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The New York Times: Footsteps: From Ferrante's Naples to Hammett's San Francisco, Literary Pilgrimages Around the World Kindle Edition
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—JACQUELINE WOODSON, author of the New York Times bestseller Another Brooklyn and the National Book Award winner Brown Girl Dreaming
"A feast of inspiration."
—BILL BRYSON, author of The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Back when travel was just my passion and not yet my profession, I went to the French Riviera for the party scene and in- stead found myself dazzled by the otherworldly light of day. I was marveling at how it made every waking moment dream- like when I noticed a small plaque on a building indicating that Henri Matisse had lived inside. Whatever I’d read about Matisse and Nice before that moment hadn’t mattered: It was then that I understood how the city had challenged him to make art as sublime as the setting.
All of us have experienced a moment in our travels when we stray onto turf that an artist, including those who paint pictures with words, once trod. It surprises us, this statue in the middle of a park, a street named for a luminary, or the small museum that at one point was her home. But it shouldn’t be unexpected.
All the world is a reliquary, filled with fields, forests, and city plazas that lead visionaries among us to create work that endures the ages. We travelers are but devotees who touch these monuments and in place of prayers meditate on how someone else came to be who they are and create what they did. We inevitably look about and wonder. Did the sweep of this hill and the mist of the morning somehow ignite a spark? Was this place more incidental than inspirational? Examining these questions has been the defining task of Footsteps since 1981, when The Times ran it as a short-lived series. It appeared sporadically in the intervening years until it emerged as a full-fledged feature.
Regardless of provenance, the conceit in these pages is nearly as old as The Times itself. An article from 1860 chronicles a visit to Stratford-on-Avon to see the birthplace and tomb of the “world’s master-genius,” William Shakespeare. That report, a faithful recounting of a voyage in the footsteps of someone universally revered, assumed the best of the Bard: “Calm, quiet and beautiful were all the surroundings, and I thought it was not strange that one whose early childhood was passed amid such scenes as this should have partaken of their beauty, and been gentle, kind and loving.” In aspiring to capture the interplay of a writer’s real identity, work, and setting, this was an early version of what would become Footsteps.
As the breadth of the stories in this collection indicates, our approach varies as much as the literary giants that they profile. “Mark Twain’s Hawaii,” for example, examines the four-month stretch in which the writer sent letters from the island, rather than tracing any of his fictional works. Yet it suffuses the place with the spirit of Twain. “Orhan Parmuk’s Istanbul” is on the other end of the spectrum, using the Nobel laureate as a tour guide who leads us through the city that he has called home for nearly six decades.
What unifies them is a single guiding principle: Each should leave a reader with a new perspective on an artist and the place that has somehow been a muse. Often an unusual pairing is enough to supply the novelty—as with Rimbaud in Ethiopia, a lesser-examined point in the poet’s life. But occasionally—as with Dashiell Hammett and San Francisco—the setting and star go hand in hand until the story of the city’s transformation is taken into account. There is little hard-boiled left in a city awash in venture capital, it turns out. As Footsteps evolves, The Times has been venturing farther afield to choose the settings. Inspiration comes from America and Europe and also from Chile (Borges), Martinique (Cesaire) and Vietnam (Duras). We’ve also added contemporary personalities such as Jamaica Kincaid and Elena Ferrante to those whose trails we trace.
At the same time, we seek contributors who are able to view the place and the person they are profiling with equal fervor. The best of our Footsteps capture their passion for specific authors and places in time.
These escapes immerse travelers in a setting by providing a purpose while on the road. A fixed mission forces us to be present rather than meander about, refreshing our social feeds and lamenting the cost of international roaming. Studying the world this way pushes away workaday life that much more efficiently. These accounts can make us travelers instead of tourists.
And that they do, even if you do not take a trip. “That was a pleasant journey into the real Wonderland,” a reader wrote in response to the description of Lewis Carroll’s Oxford. It isn’t rare for readers to send e-mails and comments and letters that refer to a Footsteps essay as if it had been a vacation.
True literature itself is a flight of fancy, and appreciators of it are all too familiar with the discombobulating feeling of finishing a novel and being slightly surprised to be at home in a recliner rather than hundreds of miles—and hundreds of years—away. Above all, Footsteps essays are for the avid readers who can travel by simply turning a page. Turn these, and they’ll take you around the world. --This text refers to the paperback edition.
- File Size : 28660 KB
- Publication Date : May 9, 2017
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print Length : 295 pages
- Language: : English
- ASIN : B01M5I312O
- Publisher : Three Rivers Press (May 9, 2017)
- Page Numbers Source ISBN : 0804189846
- Enhanced Typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Enabled
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Lending : Not Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #733,656 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
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I especially enjoyed reading about author, Flannery O'Connor -
Footsteps is a collection of articles from an ongoing series in The New York Times that explores how the physical path a writer takes affects the literary journey. Each one is written by a different person who thoughtfully walks in the footsteps of a favorite author. The result is a collection of delightfully different travel essays. The selected authors are an eclectic mix spread across the globe. Some, such as Mark Twain, are well known, but others such as novelist Orhan Pamuk of Istanbul might be new to the reader. All the essays are charming and written with obvious affection and even a bit of whimsy. In a walking tour to trace fictional Sam Spade’s routes through the real Dashiell Hammett’s San Francisco, the essay’s author came across the following tongue-in-cheek plaque on Burritt Street. “On approximately this spot, Miles Archer, Sam Spade’s partner, was done in by Brigid O’Shaughnessy.” There is no mention of the Maltese Falcon or that Sam, Miles, and Brigid never existed.
Many of the essays hold a surprise or two. Bram Stoker’s inspiration for Dracula’s eerie setting came from the English coastal resort of Whitby and not Transylvania. H. P. Lovecraft was an early king of creepy and he found his doorway to hell in Providence, Rhode Island. Sometimes the negative affect of a place was more profound than the positive. Alice Munro hated Vancouver, British Columbia, but used her time there to craft memorable stories. Some essays have a dash of bittersweet. Not every writer ended up rich and successful. Many weren’t particularly admirable (Shelley and Bryon were two misogynistic dirtbags), but all had been touched by a place that transformed their writing into glorious words.
I highly recommend Footsteps as both a quirky travel guide and a warm-hearted tribute to writers and their inspiration. I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for a review.
Most of the essays were every bit as romantic as one would hope. Clearly these were written by bibliophiles like myself–readers and dreamers who love to sit in a cafe with a glass of wine in one hand a book in the other, thinking about the author who wrote that novel and the life they led. The mystery has been taken out of it some what nowadays, since we can “meet” our authors on social media. (Not that I am complaining, I will totally watch every single one of your Instastories, don’t you worry about that.) But wouldn’t it be cool to drink tea with Jane Austen?
I didn’t read every single one of the essays, and there were a few I skimmed–mostly because while I recognized and liked most of the authors chosen, there were some I either didn’t recognize or care about. But I might read the one about James Baldwin anytime I read Giovanni’s Room, and the one about Byron and Shelley, while cringey, certainly shed a lot of light on that whole…um…situation.
I’m not sure I’d pick up a book like this if it were on any other subject matter. Just people randomly strolling thru Paris for no particular reason besides travel? Not a collection I’m interested. But add in the author quest and I’m totally down. I know a few friends I will be recommending this to. Should you be one of them?