July 2023 Leisure Learning: Word Nerd Tourism!

by Melissa Haas
published in Reading

Hello and happy almost-August! The July 2023 Leisure Learning column is all about the literal places that literature can transport one’s self to. Get in touch with your inner Transcendentalist, talk with the kids about their summer reading, go on a few virtual tours that bring epic word nerd sites to you, and have a laugh courtesy of the American Writers Museum.   

Get ready for some mental stimulation, because here are your July 2023 Leisure Learning links:

Brain Games

(Puzzle book, good for road trips)

Neil Somerville’s Literary Pocket Puzzle Book: 120 Classic Conundrums for Book Lovers is a fun way of showing that you still remember a handful of facts from lit class, possess a vocabulary that includes “palimpsest,” and good way to pass the time on a road trip, especially if your backseat harbors emo teenagers. 

There are word searches, famous quotes that you may or may not be able to fill in, literary sudoku, as well as Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings themed crossword puzzles. Go ahead, geek out—as a family.  

The puzzles are just challenging enough to make you think, but not embarrass one’s self (lol), and offer a great starting point for everyone to talk about what they’ve read over this summer. 

Fictional Places To Make You Smile

The American Writers Museum (AWM) is a relatively new institution. It opened its doors to the public in May of 2017 in Chicago, IL and started online exhibitions even before we’d ever heard the words “Covid-19.”

As with most institutions aimed at preserving traditional culture, their goal is to maintain the legacies of American authors for as long as possible, while adding new ones into the mix as well. 

However, in contrast to most institutions along these lines, the AWM has a sense of humor. I stumbled on their feature AWM Destinations, thinking it would be chock full of literary landmarks across America, but instead found myself laughing out loud over its content.

AWM Destinations is a collection of travel summaries inviting the reader to tour imagined settings, as if a trip to The Yellow Brick Road, complete with local wine tasting, could be booked through AirBnB.  

Visit The House of Usher, Where The Wild Things (Really!) Are, That Town In A Hallmark Movie, and my favorite, Amity Island, attempting to make things right (by which I mean there is some acknowledgement of a certain predatorial marine species) this time ‘round.

Come tour the places you already know, but with a wink and a smile because they represent realms where readers are always in on the jokes. 

Give Yourself the Coolest Experience

If you happen to be traveling to London, Paris, New York, Copenhagen, or any other major metropolis, do yourself a favor and head on over to Herb Lester first, so that you can go to the magnificent cities your friends have also probably been to, with the difference being you having a way cooler time.

Herb Lester is a small press that creates retro maps revealing quirky cultural spots. For under $25, you can take yourself on an excursion showing sites such as the flat where George Orwell and H.G. Wells fell out over curry and plum cake

Feel like assuming the identity of a British spy? Then check out this intensely researched guide to John La Carré’s London or learn about spots that appear unremarkable, only to come to life once you know that they were used for dead letter drops or to house double agents. 

Maybe you’re more into Agatha Christie’s England, Philip Marlowe’s L.A., or the esoteric side of Paris

Regardless of your tastes, the experiences brought to you in these artistic guides guarantee that friends and colleagues are actually going to want to hear more about the trip you’ll be talking about for years to come.

Ken Burns’s Walden 

(23 mins, free on YouTube)

Although they are American icons, few people realize that Henry David Thoreau worked as Ralph Waldo Emerson’s handyman and landscaper. It was through this relationship that Thoreau had the opportunity to abscond from society and meet his true self while living “off the grid” in the cabin he built for himself, by himself, for a little over $28. 

Ken Burns presents a majestic glimpse of Walden Pond, in a way that gives justice to Thoreau’s profound experiment, for it is in Walden that he declares, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” 

Not only did Thoreau find divinity in nature, his writings reveal that an entirely different set of emotions could be fostered through spending time alone in nature. 

Taken together, this documentary along with Thoreau’s writings will enhance that grand experience spent out in the woods, in the sun or under the stars. 

Virtual Literary Tours

Bear with me on this one, folks. Google Arts & Culture has put together two literary tours that are simply magic, featuring locations that will give most writers goosebumps at some point. However, you must go into them knowing that the text you are reading does not actually belong to the image it is next to. In most cases, the blurb is referring to the next slide. 

Normally, I would never feature something so haphazardly set, but some of the content took my breath away and it is with that attitude I now pass them along to you. (And, of course, I have contacted Google about this issue.)

If you are a Charlotte, Anne, or Emily Brontë fan, you will definitely want to check out Hawthorne parsonage and see the real life inspiration for Wuthering Heights in this Literary Tour of the Brontë Sisters

However, if the moors don’t call you, I promise you that something on the Famous Authors and Where They Wrote Virtual Tour will. See where Arthur Conan Doyle entertained Bram Stoker, the place where The Narnia Chronicles were penned, and the drafty Orchard House where Meg, Jo, Amy and Beth stayed up many late, fictitious nights producing their own works. 

Tell us in the comments: Which of these July 2023 Leisure Learning picks are you most excited to try?

Melissa Haas is the author and illustrator of Catula: The Misadventures of Dracula’s Cat and The Night Before Christmas (NOW WITH CATS), among others. Follow Catula’s whereabouts on Instagram @CatulaTheCat. If you’re interested in downloading free coloring pages or seeing Margaret Atwood with a blowtorch, check out more Leisure Learning related content at www.MelissaHaasCreates.com.

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