Cool Bookish Places

Bookish Stops on the Southern Route

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Connie Pan

Senior Contributor

Connie Pan is a writer and editor from Maui, Hawai‘i. She earned an MFA in fiction from West Virginia University and a BA in creative writing from Grand Valley State University. Her writing has appeared in Bamboo Ridge, Carve, HelloGiggles, PRISM International, The Billfold, and elsewhere. An excerpt from her novel-in-progress was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Instagram: @csnpan Twitter: @panlikepeter

After 26 months in Livermore, California, my partner and I spend Valentine’s Day squeezing our belongings into the truck before locking up our home. For the first time, we have the privilege of cushion between moves. With eight unplanned days to reach Mississippi, we use our knowledge from travel shows and research to map destinations along the Southern route. A road trip lets us ease into our new lives—one bookish landmark, mile, city, and state at a time. 

Monterey, California

Cannery Row Monument in Monterey, California
In John Steinbeck’s
Cannery Row, the opening sentence states the titular place “is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream.” At Steinbeck Plaza in Monterey, the sun shines. We gaze through a viewfinder, scanning for the splash of sea otters and dolphins. Behind us, the bronze Cannery Row Monument features nine influential figures, including Ed Ricketts, Steinbeck, Flora Woods, and industry workers like fishermen.

Big Sur, California

On Highway One in Northern California

South on Highway One, we pass the Henry Miller Memorial Library. I crane my neck. My love asks if I want to stop. I say no, enjoying the sights. Although, I want to pause for Anaïs Nin and for Henry and June, an early literary love of mine. In a letter to Nin, Miller, before escaping to Big Sur, gushes about how the closest stores are “35 miles away.” He writes, “I have much work to finish and am seeking peace and isolation.” I sense we’ll return to this place that reminds me of Maui’s surreal beauty. Plus, dinner awaits in Ventura.

Redondo Beach, California

{pages} bookstore in Manhattan Beach, California

For the work week, we room in Redondo Beach. Because I’ve tagged along a few times, it feels familiar. I have favorites and a soul sister nearby. In Manhattan Beach, I visit {pages}, where I buy Morgan Parker’s Magical Negro, and nosh on gluten-free ramen at Rice as “Sweet Love” by Luiza Fernandes plays. On our last day, my husband jogs and I, too caffeinated for cardio, walk to Redondo Beach Pier, where we marvel at sea lions diving for chum.

Marfa, Texas

Marfa Book Co. in Marfa, Texas

In Phoenix and El Paso, we sleep, wanting Route 90 East. In Valentine, we stop at Prada Marfa for Beyoncé-inspired leaps in front of the infamous art installation. In Marfa, we spend the night at Hotel Saint George. I browse the shelves and tables at Marfa Book Company and ponder purchases. Inspired by Kelly Jensen’s margarita tour, I head to the lobby, then to the Hotel Paisano. The site, just down the street, served as the headquarters of Giant, starring Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, and James Dean. There, I drink a Bloody Mary in honor of Hudson and Taylor, who ran around with buckets during a storm to catch hail to ice their drinks with. As the sun sets, I buy Chelsea Girls by Eileen Myles, who splits time between Marfa and New York City.

Austin, Texas

BookPeople in Austin, Texas
In Austin, we stay two nights. While roving the classic literature section of BookPeople, I overhear a young man tell a woman he read The Catcher in the Rye four times. She remembers not connecting with the narrator but offers, Maybe I should revisit it. I want to peek around the corner and whisper, Trust yourself, dear, but don’t. I hope—without luck—that the guy stops talking, because I want to know her rereads. At Daruma Ramen on Sixth Street, I slurp shoyu ramen. The noodles taste like Hawai‘i, my home of homes.

In Louisiana, we crash into bed, a state away from Mississippi. When we reach our new city, we unpack the bags, crates, and plants, and move into a temporary beach cottage, wondering what will bloom here. Satiated by the calm of empty highways, infinite horizon, and new books, we settle in.