This past Thursday I left work after lunch and drove to gorgeous Asheville, North Carolina. You really don’t need an excuse to take a long weekend to spend there, but I did anyway. Ann Kingman and Michael Kindness, the book lovers behind the Books on the Nightstand podcast, hold three bookish retreats each year that they quite aptly call Booktopia. The last event of 2014 was held in Asheville. On top of the obvious reasons why I’d want to attend, I’d never been to Asheville. How could I pass it up?
Because there is so much I’d love to talk about, I’m going to write a little bit at a time. Today I’m going to focus on Zelda Fitzgerald and Booktopia’s Official read, Guests on Earth by Lee Smith.
The three Jennifers (Jennifer3 or #JenniferFest2014) all arrived in Asheville on Thursday evening. Shannon wasn’t able to come until the official registration started on Friday. Since registration didn’t start until noon, we decided to head out Friday morning in search of Zelda. Zelda Fitzgerald has been all the rage in fiction as of late. I’m pretty sure all three of us have read Z and Call Me Zelda. We had also read Guests on Earth, which would be discussed later in the afternoon. We were ready for our pilgrimage.
Our first stop was to pay our respects at Highland Hospital, the place where Zelda died in a tragic fire. It took some time to figure out exactly which building was the hospital itself, but it was worth the searching (many thanks to Erika Robuck for her help via Twitter). Highland Hospital was a beautiful building. Given its surroundings, it was easy to see how the doctors would consider the setting and exercising outdoors essential to recuperating. There were newer buildings nearby, but I could sense how peaceful Highland Hospital must have been when Zelda was treated there.
There wasn’t any overt acknowledgement of the hospital or its most famous patient. Had we not known to look for it (once again, thank you Erika Robuck), we might have never seen the memorial plaque that was on the grounds. It was a nice place to pay our respects.
After leaving Highland Hospital we decided to continue our pilgrimage to Grove Park Inn, the hotel where F. Scott Fitzgerald stayed when he came to Asheville to visit Zelda. We first took a potentially illegal pit stop to take pictures of the sign Jenn spotted while we were GPSing our way to Highland Hospital. You can’t see this in my picture, but from the sign you could see what we believed was the original driveway to Highland Hospital. There are some beautiful gardens there now.
Our final stop was absolutely gorgeous. As with the sign along the side of the road, there wasn’t any authorized parking for us available, but we didn’t let that stop us from parking in the bus lane to take pictures. We later learned from Ann Kingman that Grove Park Inn is one of the top spas in the country. I believe her. I could almost feel the post emanating from the facade. I took a million pictures of the building, but my favorite is the selfie we three Jennifers took.
We returned to our hotel to greet Shannon and to register. From there we split up. Jenn and I went to Malaprops for book seller recommendations and some preliminary shopping. More on that in a book recommendation post to follow.
Then we attended a group discussion on Guests on Earth and were reunited with Jennifer again. Knowing that it was the official read of Booktopia Asheville, I brought my copy with me on my trip to California in July. I haven’t read any Lee Smith before, despite the fact that she’s a fellow Hollins graduate. I enjoyed reading other books featuring Zelda Fitzgerald, so I was expecting to enjoy Guests on Earth as well. What I didn’t expect was how I was going to gobble the book up. I read it in less than 24 hours, something I very rarely do. As with Call Me Zelda, this book featured a fictional character who knew Zelda. Unlike Call Me Zelda, Evalina is the main character in Lee Smith’s novel and Zelda is much more in the background. Regardless, I ate this book up. I found it to be beautifully written and irresistible.
I enjoyed the opportunity to enjoy the book with my fellow Booktopians. What I found most interesting was the wide variety of opinions about the book. As someone who loved it, I was in the minority. While I think overall people enjoyed the book, most people had issues with it. As it dealt with treatment of those with mental illnesses, there was a good deal to discuss. I think both the topics and the setting of Guests on Earth made it a good choice for the Booktopia Asheville read. I highly recommend it, especially if you have the opportunity to visit Asheville after. What a treat.