The town of Oxford, Mississippi is known for many things, one of them being the home of the University of Mississippi, or Ole Miss. However, Oxford is also known for its rich literary heritage and a grand support of the arts. Since Oxford is only an hour and thirty minutes from Memphis, visiting the city when I need a day-cation is not a problem. I love the town so much that I even included it in my upcoming Southern Gothic novel, Open A. The aunt of the main character, Greydon, lives in Oxford and several “hard left” scenes occur in the town.
Whenever I visit Oxford, I have a routine, if you will, of things that I do in a certain order. Strangely enough, one of the things on my “list” is to get off on the wrong exit. I always get off too early or too late, adding to my overall good mood an “oh well”. However, once I arrive the correct exit, I slowly make my way through the roundabout towards my first stop – Rowan Oak.
I will freely admit that for many years, I was not a fan of William Faulkner. I wanted to read everything else but his work and honestly, I have no idea why. However, that all changed when I read his book Light in August and found myself wanting to make his acquaintance, however late it may have been. The drive to Downtown Oxford is quite delightful in that it looks like a quintessential Southern town – full lush trees hanging over the streets, while grand houses sit as though on a stylish parade. Once you see Old Taylor Road, make a left and slowly drive down the road until you reach woods. To the right is an historical sign telling the story of Rowan Oak. Welcome to the home of Faulkner.
After visiting only the house several times, I finally made it to where I could actually see the inside. Walking on the property is one thing, but to actually see where he slept and wrote as well as his bottle of whiskey is quite a treat. You can also see his penmanship on the wall of his writing room, complete with typewriter and other accouterments. The land that the house sits on is quite vast and beautiful, guaranteed to occupy one's time for at least an hour if not longer.
The next stop on my “list” is to drive into Downtown and make my way to the bookstores. Three in all, Square Books, Off Square Books, and Square Books Jr. are heaven for any book lover. Square Books is the regular bookstore, complete with a second floor and even a balcony to sit and people watch. Off Square Books is the home of discount books and cool book related items such as socks, rubber quills, finger puppets, literary and artistic magazines, shirts, and anything else you can imagine. Square Books Jr. is the children's bookstore and I admit that I've never set foot inside. That may have to change.
The square itself is quaint and eccentric, complete with coffee shops, clothing boutiques, restaurants, and even a British telephone booth near the seated statue of Faulkner. However, if Ole Miss sports are having a game, be prepared to sit in traffic and possibly park several blocks away from your destination. There was one time that I visited Oxford that it was the day of graduation. I will never make that mistake again (grin).
After visiting the bookstores and walking around the square for a while, I usually get in my car and return home, right after eating a Mushroom and Swiss burger at Hardee's in nearby Batesville. You may not think that's not a big deal, but the fact that Memphis does not have a Hardee's (NOTE: Memphis will finally get a Hardee's later this year!), it's a big deal.
If you ever find yourself in this part of the South, I highly recommend making the trek to Oxford. Mr. Faulkner would not mind at all.