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The Wall Street Journal ran a feature yesterday about the Paradise Valley farmhouse of writer Jim Harrison, which he and his wife purchased "for about $425,000 seven years ago." Alexandra Alter writes that the valley near Livingston is packed with writers--"novelists Thomas McGuane and Walter Kirn and science writer David Quammen live in the area." Among other tidbits: "The living room has a wood burning stove and hobbit-like door that once opened onto a woodpile—which the Harrisons cleared away so that it wouldn’t serve as a den for rattlesnakes." In Alter's description of Harrison, he sounds a little hobbit-like: "a pot-bellied 71-year-old with a tanned, creased face, bushy white goatee, wild eyebrows and long earlobes." Harrison thoroughly enjoys himself in his home, writing, eating, drinking, and hosting guests. Alter notes that Harrison's friend, chef Mario Batali, visited last year and "they feasted for days," packing away such dishes as "robiola cheese ravioli with duck ragu" and "veal chops Modenese." In the accompanying slideshow, Harrison's home looks like my kind of place, with bookshelves everywhere full of books that look like they actually get read, a flourishing garden, and a writing desk facing a blank wall. In the July issue of Smithsonian Magazine, Tom Miller tells the diverting story of how Thornton Wilder (the author of Our Town and The Bridge of San Luis Rey) ventured to Douglas, Arizona because he was weary of the social obligations and attention his many accomplishments had brought him. (This detail is quaint—how many contemporary writers suffer this sort of fame-induced ennui? I mean, besides me.) Miller writes that Wilder craved "solitude without loneliness."

Jim Harrison’s Montana Digs & How Thornton Wilder Got His Groove Back

The Wall Street Journal ran a feature yesterday about the Paradise Valley farmhouse of writer Jim Harrison, which he and his wife purchased “for about $425,000 seven years ago.” Alexandra Alter writes that the valley near Livingston is packed with writers–”novelists Thomas McGuane and Walter Kirn and science writer David Quammen live in the area.”

Among other tidbits: “The living room has a wood burning stove and hobbit-like door that once opened onto a woodpile—which the Harrisons cleared away so that it wouldn’t serve as a den for rattlesnakes.” In Alter’s description of Harrison, he sounds a little hobbit-like: “a pot-bellied 71-year-old with a tanned, creased face, bushy white goatee, wild eyebrows and long earlobes.”

Harrison thoroughly enjoys himself in his home, writing, eating, drinking, and hosting guests. Alter notes that Harrison’s friend, chef Mario Batali, visited last year and “they feasted for days,” packing away such dishes as “robiola cheese ravioli with duck ragu” and “veal chops Modenese.”

In the accompanying slideshow, Harrison’s home looks like my kind of place, with bookshelves everywhere, full of books that look like they actually get read, a flourishing garden, and a writing desk facing a blank wall.

In the July issue of Smithsonian Magazine, Tom Miller tells the diverting story of how Thornton Wilder (the author of Our Town and The Bridge of San Luis Rey) ventured to Douglas, Arizona because he was weary of the social obligations and attention his many accomplishments had brought him. (This detail is quaint—how many contemporary writers suffer this sort of fame-induced ennui? I mean, besides me.) Miller writes that Wilder craved “solitude without loneliness.”

“Shortly after noon on May 20, 1962, Wilder backed his five-year-old blue Thunderbird convertible out of the driveway of his Connecticut home and lighted out for the Great Southwest. After ten days on the road and almost 2,500 miles, the Thunderbird broke down on U.S. Highway 80, just east of Douglas, Arizona, a town of some 12,000 on the Mexican border about 120 miles southeast of Tucson.”

Wilder ended up staying in Arizona for a year and a half. In short, Wilder got his groove back there, beginning to write a novel “after 15 years writing exclusively for the stage.” That novel became The Eighth Day, which won the National Book Award when it was published in 1967.

This got me thinking about other writers who’ve gone to the southwest to rejuvenate. D.H. Lawrence is one—when I’m in Taos, I enjoy staying at the Laughing Horse Inn, which once was the residence of Spud Johnson, publisher of Laughing Horse magazine. He hosted his friend D.H. Lawrence during his visits there. Henry Shukman detailed Lawrence’s time in the Southwest for the New York Times in 2006.

And then there’s Willa Cather, whom D.H. Lawrence and his wife invited to visit their ranch, according to this New York Times article by Herbert Mitgang. Cather visited New Mexico several times, and set an important portion of 1925′s The Professor’s House and all of 1927′s Death Comes for the Archbishop there.

In an unrelated matter, the people have spoken: One Book, One Denver has announced that this year’s selection will be To Kill A Mockingbird. Yawn. It’s a great book, and I loved it just like everybody else eons ago when I first read it. But how many people are going to get excited enough to dust off their old copies of it and attend the public events to discuss it? Maybe those people who didn’t get enough of that in ninth grade?

Well, you did it to yourselves, Denver–as I mentioned a few weeks ago, people were invited to chose from among 27 pre-selected books. How many people voted? “Almost 2,000,” according to a City of Denver press release.

The rest of the press release is kind of fun. I like this part: “The combined program will officially launch September 1 and run through October. During that time, copies of To Kill a Mockingbird will be available for check-out at all Denver Public Library branches and sold in local bookstores.” Until then, as usual, it will be impossible to find a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird in libraries and bookstores. Except on those big To Kill a Mockingbird-laden tables they have for summer reading assignments and several shelves in the “L” section.

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Comments

  1. Tom Page says:

    Conrad Richter is another who went to the SW desert country in mid-career, although I don’t know if the move rejuvenated his work. One might also include Cormac McCarthy’s move from Tennessee to NM, and the subsequent publication of “Blood Meridian”.

    The mesa section of “The Professor’s House” is riveting stuff…as good as anything she wrote in her whole career.

  2. gary daily says:

    As a long time supporter and participant in community read programs here in Terre Haute, Indiana, I think Jenny is off base in sniffing at the Denver Big Read efforts because their selection process ended with “To Kill a Mockingbird” as their choice. Most critics of community read programs are big time readers. Big Read type programs aren’t really aimed at these people. We’re trying to rope in the alliterates, those who read but have given up the practice. And just because you read Harper Lee’s work in ninth grade doesn’t mean it’s not worth reading again. Our community read Jack London’s “The Call of the Wild” this year. The comment we heard most in regard to this “kids book about a dog” was: Wow! I didn’t remember it that way at all. Exactly.

  3. Jenny Shank says:

    Thanks for your comment, Gary. I agree with you that I may have been a bit harsh, because since I wrote this, I learned something new–it seems as though in order to qualify for grant money from The Big Read for the National Endowment for the Arts, each town had to pick a book from a list of books chosen by the NEA. (I found this list of cities participating, and the grant money awarded, through Ron Charles’ Twitter feed: http://www.arts.gov/national/bigread/press/bigread2010list.php?sortby=alpha). I have no problem with the books Denver gave readers to choose among in light of the fact that they got $20,000 from the NEA for it.

    Because I didn’t know they were aiming for this grant money, I was just responding to it in the context of One Book, One Denver’s previous struggles–the participation has dropped each year the program has been in place. In the past the process of choosing the books has seemed over-politicized, and as a result of that just about everyone’s top choice, “Plainsong” by Kent Haruf, has been overlooked.

    http://www.newwest.net/topic/article/one_book_one_everywhere_community_reading_programs_in_the_west/C39/L39/

    http://www.newwest.net/topic/article/choose_your_own_adventure_with_one_book_one_denver/C39/L39/

  4. gary daily says:

    Yeah, $20,000 will buy a lot of books to scatter around the city. After five or six years of doing community reads on peanuts, what a pleasure it’s been to have some moola to buy many, many books and drop them off at local coffee shops and restaurants on a “Read and Return” basis. Pleased to hear you mention Kent Haruf as your personal choice for Denver’s effort. Before the Big Read, we (our august committee of reading czars) chose “Plainsong” as one of three books to be voted on as THE book. The vote came in and Kent missed it by a whisker, “Snow Falling on Cedars” coming out on top and Barbara Kingsolver’s wonderful collection of essays, “Hightide in Tucson” never gaining traction. We gave up on the “Vote the Book” idea after one year–czars have their place in this world. Denver’s vote for one of the twenty-seven NEA books sounds like madness to me. Anyway, here’s the great ending to this rambling post. David Guterson couldn’t come to town so we asked Kent Haruf. He turns out to be a man who matches the quiet majesty of his books. Here’s what I wrote about Kent before he came to town:
    http://readingatxroads.blogspot.com/search?q=Great+writers+blind+us+with+sight
    Great blog Jenny. Keep up the good work for reading literature. And in your honor we’ve chosen “My Antonia” as our Big Read book for 2010.

  5. Tom Miller says:

    Speaking of Conrad Richter – and who isn’t these days – he, as well as Thornton Wilder, spent time in Cochise County, Arizona. The result: “Tacey Cromwell,” a novel set in Bisbee about a century ago during the heyday of bohunk miners underground, sophisticated cat-houses along Brewery Gulch, and intrigue up and down Tombstone Canyon. What publishing house has the temerity to bring this classic out again?