RIDGE WRITERS ON BOOK: ’A Skeptic’s Guide to Writer’s Houses’

By DONNA McCrohan Rosenthal

RIDGE WRITERS ON BOOK: ’A Skeptic’s Guide to Writer’s Houses’Anne Trubek originally set out to write “a reverse travel guide, a guide to places you shouldn’t bother to visit,” be-cause she questioned the vali-dity of turning domiciles into museums that essentially become shrines. Then she hit the road and changed her mind.

The result of her journey begins with an insightful pro-and-con introduction to saving authors’ houses; some operated by the National Park Service, some by states and some by private foundations. Some, such as Jack Kerouac’s Orlando, Fla., property, offer long-term residencies.

Trubek goes on to provide descriptions and commentaries, the skeptic in her revealing for instance that people send belated Hallmark birthday greetings to Emily Dickinson and that Walt Whitman willed his brain to the American Anthropometric Society for phrenologists to study and shortly after its delivery, a lab worker dropped it on the floor.

Occasionally she goes overboard, as when she portrays the remains of Jack London’s Wolf House, destroyed by accidental fire on the day London planned to move in, as “now nothing more than piles of boulders alone in a field.” Actually, plenty of discernible structure, foundation and walls still stand.

After London died, his wife Charmian expressed a plea to posterity: “I am begging you now, with all my heart, not to forget that he laid his hand upon the hills of California.” Charmian’s entreaty particularly resonates with any Californian who remembers that last year, our state nearly locked the gates to Wolf House and Jack London State Historic Park for budgetary reasons. In the same spirit, Trubek’s observations strike a nerve.

We troop to deceased writers’ dwellings to bond with the earthly beings they once were, perhaps feeling that seeing their furniture and possessions brings us closer to viewing the world through their eyes.

Even revolutionary leader Fidel Castro succumbed to the mystique, saying at Ernest Hemingway’s Finca Vigia in Cuba, “We would be savages if we did not recognize the importance of preserving this place” and adding that “For Whom the Bell Tolls” had a significant influence on his life.

“Skeptic’s Guide” closes with a list of American writers’ houses open to the public. Much more than simply a travelogue, it leads readers to reflect on loss, material things, our various attempted grabs for immortality and, clearly, what sort of card Emily might like for her next birthday.

This weekly column is written by members of the Ridge Writers, the East Sierra Branch of the California Writers Club. Meetings are held monthly on the first Wednesday evening at Ridgecrest Presbyterian Church and free programs are offered throughout the year. Ridge Writers’ book “Planet Mojave: Visions From a World Apart” is available at Carriage Inn, Jawbone Station, the Historic USO Building, Maturango Museum, Red Rock Books and www.planetmojave.com.

Story First Published: 2013-02-20