William Faulkner wrote most of his novels in a heat almost as heavy as his prose. Oxford, MS is a lovely literary town, with an impressive courthouse and a town square boasting quirky restaurants, not one, but 3 independent bookstores, and a vibe that this is a place where things happen. Faulkner’s home, Rowan Oak, is just a few minutes away from the square, but it feels isolated and removed from civilization. Wandering around the house and grounds today on my literary road trip, I could imagine him sitting in his study, savoring the rich precise language of his writing just the way he savored his bourbon. (Incidentally, the study where he did most of his writing still has the outline of The Fable, a novel that would earn him the Pulitzer, written directly on the walls of the room.)
I love visiting places where I can feel the echo of an author or a book. The air is heavy with memories for me–albeit memories of a book chapter, not of personal experiences. And yet, reading a book is such a personal experience, perhaps there is some memory of my self mixed up in the memory of the book. Today I could feel the influence of the first time I read Light in August, in my senior year of high school, when I knew he was brilliant but didn’t quite have the capacity to understand all that Faulkner was saying about the human experience. Mixed in with that personal experience of reading Faulkner for the first time are my memories of the last two years when I taught Light in August to my AP students. Snippets of the text floated through my head. I could image Joe running through the woods there, or Lena hiking along the road here. In preparation for this trip, I read The Sound and the Fury and I could just see Dilsy perched on the porch of the servants quarters, shaking her head at the Compson craziness.
Rowan Oak wasn’t my only destination, though. On the drive down here from Pennsylvania, I stopped in Nashville, TN. One of the places I wanted to make sure to visit was Ann Patchett’s independent bookstore, Parnassus Books. I tweeted about my visit, and if you can believe it, when I got to the store yesterday morning, there was a chalkboard sign welcoming me to the store!
I met one of the shop dogs Opie, and the fabulous staff were just so accommodating, welcoming, and knowledgeable. I had a long conversation with Niki (who is mentioned in the essay Patchett writes about opening the bookstore in The Story of a Happy Marriage). She advised me to visit Square Books here in Oxford (another independent bookstore). I also talked with Stephanie and other enthusiastic employees. It is important to visit and support independent bookstores because they are run by true bibliophiles. The book displays are set up not because a publisher is pushing a book, but because an book lover wants to share the latest books by favorite authors.
So what’s the point of this post? I think perhaps to remind us that as much as we read to escape, or read the experience other lives, places, and cultures, it is important to leave the house on an adventure once in a while and go experience a place for yourself. I know when I read Light in August this fall again, I will see it differently, because now I know what Faulkner was seeing out the window of his study. Now I understand how the town is laid out when he talks about the square. And now, I can feel the humidity of the July heat and the oppressive nature of the sun beating down on me, trying to articulate in words how I feel about a visit to one of my favorite author’s homes.
Posted by Kate, VP Secondary (@k1a9t7e5)