For those of you who find this blog and are seeking to evaluate the quality of the images that are in A JOURNEY THROUGH LITERARY AMERICA, rest assured: I was not the photographer for the book. I am a rank amateur…
After our stay at the Excalibur in Las Vegas, we wound up in Salt Lake City. Our first stop was at the offices of Gibbs Smith, Publisher. I have been printing books for them for over a decade. We dropped in to see Marty Lee, the Vice President of Production and one of the fairest and most decent (and genuinely funniest) people I have met in the printing and publishing industry. It was the second time he met my wife Rika and the first time he met my son, Felix. “I’m glad my child raising years are over,” Marty said, as he watched Felix running all over the place outside “The Barn.” Gibbs Smith’ Publisher’s first base of operations was in a barn. And even now, sheep graze outside the editorial, production, and design offices of the converted barn. There are many storied locations of publishing companies but Gibbs smith should rank right up there for its sense of place.
After Gibbs Smith, a quick trip into downtown Salt Lake City where I visited Sam Weller’s Zion Bookstore. It is a real prize of an independent bookstore, with a thriving coffee shop, well-ordered stacks that are low enough that one can get the lay of the land, and a second floor catwalk around the entire perimeter of the bookstore that is filled with shelves upon shelves of books. A rare book room on the second floor invites people to stop on in and browse. It is as if one had died and gone to bookstore heaven. While I waited to speak with Catherine Weller, I chatted with the man at the register who had just finished a multi-volume biography of Ben Franklin. A young lady came up to the register and bought an independent literary magazine I had never heard of from a rack featuring an enviable collection of literary quarterlies and independent literary magazines. I left the store inspired, not least because I think they will take the book.
From there a stiff climb up through the mountains, following the same trail that the Mormons took when they came to Salt Lake City. It was arduous and at times extremely hairy, passing two halves of a house being transported on the highway while negotiating tight curves, and traveling through various kinds of weather. In Wyoming, rainstorms don’s all of a sudden come up on you and surround you. You see them from a distance, threading their way down to earth like cotton candy that has somehow died and gone gray. One storm stayed to the north of us for about 100 eempty miles before it finally lashed us with rain. And then we passed through and it was sunny again.
When Felix was reaching his limits, we arrived in Laramie. The city seems hidden from the highway that runs past it. It certainly didn’t look to me like a city that could house the only state university in Wyoming. But maybe I had the 1000 mile stare by that time from looking off into the far distance. In Laramie I sold two books to Personally Recommended Books – a fine bookstore on the second floor of a building in the historic downtown.
Julie, who was running the cash register, told me of a room at one of the buildings in the University of Wyoming that Hemingway had stayed at (when it was a private mansion). Mansions in Laramie, by the way, are of the same moderate size of most mansions that I grew up with in Burlington, Vermont. They would be nothing more than a spacious house in Santa Monica, California. I didn’t have much time so I parked next to a melting snowbank (it was 60 degrees out) and walked in to the mansion, which is now the American Studies building. No one was around so I wandered up to the second floor. The place was deserted except for one man’s booted feet that I saw quickly in passing, planted firmly on a big desk in an office full of boxes and other detritus. Definitely and American Lit professor of the old school, I thought. I will have to do more research on just what Hemingway did when he was there (or whatever part of it is public record).
Then it was on to Denver, and Boulder, home to the Boulder Bookstore, another excellent bookstore advertising three stories of new and used books. Ah, it was great being in a college town again. The energy there, for reading and thinking, is palpable.