Friday, June 2, 2017

Book Review: Footsteps

Footsteps
Literary pilgrimages around the world from the pages of The New York Times

A writer’s inspiration can come from many things; a person, object, or even a particular location. A special place can sink into your bones, color your thoughts, ooze from your pen (or computer.) Some places are so closely associated with a writer as to be inseparable. Say “Charles Dickens” and you immediately think of Victorian England. How would stories have changed if L. M. Montgomery never lived on Prince Edward Island or if Stephen King settled in Arizona instead of Maine?

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. 

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