Tourism can mean different things to everyone. For some, it’s seeing all of the world’s greatest landmarks: the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Eiffel Tower or the Taj Mahal. For others, it may mean finding the house where your grandparents lived before even your parents were born. And sometimes tourism is as simple as visiting that famous donut shop you’ve heard nothing but good things about.
Literary tourism, on the other hand, is a whole different beast. There are the drinking holes that your favorite characters frequented or the places where authors lived and dined and prospered. It’s a mess of fiction and fact, but perhaps the most inspiring sites are the ones that helped define some of today’s greatest literature. Here are six landmarks it would be impossible to imagine these respective novels without:
1. The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger: The Carousel in New York City’s Central Park
You could follow an entire map of all the places Holden Caulfield visited in The Catcher in the Rye, but if you want to experience something short and sweet from Salinger’s most famous novel, drop by the Central Park Carousel. There, you might feel the nostalgia of Holden coming together with his younger sister Phoebe and deciding not to run away after all. Plus, the timeless Carousel is just a short walk away from Central Park lake, where you can go looking for ducks just as Holden did.
2. Post Office by Charles Bukowski: Terminal Annex Post Office in Los Angeles
While reading Bukowski’s autobiographical account of his time working as a mail clerk, you probably didn’t envision his post office hijinks going down in this gorgeous Mission-revival style building. I personally envisioned the shitty post office in Red Hook, but it turns out that Bukowski filed letters at a finer institution. If you’re ever in L.A., stop by the famous building and take a walk around yourself. Maybe the bureaucracy will feel so oppressive that it’ll drive you to drink too.
3. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald: Execution Rocks Light in the Long Island Sound
In real life, the lighthouse — that green light guiding Gatsby to Daisy’s dock — is better known as the Execution Rocks Light. Contrary to its romantic idealism in The Great Gatsby, the island has a long history of violence, going back as far as the Revolutionary War, when British Redcoats allegedly chained Colonial prisoners to the rocks. Later, during the 1920s, serial killer Carl Panzram would confess that he used the island to dump his victims’ bodies. Who knows if Fitzgerald was ever aware of his green light’s disturbing history — though it would serve as a great symbol foreshadowing Gatsby’s demise.
4. Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem: The Brooklyn Inn
Not only is Brooklyn Inn a landmark in Lethem’s novel, but it’s also a real-life watering hole for many literati, including Jonathan Ames, who threw his extravagant farewell party for Bored to Death there.
Much of the area where Lethem’s novel was set has changed since Lionel Essrog’s time in Motherless Brooklyn, but if one thing has stayed the same, it’s the Brooklyn Inn. The bar is only a short walk away from the infamously polluted Gowanus canal — the only body of water, as Lethem claims in his novel, that is made up of 90 percent guns.
5. Walden by Henry Thoreau: Walden Pond in Concord
Thoreau’s transcendental classic about simple living, self-reliance and and nature would not have been possible without his time at Walden Pond. Thoreau built his famous cabin on land owned by his buddy and mentor, Ralph Waldo Emerson, just outside of Concord, Massachusetts. It’s a place worth seeing, despite the fact that Thoreau’s cabin no longer stands there. Even a literary great like Walt Whitman visited the site long ago and wrote about it in Specimen Days & Collect:
Then to Walden Pond, that beautifully embower'd sheet of water, and spent over an hour there. On the spot in the woods where Thoreau had his solitary house is now quite a cairn of stones, to mark the place; I too carried one and deposited on the heap.
6. American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis: The River Cafe in Brooklyn
By day, Patrick Bateman had the best skin care products, a great Wall Street job and dinner at the finest restaurants in New York. It sounds like the good life, if you don’t consider the emptiness that lead him on a serial killing rampage. For a sense of his two-sided character (or even just a great bite to eat), drop by the ritzy River Cafe. It’ll give you a tremendous view of Manhattan’s skyline — the best of any dining spot in Brooklyn. It’s impossible to go there and not be in awe of how Bateman could casually swing by for dinner, black cashmere and all, but that is part of his dreadful appeal, isn’t it?
Know of any real-life places that inspired your favorite books? Better yet: Gone out of your way to visit any of them? Tell us all about it in the comments below!
Freddie Moore is a Brooklyn-based writer. Her full name is Winifred, and her writing has appeared in The Paris Review Daily and The Huffington Post. As a former cheesemonger, she’s a big-time foodie who knows her cheese. Follow her on Twitter: @moorefreddie
About the Book:
Hypnotizing us with the deceptively simple rhythm of the ordinary, We Were Flying to Chicago offers a moment of change: the view over the cliff, the breath before a decision, a sidelong glance of impending news. Award-winning writer Kevin Clouther skillfully slows time to note the visceral, emotional impact of an everyday moment.
A man drives to the wrong mountain, a hubcap cleaner moonlights as a karaoke star and a woman trusts a stranger on the bus. Each of the 10 stories in We Were Flying to Chicago is contemporary without being ironic or glib, offering a glimpse of stark vulnerability, faith and shared experience.
About the Author:
Kevin Clouther was born in Boston and grew up on Cape Cod and in South Florida. He holds degrees from the University of Virginia and Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where he completed his thesis under Marilynne Robinson and won the Richard Yates Fiction Award for best short story. He has worked at The Iowa Review, Meridian and The Virginia Literary Review, where he served as fiction editor. He teaches creative writing at Stony Brook University, where he coordinates the Program in Writing Reading Series, and at John Hopkins. He has previously taught at Bridgewater College in Virginia, the University of Michigan Dearborn and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He lives in Floral Park, New York with his wife and two children.