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A Skeptic’s Guide to Writers’ Houses

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This book, a mere 146 pages of text, is jam-packed with wonderfully offbeat information about a variety of American writers and their homes, now designated museums. Trubeck’s purpose in writing the book was to “expose not simply Whitman’s house, but all of the writers’ house museums as the frauds I believed them to be.” What she found as she traveled and visited many sites was a little more complicated.

The author points out that visiting the house of a favorite or famous author should not surprise us: “Writers’ house museums have been on the itineraries of the European Grand Tour since the sixteenth century.” The relationship between reader and favorite writer is strong. Visiting the house to see the writer’s chair, quill, pen, typewriter and, soon, PC or laptop is a kind of posthumous literary voyeurism.

The Alcott house, home to the March family of Little Women, has come to epitomize the America family in ways that would have appalled the strongly feminist Louisa May. And it’s not the only legendary writer’s living quarters whose public image differs from the reality of the writer’s life within its walls. Whose house becomes a museum? Do they generate income? When did all this begin? In the end, Trubek debunks literary myths, but comes to terms with the devotional sojourns of readers for whom reading the book is not enough. Trubeck’s intended exposé entertains, enlightens and enchants.

The Skeptic’s Guide is a natural for any book club in the greater Bay Area. There are numerous authors’ houses for us to visit. Jack London’s Glen Ellen property would make a spectacular day trip for an adventurous club or a quick trip by BART to Jack London Square in Oakland, where you could peek into one of London’s favorite watering holes. Joaquin Miller‘s bungalow in Joaquin Miller Park in Oakland is also nearby and there is the Steinbeck country of Salinas. How could a club go wrong with a visit to the John Muir home in Martinez? Danville has O’Neill’s Tao House; if poetry is your thing, and you’re headed down to Steinbeck country, go a bit farther and visit Robinson Jeffers’ Tor House in Carmel. Literary bus tours are available for the mystery loving book clubs and I’m sure a Google search could produce a few others. Check out the Beat poets’ environs of San Francisco. For those of you who can’t get to Mark Twain’s East Coast home, you can head up to Virginia City and rest your foot on a few bar rails familiar to Twain in his journalism days.

At the end of her book, Trubek has included a list of writers’ homes open The Skeptic’s Guide to Writers’ Houses is a bit of a travel book, museum rants and raves and just generally a lot of fun.

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