A Skeptic's Guide to Writers' Houses

For those of you who read and enjoyed Anne Trubek's essay on Paul Laurence Dunbar from our summer quarterly, I'm happy to report that Anne's book, A Skeptic's Guide to Writers' Houses (University of Pennsylvania Press), is being published this month and is available to order from the bookseller of your choice. She'll also be doing readings/signings in Oberlin, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Lenox, NYC, and Washington DC, so check out her website if you might be able to attend one.

I was lucky enough to receive a galley of the book, and I so thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Anne takes us to Whitman's house in dilapidated Camden, NJ; to the slick shrine to Hemingway in Key West, FL; to the 'boyhood home' of Mark Twain in Hannibal, MO. At each stop, she takes a good look around and tries to separate fact from fiction, writer from building. It's a travelogue combined with literary history, written with humor and humanity.

If you've been reading along with me for the past year, you may remember that I'm a big fan of Thoreau. I've made the "literary pilgrimage" to Walden Pond maybe eight or ten times, even brought my then one year old on a tour of the Emerson House on one of the trips. Bad idea. In one of the chapters in A Skeptic's Guide, Anne goes to Concord--former home to so many literary luminaries--and finds herself "preternaturally anti-Concordian." I laughed at this, as I can completely understand how odd our strange devotions to these writers' haunts can be, and yet I can't help but associate that feeling with the desire to buy first editions. I suppose I'm hoping to see or experience something the way that author saw it, something very personal, like the view from her library window, his hat hanging on the hook by the door, or the first edition of his first book, if only for a moment.