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Literary Destination: Bucks County, PA

Bucks County, Pennsylvania is a wonderful place to visit.  It has picturesque landscape and is steeped in history.  Bucks County is also a fantastic destination for literary lovers.  Here are some of the many places to include in your visit to Bucks County:

The Michener Museum

Michener Art Museum – Doylestown, PA

James A. Michener (1907-1997) was a native of Doylestown.  He authored dozens of books, including the 1948 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction winner, Tales of the South Pacific.  Rodgers and Hammerstein adapted this book into the 1949 Broadway musical South Pacific, which was then adapted into film in 1958 and again in 2001.  Michener was an art lover and a philanthropist, and donated money to the project that established this museum.  And here’s an interesting bit of trivia – the building that houses the museum was once the County Jail!  The museum opened it’s doors in September 1988.

When you enter the museum and turn left, there is a permanent exhibit – “James A. Michener: A Living Legacy”.  This is one of my favorite parts of the museum.  You’ll see Michener’s desk, typewriter, and other items from his office, in addition to books, photos, and awards.  The Michener Art Museum also has fantastic art displays, and variety of art classes for all ages.  If you are a researcher, the museum has an art library and archive, for which you will need to make an appointment to access.  For more information about the Michener Art Museum, please click here:  James A. Michener Art Museum – Art and Education in Doylestown, PA.

If you would like to know more about James Michener, I recommend Michener and Me by Herman Silverman (USA: Running Press, 1999. ISBN: 978-0762406203).  Silverman was a long-time friend of Michener and a founder of the Michener Art Museum.

The Mercer Museum
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Fonthill Castle

Mercer Museum and Fonthill Castle– Doylestown, PA

Another prominent citizen of Doylestown was Henry Chapman Mercer (1856-1930).  Mercer was a scholar with interests in archeology, anthropology, and art, and authored several books on these topics.  Fonthill Castle was his home, which you can still visit today.  Completed in 1912, Fonthill contains an amazing display of tile work from Mercer’s company, Moravian Pottery & Tile Works (located next to Fonthill).  I mention this location because Mercer’s substantial personal library is one of the rooms you can visit in Fonthill. 

About a mile or so away and located directly across the street from the Michener Art Museum is the Mercer Museum.  Mercer built this to house his collection of pre-industrial tools and was completed in 1916.  The museum also has the research library of the Bucks County Historical Society.  What do Mercer’s home and museum have in common?  They were both built almost entirely of reinforced concrete (including interior walls). To find out more about Mercer, Fonthill Castle, and the Mercer Museum, please click here: https://www.mercermuseum.org .

Pearl S. Buck’s home at Green Hills Farm

Green Hills Farm – Perkasie, PA

Another famous author, philanthropist, and activist who resided in Bucks County was Pearl S. Buck (1892-1973).  Born in Hillsboro, West Virginia, Buck moved shortly after her birth with her missionary parents to China.  She lived in China for a good portion of her early adult life, which greatly influenced her expansive literary works.  She received many awards and accolades, including the Pulitzer Prize in 1932 for The Good Earth (film adaptation in 1937).  Buck returned to the United States in 1934, and purchased Green Hills Farm around 1935.  In 1964, she established the Pearl S. Buck Foundation (now known as Pearl S. Buck International).  This organization provides aid for children, hosts a Global Leadership Program for high school students, offers writing classes and book groups for adults, and much more.  Tours are available of the house, and there is also a gift shop and exhibit gallery.  While visiting, you’ll get to see Buck’s office and personal library.  If you’d like to know more about Buck and this organization, please click here: Home – Pearl S Buck .

Do you want to know more about the famous and talented people, such as Oscar Hammerstein, II, Dorothy Parker, and Moss Hart, who lived in Bucks County?  I recommend The Genius Belt: The Story of the Arts in Bucks County by George S. Bush (editor) (Penn State University Press, 1996.  ISBN: 978-0271016733).

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Inside the Christmas Museum at the Byers’ Choice Visitor Center

Byers’ Choice – Chalfont, PA

Byers’ Choice got it’s start as a business in the 1960s when Joyce Byers began creating Christmas decorations (specifically Carolers) in her home.  This at-home start up grew into an international business.  Why is this being included with other entities that are book related? Well, if you check out the Carolers, or visit the Christmas Museum at their Welcome Center, you will notice the heavy influence of Charles Dickens.  As you’re entering the museum, and on your way to the Observation Deck (where you can watch artists creating the Carolers), you’ll pass through a walkway that makes you feel like you’re walking through the Victorian streets of London.  The connection with Dickens does not stop there.  For many years Gerald Dickens, the great-great grandson of Charles, has been coming to Byers Choice to perform his one-may adaptations of several of Dickens’ stories.  Unfortunately, due to Covid, Gerald Dickens was unable to hold his live performance of A Christmas Carol.  I have seen his live performance and it really is exceptional.  He plays the roles of each character without major costume or scene changes so seamlessly.  If you get a chance to see him live, go and see him.  If not, I believe you are still able to stream his recorded version.  If you’d like more information about the show and Byers’ Choice, please click here:  https://www.byerschoice.com . (For information on streaming Dickens’ performance, click on EVENTS, and scroll down.)

Okay, now you’ve traveled to Bucks County and are seeing the sites, and you feel the need to pick up a great book….where do you go?  If you just want to browse in a public library, the Bucks County Free Library has its center in Doylestown, and is located right next to the Michener Art Museum, and directly across the street from the Mercer Museum. There are 17 other locations throughout the county.  For more information about Bucks County Free Library, please click here: Home – Bucks County Free Library (buckslib.org) .

Feeling like you might want to purchase some books – something that you can take home with you?  You might be interested in the Bucks County Book Fest. The Book Fest began in 2018 and has been held annually since then (2020’s was held virtually).  Past authors have included Anna Quindlen, Ibram X. Kendi, and Kate Moore.  The 2021 Book Fest will be held September 24 -26 and includes keynote speakers Christina Baker Kline and Jason Reynolds, and at least 18 other authors.  For more information about this event, please click here:  https://www.bucksbookfest.org .

You might also want to visit some of the wonderful independent book stores located throughout the region.  Here is a listing along with their websites for more information:

The Doylestown Bookshop (Doylestown, PA) and The Lahaska Bookshop (Lahaska, PA): The Doylestown Bookshop .

Farley’s Bookshop (New Hope, PA): https://www.farleysbookshop.com .

Newtown Bookshop (Newtown, PA): Newtown Bookshop | Your Neighborhood Independent Bookshop .

Commonplace Reader (Yardley, PA):  Commonplace Reader (commonplace-reader.com) .

(NOTE: Map of Bucks County in the above title box is from Visit Bucks County. Click here for more information if you’d like to plan your trip to Bucks : Visit Bucks County, Pennsylvania )

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On the Big Screen: Libraries and Bookstores in the Movies

I am a library and bookstore lover, and some of my all-time favorite movies are set in them.  I mentioned You’ve Got Mail in my previous blog on books in the movies, and though it certainly fits this category, I won’t mention it now. Here are my top 5 movies featuring libraries and/or bookstores:

Number 1:  Desk Set (1957) starring Katharine Hepburn (Bunnie Watson) and Spencer Tracy (Richard Sumner).  First of all, you can’t go wrong with a movie starring this iconic couple.  Bunnie is in charge of the reference library at the fictional Federal Broadcasting Network.  Richard is a methods engineer and inventor of EMERAC (Electomagnetic Memory and Research Arithmetical Calculator – in short, a computer).  He is hired by the network to install the computer in the research department, which causes quite a shakeup.  Bunnie matches wits with Richard and EMERAC in this very funny, romantic comedy.  Although filmed in a studio, the Federal Broadcasting Network is supposed to be located at Rockefeller Center in New York City.

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Number 2: Foul Play (1978) starring Goldie Hawn (Gloria Mundy) and Chevy Chase (Tony Carlson).  This is a romantic comedy thriller, and an homage to Alfred Hitchcock movies.  Gloria is a librarian who gets caught up in the middle of a plot to assassinate the Pope.  Tony is a police detective assigned to the case.  Only a few scenes are set in the library, which were actually filmed at the Pasadena Central Library in Pasadena, California.  The rest of the movie scenes are set in several locations throughout the San Francisco area.  (So you there will be the obligatory car chase up and down those famous hills.)  If nothing else, Dudley Moore (Stanley Tibbits) will have you laughing out loud.

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Number 3:  Funny Face (1957) starring Audrey Hepburn (Jo Stockton) and Fred Astaire (Dick Avery).  Funny Face is known more for its musical numbers, fashion sense, and scenes set in Paris than it is for books.  However, the main characters meet when Dick, a fashion photographer, ends up at a shoot in a Greenwich Village bookshop where Jo works.  Jo is outraged by the intrusion of the destructive magazine crew, but Dick is charmed by Jo.  He eventually convinces her to take a modeling gig in Paris, where she would be able to indulge her philosophical pursuits.  “Bonjour, Paris!”  Alas, the bookshop was filmed on a soundstage, but many of the outdoor scenes in Paris are real.

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Number 4:  National Treasure: Book of Secrets (2009) starring Nicolas Cage (Benjamin “Ben” Franklin Gates) and Diane Kruger (Dr. Abigail Chase).  This action/adventure film is right up my history loving alley.  I could have included this in my previous top 5 list because of (1) the story line linking Ben’s ancestor, Thomas, to the diary of John Wilkes Booth; and (2) Ben’s quest for the “President’s Secret Book”.  So why did I include this film in this list?  Because of the scenes that take place at the Library of Congress.  This library lover would love to do some research there in real life!  In addition, the first National Treasure movie also had a scene filmed in the Main Reading Room of the Library of Congress.

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Number 5:  Beauty and the Beast (1991 animation and 2017 film).  I’m sure I don’t have to explain the plot of these movies to you.  But can I just mention – the Beast’s library?  Forget about being a princess, just let me in the library!

Honorable mention:  Bell, Book and Candle (1958) starring James Stewart (Shephard “Shep” Henderson) and Kim Novak (Gillian Holroyd).  Gillian, an owner of an African art store, casts a love spell on her upstairs neighbor, Shep.  Although this fantasy, comedy, romance film does not have scenes at a library or at a bookstore, it does have scenes in Shep’s office.  So why did I include this mention?  Shep is a book publisher and has my dream office with a fantastic wall of books, complete with library ladder.  Maybe he had the same interior designer as the Beast!

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On the Big Screen: Books in the Movies

Being the book lover that I am, a book can grab my attention no matter where I am — at a bookstore or library, certainly; but I’ve even noticed books on the big screen.  Here are my top 5 favorite movies featuring books.

WARNING: Spoilers may be given in the details below.

Number One:  Serendipity (2001) starring John Cusak (Jonathan Trager) and Kate Beckinsale (Sara Thomas).  While Christmas shopping in a department store, Jonathan and Sara meet when they reach for the same pair of gloves.  They strike up a conversation and then spend a few hours together going from location to location in New York City.  Jonathan is completely smitten with Sara.  Sara, a believer in fate and destiny, wants a sign that they should be together.  Enter the book Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  Sara just happens to be carrying this book around with her, so she writes her name and phone number in the book.  She tells Jonathan that she will sell the book the next day and if he is able to find it, they are meant to be together.  Jonathan spends many years searching for the book.  Is Jonathan able to reunite with Sara?  I won’t give everything away! As for the book in the story… several weeks ago, I stumbled upon a used copy of it.  I automatically opened it up looking for the name and phone number! I laughed at myself for doing it, but wouldn’t that have been something if I’d found THE book!

Number 2:  Indian Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), starring Harrison Ford (Indiana Jones) and Sean Connery (Henry Jones, Sr.).  The book I’m referring to in this movie is Dr. Jones Sr.’s grail diary.  This fictional book plays such an important part of the movie that it is almost a character itself.  Jones Sr. spends a good portion of his life researching the grail and making notes in his diary.  When he realizes that he is in danger, he sends the dairy to his son, Indy, in order to keep it safe.  It seems that either people want to steal the book, or see that the book is destroyed. If you’ve seen the movie and are a book lover like me, you won’t forget the book burning scene.  Some years ago I thought it would be interesting to track down the location of this movie prop.  I did some research and found a website that discusses the diary, which resides in the Hollywood Museum in Los Angeles.  To learn more about the diary, please click here:  Grail Diary | Indiana Jones Wiki | Fandom

Number 3:  Hocus Pocus (1993) starring Bette Midler (Winifred Sanderson), Sarah Jessica Parker (Sarah Sanderson) and Kathy Najimy (Mary Sanderson).  The Sanderson sisters return to life after 300 years when a boy lights the black flame candle.  Max, his sister, and a friend steal Winifred’s spell book and the Sanderson sisters chase them all over Salem, Massachusetts in an attempt to recover it.  The Sandersons need the book to take the souls from children, thus keeping the sisters alive, young, and beautiful.  The children finally succeed in turning the three witches to dust, but as the credits are rolling, we see a shot of the spell book cover, with the eye opening.  Is this really the end of the Sanderson sisters?  According to an article I found, there were three book props created for this movie, which are now stored in the Disney archives.  If you’d like to know more about the props, please click here:   13 Bewitching Props from Hocus Pocus – D23  

Number 4:  You’ve Got Mail (1998) starring Meg Ryan (Kathleen Kelly) and Tom Hanks (Joe Fox).  What could be better than a movie with a bookstore setting?  Though several books are mentioned in this movie, the book that gets the most attention is Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.  While chatting anonymously online, Kathleen mentions to Joe that she loves this book.  Joe wants to impress Kathleen, so he reads it.  When their characters are to finally meet in a café, Kathleen leaves the book on the table with a red rose so that Joe will be able to identify her.  Joe discovers his crush is really his arch nemesis, and he decides not to tell Kathleen he has been her online pen pal.  You could say Kathleen is like Elizabeth Bennett – stubborn and only thinks the worst of Joe.  Joe is like Mr. Darcy in that he initially thinks Kathleen is beneath him and her bookshop is small and inconsequential compared to his bookstore chain.  Elizabeth and Darcy marry by the end of their story.  Will Kathleen and Joe?

From my personal collection

Number 5: The Lake House (2006) starring Keanu Reeves (Alex Wyler) and Sandra Bullock (Kate Foster).  Kate and Alex both live in the same lake house, but two years apart.  They discover that they can write to each other by placing letters in the lake house mailbox…and that Alex’s present is 2004 and Kate’s is 2006.  After corresponding for a while, Kate and Alex fall in love.  Kate asks Alex to got to a train station on the day she left her favorite book behind.  The book was Persuasion by Jane Austen, and it had been given to her by her father.  Alex locates it and hides the book under Kate’s floorboards to find at a later time. He marks a passage from the book for Kate, which she reads when she finds the book:  “…there could have been no two hearts so open, no tastes so similar, no feelings so in unison…” They arrange to meet on a certain date.  When Alex does not show, Kate writes to Alex to say goodbye.  Alex begs her to arrange another date, and he says, “What about Persuasion?  You told me…they wait.  They meet again.  They have another chance.”   Do Kate and Alex ever meet?  You’ll have to watch the movie to find out!

Honorable mention: The Princess Bride (1987) starring Cary Elwes (Wesley/Dread Pirate Roberts) and Robin Wright (Buttercup/The Princess Bride). This movie is a film adaptation of William Goldwin’s 1973 novel The Princess Bride. This movie makes my list because I always enjoyed reading to my daughter when she was little. The movie begins with a the late, great Peter Falk as a grandfather reading a book to his grandson. The grandson isn’t interested in the story to begin with, but as the grandfather reads on the tale becomes more enchanting and adventurous. I won’t give away the plot of the movie, but I can tell you that the boy wishes for his grandfather to read the book again the next day.

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Baldwin’s Book Barn

Have you ever read a book that described what you thought sounded like a really cool place, only to discover that this place actually exists? It happened to me several years ago while reading Sheila Connolly’s Let’s Play Dead, which is one of seven books in her Museum Mystery series.Lets_Play_Dead

I love to read books, fiction or nonfiction, with settings in museums, libraries, or bookstores (not surprising!). In the Museum Mystery series, Nell Pratt is the president of the Pennsylvania Antiquarian Society, a fictional organization based in Philadelphia. In Let’s Play Dead, Nell is invited to a nearby children’s museum for a preview of a new exhibit. A murder at the museum causes Nell to search for the killer. While taking a break from her busy schedule, Nell takes a drive to Chester County to visit a bookstore she calls the Book Barn. As I was reading Connolly’s description of the Barn and its locale, I began to wonder if this place was real. I did a little research and happily discovered that, indeed, Baldwin’s Book Barn in West Chester, Pennsylvania is an actual place!

Baldwins_BooksThe barn that houses the bookstore started its life as a dairy barn in 1822. In 1946, the original founders of Baldwin’s, William and Lilla Baldwin, moved their business into the barn. Today, Baldwin’s has four floors of treasures! This bookstore is so large that they provide visitors with a map to help you navigate each level, with categories clearly labeled. Items are not cataloged at Baldwin’s, so if you’re looking for something in particular, you will need to search the shelves for it.

Baldwins_Books

Baldwins_BooksAs we made our visit in the winter on a very overcast and damp day, it was wonderful to be greeted by the warmth of the wood stove in the Rare Books room (this is where the main entrance is located). You’ll notice the obligatory scent of old books (a delight to many book lovers); and the creaking floorboards add to the ambiance of the rustic barn setting.

If you’d like to know more about Baldwin’s history or plan a visit, check out their website at http://www.bookbarn.com. We found our treasures – hope you will find yours!

Let’s Play Dead is published by Berkley Prime Crime (July 2011), ISBN 978-0-425-24220-9. For more information on this book and more, go to http://sheilaconnolly.com.