A Literary Vacation

The Bobbsey Twins at Oxford, or Kat on vacation?

The Bobbsey Twins at Oxford, or Kat on vacation?

Since I am a bibliophile, I idly planned a “literary vacation” in London.  Will I go sight-seeing?  Well… maybe.  Buckingham Palace? No, no, no.  Westminster Abbey?  God, no. I saw the wedding of William and Kate, though.

No, I don’t do much of anything when I visit cities.  My plans? I’M AN AMERICAN ON VACATION.  I’m going shopping.  Then I’ll sit in a tearoom and rest my feet, like the middle-aged heroine of a Monica Dickens novel.

My other plans are literary.  There are a couple of bookish things to do:   Visit the Dickens Museum (£8.00). Go on a Dickens walk (£10.)  Go to a bookstore (God knows how many £.).

Now I did make one solid literary plan.  I excitedly decided to go to one event at the Oxford Literary Festival.  Why not?  I love literary festivals.  But here’s the thing:  in the U.S. literary festivals and readings are free.  In the UK you have to pay.

“And that’s why America is a better country,” my husband said.  “Literature is free.”

“Only in a literary sense.”  It didn’t make sense, but I said it.

Here’s the thing.  If you go to a reading at Prairie Lights, it’s free.  If you go to a book festival, it’s free.  We’ve seen (for free) over the years:  Borges, Updike, Jane Smiley, Sherman Alexie, Nathan Englander, Joy Williams, Joyce Carol Oates (twice), Toni Morrison (twice), Derek Walcott, Grace Paley, Karen Thompson Walker, David Malouf, Galway Kinnell, Tom Wolfe, Marge Piercy, Jill McCorkle, Susan Choi, Margaret Atwood, and…I can’t begin to list them.

So, all right, I spent £11 for a ticket to an event in Oxford, and getting there will be a hassle.  I’ll get up at dawn.  I never do anything at dawn, though. It will cost me £24.10 to get to Oxford on the train, and then “the station is a 20-minute walk or five-minute taxi-drive from the festival. There is a taxi rank at the station.”  OK, so the taxi will cost…

So I’m doing all that to hear a writer talk for one hour!

Suppose I go see two more writers (though I haven’t heard of most of them).  Well, okay, so then I’ll pay $55.22 if I go to three events.  But my mind wanders at readings and interviews, so is it worth it?  One minute I’m listening, and the next I’m wondering if I can find a really good cup of coffee (not something ghastly in an urn, as one so often gets at university events).

So I’ll be paying $100, more really, and I should probably be touring London instead.

Anyway, am I on the same wave length with anyone at Oxford?  Hell, no.  I’m a Big Ten School grad, and proud of it.  I got an excellent education.   To me Oxford is Brideshead Revisited.   Gorgeous place, but maybe not for my vacation. 🙂

8 thoughts on “A Literary Vacation

  1. Dear Ms Mirabile: Do I understand you correctly that you once attended a reading by the late Jorge Luis Borges?Where and when did this occur if you don’t mind my asking. Joel Dressler


  2. Seconded! I’m fascinated that you saw Borges! As for literary events – I guess we feel the writers need to be paid!! But I can understand that if you have a limited time in the UK, dragging yourself to Oxford is extra hassle you don’t need – even if it is very beautiful!!


  3. I don’t know. Go see Oxford. I was there and it was very interesting. Now when I read one of those many novels where the young man goes off to university I have a mental picture of the place.


  4. Jim and I always took literary holidays — whether for two weeks or a day. We were bored sitting on a beach; the couple of times we found ourselves in some mindless luxury hotel I felt trapped and bored — so did he. Food for the soul and mind is what I wanted. When I went to landscapes I usually chose them for associations — as the great writers loved to go to beautiful and/or interesting places that’s where we went – the campagna near Rome. We never made it to Cornwall (Poldark novels) or the Lake District (all the English poets); they were next on our agenda. Jim wanted to go to Venice — all sorts of associations. He never made there either.


  5. I enjoy visiting places I know from novels. We did get to Cornwall and the Lake District and the experience has enriched my reading. The very best treasure was a visit to Haworth to the home of the Brontes, with a walk down the old street there and up on the moors.


  6. Joel and Karen, I saw Borges in the most beautiful town in the world, Bloomington, IN.:) It’s the Athens of the Midwest, like all the other university towns that are the Athens of the Midwest.:) It was long, long ago: early ’80s? He was very old and blind. It was one of the most moving events of my life. Sponsored by the university.

    Karen, writers on book tours here are not paid at bookstores, as far as I know, and that is unfair. I think they are just packed off to promote their books. Many writers are on book tour at book festivals, too, but perhaps they pay a little? And I’m sure they pay their big-name writers. At universities writers are paid, sometimes there’s an honorarium, sometimes huge amounts, but it’s still free to the public. And there are other venues where they are paid. But I’ve never had to pay to see any of them. Sometimes you have to get tickets in advance, but the tickets are free. It’s just a different literary culture.

    Karen and Nancy, Yes, I should get on that train and go see Oxford. I may still do it.:)

    Nancy and Ellen, my schedule is still open. I do like the sound of Haworth.


  7. Yes, we’ll have to see.:) There is so much to do and see in London and all will depend on my jet lag. Perhaps I’ll want to ride that train. (Am really impressed with the transit system. There are trains going all day between London and Oxford.)


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