SALEM — There’s no shame in admitting that you’ve always wanted to read Nathaniel Hawthorne, Salem’s revered native son. But something stops you. For many readers, Hawthorne’s 19th century stylized writing can feel more like a locked door than a welcome mat.
The House of the Seven Gables gets it. And this spring and summer they have come up with a fun way to help people get to know Nathaniel Hawthorne and some of his shorter, more upbeat work. Will Demick, Visitor Services Specialist with an expertise in 19th century American literature, will be your guide.
Once a month, The Gables Book Club meets virtually to talk about something by Hawthorne. “It’s very casual,” says Demick. “I give a little introduction and some background, and then we discuss. Last month we read ‘Twenty Days with Julian & Little Bunny By Papa,’ and it was a lot of fun.” For 20 days, Hawthorne watched over his curious, lively 5-year-old son, Julian, and kept a journal detailing their delightful adventures that revealed in Hawthorne an open and playful side many readers are quite surprised to discover.
More discoveries await readers. On Thursday, March 11, from 6:30 to 8 p.m., Demick and The Gables Book Group will turn to three of Hawthorne’s short stories in “A Wonder Book for Girls and Boys” published in 1852. “His children’s stories are considered to be some of his best work,” says Demick. “They are classic Hawthorne but the stories are more fanciful and lighthearted than his other work.”
Hawthorne said so himself. He wrote, in his introduction to “A Wonder Book,” “The author has long been of opinion, that many of the classical myths were capable of being rendered into very capital reading for children…In performing this pleasant task … for it has been really one of the most agreeable, of a literary kind, which he ever undertook — the Author has not always thought it necessary to write downward, in order to meet the comprehension of children.”
“This series of short stories with an overarching narrative is set in a fictionalized version of where Hawthorne lived in Lenox,” says Demick. “He wrote these short stories inspired by Greek myths so they would be approachable by children.” Hawthorne’s stories are now in the public domain, free of charge, and can be found on Internet at sites such as Project Gutenberg.
This book club that gently ushers readers into the rich and wondrous literature of Nathaniel Hawthorne is free and open to all those who are interested. To sign up for the book club, visit The Gables’ website at 7Gables.org.
To become a member of The House of the Seven Gables, those interested may sign up online, though membership is not required for Book Club participation. Individual memberships are priced at $45 each. Household memberships are $65. This year The Gables offers several special member events to thank all those who help this Historic National Landmark treasure survive the difficulties posed by the pandemic.