A Very Literary Day

Yesterday was a very lovely, very literary day.  Hobgoblin and I spent the day with four friends (three of whom have blogs, here, here, and here), eating in restaurants, visiting bookstores, and making our way to our final destination: Edith Wharton’s home, The Mount, in Lenox, MA.  She lived there from 1902 to 1911, when she moved to Europe for the rest of her life.

We started off meeting for lunch (well, some of us did — others were out running in races and joined us later) in one of those railroad diners filled with locals.  We aren’t locals, but we were made to feel welcome anyway.  And then we were off to a used bookstore, the Berkshire Book Company, an absolutely fabulous place that has a surprisingly varied selection of books for its size.  We entered the place thinking it would be a quick stop, but all of us were sucked in and didn’t made it out of there without spending more time and money than we had intended.  It’s the kind of place where you will find your favorite obscure author and be utterly charmed to see not only one but several books by that person.  The store had, for example, three or four books by Rose Macaulay, whom I haven’t yet read, but whom I recognized because of Emily’s enthusiasm for her.  I also found a great selection of Barbara Pym and Mary McCarthy.  I forgot to look for books by Josipovici, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find him there — a writer whom I never seem to find anywhere.

So here’s what I came home with: two nonfiction books by Mary McCarthy, her collection of essays On the Contrary and Ideas and the Novel, a book of literary criticism.  Also I found Jeanette Winterson’s novel Sexing the Cherry which I’ll be reading for Slaves of Golconda in January.  And then I grabbed Barbara Pym’s No Fond Return of Love, and finally (for something completely different), Georges Perec’s Life: A User’s Manual.  I could easily have come home with many more books, but the time came to move on.

Next we were on to the highlight of the day, Edith Wharton’s house.  It’s a lovely place on beautiful grounds; it’s got gardens and lawns, but what I liked most about it was that the deep, dark, and fragrant Massachusetts forest was never very far away.  The house is elegant and fashionable, but I’m realizing as I think about it now that it’s also a good place for a nature lover.  Not only is the forest — and also a creek and a small lake — right nearby, but the house is designed to let as much light and air in as possible.  There are a number of rooms where you can open doors to terraces outside so that indoors and outdoors mix.

It’s a summer home, which meant that it was designed to house the Whartons and only a few guests, but that doesn’t mean the place is small — there is an entire wing devoted to servants’ quarters.  But it has a comfortable, simple feel to it, even with its classical Italian and French influences, as the website says.  Interestingly, Wharton herself designed the place; she was a devotee of architecture and gardens and knew precisely what effect she wanted to create.

Unfortunately, the house is in danger of closing as the organization that maintains it is deep in debt.  It would be a real shame for the place to close; it’s interesting for Wharton fans but also for anybody who likes to tour houses and gardens; really, it’s such a charming spot I think anybody would enjoy a visit there.

After strolling around the gardens for a while, we said goodbye to two of the people in our group and headed out to dinner with the others.  We stopped in Great Barrington, one of those very cute, very New Englandy towns and almost got ourselves in trouble when on our way to a restaurant we found another used bookstore.  Fortunately the place was about to close or we might have come home with even more books.  Dinner conversation was all about books and bicycles — perfect, right? — and then we all went home.

I was tempted to take the day off of work today, just to stay in the happy mellow mood I enjoyed yesterday, but I was dutiful and went to class.  It was great, though, to have the kind of day that makes me forget all the usual work and life worries for a while.  I need those kinds of days now and then.


Filed under Books

16 responses to “A Very Literary Day

  1. Sounds lovely. Books, food, friends, conversation, a grand house – what could be nicer?


  2. What a lovely day and what a fabulous selection of books you came away with. I’m most interested to know what you make of the Perec.


  3. verbivore

    Sounds divine! All that bookishness and friendly conversation. And I bet the countryside was just beautiful this time of year. I’ll be interested in reading your thoughts on Mary McCarthy!


  4. We had a wonderful time exploring Edith’s home and gardens with you. The arugula was especially pretty! 🙂 Thank you for introducing me to some new authors. I’m very much looking forward to reading the Barbara Pym book, when I finish the mystery.


  5. What a great way to spend the day. I would love to visit that bookstore and see what kind of treasures I could find. Now, I need to google and see if I can find some pics of Edith Wharton’s home. Sounds beautiful.


  6. What a wonderful day! And your new books sound great. I’ve had the Perec book on my shelf for ages but haven’t gotten to it yet. Thank you for reminding me of it!


  7. JoAnn

    We took a wonderful daytrip to The Mount this summer. However, to appease other family members, we combined it with a visit to the Basketball Hall of Fame. That wasn’t too much of a hardship for me though, since I love college basketball, too.


  8. That sounds like a perfect day! I’ve been wanting to go to Edith Wharton’s house and now all the more. Plus I love Great Barrington too — that is a great little town. So glad you had such a great day. It definitely would be hard to go back to work after that.


  9. Your day sounds heavenly! Just reading about it put me in a mellow mood. Thanks!


  10. What a lovely day! It’s great to be able to hang out with friends that you have so much in common with. I’d love to visit Edith Wharton’s house. I think I’ve seen photos of it in a book, but it would be wonderful to tour the place. I really hope they are able to keep it open–it would be a pity for it to close. Too bad a state historical society can’t help them out, but maybe they don’t have the funds either–it must cost quite a lot to keep up a house and grounds like that! And enjoy your new books–it sounds like the bookstore had an excellent selection!


  11. I am green green EMERALD with envy.
    I love Edith Wharton and….. oh there is nothing like a literary adventure like this.


  12. Charlotte — you are so right! It was a great combination.

    Litlove — the Perec looks interesting, that’s for sure! Have you read it? I may need a little courage to tackle it, but I’m curious to see exactly what it’s like.

    Verbivore — I’m looking forward to the McCarthy too. I really love her essays and have read and enjoyed several of the ones in On the Contrary already. I’m hoping to discover some new ones to fall in love with.

    Debby — I’ll never forget that arugula! 🙂 I do hope you enjoy the Pym — let me know what you think!

    Iliana — there are some pictures of the home on the website I linked to — yes, it’s quite beautiful! And I’m sure you would have found some great books at that store!

    Stefanie — oh, you have the Perec book too — good to know! I’m very curious to see what it’s like.

    JoAnn — oh, another visitor to The Mount! How fun. I had no idea there was a Basketball Hall of Fame nearby, but then again, I’m not exactly a basketball fan. If there had been a cycling hall of fame, we would have been there for sure! 🙂

    Zoesmom — oh, I hope you make it to The Mount some day; it really is worth the trip. Hopefully it will stay open so that people can continue to enjoy it.

    Melanie — I’m very glad to help! 🙂

    Danielle — you would have loved the store; I saw they had a number of Virago classics you might have liked. And yeah, I hope they get the money from somewhere. They spent a lot of money restoring the place and buying Wharton’s library, but now they are having trouble paying it back. It’s really too bad.

    Cipriano — I didn’t mean to make you emerald with envy! But you would have loved it, I’m sure … 🙂


  13. Sounds like an absolutely perfect day. Next time I have to drive up to the office, maybe I ought to take some detours to bookstores and Edith Wharton’s house? I’m getting so sick of that drive.


  14. It *was* a perfect day – beautiful weather, great friends, amazing books – and that was all before the gorgeous house! Hope we can get together again soon!


  15. Emily — oh, it’s well worth the detour!

    Suitcase — yes, I hope we can all get together again soon — there are lots of fun local things to do!


  16. Dorothy. I’ve already commented on this blog-posting but have returned because I love the tenor of this whole thing.
    This…… day.
    On Friday, I am calling in “sick” at work.
    Why? Because it is the day of the annual Rockcliffe Park Book Sale. The best annual used book sale in the city. My friend will be joining me this year.
    I am really looking forward to filling my trunk with a year’s worth of good books!
    But again, the very idea of a “Very Literary Day”…… your visit to the Wharton place… it is all just too good.
    I am looking forward to my own very Literary Day, soon.
    My “me” day!


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