August 11, 2011

Three Midwest Cities for Book Lovers

I would like to take a momentary break from my posts about my trip to New York City to indulge in my bibliophile travel interests. There has been some great literary news lately, including Philip Levine being named the 2011-12 U.S. Poet Laureate. But recently as I was reading Huffington Post Books (my favorite source for book nerd news), I saw a link to the "5 Best Cities for Book Lovers."

It was not a surprising list:
1. Pasadena, CA (Vroman's Bookstore)
2. Washington D.C. (Politics & Prose Bookstore)
3. San Francisco, CA (City Lights)
4. Portland, OR (Powell's Books)
5. New York City, NY (Strand Bookstore)

I agree that these are all great cities for book lovers. I love the Strand and I love City Lights. I have to go to the Strand every time I go to New York City (as I've mentioned here before) and as a devout follower of Kerouac I am happy to say that I have made the "counter-culture pilgrimage" to City Lights.

But here's my problem with the list: Where are the Midwest cities? Every place on the list is East Coast or West Coast without anything in the middle. I know we tend to be thought of as fly-over country, but even with all the plans buzzing overhead we have still found time to enjoy a book or two. That is why I want to add a few places to this list. Specifically, three Midwest cities and towns for book lovers:

1. Kansas City (Rainy Day Books)

Regardless of whether you are on the Kansas or Missouri side of the state line in Kansas City, Rainy Day Books is your source for all great literary events. I have mentioned this bookstore here before, but feel the need to mention it again. Because if you want to make a list of cities for book lovers, it just has to include Rainy Day Books. To read more about it, visit my previous blog post here.

2. Chicago, IL (Women and Children First Bookstore)

This Andersonville bookstore, as the name would suggest, specializes in feminist and children literature. But the best reason to keep coming back is the author events. Powerful women, such as Hilary Clinton, have given readings there. I was lucky enough to attend a reading by Nora Vincent after the release of her book "Self-Made Man: My Year Disguised as a Man", describing her 18-month experiment to pass as a man in traditionally male-only venues (including everything from bowling teams to strip clubs to a monastery). It has an incredibly loyal group of patrons as well as local prestige as it was named one of the ten best bookstore in Chicago by the Chicago Tribune.

3. Lawrence, KS (The Dusty Bookshelf)

Okay, so I'm a little biased and put my current hometown on here. But it really is a great place for book lovers. On Massachusetts Street, the main street through downtown Lawrence, you will find my favorite used bookstore, The Dusty Bookshelf. This little shop is piled high with books - literally. Even with full shelves at the Dusty Bookshelf, you can still find stacks and stacks of books just waiting to be sorted through by a dedicated reader who enjoys the thrill of discovery just as much as she loves a good read.

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August 9, 2011

The Ramble - New York City, NY

After passing through Strawberry Fields, we moved on to the Ramble. As opposed to the manicured lawns and artfully gardened plots in other parts of Central Park, the Ramble is a natural landscape. It is 38-acre woodland respite that is home to some of Central Park's most famous attractions including: Belvedere Castle, Lower Bethesda Terrace, the Boathouse, and Bow Bridge (which I have previously mentioned as one of my top five most romantic places).

The Ramble was an integral part of Central Park's original design. It was created to be a "natural garden" that incorporates Manhattan bedrock, open glades an artificial stream, and intricate plantings of both native and non-native trees (Fun Fact: The Ramble is now mostly dominated by black cherry and black locust trees because they aggressively self-seed.) In the Ramble, it is easy to forget you are in New York City. As we walked along the dirt paths that are uneven with stones and fallen branches, I felt like was a kid again in the woods of Oklahoma. Lost among the trees and brush and rocky outcrops, it's hard for me to imagine that someone actually planted and designed it all. Nothing about it seems intentional. It is more like it all just rose up from the earth and simply is as all nature simply is.

The Ramble also has a slightly more illicit history. Throughout the twentieth century, the Ramble was a clandestine place for male lovers to meet. Men would go to the Ramble to meet other men and…enjoy the love that dare not speak its name. (Please note I’m trying to find really, really tactful ways to say these things. So bear with me and I promise to keep Wilde references to a minimum). As times have changed and society become more tolerant, the Ramble has become more popular for nature hikes than secret rendezvouses. But it retains its status as a New York gay icon, or at least the New York gay icon pre-dating Christopher Street.

Our visit to the Ramble was without the drama of illicit love affairs. No, we were simply a group of about 30 people dressed in wedding attire traipsing through the brush along the stony dirt paths. Although we did have some drama.

As we were walking through the Ramble, a very surprising thing happened. Someone tripped and fell. Well, that’s not really the surprising part. The surprising part is that it wasn't me. I have an impressive ability to hurt myself in random accidents. This includes tripping, slipping, falling, and on one occasion I split my finger open on a spoon (although in my defense it was a particularly sharp spoon). When we first realized someone had fallen, Joel turned around expecting to find me face down in the dirt. I also expected to find myself face down in the dirt. But to our infinite shock and amazement, I was upright and at no point fell or injured myself on our ramble through the Ramble.


August 4, 2011

Strawberry Fields Memorial - New York City, NY

After the wedding in Wagner Cove, we paraded through Central Park accompanied by the accordion player. Our first stop was the Strawberry Fields, a memorial to John Lennon. The Strawberry Fields Memorial was designed by Bruce Kelly, the chief landscape architect for the Central Park Conservancy. It was dedicated on what would have been Lennon's 45th birthday - October 9, 1985 - by New York Mayor Ed Koch and Yoko Ono, John Lennon's widow. It was named for Lennon's song "Strawberry Fields Forever."

The original Strawberry Fields are located in Woolton, a suburb of Liverpool, England. Lennon grew up near Strawberry Fields and as a child he would enjoy a garden party held there every summer. The Strawberry Fields Memorial was built in Central Park West at West 72nd Street, across from the Dakota Apartments, where Lennon had lived in his later years and where he was murdered. The focal point of the Strawberry Fields Memorial is the Imagine mosaic. The mosaic is surrounded by open lawns and rock outcroppings, bounded in by shrubs, treesm and woodland slopes.

The area is designated as a quiet zone, but it is rarely quiet. When we were there, some people were quietly lying on the lawns either reflecting or reading or just enjoying the sunshine. But around the Imagine mosaic, there was a large group of people and they were not quiet. There were tables set up where artisans and craftsmen sold their work, many of them celebrating the life and work of John Lennon. Many people are also there to pay homage to Lennon. I saw roses, candles, works of art, and even a hand-made Lennon doll placed on the Imagine memorial as people circled around and played music. These impromptu memorials are common and often attended by famous musicians and admirers of Jonn Lennon, including Jerry Garcia and George Harrison.


August 2, 2011

Wagner Cove - New York City, NY

The wedding was held in Wagner Cove of Central Park. Wagner Cove is hidden in a shady corner of the Lake. It is easy to walk by again and again without ever noticing it is there. But one turn past the shrubbery and you'll see the path leading down to the edge of the Lake. There is the rustic shelter that dates back to the first years of Central Park when rowboats on the Lake would stop at one of six shelters along the edge of the Lake to pick up passengers and drop them off at another. The cove is named for Robert F. Wagner, New York City's mayor from 1956 to 1965.

Because of its rustic charm and its hidden nature, Wagner Cove is a very popular wedding site. As we were preparing for the ceremony, another bride and groom came by to have some wedding photos taken but were disappointed to see we had already claimed the spot. The popularity is well deserved. As an accordion player serenaded us, we slowly moved down the mossy stone steps into the little cove. Hidden away from the city, we stood on the edge of the calm Lake, surrounded by the lush greenery of the Park. It was almost mystical in its natural beauty, as though we had found a little place removed from time and space to disappear from the sprawling urban landscape around us.

The ceremony was beautiful and private, so I'm not going to share the details of it here. But suffice it to say, I can see why Wagner Cove is a popular spot to disappear from the city and celebrate a couple's love.