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Top US destinations for book nerds

If reading and traveling are at the top of your leisure list, why not combine the two? From modern classics like the Harry Potter series to famous poets and timeless novels, here’s the skinny on where bookworms can go to get their read on.

Southern Charm

If hoop skirts and moss-draped oaks make you swoon, then you must visit two attractions tied to “Gone with the Wind,” one of the best-selling novels and films of all time. At the Margaret Mitchell House in Atlanta, you can go to the 1899 home of the woman who wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning Civil War romance. Inside are all sorts of souvenirs, including the original doorway to Tara that was used in the film. You can also snap a picture of yourself next to life-sized costume sketches of Scarlett, Rhett, Ashley and Melanie.

In Covington, Ga., just 30 minutes outside Atlanta, is the Twelve Oaks Bed & Breakfast, a charming home with stately columns that is said to have been the inspiration for the Twelve Oaks plantation in the movie. Built in 1836, the 10,000-square-foot home survived General Sherman’s famous march and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Today, you can enjoy a night’s stay complete with Southern breakfast, wine-and-cheese happy hour and chocolate turndown service. I’ll take the Frankly Scarlett Suite, please!

For more Southern fun, explore Savannah, the city made famous in “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.” Be sure to check out Bonaventure Cemetery; the Mercer Williams House that was owned by Jim Williams, whose murder and subsequent trial are featured in the salacious novel; the Bird Girl statue made famous from the book cover; and Lady Chablis, who performs monthly at Club One Savannah.

An Ode to Great Poets

For lovers of poetry, there are several places in the U.S. where you can channel American masters of verse. In Amherst, Mass., at the Emily Dickinson House & Museum, you’ll see where the eccentric writer penned such lines as “Because I could not stop for Death, He kindly stopped for me,” and “If I can stop one heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain.” The museum includes both the home (built around 1813) where Dickinson was born and lived, as well as the home of her brother and his family next door. It includes some 8000 objects, such as family furnishings, artwork and Dickinson’s piano, writing desk and other personal effects.

In Camden, N.J., you can visit the home of Walt Whitman, famous for “Leaves of Grass” and poems like “O Captain, my Captain!” The house, built in 1848, is the only home Whitman ever owned and is where he composed “Leaves of Grass” and his final volumes before his death in 1892. The house also played host to some famed literary voices of the time, including Bram Stoker and Oscar Wilde. A National Historic Landmark, the home offers an intimate glimpse into Whitman’s life and includes his letters, personal belongings and even the bed in which he died.

For the more macabre, you can visit Edgar Allen Poe’s grave in Baltimore. Poe, famous for spooky poems like The Raven (now you know how Baltimore’s NFL team got its name) and short stories like “The Tell Tale Heart,” was buried at Westminster Hall among appropriately eerie catacombs. A lesser known spot tied to Poe is on Sullivan’s Island, just outside Charleston, S.C. Poe was stationed at Fort Moultrie on the island, which is supposedly the setting for several of his works, including “The Gold Bug.” For the complete experience, be sure to have a juicy Angus burger at Poe’s Tavern while you’re there.

Home in on the Classics

Care to breathe the same air and see the same wide open spaces as Henry David Thoreau? Visit Thoreau Farm in Concord, Mass. Born at the 1730s farm in 1817, Thoreau lived there for only a short time, but it is said to have provided inspiration for his writings. Inside you’ll be educated on Thoreau’s life beyond the farm and learn about his ideas and how they are still relevant today. Near Concord, is Walden Pond and the woods where he built the cabin he lived in for two years, two months and two days while he wrote his famous essays.

In Key West, Fla., don’t pass up an opportunity to see the six-toed cats at Ernest Hemingway’s home. Some of the 40-50 cats on site are descendents of Snowball, the six-toed cat the Nobel laureate owned. Hemingway named his cats after famous people, so the tradition continues today with feline residents like Benny Goodman, Fats Waller and Hairy Truman. But enough about cats! At the Hemingway Home & Museum, you can view the author’s home, where he wrote many of his novels and stories, as well as see personal items like his collection of Spanish furniture, mounts from his African safaris and his pool, which was the first in-ground pool in Key West.

In California, take in the setting for many of the works of the great John Steinbeck. The national Steinbeck Center in Old Town Salinas, located close to Monterey and known as “Steinbeck Country,” gives a comprehensive overview of the writer of “The Grapes of Wrath,” “East of Eden” and “Of Mice and Men.” The center hosts exhibits of memorabilia that inspired many of Steinbeck’s stories, as well as personal items from his family. While in the area, stop at the Steinbeck House, the writer’s birthplace and boyhood Victorian home, which has been turned into a restaurant.

Fictional Fun

There’s nothing quite like stepping into a real-life version of your favorite book, and Universal Studios Orlando lets you do just that at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. It’s jaw-dropping for Harry Potter fans to wander through Hogwarts Castle, complete with moving paintings; browse for the perfect wand at  Ollivanders Wand Shop in the town of Hogsmeade; and catch a ride on the Hogwarts Express to visit Diagon Alley. To make it even more fun, Universal Studios engages you with uber-creative rides, including Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, which is revolutionary in its combination of motion simulators, 3D and thrill ride. New this summer is the Escape from Gringotts ride, where you come face-to-face with “he who must not be named.” Yikes!

Finally, if you love all things “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit,” here’s the next best thing to a trip to New Zealand, where the movies were filmed: a 5-day Caribbean cruise themed entirely around J.R.R. Tolkien. On the Trilo3y Voyages Cruise offered by Corporate Travel Service, you are treated not only to fantastic Caribbean views and weather, but five days full of Middle Earth. The cruise includes a panel with cast members from the Peter Jackson-directed movies, a movie marathon, a Middle-Earth masquerade ball, a Middle-Earth Marketplace where you can walk through Middle-Earth scenes and shop for collectibles and inspired arts and crafts, and a chance to interact with Tolkien scholars and experts, as well as Tolkien’s grandson Royd Tolkien.

Happy reading!

Lyn Mettler is an Indianapolis, Ind.-based travel writer. You can find her at www.GotoTravelGal.com or on Twitter at @GotoTravelGal.