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A Place in the World
Cover of A Place in the World
A Place in the World
Finding the Meaning of Home
Borrow Borrow
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • A lyrical and evocative collection of personal stories from the author of Under the Tuscan Sun, in which the queen of wanderlust reflects on the comforts of home.
Longlisted for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award • Veranda Book Club Pick • “A soulful meditation on ‘what home means, how it hooks the past and pushes into the future’ . . . spellbinding.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Though Frances Mayes is known for her travels, she has always sought a sense of home wherever she goes. In this poetic testament to the power of place in our lives, Mayes reflects on the idea of home, from the earliest imprint of four walls to the startling discoveries of feeling the strange ease of homes abroad, friends’ homes, and even momentary homes that spark desires for other lives. Her musings are all the more poignant after so many have spent their long pandemic months at home. From her travels across Italy—Tuscany, of course, but also Venice and Capri—to the American South, France, and Mexico, Mayes examines the connective tissue among them through the homes she’s inhabited.
 
A Place in the World explores Mayes’s passion and obsessions with houses and the things that inhabit them—old books, rich food, beloved friends, transportive art. The indelible marks each refuge has left on her and how each home influenced the next serve as the foundations of its chapters.
Written in Mayes’s signature intimate style, A Place in the World captures the adventure of moving on while seeking comfort in the cornerstone closest to all of us—home.
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • A lyrical and evocative collection of personal stories from the author of Under the Tuscan Sun, in which the queen of wanderlust reflects on the comforts of home.
Longlisted for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award • Veranda Book Club Pick • “A soulful meditation on ‘what home means, how it hooks the past and pushes into the future’ . . . spellbinding.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Though Frances Mayes is known for her travels, she has always sought a sense of home wherever she goes. In this poetic testament to the power of place in our lives, Mayes reflects on the idea of home, from the earliest imprint of four walls to the startling discoveries of feeling the strange ease of homes abroad, friends’ homes, and even momentary homes that spark desires for other lives. Her musings are all the more poignant after so many have spent their long pandemic months at home. From her travels across Italy—Tuscany, of course, but also Venice and Capri—to the American South, France, and Mexico, Mayes examines the connective tissue among them through the homes she’s inhabited.
 
A Place in the World explores Mayes’s passion and obsessions with houses and the things that inhabit them—old books, rich food, beloved friends, transportive art. The indelible marks each refuge has left on her and how each home influenced the next serve as the foundations of its chapters.
Written in Mayes’s signature intimate style, A Place in the World captures the adventure of moving on while seeking comfort in the cornerstone closest to all of us—home.
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Excerpts-
  • From the cover Chapter I

    A House Down South


    Lighting Seven Fireplaces


    2010. Chatwood captured me because I thought if I lived here, I never would want to move again. Here’s the musical crystal ball: Shake it and snow swirls. The place never will change. The sturdy farmhouse, anchored by four chimneys, stands on a gentle rise. Above the front porch, the windows are not symmetrical. I like that. The roof is ugly and we will replace it with metal. There is a hidden hive, and I put my hand on the kitchen wall and feel the boards hum. The Eno River runs by, and I love the murky, tannic smell of rivers. On the edge of the woods a fresh stream jets out of the ground, cold and holy, and a tumbled stone foundation remains of the old springhouse, where generations kept their food chilled. And so I settled in, convinced that I’d grabbed a star out of the sky.

    As fires always roar, and rain pours, so do farmhouses ramble. The porch running the length of a room converts into a sunroom, a favored spot on winter mornings. A bathroom becomes a closet, and a new bath is added. The lean-to shed converts to a kitchen. The floor plan sprawls like tiles on a Scrabble board. Add, subtract, multiply, divide: The attic becomes a reading room, another attic makes a good study. The house groans but accommodates.

    From my upstairs window, I see a brick-walled three-room rose garden, a nymph statue that looks lascivious, and, beyond, the pleasing meadow stretching to the river. I took down a view-blocking, half-dead tree and planted camellias. This spring, I have a large half-moon cleared for a wildflower garden. Already a plot is turned over and a bench placed for viewing the blooms. Anticipation is half of gardening’s pleasures.

    If an old house is a book to read—and it is—the upstairs study may be my favorite chapter in this house’s long history. In the 1920s, the paneled room where I’m writing served as a fifteen-by-twenty-foot schoolhouse. An ancient neighbor recalled, “When the Altvaters moved in [1937], there were still at least a dozen school desks, homemade pine boards with the seat for the next desk attached to the front, and pigeonholes on the desktops for pencils, ink, and erasers. Set in rows, the back desks used chairs along the wall.” I’m charmed that a Miss Sally Miller was the teacher. I can see Miss Miller in flower-sprigged navy dress and white collar, a dozen farm children wearing overalls and flour-sack pinafores. Their rough shoes and chapped cheeks. The teacher builds a fire, and the room overheats, sending out the smell of Octagon soap, chalk dust, gum erasers. They pledge allegiance to the droopy flag in the corner. They call out the multiplication table; they learn Wordsworth’s poem about daffodils because this house floats on a wave of trumpeting yellow blooms in spring. On a shelf, tin buckets hold their lunches. Cold sweet potatoes, biscuits, and syrup.

    I like to conjure the long-ago children enthralled or trapped here on a late May day, close to summer vacation. When I’m stuck on a description, blanking out for a next line, staring out the window, I’m cheered to think this was where they turned the thin pages of the Bible, saw a picture of Washington crossing the Delaware, and read Kipling’s The Jungle Book. The first thing to know about living in an old house: the walls are alive.

    This is not a dream study. I keep my desk, instead of a convenient one with drawers, because it reminds me of Virginia Woolf’s. Sturdy columnar legs, worn patina of walnut, and a pocked leather top the color of old claret. Floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, others...
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from May 30, 2022
    Novelist Mayes (See You in the Piazza) delivers a soulful meditation on “what home means, how it hooks the past and pushes into the future” in her spellbinding latest. She examines the question through an evocative tour of her homes: there’s Chatwood, with its demanding yet rewarding rose garden in Hillsborough, N.C. (“As much as you own an old house and garden,” she ruefully muses, “it owns you”); Bramasole, the Tuscan villa in Cortona, Italy, immortalized in her hit 1996 memoir Under the Tuscan Sun; and her childhood Georgia home, a place that conjures memories of her mother’s cooking (the mouthwatering recipes for which are sprinkled throughout). Elsewhere, temporary dwellings induce reflections on life changes: cooking lessons at Simone Beck’s “honey-colored house” in Provence, for example, inspired Mayes to enroll in graduate school and begin a career as a teacher and writer. As she meanders through her memories, poignant takes on transience and mortality mingle with tributes to the people who bring her homes their vitality: friends, family, and Italian neighbors who drop off gifts of fresh ricotta, wine, eggs, zinnias, and tomatoes. “For my part,” Mayes writes, “these gifts give me a chance to feel at home in the world.” This rich testament to the pleasures of wanderlust and permanence is a gift as well.

  • AudioFile Magazine Cassandra Campbell's melodious tone and deliberate pace seem created for the figurative language and lyricism of this audiobook. Campbell's eloquent intonation syncs beautifully with Mayes's philosophical musings on place, home, and family. Mayes built her considerable reputation as a memoirist by sharing her wanderlust and love of all things Tuscan, especially in her memoir UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN. In this new work, her memories sail from her Southern roots to her passion for restoration, which is expressed when she creates a home in North Carolina and then another in Cortona, the Italian hill town where her now famed villa sits. The work includes fine asides on Southern writers and cucina povera (poor cooking). Campbell shares Mayes's recipes and soul-enhancing stories, while capturing her warm heart. A.D.M. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award � AudioFile 2022, Portland, Maine
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Finding the Meaning of Home
Frances Mayes
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