made for an interesting, in-depth discussion, largely because of the gray areas in the story. The complexity of human behavior and motivations, parent-children dynamics, taking sides, keeping secrets, making tough decisions, disguising manipulation and dishonesty as altruism. And how much responsibility a person bears when they compel someone, either intentionally or unintentionally, into a destructive course of action—igniting little fires everywhere. #greatstorytelling #discussionworthy #bookclubpick #bookstagram #booksofig #littlefireseverywhere #celesteng
From sunshine reading to snowstorm reading, in the span of a day. #welcomehome #snowstorm #books #reading #imissmiami

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