Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Pilgrim, I'm Not


From Terry: Here’s our weekly question: From Hemingway’s home in Key West to the train platform at King’s Cross Station, readers love to visit the haunts of their favorite writers and the key scenes from their favorite books. What literary pilgrimage have you made (or would like to make)? 

 I have been to Hemingway’s home in Key West—although I was never a Hemingway fan. I just happened to be in Key West and thought, why not? There were lots of cats. That’s what I liked best. 

 I’ve always thought visiting scenes from favorite books, or homes of favorite authors was a bit hagiographic. It’s interesting to see the historical settings for writers from the eighteenth and nineteenth century—the writers’ cramped quarters, their tiny writing desks, their painfully slim writing implements. But as a pilgrimage, it leaves me flat. That said, I’d love to get a peek at William Shakespeare’s home and writing arena. But to do that, I either have to imagine it, or find a handy time machine. 

 But there are writers’ landscapes I’d love to explore: the landscape of their imaginations. Many writers tell us how they imagined their books. For example, we have William Faulkner telling us how he developed The Sound and the Fury from one, simple image of a little girl climbing a tree with muddy drawers. 

Delve into the biographies of a lot of writers, and you can parse out how their stories emerged. And it’s often based on their geography—William Faulkner was steeped in Mississippi, as was Eudora Welty. Leo Tolstoy IS Russia. William Styron, Virginia. What about mystery writers? Michael Connolly is wholly of southern California, Catriona McPherson, Scotland, but also in a hotel in the U.S. Susan Bickford is entwined with upstate New York, Sarah Paretsky, Chicago, Laura Lippman, Baltimore. William Kent Krueger, Minnesota. 

 And Deborah Crombie, England. What? No, that’s wrong. Deb is from Texas. 
Authors can write about places they love, as well as places they are from. Cara Black, Paris; Susan Shea, French villages. Jeffrey Siger may be from Pennsylvania, but he writes about Greece. 

 There are other authors, though, whose minds I’d like to get inside, although only for a visit. Authors who seem to base their books on geography of the mind. I’d love to know how David Mitchell first envisioned Cloud Atlas, with its extraordinary leaps in time and characterizations. I’d be curious to peek into the mind of Henry James. Was his mind as orderly as his meticulously-crafted novels? And in mysteries, I’d like to know where Jo Perry came up with a dead detective with her sidekick dog. 

 As for me, it’s not hard to figure out that I grew up in Texas in a landscape that inspires me to this day—politics aside!

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