Feature: Literary Ischia

I am presently moved
by sundrenched Parthenopea,
my thanks are for you, Ischia,
to whom a fair wind has brought me
rejoicing with dear friends
from soiled productive cities.

How well you correct our injured eyes,
how gently you train us to see things
and men in perspective
underneath your uniform light

From ‘Ischia’ by W. H. Auden, June 1948

While in Washington last month at BookExpo America doing what I love best – interviewing smart book people for my podcast – I received an email from a friend who lives in Ischia, Italy, inviting me there to report on Pesce azzuro & Baccal, a first annual tourist festival celebrating the island’s ancient food and fishing tradition. I tell him that books are my singular obsession these days, and that they, if anything, will be the subject of whatever writing may come from my visit. He approves, and so I’m here, swept over by fair winds, living the maxim that ‘like attracts like’; experiencing gusts of bibliophilic synchronicity as never before.

W.H. Auden, a revered poet whose work I just happen to collect, summered here from 1948 to 1957 and wrote a poem called ‘Ischia’. Some of the finest Continue reading “Feature: Literary Ischia”

Feature: Literary Houston

Fondren Library

Christopher Hitchens died last December at Houston’s M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.

I re-read his Letters to a Young Contrarian on the flight down here. The next day I took the light rail train from our hotel in to town. It passed by the Center. Just seeing the place for those fleeting seconds was a very moving, emotional experience.

The relationships we establish with writers can be pretty intense. Visiting places described in their works where births, childhoods, marriages and deaths – real or imagined – take place, helps us to ‘connect’ with our literary heroes. It’s hardly rational, but I know from experience that it can be very powerful.

Christopher Hitchens’s writing and debating touched and influenced many. It stimulated a lot of important public discussion. Though his ties with Houston may be limited – all he did here was die – he will always be associated with the place.

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So will Donald Barthelme. He’s probably the best Continue reading “Feature: Literary Houston”