Rainy Days and Bookstores

readerscornerKnowing we had limited time yesterday for a visit to Reader’s Corner in Raleigh, our favorite used bookstore, we struck a deal. “I’ll stay out of the airplane section,” said Johnpaul. “And I’ll stay out of the cookbooks,” I promised, right before we parted ways by Poetry.

What is it about a used bookstore on a rainy day? The scent alone–a combination of mildew, Grandma’s old linen, a dash of dog, I’m convinced–is an elixir, exacerbated by rain. There is also the promise of a literary adventure on an otherwise dreary February day. Simply put, there is nowhere I’d rather be.

noteWhere else but Reader’s Corner can you find an entire section on castles? Where else has such a marvelous display of literary knickknacks, such as those little notes left behind by previous owners? And where else can you find an overflow of Charles Dickens in the rest room?

The best part about a used bookstore is not what you go to get–you may not leave with this–but the serendipitous discovery of what you didn’t know you needed. And in my case, this was a compendium of wisdom on dreams, a definitive biography of Frederick Law Olmstead (the brains behind many famous American landscapes), and short stories by Henry James and Donald Barthelme. And for Johnpaul, for whom 4 copies of Moby Dick are not enough, he ended up with a portable Melville (letters and stories) and of all things, a witty guide to palindromes and anagrams.

In celebration of the approach of Valentine’s Day, here’s a sentence palindrome just for the Romeos and Juliets among us…”Won’t lovers revolt now?” If you think about it, this expression is perfect for book lovers too. We know that a tiny little revolution always happens in the bookstore. Because we’re never the same people we were when we walk out that door.


The End of the Road – Day 8

“Keep your face toward the sunshine,” wrote Walt Whitman, “and the shadows will fall behind you.” These words are a fitting introduction to the last day of our literary tour, as we navigated the tricky traffic of the greater New York metropolitan area for our last scheduled stops.

We spent last night at the gracious home of Jen and Pat (otherwise known as Jenny-Pat) in Darien, CT. Thank you so much, Jenny-Pat, for your hospitality and kindness (wine, snacks, and breakfast!). Once on the road, we first made a pitstop in Tarrytown, New York at Sunnyside, Washington Irving’s home. This was the place of his retirement after a lifetime of travel, letters, and writing best-selling stories such as Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Not surprisingly, as the authors on our tour moved in very small circles, Irving served as a mentor to Poe, Melville, and Hawthorne and even corresponded with Dickens. Due to the timing of the tours, and the extent of our travels, unfortunately, we weren’t able to go inside Sunnyside, but we did catch a glimpse of the beautiful landscape bordering the Hudson River. This is on the agenda for next time, for sure.

We next made our way to the birthplace of Walt Whitman, one of the primary poets who (along with Emily Dickinson) ushered in the era of contemporary poetry through works such as Leaves of Grass. The home is a very simple colonial farmhouse in Huntington on Long Island, New York (picture one, below). He lived here only three years and therefore there are only scant remnants of his life at this location, but the inside of the home includes period furniture meant to replicate his time in the house. His home in Camden, New Jersey, which includes more personal possessions, may be a better reflection of the poet but the visitor’s center here features a helpful timeline and a couple of things, such as a rare first edition (autographed!) of a work titled Two Rivulets (picture two) and the desk he used during his stint as a teacher in New York (picture three).




We were lucky enough to end our travels at the same place we began–the home of the wonderful Kretchmars in State College, PA. Although we’re sad to end our literary extravaganza, we’re proud to say that we covered five states and a total of 19 actual sites! And Ann, Jen, and I will return to North Carolina tomorrow with a renewed appreciation of our favorite authors and more inspiration for our own creative endeavors.

Since some of you have kindly asked, next time I’ll post the full itinerary of our journey, along with a few details of our more serendipitous pitstops. For now, good night, and I hope you are curling up with a good book!

Edna St. Vincent Millay and Herman Melville: Day 2

Yesterday while making reservations for a tour of Steepletop, home of the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay in Austerlitz, NY, the tour director, Martha Rafterty told us to be prepared to be blown away. And we were not disappointed. The home and gardens are simply exquisite, the perfect homage to the life of this free-spirited and talented woman.


Ann, Ashley, and Jen posing in front of the main house at Steepletop.











Millay, known as “Vincent” to her friends, earned a Pulitzer Prize for her work and was most known for her 1912 poem “Renascence.” In the twenties, she earned as much as $800 for her readings and frequently travelled the world until her untimely and mysterious death in 1949. Afterwards, her sister Norma moved into Steepletop and kept the estate intact, preserving items such as her clothes, furniture and books. Even today the gardens remain authentic, featuring blueberries, peonies, lupine, and her trademark strawberry shrub, the subject of another beloved poem.


As hard as it was to leave Steepletop, we kept to our itinerary and travelled to Pittsfield, Massachusetts and Arrowhead, the home of Herman Melville, most known for his epic novel, Moby Dick. His literary fame was mostly posthumous, however, being more popular in his lifetime for real-life adventures among the cannibals of the South Pacific.

arrowheadArrowhead marked the height of his literary output, the location where he finalized Moby Dick and other novels and short stories, one of which, Billy Budd, remained unfinished at the time of his death. Although plagued by insecurities and alcoholism at the end, his granddaughter Eleanor became his literary executrix and thanks to her perseverance, Moby Dick finally received the recognition it deserved.

Although little original furniture remains, the estate includes the fireplace, which is inscribed with Melville’s writings and the study where he secluded himself to write and escape the mayhem of his four children. Arrowhead overlooks a whale-shaped mountain in the Berkshires (Mt. Greylock), which reputedly inspired Moby Dick.


Melville’s study with a replica of his writing desk.











The adventures continue tomorrow with a short drive to Lenox, home of The Mount, the extraordinary estate of Edith Wharton, famous novelist and interior decorator. Stay tuned!