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A Skeptic's Guide to Writers' Houses Hardcover – October 4, 2010


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The phenomenon of visiting writers' houses as a form of literary homage has existed for centuries, as literary enthusiasts have toured the homes of Shakespeare and countless other writers to connect, become inspired, or pay tribute. Trubek (Writing Material) offers an amusingly jaundiced eye towards this notion by visiting the homes of several writers, from of Louisa May Alcott to Hemingway to Poe, in an attempt to discover what draws people in and what connection they might be able to experience from this much remove. The end result is an interesting jaunt through American literature and the American preoccupation with fashioning (and profiting from) sacred spaces, coupled with genuinely fascinating little-known biographical information about iconic authors. Trubek is brutally honest (and occasionally funny) about what does and does not feel meaningful, and her travelogue is well-written and quick. While she does seem to harp on the same themes again and again, occasional moments of genuine emotion make it worth the trip. Trubek does a great job of following a succinct formula and readers in search of an objective look at writers' houses worth visiting will find this a useful guide. (Oct.)
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Review

"Ms. Trubek is a bewitching and witty travel partner. " --Wall Street Journal

"a slim, clever bit of literary criticism masquerading as smart travel writing"  --Chicago Tribune

"amusing and paradoxical" --Boston Globe

"a restlessly witty book" --Salon.com

"A blazingly intelligent romp, full of humor and hard-won wisdom...[Trubek] crisscrosses the country in search of epiphanies on the doorsteps of some of our more important writers." --Minneapolis Star Tribune

Named one of the seven best small-press books of the decade in a column in the Huffington Post



"Why do people visit writer's homes? What are they looking for and what do they hope to take away that isn't sold in the gift shop? This memoir-travelogue takes you from Thoreau's Concord to Hemingway's Key West, exploring the tracks authors and their fans have laid down over the years. Trubek is a sharp-eyed observer, and you'll wish you could have been her travel companion."—Lev Raphael, Huffington Post



"A remarkable book: part travelogue, part rant, part memoir, part literary analysis and urban history, it is like nothing else I've ever read. In wondering why we look to writers' houses for inspiration when we could be looking to the writers' work, Trubek has—with humor, with self-deprecation, even with occasional anger and sadness—reminded us why we need literature in the first place."—Brock Clarke, author of An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England



"An antic and intelligent antitravel guide, A Skeptic's Guide to Writer's Houses explores places that have served as pilgrimage sites, tokens of local pride and color, and zones that confound the canons of literary and historical interpretation. With a gimlet eye and indefatigable curiosity, Anne Trubek peers through the veil of domestic veneration that surrounds canonized authors and neglected masters alike. In the course of her skeptical odyssey, she discerns the curious ways in which we turn authors into household gods."—Matthew Battles, author of Library: An Unquiet History

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: University of Pennsylvania Press (October 4, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812242920
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812242928
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.4 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,421,348 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Anne Trubek is the co-editor of Rust Belt Chic: The Cleveland Anthology (http://www.rustbeltchic.com) and author of A Skeptic's Guide to Writers' Houses. A professor at Oberlin College, her website is http://www.annetrubek.com

Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By C. Ebeling on June 9, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you've come to this book because you enjoy literary tourism--visiting writers' house museums or paying homage at gravesites--prepare to have your hat handed to you by Anne Trubek after she's poked her fingers through it. My advice: let her do it, because as much as she might spoil your fun at first with academic posturing, she adjusts her own attitude the more she travels to various house museums. Stick with the book and with Trubek, who writes lucidly with candor and a personableness that grows with the narrative, and you gain a new perspective on how house museums can or cannot satisfy the impulse to get closer to a writer.

The first point Trubek makes is that the attraction of literary pilgrimages is irrational. Think about it. Can you explain the benefit in concrete rather than emotional currency? We can't get any closer in person because the writer is typically deceased. Staring at the little desk or table where the writer worked does not explain how the world and characters that inspire your devotion were created there. And then, some houses have been corrupted by inauthentic or incomplete restorations, or, like Twain's childhood neighborhood, Hannibal, MO, have been Disneyfied to reconstruct the sentimental memories of the fiction, not the writer's reality. Some are contradictions of the writer's wishes. Trubek hits her stride with the Concord, MA tour of the homes of what Susan Cheever has called "American Bloomsbury." The fate of Louisa May Alcott's house and memory is a cautionary mess of misunderstanding fans and social politics. The chapters in which she visits the Poe houses, the ruins of Jack London's Beauty Ranch and the Paul Laurence Dunbar house in Dayton are also strong and help form a better idea of how and why such properties can matter.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Jill I. Shtulman TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 27, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I am, perhaps, an ideal reader for A Skeptic's Guide. I'm a passionate reader with an advanced degree in English Literature and have actually visited many of the homes the author focuses on in her book, including Jack London's, Ernest Hemingway's. and, of course, what she calls "The Concord Pilgrimage" - Edith Wharton's, Herman Melville's, and Louisa May Alcott's.

The question she poses is why did I - or for that matter, any reader - tour these house museums? Anne answers, "There is something curious and ultimately insatiable about visiting a dead writer's home. It has something to do with pilgrimage, the hushed aura of sacredness; it has something to do with history; one life preserved. It has something to do with loss, and objects as compensation for loss. And it has something to do with the way literature works, with the longing created by the fact that words separate writers from readers yet create an ineluctable intimacy between the two..."

Whew! She's got THAT right. And then she adds, "They (the homes) are teases; they ignite and continually frustrate our desire to fuse the material with the immaterial, the writer with the reader."

Some, of course, do it better than others. Mark Twain's Hannibal is one that does NOT get it right; "Hannibal is not a postcard of iconic American sweetness, not a Rockwell painting." The "snugness and smugness" of the town reveal nothing about Samuel Clemons, who had a delicious sense of irony. Nor is it possible to find Walt Whitman in Camden, an old, forgotten house in a depressing, urban blighted town.

Anne Trubek fares better in Concord: "over two hundred published writers call this small town home.
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4 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Kristin Ohlson on November 7, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This book is hard to sum up, because it does so many things at once, and does them so well. In marvelous prose, funny and thoughtful and brainy, Trubek delivers a book that's part biography, part travelogue, part narrative, part personal essay, and part scholarly musing. That's a lot of parts to add together, and they add up to quite an achievement.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful By David Garnes on April 26, 2011
Format: Hardcover
What I like about this book is that it is hard to classify...Though carefully researched and full of specifics, the book is most worth reading for the wry, intelligent, witty side remarks of the author. As such, it's not--by any means--your typical travel guide. Though Anne Trubek pulls no punches when it comes to commenting on locales where fancy and invention have supplanted an attempt to restore, illustrate, and otherwise accurately depict the author's surroundings, it's clear she's had a great time visiting all of them. She takes us on an extremely enjoyable and enlightening journey!
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