Our Book Reviews: Writers in Residence

Writers in ResidenceWriters in Residence: American Authors at Home.
By Glynne Robinson Betts.
Illustrated. 159 pp. Viking Press. Used. From $7.00.

To come upon the fact that Harriet Beecher Stowe and Mark Twain were next-door neighbors in Hartford was only one unexpected pleasure I found in a book filled with them. Used books are often like that, however. You never know what you’ll learn.

Published over 30 years ago, Writers in Residence: American Authors at Home remains entertaining and surprisingly accurate. Paging through it, you can visit authors’ homes from the east coast to the west, while stopping off at some in between– or nearby.

“Petersburg is my heart’s home,” wrote Edgar Lee Masters. His actual home is still at the corner of Eighth and Jackson over in Petersburg. You can visit it there or explore it in the four pages of black-and-white photographs and text devoted to Masters’ childhood home.

In each of the 37 homes in Betts’s collection, the details are what bring the authors to life. Carl Sandburg’s typewriter rests on an unpainted crate; a cigar stub, scattered photos, a pack of Beechnut gum clutter his desk. Marianne Moore, as you might expect, has a baseball autographed by Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle on hers. Louisa May Alcott’s desk is tidy, but the portrait of her hanging in her dining room looks a bit somber. Maybe that’s understandable. She did, after all, have Bronson Alcott as a father–a man who, the text informs us, always carried a small bust of Socrates in his pocket.

Zane Grey? H.L. Mencken? Anais Nin? William Carlos Williams? What an American mix. With graceful text and over 200 pictures at hand, you might easily plot a summer road trip or–even more easily–visit your favorite author from the comfort of your own home.

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