BOOKPATHS

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If land has determined books, than have books also exalted land. — Lawrence Clark Powell

Bookpaths brings together literature and place. Through books we can strengthen our connection with all places on earth and through travel we can enrich our reading experience by stepping into a book’s setting.  Peruse new entries or browse the archives by place or date to find books, links to articles, and destinations that inform our sense of place.

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The John G. Neihardt State Historical Site, Bancroft, Nebraska

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The John G. Neihardt State Historical Site
Located at Elm and Washington Streets
Bancroft, Nebraska 68004
402-648-3388; 1-888-777-4667
www.neihardtcenter.org/

I have a fondness for Nebraska in part because the state honors its writers, including John G. Neihardt at The John G. Neihardt State Historical Site housed on the site of the author’s former home.  It’s been a few years now since I visited, but I still remember how touching I found my time there, how I came away with a renewed respect for Neihardt.  Outside, I recall peaking into his study, “the only structure remaining from the original property.”  A path led me to The Sacred Hoop Prayer Garden, designed by the author as a “living symbol of the Hoop of the World from the vision of the Oglala Lakota Holy Man Black Elk,” whose story he shares in Black Elk Speaks.  The main museum’s “memorial room repeats the symbolism of the Hoop of the World and chronicles Neihardt’s life, works, and the times in which he lived.”  Video presentations allow visitors “to see and listen to the poet” and a research library is open to scholars.  When I visited The John G. Neihardt State Historical Site I had only read Black Elk Speaks.  Since then, I’ve read other works by him and continue to learn from his words.

Hungary; Paris, France

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The Invisible Bridge, by Julie Orringer (first published in 2010)

Even though The Invisible Bridge feels a bit over-written at times, it is still a satisfying read, offering an emotional journey into the lives of a Hungarian-Jewish family leading up to and during World War II. Set in Hungary and Paris, there are joys and beauty within the narrative, but it will also break your heart, especially knowing that the story pulls its inspiration from real lives. I left the novel’s pages with a renewed appreciation for all people who are pulled into a war, into events beyond their control.

In the end, what astonished him most was not the vastness of it all — that was impossible to take in, the hundreds of thousands of dead from Hungary alone, and the millions from all over Europe — but the excruciating smallness, the pinpoint upon which every life was balanced. The scale might be tipped by the tiniest of things: the lice that carried typhus, the few thimblefuls of water that remained in a canteen, the dust of breadcrumbs in a pocket. — from The Invisible Bridge

Julie Orringer Website

Publisher’s Website

Arches National Park Region, Utah

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Desert Solitaire, by Edward Abbey
Various editions; first published in 1968

I traveled with a box of books on our early fall trip to New Mexico. Knowing we’d have just one night in Moab, I grabbed one book, Desert Solitaire, by Edward Abbey — of course. In Desert Solitaire, Abbey describes the seasons he worked as a park ranger in what was then an asphalt-free Arches National Monument. Ranting, funny, and beautiful, a journey to Arches and the surrounding landscape with Desert Solitaire in hand is the perfect meeting of book and place. Although, as Abbey predicted, much has changed, what remains continues to inspire awe and protection.

A weird, lovely, fantastic object out of nature like Delicate Arch has the curious ability to remind us — like rock and sunlight and wind and wilderness — that out there is a different world, older and greater and deeper by far than ours, a world which surrounds and sustains the little world of men as sea and sky surround and sustain a ship. The shock of the real. For a little while we are again able to see, as the child sees, the world of marvels. For a few moments we discover that nothing can be taken for granted, for if this ring of stone is marvelous then all which shaped it is marvelous, and our journey here on earth, able to see and touch and hear in the midst of tangible and mysterious things-in-themselves, is the most strange and daring of all adventures. — from Desert Solitaire

Related Links

Abbey’s Web
Arches National Park

Back of Beyond Books, Moab, Utah

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Back of Beyond Books
83 N. Main Street
Moab, UT
435-259-5154; 800-700-2859

I don’t get there nearly often enough, but Back of Beyond Books remains one of my favorite bookstores. While Back of Beyond should be revered for its impressive selection of regional titles, its celebration of Edward Abbey, one of the first writers to help me understand our connection with place, increases my affection for this unique bookstore.

The name of the store was drawn from one of Edward Abbey’s most well-known fiction titles, ‘The Monkey Wrench Gang.’ His character Seldom Seen Smith was an outfitter, and the name of his company — and hideout — was ‘Back of Beyond.’ — from Back of Beyond Books Website

Maria’s Bookshop, Durango, Colorado

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Maria’s Bookshop
960 Main Avenue
Durango, CO 81301
970-247-1438
http://mariasbookshop.com/

In October, I finally returned to Maria’s Bookshop in downtown Durango, Colorado. Since it had been about eight years since my last visit, I was a little worried about changes. Instead it was as I remembered, with a thoughtful selection of regional literature, along with a satisfying offering of general fiction and nonfiction. Maria’s Bookshop has been serving their community since 1984 and remains “dedicated to creating and maintaining a vital, thriving independent business that gives the people of Durango and the surrounding Four Corners region a comfortable, engaging, beautiful place to visit, relax and shop.” And, as I can attest to, it’s also a bookstore that travelers remember and return to whenever passing through Durango.

D. H. Lawrence Ranch, on Lobo Mountain, 20 Miles North of Taos, New Mexico

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Suffice it to say that we did get into the D. H. Lawrence Ranch at the very end of September, but there’s no guarantee of a return visit for us, or anyone. The University of New Mexico has chosen to close the ranch even though Frieda Lawrence stipulated, when she bequeathed the ranch to the University in 1956, that the D. H. Lawrence Shrine remain open to the public. Those fortunate enough to have signed the guest book in the past know that visitors come from around the world to pay homage to Lawrence. Hopefully, soon, the University will honor Frieda Lawrence’s mandate and once again welcome all who come.

To me, the D. H. Lawrence Ranch is one of the great “bookpaths.”

Path to the D. H. Lawrence Shrine


Outside the D. H. Lawrence Shrine


Inside the D. H. Lawrence Shrine


Frieda Lawrence's gravesite

Lawrence's chair - outside his and Frieda's cabin


"The Lawrence Tree"


Reopen this "cultural property"

Taos, New Mexico

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Winter in Taos, by Mabel Dodge Luhan

Two of Mabel Dodge Luhan’s books recently accompanied me to Taos, including Winter in Taos. In 1974, Lawrence Clark Powell described it as “a beautiful book.” Mabel Dodge Luhan’s “love for Taos,” he wrote, “was deep, abiding, and true.” “No one,” he continued, “has written better about Taos.” It remains a book that pulls me into the landscape and seasons of Taos. While Edge of Taos Desert describes  Luhan’s first months in Taos, Winter in Taos finds her settled into both home and landscape. Readers follow some of the details of her home life — dogs, cats, birds, family, guests, and the routine of her days. She writes about her garden and the views from her windows. We travel with her to nearby places — the village, Taos Pueblo — and, occasionally, beyond Taos Valley. The seasons and weather can be felt, from winter’s cold to the spring’s beginnings, the profusion of summer and fall’s harvest.

One lives from month to month all year round, forgetting the future and what it will be like; then when it comes, with icicles and iris, sheaves of corn or violets in the shade, one’s eternal recognition meets it with the same wonder and surprise. There is nothing so new in all eternity as this old earth, reborn every day like ourselves, and never twice the same, impossible to remember out of season, yet intense with premonition. — from Winter in Taos

The Mabel Dodge Luhan House
Taos Pueblo

Taos, New Mexico

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Edge of Taos Desert
by Mabel Dodge Luhan

I traveled with books, including Edge of Taos Desert, by Mabel Dodge Luhan, on a recent trip to the southwest. When I first read her words, with an image of a difficult and controlling patroness of the arts, her memoir came as something of a surprise. It was an introspective Luhan that I met, a woman ready for change both geographically and philosophically. Beginning with her first visit in late 1917, Taos’ landscape captivated her, “…I love it already,” she wrote. “It was not love at first sight, but it was love. Some other sense had already accepted it and I had fully decided to come back and stay. I felt at home.” While Edge of Taos Desert may, at times, present an idealized version of her life, Mabel Dodge Luhan’s love for Taos Valley is unquestionable and, as a reader, it’s easy to respond to the landscape she describes.

Mabel Dodge Luhan was also drawn to Taos Pueblo, finding wisdom and peace in Taos Indian culture. It presented a way of living in the world that she knew was lacking in western culture. Tony Luhan guided her with his example, “his rich, deep, self-contained nature…his goodness and wholeness.” When she was with him, Mabel Dodge felt “in tune with all outdoors, and myself as well, for the first time in my life. I felt real at last, not a pretended reality such as one may feel when one blots out pain against another and loses the sadness of one’s own cravings. No, a true reality of my own was coming into being within me.”

For all the changes in Taos since the 1920s and 1930s reading Edge of Taos Desert reminds me that much remains, including the smell of sage, “sunsets that spread over the sky,” and “mountains that can tower right up to ten thousand feet and still the heavens go surging illimitably up beyond….” Taos remains a place that can change one’s view of the world.

It was a beautiful country up there at the foot of the big mountains, sweet with the smell of pine all year round. The sunsets that spread over the sky from that vantage point, slightly raised above the whole world of the valley and looking over to the east, south, and west, were almost terrifying in their great spread and sweep of color. The sky has so much significance in a wide landscape like this. — from Edge of Taos Desert

The Mabel Dodge Luhan House
Taos Pueblo