D espite the occasional frosty dip in the temperatures these past few weeks, Spring has assuredly sprung. New Haveners are strolling about the city parks again. Jogging. Bounding. Playing fetch with their pets.
They’re also finding nice comfortable spots on benches or under trees to open up a good book. Here are some reading recommendations you might not know about but should hit close to home.
• Westville: Tales From a Connecticut Hamlet by Colin M. Caplan (The History Press, 2009). Noted New Haven historian Colin Caplan has published numerous walking tours of the city. This history book, however, has a special spirit of motion and mobility. Many of its tales of Westville revolve around wandering adventurers (including the famed Pirate of Hotchkisstown) and pedestrian encounters with carriages and newfangled motorcars. The most famous folks ever on foot in Westville, of course, were the Three Judges—Dixwell, Whalley and Goffe—the latter two of which fled up West Rock in the 1660s to elude the soldiers of King Charles II, who wanted vengeance against the Judges for having sentenced the monarch’s father, Charles I, to death.
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• My Petition for More Space by John Hersey. In this obscure work of speculative fiction by the great author of Hiroshima and A Bell for Adano, New Haven has become an impossibly crammed and crass environment where people spend their entire lives shoved up against each other in long lines, and have to do everything in public. For those who appreciate New Haven for its central Green and its Nine Squares, a lay-out which gave it a reputation as one of the country’s first planned cities, this is an especially shocking vision of a bleak overpopulated future.
• City: Urbanism and Its End by Douglas W. Rae. In one of the most important books ever written about New Haven, this Yale professor of Management and Political Science shows (among myriad other insights) how the city formed around laborers who walked to work at the city’s various factories in the early 1900s, and how much the landscape has changed since.
• As Evening Advances by Joseph Payne Brennan. This famed mid-20th century author of horror short stories and equally
dark and mysterious poetry was an inveterate walker who railed against New Haven’s urban renewal of the 1950s. He created tales about distraught spirits in condemned buildings, trapped in environments which had changed around. Brennan’s poem “I Think of Ferns” begins:
I walk alone
on city stone
dry as bone.
One dusty tree
leans over me
a tainted wind
blows in from sea.
• The Old Leather Man: Historical Accounts of a Connecticut and New York Legend edited by Dan W. DeLuca (Wesleyan University Press, 2011). This is an as-exhaustive-as-possible profile of a notoriously withdrawn yet extremely well-known vagabond who sauntered a proscribed 365-mile circuit through Connecticut and Massachusetts in in the 1880s. His trips would be 34 days and he developed a network of shelters and comfortable woodlands, surviving on plants, gifts from strangers and the cigarette butts he’d pick up around railroad stations. Appendix B of the book lists 83 Connecticut “Towns Through Which the Leather Man Walked at One Time.” New Haven, amazingly, is not among them.
Time, then, to start your own well-trodden trail through town, so that 125 years from now, someone might write a book about your odyssey. And so someone then can pause in their own travels, find a comfy park bench in some unchanged part of town such as Wooster Square, and read it.
Written and photographed by Christopher Arnott.