Salem Massachusetts Before and After

Literary Tourist in Salem

This is a before and after story. Before: We’d first visited Salem some years ago primarily to check out The House of Seven Gables. It’s New England’s oldest wooden mansion, and inspired

.

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1851 novel of the same name. Hawthorne’s cousin, Susanna Ingersol, had inherited the property from her wealthy sea captain father in 1804, the year Hawthorne was born. Later on, Nathaniel used to visit the house frequently between 1845-1849 when he was a surveyor at the nearby Custom House. During this time he wrote his first critically acclaimed and best known work, The Scarlet letter.

We learned all of this, and a lot more, from our tour guide. She was terrific, and made all the difference. I’m kind of ambivalent when it comes to writers’ houses. Many of them can seem fake and contrived. Tourist traps. If, however, the guide is informative, animated, and funny, the experience can be really enjoyable. This, as I say, was the case with ours.

Gift shops are always fun. And this place has a dandy. It sells lots of funky literary stuff, including this tea pot

Salem is also home to an evocative cemetery

where Nathaniel’s ancestor John Hathorne is buried. And yes, Nate changed the spelling of his name to avoid any connection with the old judge, the only one involved in the Salem witch trials who never repented of his actions; plus there are some truly beautiful old ships docked here,

beside which you can

Anyhow, getting back to before: when we were first in Salem I took great pleasure in browsing through the Derby Square Bookstore.

It’s one of the most overstuffed floor-to-ceiling shops I’ve ever visited. Not that the stock was all that interesting. It wasn’t. And even if it was, there’s little chance of being able to pull much out, without taking down the entire stack.

Hard even to see who you were paying your money to.

For presentation alone however: Most memorable!

Now, however, after, when we visited last month, the store is much changed.

Bookshop, Salem

I was pleased to see that the building was still occupied by a bookshop, but it’s nowhere near as remarkable.

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While my companions followed the scarlet brick road (okay line) around town – no double inspired by Hester Prynne’s walk of shame – I decided to do some writing/surfing at this fine local, dog-friendly,

dog motiffed

coffeehouse. The service was spirited

as was the coffee. Lots of electrical outlets, wooden floors, good music, artisan beer – the perfect writers’ hangout. As for the name,

Gulu, Gulu, romantically, “Marie Feldmannova and her husband, Steve Feldmann, named their quirky place for the cafe in Prague where they met.”

For advice on what to do and when to do it – Halloween and witches cast a spell over the place in October – check out Salem Tourism’s website here.

What’s a Literary Tourist to do in Hawaii?

Ihad pretty well resigned myself to lounging by the pool with a good book and a cold Heineken, before I decided to check the Internet. Hawaii, I assumed, was going to be a Literary Tourist wasteland, a jungle of non-literary vegetation.

But I was wrong. Here we were in the middle of what seemed like nowhere (the town of Kona on the Big Island), and I find this great big warehouse of a used bookstore right around the corner. Kona Bay Books offers two miles worth of books. Not first editions, but a good selection of readable novels and non-fiction, many perfect for the beach. Plus there’s a sister store, Hilo Bay Books, on the opposite side of the island.

So off we went on a scenic two hour drive to see how the other half lives, and of course, to check out the books. Along the way we encounter purple flowering Jacaronda trees

next to the complementarily coloured mock orange, nestled, as they are, between these cool cone-shaped mounds (known as Puu Oo)

and fields of dark, healthy-looking lava.

Continue reading “What’s a Literary Tourist to do in Hawaii?”

“Purchases are wrapped in brown paper and tied with string”

The next time you’re in Oamaru, New Zealand you should drop in here:

“Established in 1995, Slightly Foxed Secondhand Books sells good quality books on all subjects including New Zealand local history, modern first editions, fishing, hunting, mountaineering, literature and fiction, history, military, craft and biography.

The shop is located in an Oamaru stone building providing a Victorian style atmosphere with stone walls, wooden floor, sash windows, sofas, tables and chairs and a pot belly stove.

Prices range from $3 to $1500, and the books from recently published to antiquarian, from common-place to rare and collectible.

The proprietors, Jenny Lynch-Blosse and Kahren Thompson, wear Victorian clothing and sales are entered into a spring-back ledger with a fountain pen. Purchases are wrapped in brown paper and tied with string.”

Once you’ve roped up your books, you might want to stroll several doors down for a chat with

Michael O’Brien, If you hit if off you can stay at his place, or take a bookbinding workshop. As he puts it, “I offer a small self-contained studio, adjacent to main house. Separate kitchen and bathroom. Beautifully restored, cosy and warm. French doors open out to a small garden with a fire pit. Main garden is based on permaculture design, with two chickens providing fresh eggs. Private and quiet. I am not always at home, and there is one pussycat onsite. This is ideal for a couple who wish to come to one of my weekend workshops.”

For details on how to flesh out your visit, click here.

Audio: Jo Furber on Dylan Thomas and why you should visit Wales


Dylan Thomas Walk, Laugharne

Yes, the background voices are distracting, but what do you expect, we’re in a Welsh pub for crying out loud! Well, actually we’re upstairs at the Dylan Thomas Centre in Swansea at a bar surrounded by revellers who have just attended a hilarious poetry vs burlesque mashup down the hallway in the Centre’s theatre. So everyone is pretty frisky. The performance kicked off the annual Dylan Thomas Festival.

Dylan Thomas expert Jo Furber is Swansea Council Literature Officer and curator of the Dylan Thomas Exhibition. She also sits on the board of the prestigious New Welsh Review, the country’s foremost literary magazine in English.

Listen as she fields every question I hurl at her with racing car driver reflexes and dexterity. Here, listeners, is everything you need to know about Thomas and how and why to visit Wales, if you happen to love his literature and poetry…even if you don’t, you’re sure to get caught up in the enthusiasm (be sure to listen for one of the revellers offering to buy me a drink about mid-way through the conversation).

Find more information on the Dylan Thomas Centre here, and on visiting Wales, here.