The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain (Signet, $8). Twain’s novel about Americans traveling through Europe and the Holy Land mocks Americans’ penchant for tacky tourism: “We find a piece of the true cross in every old church we go into... And as for the bones of St. Denis, I feel certain we have seen enough of them to duplicate him if necessary.” What would he make of the Twain-land erected in his hometown of Hannibal, Mo.?
Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman (Bantam, $6). “If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles,” Whitman writes. At his house museum in Camden, N.J., visitors go to see Whitman’s boot soles, to see his stuff. Whitman’s poetry tries to bridge the divide between the material and spiritual worlds. Writers’ houses, monuments to the imagination, do the same.
The Sport of the Gods by Paul Laurence Dunbar (Modern Library, $23). Dunbar’s verses still resonate: He wrote the line “I know why the caged bird sings.” This wonderful recent edition of his works may help restore his reputation. That would be good news for the Paul Laurence Dunbar house, an evocative yet undervisited museum in Dayton, Ohio.
Eden’s Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father by John Matteson (Norton, $18). We have created a myth around the author of Little Women. Matteson’s masterful biography rectifies the historical record. A must-read before visiting the Alcott house in Concord, Mass.
The Decoration of Houses by Edith Wharton (Norton, $25). Wharton’s first book was an influential treatise on architecture and design. She built her gorgeous estate in Lenox, Mass., the Mount, around her theories of interiors and gardens.
Martin Eden by Jack London (Penguin, $16). At the end of his life, London, a best-selling author, was sick of writing, but he kept at it to pay bills. In Sonoma County, Calif., he bought a ranch and built a glorious house that burned to the ground the day he was to move in. Martin Eden is about a young writer who becomes disillusioned once famous. Both the novel and the burned remains of London’s house display the folly of foresight.