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 Thinking PlacesWhere Great Ideas Were Born

 

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Review from the THE MARJORIE KINNAN RAWLINGS

JOURNAL OF FLORIDA LITERATURE

Volume XVII    2009

 

Thinking Places: Where Great Ideas Were Born

 

Fleming, Jack, and Carolyn Fleming. Victoria, British Columbia, Can.:

Trafford Publishing, 2007. 416 pp. $29.42.

 

CAROL AND DAVID GRANTGES

 

     What a wonder it was last November when we read Thinking Places: Where Great Ideas Were Born, a book clearly recognizable as a labor of love by Carolyn and Jack Fleming. Thinking Places devotes a chapter each to thirty great nineteenth-and twentieth-century creative persons and luminaries, including inventors such as Glenn Curtiss, Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell,and George Washington Carver; educator Booker T Washington; composer and pianist, Edvard Greig; naturalist Charles Darwin. All of the rest of the figures that the Flemings study are literary giants, over two score, all of whom most of us grew up enjoying, including Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. Each chapter comments on the works of the author, then discusses his or her "thinking place," that place where think and to write and all of these people went to escape from their daily troubles to to imagine. The chapters all end with an innovative description the Flemings call Lagniappe (lan-yap), which is a Cajun word meaning "an unexpected bonus from a transaction or endeavor."

 

     Perhaps, unlike most promotional additions, the cover blurbs by professors from the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Society,both of which describe the Flemings's novel approach and splendid narrative, prove illuminating if not useful. Professor Brent Kinser says: "A delightful book by delightful people, Thinking Places exudes all of the best qualities of a travelogue, with'Lagniappe'-the Flemings's joyfully unquenchable thirst for literary exploration and human understanding." Rodger L. Tarr extends the praise: "Thinking Places is a compelling, personal, and delightful sojourn with some of our most cherished and immortal authors. Carolyn and Jack Fleming provide an intriguing travelogue, as they explore the tragedies and triumphs of famous writers in a book of brave wit and insightful commentary." Kinser and Tarr could not be more correct.

 

     Admittedly, our literary opinion is prejudiced. We got to know Carolyn and Jack Fleming last April on a trip to Banner Elk, North Carolina, the site of the tiny cabin that Rawlings rented while working on her novel The Yearling and her story "A Mother in Mannville." It was our extreme good fortune to offer the Flemings a lift as they were laboring up the hill from the Rawlings monument to the cabin. We then enjoyed our drive around the tiny town of Banner Elk with them. They told us that they had just published a book about the writing habits of about thirty immensely popular writers from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. We, of course, immediately purchased a copy. When we looked at the table of contents, we saw that half were American and the other half, British authors. The Flemings reviewed each author's work and researched his or her life from a particular viewpoint. They wanted to establish that each author had a special retreat where he or she thought and wrote.

 

     We read the chapters about the authors that first appealed to us, such as Glenn Curtiss and Rudyard Kipling. Curtiss in particular was a childhood hero of ours. He broke the land speed record on his V-8 motorcycle at 136 mph in an era when automobiles were barely faster than today's riding lawnmowers. He was one of the founders of aviation, rivaling the Wright Brothers, and an inventor/designer of many aircraft, especially seaplanes. We were astounded to learn that he was a real-estate architect developer Indian in the Miami area. He designed the Pueblo town houses of Opa Locka and the Moorish architecture of Hialeah. He even sold a million dollars of building lots in ten days. Curtiss worked from his "thinkorium," which was a one-room addition on top of his house in Hammondsport, New York.

 

     We moved next to the chapter on Kipling. As in the other chapters, the Flemings begin with their own photograph of the author's home, here Kipling's great stone house in Sussex, England, along with a picture of his ink-spattered, ten-foot writing table. And, then, we had an epiphany. The authors actually traveled to the near thirty authors' homes to see for themselves where their subjects thought and wrote. Research an address that may be seventy years old. Plan a trip; make reservations on planes, trains and automobiles. Find taxi cabs or rentals with a wheel on the right side. What a magnificent project!

 

     After reading these two chapters, we went back to the beginning of the book. The Flemings call it a "literary travel book," and "a tale of many journeys with a collection of fresh insights into the lives of creative people." We read the book very carefully word for word. Cover to cover. Along the wonderful way we discovered that "a thinking place" can be ...

 

          Upstairs, a garret, a room over a carriage house, a tower.

 

          Believe it or not, in grave yards-from Oxford to

          Hollywood, from Boston to New Orleans.

 

          A writing hut anchored on the side of a cliff above a

          remodeled boat house.

 

         A gray writing hut or "lodge" in the back of a garden.

 

         A HilI Top Farm, a vacation residence.

 

         Propped up by pillows in a bed.

 

         A comfortable bed, or (one we Rawlings aficionados will

         recognize) a screened-in front porch.

 

     Whether readers of this review are students of the literature or the history of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, or both, they will be interested and delighted to read about these important authors from an exciting, original viewpoint. Carolyn and Jack Fleming's personal adventure to see and to experience these important, wonderful, and fascinating sights, and the way they share their revelations, photographs, and interviews with the reader result in an exciting narrative supported by first-rate scholarship, a book that should sit proudly on the bookshelf of any fan of the written and spoken word.

 

              St. Petersburg, Florida


Published - December, 8, 2007, Pensacola News-Journal

Flemings write way through history

J. Earle Bowden

 

Carolyn and Jack Fleming are like two peas snug in a pod, together in everything, whether it's family, encouraging Pensacola musical and cultural quality, or composing stage play music with Alan Pote.

Or writing books. Or restoring historic St. Johns Cemetery, a challenge they share with an active foundation.

Or writing and giving birth to the musical play, "Seaplane," saluting the 1914 birth of Naval aviation and prompting Los Angeles Times drama critic Charles Champlin to see the Pensacola-born production as "Music Man with wings."

Or the Flemings learning what makes genius tick. The Pensacola partnership is rarely without a project enlivening their senior years, including a years-long challenge to explore places of genius — what they call "Thinking Places."

The well-known Medical Center internist and Pensacola cardiology pioneer and his wife scouted out unique and off-the-beaten-path locations, interviewing survivors near the famous and resurrecting ghosts of revered genius through landscape and those who knew the writers, composers, even Naval aviation pioneer Glenn Curtiss, a hero of "Seaplane," and British writers Rudyard Kipling, William Butler Yeats, Robert Louis Stevenson and Dylan Thomas.

They traveled America and across the world to discover Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw and writers Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Mark Twain, Eudora Welty, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, Willie Morris and inventors Thomas Alva Edison and Alexander Graham Bell, and the ever controversial evolutionist Charles Darwin..

The chronicle of great-idea places now fits into a literary travel book, "Thinking Places," a 398-page softback (Trafford Publishing) that transports the reader into the living rooms of great minds spanning centuries. A labor of love, these seekers of genius at the home roots are sincere students with warmly written vignettes providing unique insight into the real work of writers, poets, composers and inventors.

Rather than mere sight-seeing or celebrity chasing, the Flemings soak up a harvest of new understanding. "This is a literary travel book," they write. "It is a tale of many journeys, with a collection of fresh insights into the lives of creative people. It also offers philosophy and an attitude for travel — an openness to serendipity, to rare experiences, to new friends, resulting in unexpected lagniappe, or 'a little something extra.' "

Too many of us travel to exotic paradises, escaping the world around us. But Carolyn and Jack fulfill their intellectual curiosity. Their new book shows keen observation, unearthing vital, revealing nuances that elevated these characters onto the world stage.

In 1967 the Flemings saw in a San Antonio festival experience an idea that inspired Mary Turner Rule and the Pensacola Junior League to launch "An Evening in Old Seville Square," which grew into a cultural extravaganza fondly remembered from the 20th century.

Carolyn Alexander Fleming captures her small-town Georgia roots in her novel, "Journey Proud," a story of a rural South scandal in 1933. Besides "Seaplane," the Flemings wrote with Pensacola composer Alan Pote "Imagination," a musical about Robert Louis Stevenson, and "Bahia de Pensacola," a children's musical.

A critic says, "The Flemings do not belong to any of the trendy, off-putting schools of literary criticism." Rather than the "somber, self-important, limiting schools of thought," the authors offer "playful, refreshing, invigorating fresh air."

The Flemings' delightful literary world is filled with contagious joy.

J. Earle Bowden is editor emeritus of the News Journal and a Pensacola historian and author.


BOOK REVIEW

By

F. NORMAN VICKERS

 

THINKING PLACES: Where Great Ideas Were Born, by Carolyn and Jack Fleming with foreword by Elliot Engel, © 2007, Trafford Publishing, pp. 398.

 

Pensacolians will recognize the name of these authors. Carolyn is a published novelist. Both collaborated on the  lyrics with composer Allen Pote on the full-length musical SEAPLANE.  Jack is a retired Medical Center cardiologist with four decades of medical practice.

 

The book has a unique point of view in that it is a literary travelogue. The Flemings describe their visits to various destinations in the U. S., Europe and the South Seas. It also represents biography. With each description there is a section called “Lagniappe” in which they record unexpected observations and insights.

 

Carolyn and Jack report that the idea was begun when they visited the home of Glenn Curtis’ home  in Hammondsport NY during the period of research for SEAPLANE. Curtis was an airplane inventor-designer. His home had a large upstairs room with panoramic view which he called his “Thinkorium.”This gave them the idea of make the focus on the places which gave inspiration for these literary and other geniuses.

 

The list includes Edvard Grieg, Shaw, Mark Twain, Charles Darwin, Charles Dickens, Faulkner, Hemingway,  Booker T. Washington and many others. The chapter on Robert Louis Stevenson required four trips to Samoa to complete. The majority of photographs were taken by the Flemings. The rest were contributed by museums or other sources.

 

The reader may choose to read all the way through or, as I did, read in short segments. The latter choice gave me opportunity to reflect on the subject and the authors’ unique observations.

 

The book makes an ideal gift. We have sent several to friends and family. The book is available locally at  Celebrations and on order from Barnes & Noble. There are also internet sources including Amazon.com.  The Flemings inform me that they have just had an offer from a publisher in Japan who wants to publish it in Japanese.


Openness to Serendipity and Lagniappe—

                              Don’t Leave Home Without It!

 

      A new book, Thinking Places: Where Great Ideas Were Born ,by Carolyn and Jack Fleming gives fresh insights into creativity and into the lives of many successful creative people—inventors and writers, such as Edison, Bell, Curtiss, Carver, Dickens, Shaw, B.T. Washington and Hemingway. Characteristics of all of them included: discipline in and passion for their work; persistence and perseverance; a heightened imagination; a need for solitude and meditation; and a desire for a special thinking place.

 

     The authors visited the homes and thinking/writing places of the subjects in England, Ireland, Norway, Nova Scotia, many areas in America, and four visits to Samoa (the latter on the trail of Robert Louis Stevenson). Seasoned travelers over many decades, the Flemings offer their formula for successful travel—attitudes which may be applicable, generally—or life itself. These include:  prepare…be open to new friends, to new experiences, and to serendipity and lagniappe…follow your quest with passion!

 

      They do advocate “journeys with a mission”—but to plan on enjoying the unexpected—serendipity. The book, Thinking Places, has a section in each chapter entitled “Lagniappe” where the authors describe something extra or a special dividend which they received with visits to the home and thinking place of each of the thirty-one creative people.

 

     The Flemings have continued their journeys seeking new experiences and sharing information with a talk to the Robert Louis Stevenson Society of Monterrey, CA in 2007.  In 2008 they participated in several notable conferences: the Annual Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Society meeting, in Asheville, N.C.; the Robert Louis Stevenson in Europe Conference at the University of Bergamo in Italy where they introduced a booklet, “RLS and Music” about RLS’ interest in music and  musical compositions; and the Book Expo America in Los Angeles, CA. Visits to Dubai, and Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates; and to Amman and Petra, Jordan were mind stretching experiences—and a book sales opportunity. In 2009 they presented a paper entitled “Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings--Survivor with Moxie” at the annual Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Society meeting in Gainesville/ Cross Creek Florida.

 

     All this was  LAGNIAPPE, indeed!

 

www.ThinkingPlaces.com;   www.Amazon.com

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