Literary Pilgrimages: Willa Cather’s grave site

On a bleak winter afternoon in early December, I set out to find Willa Cather’s grave at the Old Meeting House in Jaffrey Center, New Hampshire. By her own wish, the author was laid to rest near the site where she had often spent the autumn months and worked on many of her novels, including My Antonia.

After a few mishaps due to my confusion of the towns of Jaffrey and Jaffrey Center, and the total lack of signage identifying the Meeting House (yes, this is New England — if you don’t already know where you’re going, you shouldn’t be here), I found the magnificent old building and its small burying ground that looks out onto a view of Mount Monadnock.

The oldest marked grave on this site dates from 1777, and many of the stones are centuries old. Often tall and narrow, they lean at odd angles in the frost-humped ground.

Willa Cather’s grave stands alone in a corner, facing away from the meeting house and toward the mountain (as most of the gravestones do). The stone has weathered quite a bit in the past sixty-odd years, and the inscription was not easy to read in the dim light.

According to a sign near the entrance, the grave of Cather’s companion Edith Lewis was very nearby, but I didn’t see a stone. I took a guess at the location and scraped away some snow, and there it was.

Just as I was about to leave, a ray of sun broke through the clouds as the Meeting House clock tolled two, and the words on the stone were illuminated.


December 7, 1876-April 24, 1947
The truth and charity of her great
spirit will live on in the work
which is her enduring gift to her
country and her people.
“…that is happiness, to be dissolved
into something complete and great.”
From My Antonia


This still-unspoiled spot seems an appropriate resting place for Willa Cather, surrounded as it is by great natural beauty while also bearing witness to centuries of human striving and endeavor. I’m so glad that I finally made the pilgrimage to view it, and hope to return again to experience its peaceful spirit through the changing seasons.

Posted in honor of Willa Cather Reading Week, hosted by Heavenali 

Click here to view images of Cather in Jaffrey from the Willa Cather Archive
More information on Cather in Jaffrey, from the Willa Cather Archive 

My Life in Libraries

After doing this post about My Life in Bookstores, I realized that I’ve surely spent much more of my life in libraries, and that they should be given their due. Here are some that had personal significance for me. For more library love, you can browse this page of Library Visits from Wildmoo Books. (What a great idea! If anybody else is posting about libraries, please let me know.)

The one I grew up in: Mercer Island Library (Mercer Island, WA)


Besides visiting frequently from ages 8 to 18 and on visits home after that, I had my first job here in high school, solidifying my alphabetization skills and packing books to send to patrons by mail. I liked shelving books because I could browse as I went, but the dreaded “shelf reading” (making sure shelves were in the correct Dewey Decimal order) bored me silly.

…and now

The library was completely transformed by a remodel after I left home, so the place of my childhood memories is gone. When looking for pictures for this post, I learned that another proposed remodel is causing controversy (as in, why fix what isn’t broken?). Libraries come and go, but Mercer Island politics are eternal.
The one I wish was still around the corner: Forbes Library (Northampton, MA)

I only lived in Northampton for a year, but it remains my ideal town. Not least among its attractions is this wonderful castle-like building with an arched interior and glass balconies, which houses a splendid book collection and tons of atmosphere. I used to live just around the corner, and I wish I still did. I haven’t been back since a remodel, and I hope it remains as distinctive as I remember it. Some architectural history

The ugly duckling: Finkelstein Memorial Library (Spring Valley, NY)

For 17 years this was my home library. In spite of its uninspiring architecture, grumpy librarians, and noisy clientele, it had a pretty decent book collection which was quite excellent when combined with easy access to the extended county library system. Alas, a couple of years ago they decided to secede from that system, forming one more reason for me not to regret moving away from the area. When researching this post, I was startled (but not entirely surprised) to learn that just last month an SUV rammed through the front entrance, injuring six people and causing extensive damage! What a terrible shock for patrons and staff. I hope everyone recovers soon.

The glamour queen: New York Public Library (New York, NY)

I didn’t actually use this library as a patron, but I always enjoyed stopping by when I was in Manhattan. The majestic architecture really gives reading the importance it deserves. There are also frequent free exhibitions; one is described in this post from Wildmoo Books, which also has lots of excellent photos. If you’re in New York, you should definitely visit.

The dream: Bodleian Library, Oxford, England

Perhaps the ultimate attraction for English lovers, the Bodleian encompasses beautiful historic buildings as well as important and ancient books. I visited as a teenager but haven’t been back since, and I don’t know if I’ll ever manage to return, but I can dream. I wrote here about a recent exhibition I would love to have visited; Reno of Falling Letters wrote here about how she actually did. Jealous!
The reality: Keene Public Library, Keene, NH

My new town library is adorable but tiny — I probably own almost as many fiction titles as they do. For only $50, though, I was able to gain access to the collections of both this spacious, recently modernized public library and Keene State College. It’s 45 minutes away, but online reservations and renewals make it all easy. Hooray for technology!

My life in bookstores

Robin McKinley’s author bio in her early books used to say that she kept track of her life according to what she was was reading in various locations; she traveled around quite a bit as a child because her father was in the navy. I didn’t have such an exotic upbringing, but I find that I have strong memories associated with the bookstores located in the places where I’ve lived. Here are some of my favorites. Please share yours!

Island Books Etc., Mercer Island, WA

bookstore Mercer Island
Just like I remember it from the 1980s.

This was the only bookstore in the suburb where I lived from third grade till college, so I spent a lot of time there. It had (and still has) a pretty good general book selection, cool magazines, paper goods and greeting cards, and a nice children’s department. It was just around the corner from my dentist’s office and I got to go there frequently for a non-cavity-causing treat after dental work. Another memory: when I was about ten they had a contest to name their new children’s book department. I don’t remember what my entry was, but I’m sure it couldn’t be more boring than the winner: “Children’s Books Etc.” Oh, please.

University Book Store, Seattle and Bellevue, WA

bookstore Seattle University

The U-district was the place to go when I was a teenager, and no visit was complete (for me anyway) without a trip to this mecca run by the University of Washington. The office and art supplies were an attraction as well as the excellent selection of general, children’s, SFF, and scholarly books. The Bellevue branch store opened at some point in those years as well, and I worked there in the pre-Christmas season for a few years, learning useful gift-wrapping skills. One year absolutely everybody was buying Possession in hardback and the pre-Raphaelite cover is engraved on my brain.

Powell’s City of Books, Portland, OR

bookstore Portland

Okay, I never actually lived in Portland, more’s the pity, but it was worth the three-hour trip just to go to the massive Powell’s. If you can’t find it here, you’re not looking. By the way, if you use the “Search at Powell’s” function on this site and buy anything from them, I’m an affiliate and get a small percentage, which I will spend on more books from Powell’s. Support independent bookstores!

Carleton College Bookstore, Northfield, MN

bookstore Northfield Minnesota college
Carleton’s Sayles-Hill Campus Center

I mostly bought textbooks and sweatshirts in the basement during my four years at Carleton, but the upstairs general books department was always good for a browse. I remember eyeing the Penguin paperbacks of Robertson Davies’s novels there for years and then finally buying Tempest-Tost when I was a senior — the start of a long love affair with that wonderful author.

The Elliott Bay Book Company, Seattle, WA

Seattle bookstore Pioneer Square

When I moved back to Seattle after college, I could take the bus or even walk downtown from my Madison Park house, and I would frequently end up at this Pioneer Square landmark. As well having a fantastic store and cafe they also hosted author readings and visits practically every other day. I saw Ursula K. LeGuin and Denise Levertov here, among others. The historic neighborhood went severely downhill, however, and a few years ago they decided they had to move or die. I haven’t yet visited their new Capitol Hill location, but I do hope it keeps them afloat.

The Sunbridge College Bookstore, Chestnut Ridge, NY

Waldorf bookstore New York
Sadly, this sign is no more.

I probably spent more time in this store than in any of the others combined, because I worked there part-time for seven years while attending Waldorf teacher training at Sunbridge College and then the eurythmy training at Eurythmy Spring Valley. My manager, who took over the store the year I arrived, was an eccentric but brilliant woman who tripled the size of the store and turned it from a dumpy corner of the Threefold Auditorium building into a jewel-toned, artfully arranged oasis. In quiet times when she was not around I got to spend many happy hours perusing the small but carefully-chosen stock of books on spirituality, education, the arts and crafts, and more. Another casualty of the internet age, after I left it had to drastically reduce its stock and move into Meadowlark Toys and Crafts, the end of a brief but memorable heyday.

Books of Wonder, New York, NY

children's bookstore new york

There are lots of great bookstores in New York, of course, but I was a fan of Books of Wonder before I even moved to the area. For a while I was a member of their collector’s club, and always loved perusing their catalog of used and rare titles. As well as being one of the best children’s bookstores you’ll find anywhere, for several years they collaborated with the William Morrow publishing house to bring some classics back into print including works by E. Nesbit and L. Frank Baum. These are sadly now mostly out of print, but they still offer the complete Oz series in hardcover, which I’ve had my eye on for some time.

Toadstool Bookshop, Peterborough, NH

bookstore Peterborough New Hampshire
Don’t let the rather unprespossessing exterior put you off.

A year ago I moved to what some friends rather uncharitably called “the boonies,” but with this super independent bookstore just 15 minutes away, what more do I need? There are two other locations in the Toadstool mini-chain, in Keene and Milford, but this one is my favorite. It has a large used book department as well, and I pretty much never leave the store without buying something there. My latest score was the first U.S. edition of The Neverending Story, with its unusual two-color printing that identifies the two parts of the story (in our world and Fantastica). I’m sure I’ll find many more treasures there in the years to come.

Have you been to any of these? What did you think? What are your favorite bookstores?