Despite our digital habits, books remain the objects of our affections—particularly when they lead to our next trip.
Great authors traffic in quirky characters and intriguing plots, sure, but they also capture a sense of place. Think Cheryl Strayed and the heights of the Pacific Crest Trail or Henry Miller and the hidden-away world of Big Sur. The West—with its vast, open spaces punctuated by rambunctious cities—has long been a magnet for writers seeking inspiration, and that also makes it a prime place for a literary pilgrimage. There’s not short of opportunities to follow in the footsteps (and their protagonists) at destinations like John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, Jack London’s Yukon Territory, Raymond Chandler’s Los Angeles, and M.F.K. Fisher’s California wine country. But that’s not to say you need to look to the past. The West’s literary scene is bubbling with a diverse generation of up-and-coming writers, and their new tomes are itching to become your next immersive travel guides.
STAY: Libraries to check out and into
You can tell a lot about people by the titles they display in their living rooms. The same can be said for these hotels lining their shelves with literary treasures. At Portland’s newest luxury stay, The Porter (from $269; theporterhotel.com), a statement wall of classics is a focal point for the subdued lobby; the bookish atmosphere is enhanced by leather lounge chairs and vintage newspaper wallpaper. Meanwhile, in Mexico City’s Little Tokyo, minimalist serenity awaits at Ryokan (from $150; https://ryokan.mx/), a Japanese-influenced hotel that opened in May. Here, a sunken ground-level retreat stocks city guides and art books amid contemporary ceramic vases. In bustling West Hollywood, The Farmer’s Daughter Hotel (from $237; http://farmersdaughterhotel.com/) pulls off a homey nook thanks to a tiny canary yellow, birdhouse-like lending library (take one, leave one) out front. And back in Portland, a recent renovation at The Heathman (from $180; https://heathmanhotel.com/) upgraded one of the West’s most exclusive hotel libraries with floor-to-ceiling bookcases that show off more than 3,000 signed editions from previous guests, including Margaret Atwood and Jimmy Carter.
STROLL: Poetry in the Tropics
“On the last day of the world I would want to plant a tree,” goes W.S. Merwin’s poem “Place.” It’s more than mere sentiment. Over the past 40 years, the now 91-year old former U.S. Poet Laureate has planted more than 3,000 palms on his Maui estate in the town of—no joke—Haiku. On The Merwin Conservancy’s once-a-month tours (merwinconservancy.org), guides point out rare and unusual species in the lush 19-acre tropical forest, pausing to read snippets of Merwin’s poetry that help illuminate his life’s other great work.
DRIVE: Next road-trip classics
No, you can’t read behind the wheel. But these days, promising books are released in digital audio almost immediately upon publication. Got a weeklong journey ahead? The buzz is strong for Kristin Hannah’s The Great Alone (St. Martin’s Press, 2018), an epic, heart-wrenching family saga set in the Alaskan wilderness. Tommy Orange’s There, There (Alfred A. Knopf, 2018)a crackling novel that peers into the fractured yet dynamic lives of 12 urban Native Americans living in Oakland, is also getting rave reviews. For shorter afternoon drives, a tale or two from Maxim Loskutoff’s Come West and See: Stories (W.W. Norton & Co., 2018) a debut collection with a dystopian bent set in the rural Northwest—fits the bill. And for quick pops of insight while commuting, try David Naimon’s Portland-based radio show Between the Covers, which makes it easy to keep up with the contemporary-lit scene and find new titles.
GO: Vancouver’s page-turners
There’s not shortage of literary festivals across the western U.S., but the Vancouver Writers Fest (writersfest.bc.ca/) in Canada gives them all a run for their money. Beyond the books and talks, the October gathering is a chance for word nerds, plus more than 100 authors from as far away as the U.K. and Australia, to explore one of the West’s coolest coastal hubs. This year, three stars—and their picks for favorite stops in the city—have us particularly excited.
Latest Work: Happiness (Atlantic Monthly, March 2018) weaves a delicate tale out of wintry London encounters between an American wildlife biologist, a Ghaniaian psychiatrist, and an urban fox.
First Stop: Stanley Park, a 1000-acre oasis with beaches, trails, and an actual rain forest. “I’m looking forward to riding a bicycle and maybe spotting a coyote.”
Latest Work: Immigrant Montana (Alfred A. Knopf, July 2018) tells the funny, smart, and ultimately profound story of a young Indian immigrant’s romantic life after he arrives in New York City for college.
First Stop: The city’s dynamic Indian restaurant scene. “I’d like to get me some real Punjabi food.”
Latest Work: America is Not the Heart (Viking, April 2018) follows three generations of women and their journeys from the Philippines to the Bay Area in pursuit of an elusive American Dream.
First Stop: Nearby Richmond, B.C. “Family and friends have been steering me toward Richmond for the best Asian food, especially Chinese food.”
Walk a legend’s stomping grounds
Ernest Hemingway first visited central Idaho in the fall of 1939; he later bought a home in Ketchum and was living there when he passed away in 1961. The local library acquired the property in 2017 and recently began adding artifacts from the home into its history museum. With a new walking app rolling out soon, there’s never been a better time to step into Papa’s shoes.
9am Start your morning in Ketchum at the Kneadery (kneadery.com) amid antlers and fish portraits. The log cabin has been serving omelets and buttermilk pancakes since 1974.
10am Walk a few blocks to The Community Library (comlib.org), a charming 1976 building that houses an extensive, unique Hemingway collection, including insightful oral history interviews with friends and family members.
11am Add to your own trove at the nearby Chapter One Bookstore (chapteronebookstore.net). The building used to be Dick Alf’s Fly Shop, where the author purportedly picked up hand-tied flies for his river trips.
NOON After grabbing picnic provisions at Atkinsons’ Market detour 30 miles south to Silver Creek Preserve (nature.org/silvercreek), where Hemingway took his young sons in the 1930’s. An audio tour of the site is narrated by Mariel Hemingway, actress, author, and granddaughter of Ernest.
3pm Back in Kethchum, visit the recently expanded Hemingway exhibit at The Sun Valley Museum of History (comlib.org) to check out personal letters, a Royal typewriter he took to Havana, and artifacts from the Hemingway house, such as a manuscripts briefcase stamped with his initials.
4:30pm Pay your respects at the Ketchum Cemetery, where Hemingway is buried under three towering evergreen trees.
6pm For dinner, settle in Head at Michel’s Christiania Restaurant and Olympic Bar (michelschristiania.com) for classic French dishes like trout meuniere. The writer dined here so frequently he had his own table.
9pm Check in at the Sun Valley Lodge (www.sunvalley.com), where he stayed in 1939 while writing For Whom the Bell Tolls. Up for a nightcap? Try one of his favorite haunts, the Duchin Lounge). It’s since been modernized, but you can easily imagine the spirit of Papa Hemingway sauntering through the mountain-chic digs.
Sunset magazine | October 2018