This essay takes a literary journey to Jack London State Historic Park, the National Steinbeck Center, and the Beat Museum. An exploration of the shrines that are devoted to writers and which attract readers from around the world as well as close to home, the essay explores California’s identity as a cultural destination for tourists as well as for natives of the Golden State. By linking specific geographical places, such as Glen Ellen, Salinas, and San Francisco to books and to their authors, California’s literary shrines weave a kind of cultural magic that transcends time and place and invigorates twentieth-century classics such as Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath , Kerouac’s On the Road , and Jack London’s The Iron Heel.
Raymond Chandler relished finding names for his quirky characters, including Philip Marlowe, the pipe-smoking, chess-playing private eye—a literary kinsman to Sam Spade, Dashiell Hammett’s solitary sleuth—whom I first met in the pages of fiction as a teenager and whom I have known more than fifty years. Sometimes the names are dead giveaways about the morality or immorality of the character, sometimes they’re opaque, but I’ve always found them intriguing and an open invitation to try to solve the mystery myself.