Madison and Village Lights

Village LightsTwo Thursdays ago my wife and I headed over to Madison Indiana, where she had a work conference. My son, just finished with his first year of college, tagged along, and while my wife was busy conferencing, the first born and I wandered around the little community.

It was only our second visit and I’d already forgotten just how lovely the main portions of it are. Madison happens to have the largest contiguous National Historic Landmark in the United States — meaning 133 blocks of beautiful, well preserved older buildings. They’re an architectural feast for the eyes, and then there’s the Ohio River just a few blocks south of the downtown, and the steep hills with beautiful greenery ascending to the north and south. A large state park with stunning views, Clifty Falls, provides a lot of great hiking trails as well as campgrounds and even an expansive hotel if you want to come back and relax after you’ve been roughing it in the wilds.

The city’s loaded down with antique stores, art stores, and restaurants — which is great for foodies like us. My son and I scouted around and enjoyed visiting a number of art boutiques and grabbed an early lunch at Hong Kong Kitchen, whose unassuming interior provided us with an amazing meal. We also discovered an outlet for the Galena Garlic Company, a heretofore unknown (to us) chain to which we happily introduced my wife later in the day.

village lights 2The highlight, though, was visiting The Village Lights Bookstore, which sells both new and used books out of a beautiful older building, and is replete with what you’d expect — lots of great wall to wall shelves, a lovely old staircase winding to even more, a couple of bookstore cats, and assorted treasures. It ended up feeling like a home away from home owing to the kindness of owners Nathan Motoya and Anne Vestuto, who made us welcome and then graciously permitted my son to play on the Steinway dominating the Twain Room in the back of the store. He entertained us for close to an hour while I alternately browsed or chatted with Nathan about shared interests, including the obvious reading and literature and moving straight on to martial arts.

I ended up with a stack of books, as tends to happen if you let me loose in a bookstore, among them two modern(ish) historical mysteries, Laura Joh Rowland’s Bundori, Boris Akunin’s The Winter Queen; Stephen Leigh’s Assassin’s Dawn (Nathan had such good things to say about him I had to try it), and Nicholas Nickelby, by some guy named Charles Dickens.

After my wife escaped from her conferences we got to show her some of the neatest stores we visited, did some hiking through Clifty Falls, visited said falls and several others, then had a wonderful meal. We look forward to returning and exploring further.

For a complete change of pace and despite my groaning to-be-read pile, I started Nickelby the other day. It’s only my fourth Dickens novel, if you count A Tale of Two Cities, which I read and didn’t appreciate my junior year in high school. (When I think back to how much I complained about that book and how much more fun it is to read than the required reading foisted on my own children, where they’re constantly exposed to miserable people suffering I want to go back and shake some sense into young Howard.)

Anyway, I quite enjoyed both Bleak House and David Copperfield when I read them a few years ago, with some caveats, but didn’t want to jump right in to more Dickens right away. I thought three years had probably been a long enough hiatus to enjoy his voice again.