Dec 26 2013

What’s New before the New Year

General,News,Travel,Travel Tips and Resources | Dec 26, 2013

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The holidays just blew through the store in a twinkling blur! Now I have to go back to eating grown up food and not dreaming about all the maps selling out and Oprah choosing a National Geographic map as her Nobel Prize Book of the Month. And in the world of exciting maps, if you didn’t already see it on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, we got some seriously cool new maps in from National Geographic, the perfect sort of thing to spend your shiny new Booksmith gift card on:

There’s Shakespeare’s Britain, Earth at Night, Mars(!), Antarctica (to go with the single guide book that actually exists AND is in stock!), National Parks of the USA, the Universe, and as always the classics are in stock as well. Super special stuff. Be the coolest kid on your block with a Mars map!

In other new stuff news, we now carry Wildsam travel guides. I believe we’re the only bookstore on the Eastern seaboard with these beauties and they are MAGIC so come snatch ‘em up before anyone else. They are beautifully designed and the perfect size to take on the go. They have a small chunk of graph paper in the back for notes and scraps to save, and the content is AMAZING. Beautiful essays from great writers, fascinating almanacs, hip hand-drawn maps of individual neighborhoods and all the things to see and do. They currently exist for Nashville, San Francisco and Austin (where they’re based). Come check them out in person, my stunning photograph barely does them justice:

And finally, our Destination of the Month continues to be Brazil for a few short days. Come check out our copious books, maps and novels as you plan your southern migration and/or World Cup vacay.

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Nov 24 2013

Before It’s Gone

General,Travel | Nov 24, 2013

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Thursday night the store’s Small Press Book Club met to discuss the Pushcart Prize 38th Anthology. In it was an essay entitled “Corn Haze” Pam Houston in which she makes an aside about the denizens of Venice:

“None of the employees can afford to live there, and the whole city shuts down by ten-thirty each night because the waiters have to run for the last boat/train/bus for the city of Mestre, where there are apartments they can actually afford. Eighty percent of the palazzo windows are dark at night because they are all owned by counts or bankers or corporations, and now, because of the waive action of speedboats, the wood pilings that have stood strong under the town for more than a thousand years are finally rotting, and the whole city is sinking slowly but surely into the Adriatic Sea.”

Houston’s comment reminded me of the macabre post on Fodor’s I saw last week, a mashup of the top 10 places to see before they disappear. Antarctica, Easter Island, and for that strange reason that it’s just as far away yet seems so much closer in an intimate way, Venice, which really stung. There are also reports that Venice’s government, aware of a future cataclysm as regards its massive tourism industry, are in talks to build some sort of massive carnival space outside of the city proper to lure tourists in a different direction. Because according to Fodor’s website, Venice is about ready to sink into its canals. One of the biggest tourist attractions in the world may eventually no longer be able to sustain the millions and millions of visitors it receives every year. This is not only sad on an environmental and historical level, but economically as well. A whole industry is built around tourism to Venice that may eventually dry up. But it’s only one of many places, as the Fodor’s piece and this handy infographic demonstrate. Just as there’s that handy tome “1,000 Places to See Before You Die,” there are now plenty of places to see before they disappear. Maybe now before it’s too late, these local governments should take a page out of Bhutan’s book and put a cap on allowed tourists.

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Nov 15 2013

Of tiny soaps and books

Let’s be honest: whether you’re chilling on a cruise ship, lying pool side in a tropical oasis, or hoofing it in the big city, whatever kind of vacation you prefer, your hotel room is your sanctuary. It’s the place that anchors you even though it can be as foreign as your environs, where your feet rest, your domination plans take shape, and you can start to remember who you are before you head back out to character-shaping adventures.

And for those of us who tourist around to bookstores, CNN has a great lil mashup of literary hotels the world over. Though CNN sadly missed Boston’s own Omni Parker House, where Emerson and Longfellow had their literary salons and Charles Dickens read from A Christmas Carol in 1867. This week a grip of new guidebooks are swelling our shelves, from the rebooted Frommers EasyGuides, to the new Lonely Planet Best in Travel 2014 (ranking the places to go next year) and, perhaps the most lush and exciting of all, and pertaining directly to places to lay thine traveler’s head, the new crop of Mr. and Mrs. Smith guides to the chicest hotels in tout-le-monde.

For the uninitiated, Mr. and Mrs. Smith guidebooks feature lush photographs of lavish hotels–the creme-de-le-creme boutiques–as well as what to do beyond the bedroom. We just received the France and Italy guides, so come snatch them and book your dream room before anyone else.

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Oct 25 2013

You, Too, Can Be On a Boat

Travel,Travel Tips and Resources | Oct 25, 2013

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According to the New York Times Sunday travel section, it’s the time to strike if you’re want to book a cruise. The deals are on now and what better way to see swaths of the world AND get away from it all at the same time? I’ve set up a small subsection at the beginning of our Europe section for cruise guidebooks. So come get LUXURIOU$ and load up on how to be on a boat!


Berlitz Cruising and Cruise Ships 2014  A big ol’ guide for the Cruise newbie or afficianado. This is a great book to by right now as you start to plan your cruise. There are reviews of all the lines, itineraries, ideas for how to spend your time both on and off the boat, and while some details may need refreshing over the years, you could really hold on to this for future ideas for planning. This could be your Mediterranean cruise year, and next could be your Alaskan cruise year, and the same Berlitz book could guide you to all your coming adventures.


Rick Steves Northern European Cruise Ports and Mediterranean Cruise Ports  Rick Steves guides are great in general, but particularly on a cruise, if you’re a do-it-yourselfer, a little budget conscious and a really excited, open-minded sort of person his guidebooks are AMAZING. Enough information that you can go through even the most overwhelming museums on your own, useful phrases in the back to make a friendly impression on the locals, and exhaustive, frank and practical reviews on everything from where to eat, when it’s worth booking an on-shore excursion through the ship, and what is missable and unmissable both on the ship and off. Great for those travelling with or without families, and if you prefer investing your money in lifetime memories over fancy digs.


Fodor’s European Cruise Ports of Call  If you’re maybe cruising without the kids, if you enjoy the finer things in life, if you have a membership to the MFA AND the Gardner, and would spend a premium for hotels with high-thread-count sheets, Fodor’s guides might be speaking your language. Exhaustive guides to the major ports of all the major cruise lines, tips for the sort of food you would eat to have a culinary experience, NOT to run home and tell horror stories about, tips for maximizing your museum and shopping trips in your quick city jaunts at each port. We have them in for Europe and new editions for Alaska and the Carribbean are on the way!
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Oct 18 2013

Luminarious New Zealand

Book Reviews,General,Travel | Oct 18, 2013

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This week 28-year-old New Zealander Eleanor Catton became the youngest person to win the Man Booker Prize with her 2nd novel The Luminaries. I haven’t read The Luminaries yet, but a reviewer on the BBC called it the “Kiwi Twin Peaks.” This alone is sufficient to whet my appetite, but there’s a lot to this book, in fact the longest Booker Prize winner ever clocking in at a staggering 848 pages. It follows the story of Walter Moody, who’s come to work the goldfields in 1866 New Zealand who stumbles upon a series of unsolved (and possibly related?!) crimes including the disappearance of a wealthy man, the suicide of a prostitute and the discovery of a cache of money in the local drunk’s house. I hugely can’t wait to dig into this!

Right now it’s spring in New Zealand, and if you’re considering on taking a second summer for yourself in this beautiful archipelago, December would be a great time to jaunt away from New England and sip egg nog on the beaches of Auckland. If you’re planning a trip on the sole basis of having an 848 page novel to read on your way there now, don’t stop at Ms. Catton, the Kiwis have a magnificent array of beach reads to bring with you:


The Bone People by Keri Hulme. The 1985 winner of the Booker Prize, this is one of those books that has a huge cult following but sells steadily despite being a generally unknown book. Without giving too much away, it’s basically the story of a woman artist in New Zealand and a young Maori boy who tries to steal from her one night but then returns and their interactions thereafter. It’s a bit of a challenge but a rewarding one.


Katherine Mansfield is easily one of the greatest authors from New Zealand, and if you haven’t read her yet put Alice Munro down for a sec and read some of the greatest short stories in English. She wrote around the time of H.D. and Virginia Woolf and she’s definitely of their ilk though in a class of her own, of course. “The Garden Party” is really great.


And if you haven’t read the book that serves as the basis for the amazing film The Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera, do it now! It draws on Maori myths and tells the beautiful story of a girl born to a patriarchal family who overcomes tradition to prove herself to her traditional grandfather by riding a whale along the coast (which in the Maori legend was done by a male).

Fall is the greatest time in New England, but we all know it’s brief, so after the leaves change, come load up on Kiwi-fic and keep summer going year-round!

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Oct 11 2013

Around the World in 80 Bites

Book Reviews,General,Travel | Oct 11, 2013

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While literature doesn’t get much better than a long, super-descriptive food scene (the meals in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Farmer Boy! The restaurants in Hemingway’s Movable Feast! The baked yam in Invisible Man!) it does get better when you are describing in minute detail meals had on epic journeys. There’s been a spate of food memoirs lately, and even more recently than that a new crop of food memoirs On Location. There’s something nostalgic and comforting reading about the food that people grow up with, and even if it’s from a culture entirely foreign to you, what better way to understand cultures than in the food we grow up on. Some of the most beautiful sentences in literature seem to come from whatever gland is deep within us that hold the genuine love, passion and nostalgia for the foods that sustained us when we were young. Here’s a roundup of my recent faves, and one I’m drooling to dig into:

Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking, Anya von Bremzen  This book was such a funtime treat to read. It was equal parts history of the Soviet Union, nostalgic memoir of a not-so-easygoing childhood, and a love poem to a century’s worth of food from one of the biggest nations in the world, encompassing such a huge swath of culinary traditions it was dazzling, dizzying, and hunger-making. Von Bremzen is both funny and skilled, she made my stomach grumble embarrassingly over fish bones cooked in butter, something I’d never be interested in eating under normal circumstances. She is a sauce-y wordsmith!



My Berlin Kitchen, Luisa Weiss  On the other side of the Iron Curtain, Luisa Weiss grows up learning to cook and bake in her West German home. As a grown-up in America she returns to the recipes of her youth and tells a beautiful story that instantly transports you to the homey kitchens and worldly restraurants of megalopolis Berlin.




Blood, Bones and Butter, Gabrielle Hamilton  By now you might have noticed that the books in this post present a common color scheme. Red and yellow, the colors of the golden arches, have long been considered colors that will make consumers hungry and therefore to eat more. Perhaps this is true also of books, but when you’ve got a writer AND CHEF of such superlative skill as Gabrielle Hamilton, you cook drop her sentences in a greasy wax bag and the whole world would beg for more. Simultaneously a memoir, coming of age story, complicated love story, and hilarious if grueling account of the blood and sweat poured into opening her own restaurant, Hamilton’s book is beautiful, true and offers one of the most fascinating accounts of understanding hunger in a brilliantly wrought scene that catches up with our narrator on her first trans-atlantic trip in Amsterdam. The simplicity of a small meal of a boiled potato and sliver of cheese has stuck with me YEARS after reading this book. She is SO BRILLIANT WHERE IS HER NEXT BOOK!?


A Fork in the Road, ed. James Oseland  Is a book I haven’t even read yet but am salivating to dig into! It comes out in December and my-oh-my: Francine Prose, Andre Aciman, Rita Mae Brown, Marcus Samuelsson, Michael Pollan, Monique Truong, Madhur Jaffrey and a bajillion other writers dish on the best meals they’ve had abroad. Run don’t walk–OH MY GOSH is it lunch time yet?!

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Oct 04 2013

Oktoberfest: OR, It Could Be Wurst

The real live Oktoberfest wraps up in Munich this week, though if you’re planning on going we still have plenty of great books AND if you plan on bypassing the crowds and going to Munich after Oktoberfest, many of the biergartens will still be around, not to mention all those great breweries, so this exhaustive display in your favorite travel section can help no matter where you plan to drink your beers in October.

The original German-style Oktoberfest has been around in various incarnations since King Ludwig I married a pretty princess in Bavaria. Since then, a huge party complete with many of the beers from the regions spotlighted by breweries have washed down countless Wurst, Brezeln and Sauerkraut for locals and tourists alike always around the end of September to the middle of October. So slap on some lederhosen and get the low-down with Meet Me in Munich: A Beer Lover’s Guide to Oktoberfest which breaks down the best tents, what to wear and the whys and hows of all the many Oktoberfest traditions. Also the author’s name is Moses Wolf and that in and of itself justifies the price of this beautiful, photo-rich book. And as with most locations in the world, we have quite the Schmaus of more general guidebooks and maps to the region.


For many in New England, the dual signal of leaves changing colors and the proliferation of pumpkin beers signals Autumn time. What better time to hit the road, go on a road trip through the brilliant leaves, stop for a jaunt in an orchard, and to wrap up with a tour to the many magnificent New England breweries? Norman Miller’s Beer Lover’s New England is an exhaustive list of the best breweries, restaurants and bars in New England. So if you don’t want to shell out a tiny fortune to Lufthansa, stay stateside and celebrate your own Oktoberfest, in the prettiest autumnal location in the world!


Conversely, for the armchair tourist who wants to avoid all those Mid-Atlantic leafers scoping out our trees, stay at home with this massive, beautiful World Atlas of Beer. There’s a lot of history and science about beer in the beginning, and then broken up by region a rundown of the most popular beers by location. What the locals like, what the international community likes that is produced there, and at what specific temperatures to best consume a beer in a pub in Sheffield. Among many other details. There are also tons of gorgeous photographs. An incredible gift for those upcoming holidays, too, folks.

To keep track of all these beers is the Moleskine Beer Journal where you can write down all the beers you’ve tasted and what you thought about them BEFORE YOU FORGET. So go out there and toss one back for me! And if you’ve gone to Oktoberfest or are having your own, tell me all about it in the comments!

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Oct 03 2013

Booksmith: A Baedeker

General | Oct 03, 2013

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Brookline Booksmith boasts an impressive population of an average of 35 staff. It is a utopia with no political affiliation, religion and a beneficent government by triumvirate of wise elders, one of which operates as acting Matriarch.

Booksmith matriarch Dana

Its capital is the stately Books We Love table, located at its Westernmost corridor. Its northern border is the eclectic and funky Card & Gift Room, a sprawling marketplace popular among the young and old.Its high season is the late fall to winter, when the crowds come in droves for the fantastic shopping. A good time to visit would be anytime that they are open, from 7 days a week, Monday – Thursday 8:30am – 10pm, Friday 8:30am – 11pm, Saturday 9am – 11pm, Sunday 9am – 9pm.

Explore the vibrant international bazaar at the Card & Gift Room

The Southern border is the Point of Sale Mountain Range, a prominent feature both denizens and visitors can “check out.”

Point of Sale Mountain Range

Past this region is the breathtaking New Hardcovers and Fiction wall, a favorite spot of the trendy and intellectual.

Along the Easternmost border of Booksmith is a sweeping theme park for children.

People watch and enjoy an espresso at the delightfully tiny tables

An oft-forgotten yet treasured landscape is the subterranean catacombs of the Used Book Cellar. Built among the ancient ruins of old offices, a video and record store is a twisting labyrinth of half-priced, gently used books with a small staff of well-informed natives that operate on a slightly shifted time zone, buying used books from Wednesday through Saturday 10am – 4pm.

Transport to a landscape of antiquity in the Used Book Cellar

This new edition of the Brookline Booksmith Baedeker is edited by Natasha, originally from the Used Book Cellar but a recent move now allows her to divide her time evenly between her native land and the Travel section, which she now oversees.

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Sep 23 2013

Without a Map

General,News,Travel | Sep 23, 2013

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“It’s not down on any map—the true places never are.”
(Herman Melville, Moby Dick)

A job offer in Minneapolis kept me busy this weekend, scouring ads for a new apartment and packing up the old. But in the midst of the whirlwind such a transition kicks up, I paused preparations for a final pilgrimage in Boston.

My destination was not marked on any map that I could find, and in the end I left my apartment on foot with a backpack of picnic snacks, a pen and notebook, but no map. I was determined to find the base of what I call my “fairy tower,” a mysterious white spire topped with a sea green turret that chases me on my walks to work and dodges and dances on the horizon each evening when I return home. I have seen that tower from every point in this city, but have never found it.

As I left my apartment in Jamaica Plain, I peered anxiously at the horizon, waiting for my goal to appear in front of me. Usually it would show up, slightly to the right of Stop n’ Shop, hovering over the Jackson Square T station. Today it was gone.

“When the rainbow disappears, the leprechauns still remain,” my husband, companion for the trek, mystifyingly assured me.

And he was right. We followed the Southwest Corridor Parkway around the corner of Jackson Station, and there was the tower, perched high on an embankment of houses and autumn-tinted trees, with no clear path leading to the top.

Keeping our goal in sight, we crossed the traffic of Columbus and came to a stop: a Y in the road. We chose to go left, though soon we were cutting right on a series of labyrinthine switchbacks that led us up the hill, past haunting mansions in decrepit states of disrepair, and a life-size, slightly creepy statue of Christ perched on a large rock at the corner of an empty lot, hands outstretched as if to bless our pilgrimage.

As we climbed higher, now and then I would catch views of the city and surrounding neighborhoods: the Prudential and John Hancock buildings marking downtown, the white blight of the Vet’s hospital I pass every day on my way to Brookline, the dome of the abandoned church down the street from my apartment. The monuments of my life in Boston were beginning to shift behind me, uprooting from their chronological anchors in my habitual every day to move on the tides of elusive memory.

Soon after we passed Jesus, the tower appeared around a bend, first its bleached trunk with winking slits of windows, then its whole, but we still had to climb a steep bank of sharp rocks to reach our goal, finally firmly rooted in the center of a green square.

As I circled the tower I craned my neck, trying to see into the dark windows beneath its peak. A seagull flew by, perhaps with a message for a captive princess in its beak, but the windows kept their secrets, reflecting only the cloud-dappled sky. We sat down to our picnic fare beneath a weeping willow crying the golden tears of autumn. I knew I had come to say goodbye.

In life there are no maps, only the ever-shifting unknowable future. But that future is anchored in place, in destinations which we can come to know and love for the moment that we inhabit them—or is it that they inhabit us, because even as I set out on my next journey, I feel this place inside of me; Boston now a captive of my memory.

And because you still need maps to most places, we’ll still have a vibrant travel section at Booksmith to help you get to your next destination. My co-worker Natasha, who has been buying back your books in the Used Book Seller, will be managing our travel section in my absence. A veteran traveler, newly returned from Tokyo, and queen of two geography bees, in 4th and 8th grade, she’ll be there to guide you on your next journey. Safe travels.

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Sep 08 2013

From Poutine to Opera in Montreal

General,Travel,Travel Tips and Resources | Sep 08, 2013

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As we approached the restaurant outside Montreal’s Jardin Botanique, the unmistakable strains of an opera aria greeted us. We were exhausted after three days of trekking around the city and its parks, including the botanical gardens, where we had been greeted by enormous living plant sculptures presented by various countries for the Mosaicultures Internationales Montréal exhibition. After all that walking, it was delightful to find ourselves sharing tapas and a bottle of wine on a sun dappled terrace while being serenaded for free by members of the Opéra de Montréal.

We had spent our first morning at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. (If you missed Chihuly in Boston, he’s now on exhibit in Canada.) I could have spent the whole day among the paintings, but we opted for an afternoon strolling through the tree-lined avenues (designed by Frederick Law Olmsted) of Parc du Mont-Royal, where we were stunned with a view of the city and the St. Lawrence.

The evening before we had dined at an exquisite French and Portuguese restaurant, but now I pulled my companions across the street to sample poutine, a local dish with a history to, well, maybe not recommend it—a hearty dish of potatoes and cheese curds smothered in gravy, poutine, according to my Lonely Planet guide, was eaten by early settlers trying to survive the long winters. We washed down our meal with some beer and walked through the Old Town and onto the quays until it was time for a light show at the city’s famous Notre Dame Cathedral. The show was complete with historical re-enactments and dramatic voice actors.

We spent a day in Little Italy, at the Marché Jean-Talon, a sprawling market full of fresh produce, then went south on a hunt for bookstores. Our favorites were Mona Lisait where the owner played us classical guitar as we browsed and complimented our French, and Les Aux Points Cardinals—a travel bookstore with a full room of maps and gorgeous globes. After touring the sleek and modern bibliothéque nationale, we followed our Lonely Planet guide to Le Petite Extra for a dinner that would only be rivaled by the tapas on the terrace the next evening.

Autumn had begun to touch the trees surrounding us in the Jardin Botanique, and as soon as the tapas disappeared and the sunlight began to fade, I was cold. I left the table to procure a chocolat chaud from inside the restaurant, and, when I returned, my companions greeted me with a warm, soft wrap they had just procured from the restaurant for “la jolie jeune fille.” Cozily wrapped and sipping my hot chocolate, I found in this gesture an attention to comfort and beauty that rivaled that of Europe, and soaked in the strains of a robust Carmen as my last evening in Montreal twinkled into twilight.

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