Talking about my upcoming trip with friends (or strangers) I’m frequently asked if I’m prepared, what am I doing to prepare, etc. In terms of the actual work, I don’t feel very prepared at all. All I know is that I’m going with open eyes, mind and heart. I’ll interact with the place when I arrive and I have faith that something will come of it.

But in the past few months I’ve been doing a lot of reading and I would say that this is an important kind of preparation. Perhaps the best kind. Several of the books and essays have come to me fortuitously, the result of chance meetings or introductions. I’m learning to pay close attention to what appears to be the random stuff — things I encounter that don’t quite fit into my normal scope. This in itself is a great way to prepare for travel.

So here are some choice pieces that have influenced my thinking about the trip. They’re not all directly related (to each other or to what I’m doing right now) but if it’s on this list it’s because something about it feels like it’s working on me. Letting a story, an idea or even just a word resonate for awhile can be enough stimulation.


  1. I found William Murray’s “City of the Soul: A Walk in Rome” (Crown, 2002) excellent preparation for an encounter with the city. (Also: A longtime James Merrill fan, I found Alison Lurie’s “Familiar Spirits” a highly unpleasant read.)

  2. Thanks James. Quickly becoming a Merrill fan myself. Just started the Lurie…

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