Thursday, May 12, 2011

books from the library shelves: American Writers at Home

William Faulkner’s study at Rowan Oak.
The writing on the walls is an outline for Faulkner's
Pulitizer Prize- and National Book Award-winning A Fable.

American Writers at Home by J. D. McClatchy
Photographs by Erica Lennard
"This is not a book about writers, or about houses, or about America. It is a book about where and why and how American writers made a home for themselves--a place to live, yes, but above all a place to work—in a restless, rugged country" (McClatchy's introduction)1
Featuring 300 lush and lovely full-color photographs of the homes of 21 American writers American Writers at Home is a glorious, yet substantive coffee-table book.

Like all (most?) coffee-table books, American Writers at Home inspires multiple visits rather than a cover-to-cover read. Readers will love seeing the space their favorite writers inhabited and hearing the author's take on how each of the authors' environments inspired them. American Writers at Home may also inspire some literary pilgrimages as all of the properties featured in the book, with the exception of Edna St. Vincent Millay's Steepletop, are open to the public.

While McClatchy does include a mini bibliography for each author/house at the end of American Writers at Home, he fails to provide references for individual quotes. This isn't a scholarly text, but the lack of citation drives me crazy and is probably the one thing that I do not like about this book.

One of the sites featured is Washington Irving's Sunnyside. McClatchy says of Sunnyside, "In one sense, the house [...] resembled the author's own past. It was a congeries of European motifs and pure American whimsy" (115). I think that's appropriate for an 18th century cottage to which Irving added Dutch stepped gables and a Spanish monastery-esque tower among other things.

The other authors and properties included in American Writers at Home (note how many of our authors hail from Massachusetts and Concord in particular):You can learn more about the book, and see sample pages, on its website at The Library of America.

Also, if you like this kind of thing, you might want to check out Write Time, Write Place. The blog features contemporary authors on their writing spaces (with snapshots!) as well as quotes about the act of writing.
  1. I forgot to note the page number. Will edit it in after I get my hands on the book again.
  2. While I love the fact that his property currently has 60 cats in residence (per house website), I'm not crazy about the taxidermied fish on display.

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