article

07.20.09

Literary Summer Escapes

Want to vacation like a writer? Then curl up with a book on the beaches of the Hamptons or Martha’s Vineyard.

It almost sounds like the setup for a joke—Where do writers go in the summer?—because the answer seems completely obvious. They go where most other city dwellers with even a modest amount of cash go: the beach. For New York-based literary types, that means, usually, the East End of Long Island (aka the Hamptons) or the ocean beaches of New England—places that not so coincidentally often go on to figure in the books they write there. (Think the Cape Cod of John Irving’s The World According to Garp, or, more recently, the romantic depiction of a Sag Harbor in Colson Whitehead’s novel by that name.) And while most writers claim that the presence of other writers is not the reason they head out to Montauk or Martha’s Vineyard, the fact is those places are packed with their peers and the culture they bring with them.

“There are still parts of old Sag Harbor if you know how to find them,” writes Colson Whitehead.

A tiny island off the coast of Massachusetts, the Vineyard has a year-round population in the tens of thousands, but in the summer, it seems there are at least that many writers and editors picking up their daily papers at the Chilmark general store. Linda Fairstein, Richard North Patterson, Jules Feiffer, Ward Just, David McCullough, Jill Nelson, and Stephen L. Carter—to name drop a few—all are Vineyard residents or renters. (So too, famously, were the Clintons during his presidency, and this summer the Obamas will dip their toes into waters of the Oak Bluffs.) But unlike the Hamptons—which, despite demurrals from writers who say they “never go out” when they’re there—the Vineyard is more informal than social. People meet up at the beach, by accident or design, and dinner parties at home are more common than large, public social occasions. And literary occasions, while plentiful, are relatively low-key. The annual Martha’s Vineyard Book Festival, held this year on August 2, will feature many of the above, and according to Fairstein, is one of the most enjoyable festivals she attends.

Where the Locals Meet and Greet Each Other

At friends’ houses, friends’ boats, on the tennis courts at the yacht club. “Only tourists plan their dinner parties in restaurants,” says one longtime Vineyard resident.

The One Tourist Stop That’s Worth It

The Black Dog in Edgartown, for T-shirts, hats and the like. They may deny it, but most Vineyard locals have one or more of the above shoved in the back of the closet.

The Literary Merry-Go-Round

In Oak Bluffs,  The Flying Horses Carousel, which is the oldest in the country.

The Best Literary News of the Summer

Bunch of Grapes is back. The beloved Vineyard bookstore was destroyed in a nearby restaurant fire a year ago July 4, but has just reopened. Look for regular events to herald its return, including signings by Judy Blume, Stephen Carter, and Richard Russo.

When it comes to the Hamptons, an old Yogi Berra axiom sums it up best: “Nobody goes there anymore—it’s too crowded.” The Hamptons—that strip of high-priced Long Island real estate that includes East, West, South and Bridgehampton, as well as Montauk, Shelter Island, and Sag Harbor—is simply overrun in the summer months. And if what goes on there is not exactly the stuff of legend—the occasional, horrifying publicist run amok notwithstanding—what happens in the Hamptons almost never stays in the Hamptons.

Who Goes There

E.L. Doctorow
Peter Mathiessen
Jay McInerney and Anne Hearst
Colson Whitehead
Ben Bradlee and Sally Quinn
Amanda Urban and Ken Auletta
Carl Bernstein
Mort Janklow
Ed Victor
Tom Wolfe
Edward Albee

Where They Buy Their Morning Joe

The Candy Kitchen (Bridgehampton), Babbette’s (East Hampton)

Where They Drink

The American Hotel (Sag Harbor), at home

Where They Get Their Books

At one of the four BookHamptons

Where the Readings Are

Fridays at 5 at The Hampton Library (Bridgehampton),  Canio’s in Sag Harbor

What Evenings and Weekends Are About

In East Hampton, an early movie at the Main Street theater, and then a burger and beer at Rowdy Hall, Saturday morning softball. No one we talked to could remember having been in a nightclub in years.

The Most Overexposed Event of the Season

In the Hamptons, the Artists va. Writers Softball Game, held annually on the third Saturday in August. The regular and/or recent lineup has included Alec Baldwin, Ken Auletta, Mort Zuckerman, and David Remnick.

The Most Nostalgic Hamptons Rumination

“While the place has changed so much from when I was a kid—the neighborhoods are more integrated, the houses have been razed to build mini mansions—there are still parts of old Sag Harbor if you know how to find them,” Colson Whitehead, author of Sag Harbor.

A Lasting Image

ICM’s Binky Urban, sitting by her pool this summer, reading on her Kindle the manuscripts that will become the books we read next year.

Plus: Check out Book Beast, for more news on hot titles and authors and excerpts from the latest books.

Sara Nelson is a critic for The Daily Beast and the former editor in chief of Publishers Weekly. She is the author of the bestselling So Many Books, So Little Time.