Aug 26 2013

Advice for the Travel Writer

Book Reviews,General,News,Travel | Aug 26, 2013

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A few weeks ago while teaching a travel writing seminar, I had students place themselves on a map on the wall. Where were they from? Where had they been? Soon the map was covered with post-its. Between the eight of us, we had covered the continents, from Spain to New Zealand. While we marveled at our mobility, we also had to face a serious question. If the world is this connected, what is the place and purpose of travel writing, a genre that developed with the discovery of the world? Explorers used to write home, describing the new lands they saw. Today, if a reader can type Tahiti, they can see paradise.

Simon Garfield’s new book On the Map opens with a spread of Facebook’s map of connectivity. Someone put in all the coordinates of Facebook users, and out of the void a map arose, formed through millions of threaded connections. Despite the fact that we can travel the world on our iPad, the genre of travel writing persists. People still feel compelled to write what they saw, and I can vouch for the fact that there are readers out there, because I talk to them every day, as they browse our Destination Literature shelves.

So travel writers: take heart. We’ve got books to guide you through your process. Lonely Planet has just released the newly updated Guide to Travel Writing. From craft to query, travel writer Don George provides expert advice to help you write, sell and publish your tales of adventure. While the audience, focus, and form of the genre might be in continual flux, the folks at Matador Travel have done their best to map out the place it still holds for contemporary readers and to give you some ideas for how to stay up-to-date with the newest innovations. Click here to read the article on their blog.  And finally, to sample some of the current travel writing published, pick up Travelers Tales new anthology of The Best Women’s Travel Writing 2013. And look for The Best American Travel Writing 2013, due out in October.

Through these books and my own travels I am convinced that the appeal of adventure persists. No matter how much of the world is known there are still the infinite revelations of the self that occur during each encounter with a new land. And so we keep reading.

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Aug 18 2013

Back to School

General,News,Travel | Aug 18, 2013

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The summer is winding to an end, and while there’s still time to get a last trip or two in before schools start up, if you’re a teacher, it may be time to start thinking about getting back behind classroom walls. Or, at least, to start planning how you are going to decorate those walls. At Booksmith we’ve got wall maps to illustrate your lessons, help your students see the world from a different perspective, or simply to let you daydream about new destinations.

The What’s Up South? World Upside Down Map will have your students asking questions like never before. Why do we think North is Up? Who decides how we view ourselves in relation to the rest of the world?


While the Peters Projection maintains the traditional compass points, it strives to distribute area in a more accurate way. The world is round, so there is no way to portray it in a perfect projection. However, this map can get students asking more questions relating to distribution of power. Why does Africa appear smaller than the U.S. on a traditional map?

And for elementary teachers, National Geographic has a series of Kids Education maps, including the U.S., World Political, and World Physical. Lamination helps protect from sticky fingers and tears, and the large size, with each country or state delineated by a different color, turns a third grade geography lesson into a visual treat.



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Aug 05 2013

Beach Reads to Sink or Swim to

Book Reviews,General,Travel | Aug 05, 2013

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It is August already, and I have yet to make it to the beach. Were I still living landlocked in Iowa, where I grew up, this might be excusable, but when you live in a coastal city, at least one dip in the ocean during the sunny season is mandatory. So tomorrow I’m packing my beach bag (have you seen the gorgeous bags we stock in the Card and Gift Room?!) and heading for the waves. I’ve got my suit, I’ve got some snacks (check out our adorable hand-dipped “beach pretzels” on display at the front register!!), but…what should I read?

The term “beach read” has a bad association in my mind, akin to “airplane reading” and shelved in my imagination somewhere between Fifty Shades of Gray and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Not that there’s anything wrong with a light summer read. But, I would argue, there’s also nothing wrong with reading something literary while watching the tide come in.

I finished Moby Dick on Revere Beach–a beach accessible by T (blue line) from Boston. I began the tome on the Cape, and when Ishmael writes about the restlessness that span of blue called the Atlantic conjures up in him–inspiring him to knock the caps off the heads of passing pedestrians–I knew exactly what he meant. Already read it? Monique Roffey’s new novel Archipelago will take you on an equally exciting sea voyage through the islands of the Caribbean.

I distinctly remember the exact way Virginia Woolf describes a bay in To the Lighthouse because I was sitting on a beach in Acadia National Park admiring the “great plateful of blue water” before me. For those who need a good romance during balmy summer months, Woolf’s first novel, The Voyage Out, is the perfect escape. A much more accessible and straightforward read than her later novels, The Voyage Out is a coming-of-age story, love story, and travel narrative wrapped up in one delightful read.

If beach read means laughs in your mind, Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals is the perfect summer getaway packed into a book. The Durrell family escapes a dreary England for the sunny beaches of Corfu, where they are plunged into many adventures in nature. For something reflective yet light, tuck Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s classic Gifts from the Sea into your picnic basket.

If you are someone who likes brevity during the summer months, the newest edition of The Best Women’s Travel Writing has just arrived from Travelers’ Tales. Each of these lively adventures takes only minutes of your time, and can be set down and picked up again between dips in the ocean. Happy swimming.

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Jul 24 2013

Montreal and Quebec City, or the week that just kept getting prettier

General,News,Travel | Jul 24, 2013

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Every few steps in Quebec City, the view gets prettier. You may have oooohed and ahhhhed and taken pictures from every angle, but now you’re going to have to start over, because now you’re up even higher and your view encompasses more houses, more shops, and more of the Saint Lawrence River.

My friend and I met up in Montreal, and our first stop after we’d dropped our bags at the hostel was the Parc du Mont-Royal. Our stroll started as a pretty nature walk, and before we knew it, we were on the porch of the Chalet du Mont-Royal and gazing at the entire city. The view stayed with me for the next three days while we made our way through the sights detailed in my trusty Lonely Planet guidebook. Notre-Dame Basilica was lovely and Quebecois accents were fascinating, but for me, soaking up all the beauty around me was the best part.

And then we got off the train in Quebec City. After Montreal, it felt less like a city and more like a place where shops and a few tourist attractions had sprung up to be near lots of blue. On our first night there, we attended a free Cirque du Soleil performance, and I found myself vaguely surprised by the number of people who had also managed to find this place.

My achy legs and I were amazed at what the Cirque performers could do, and I wondered if we’d be able to find an activity nearly as riveting for the next night. I needn’t have worried. It just so happened that we were in town just in time for Quebec’s summer festival, which gave us plenty to stumble upon. That second night, we found ourselves at another acrobatic performance, this time with front-row seats.

The planned sights were highlights, but so were the unplanned things we saw.

And yes, of course we had poutine.

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Jul 15 2013

River Reads

Book Reviews,General,Travel | Jul 15, 2013

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When you grow up in Iowa, as I did, you don’t have coasts, but you do have rivers; in fact, the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers make up the state’s East and West borders. Since leaving Iowa, I have lived on both coasts, but there is nothing like a river to make me feel at home. Yesterday, my husband and I canoed on the Concord River, a river sacred to us as one year ago, we rowed down it to the spot where we were married.

This time, when we had returned our canoe to the South Bridge Boathouse, we walked back into town and ducked inside the Barrow Bookstore–a used bookstore with a great supply of New England literature. There I picked up Henry David Thoreau’s A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers. A few weeks earlier, while visiting Lowell, I had seen where the Concord and Merrimack meet. Curious, I picked up the book.

“Rivers must have been the guides which conducted the footsteps of the first travelers,” Thoreau writes. “They are the constant lure, when they flow by our doors, to distant enterprise and adventure; and, by a natural impulse, the dweller on their banks will at length accompany their currents to the lowlands of the globe, or explore at their invitation the interior of continents.”

I had never seen the relationship between rivers and travel so clearly. It’s no wonder I felt restless in my home state, with so much water flowing by, into unseen lands. A quick browse through our Destination Literature section at Booksmith proved Thoreau’s point: rivers inspire travel, and, I would add, travel inspires writing. River literature is prevalent, I discovered, and makes for a perfect summer read.

One of my favorite travel narratives, Claudio Magris’s The Danube, takes place along the river of that name. Patrick Leigh Fermor made a similar trek across Europe, a journey he relates in his whimsical Time of Gifts. My most recent river-read, aside from Thoreau, was Olivia Laing’s To the River, in which the author walks the river Ouse, where Virginia Woolf drowned. Meander by Jeremy Seal is another newly released river-logue. Seal rows a canoe from the Meander River’s source in Turkey to the Aegean Sea. Rosemary Mahoney achieved a similar feat in her Down the Nile. And expert travel writer Paul Theoux picks up the trend in his most recent novel The Lower River.

Stop in to Booksmith to pick up your next summer read–and get ready to be swept up in a current that is sure to take you out of your depth–which can be a great place to be.


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Jul 08 2013

Midwest Migration

Some of the best destinations can be the last to come to mind when you think of vacation. For me, the Midwest is “home”: a nest of familiarity and comfort where I can regress into old habits while visiting family and catching up with old friends. Which is exactly what I did when I traveled to my parents’ house in southern Minnesota last week, with the exception of the 36 hours I spent in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area where my sister now resides. In the Twin Cities, I was surprised to find something new for me to explore in the Midwest: a stimulating metropolis rich in recreation and lush with literary oases.

Even as my plane descended I noticed something different about the grid-like neighborhoods and residential areas spreading below. Wherever there was not a roof, there was a tree. From the air, it almost looked as if Minneapolis had been planted in a forest. Along the banks of the Mississippi and the many lakes sprinkled around the city are verdant parks and green spaces to explore. Boston has its “emerald necklace,” but Minneapolis wears sapphires: Lake Harriet, Lake Calhoun, and Lake of the Isles are delicately strung on the west side of town, complete with recreational trails, a band shell, gardens, and swimming areas.

We visited three bookstores, all in basically one neighborhood: “Uptown” Minneapolis. The enormous Majors and Quinn on Hennepin Ave.; Booksmart, which we discovered beneath a record store; and Birchbark Books, owned by author Louise Erdrich. Located near Lake of the Isles, this small store is so carefully curated that not an inch of its cozy corners is wasted. As a bookseller, that old feeling of discovery that usually floods me when browsing a good bookstore can be hard to come by–I often feel I’ve seen it all before at work. But at Birchbark Books each display introduced me to a new title, tastefully chosen, such as The Art of Migration, which captures artist Peggy Macnamara’s paintings of migrating birds in the Midwest.

For dinner I had a succulent crab cake at The Happy Gnome, one of my sister’s favorite eateries in St. Paul, and the following day we had brunch at the Wilde Cafe, a restaurant on the banks of the Mississippi across from downtown Minneapolis, which pays homage to Oscar Wilde with paintings of the author, a loungey atmosphere, and entrees such as “Wilde Oats.”

I left the Twin Cities with the feeling that there was still much to explore, that being from a region in no way divests it of its interest or charm.  For more ideas of where to visit in the Midwest, check out the New York Times new guide to the area, 36 Hours in the Midwest and Great Lakes.

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Jun 24 2013

How to Choose a Travel Guide for Your Little Sister

I’m travelin’ home next week, back to the Midwest. My little sister has promised to pick me up from the Minneapolis airport and basically be my chauffeur for the week. In payment, I promised to bring her home a guidebook for her upcoming trip to Turkey. It wasn’t until I hung up the phone that I realized the weight of responsibility I’d just assumed. My sister is a grown, independent woman who has lived in the Philippines and traveled SE Asia, but she’s still my little sister, and she’s bravely traveling by herself to Istanbul next month, with only whatever book I put in her hands as her guide.

Lucky for me, Turkey is our destination of the month at Booksmith, and our shelves are crammed with options for both guidebooks and literature to escort you around the country. The wide selection, however, did not make my task easier. I’ve spent the past week pouring over guides and unfolding maps, trying to find the best fit for my sister.

I lingered long over our new slim guide to Istanbul’s Bazaar Quarter, which offers four tantalizing walking routes through the city’s Grand Bazaar and the Egyptian Spice Bazaar. Then there was The Sultan’s Istanbul, which acts as a guide to the city’s past, taking you back to the era of the Grand Tour, to the Istanbul the intrepid traveler of the 18th century might have seen. Ultimately I decided I needed to find a fuller guide to the country, though both of these guides would make an excellent supplement.

Next I flipped through DK Eyewitness‘s guide to Istanbul. I love Eyewitness guides for their aesthetic. They are full color photographs, architectural drawings, and wonderful cultural information about art, museums, and cuisine. I considered a few pocket guides: Eyewitness’s 10 Ten, Fodors, and Lonely Planet before deciding I needed to get my sister a guide to the full country, so she has the option of spreading out from Istanbul.

Now I was faced with the difficulty of determining a Fodors from a Frommers, weighing the reasonable price of a Globetrotter Guide, and oohing over the full page color photographs of the Insight Guide. Ultimately, I decided on Lonely Planet‘s guide to Turkey, which had a full 84 pages on Istanbul itself. While each of the guides seemed to provide sufficient and interesting information, Lonely Planet fit my sister’s taste and style of travel–a little off the beaten path–while still being crammed full of the practical info she’ll need to keep herself well fed and safe. Plus there were three whirling dervishes on the cover.

Next I went to our “Map Files” and found a wonderful laminated map to Istanbul from Marco Polo that folds up into pocket size. Finally, the most difficult choice: what should she read? We have so many great novels and travel narratives on Istanbul, it was a hard decision. Would she like The Bastard of Istanbul, a novel about an Armenian American girl who travels back to Turkey in a search for identity? Or Joseph Kanon’s mystery, recently released in paperback, Istanbul Passage, which has been flying off our Books We Love table? Or would she go in for a travel narrative like Jeremy Seal’s Meander, which follows the river of that name from its source in central Turkey to the Aegean Sea? I finally settled on a compromise between the fictive and real narratives and bought her the novelist Orhan Pamuk’s memoir Istanbul. The man even has a museum in Turkey based on one of his novels.

My choices won’t be for every traveler. Everyone has their own taste and style when it comes to hitting the road–whether it’s packing light or taking your bedroom with you, dining at an expensive restaurant or trying the local market, couch surfing or luxury hotels, museums or mountain trails–so not every guide works for every traveler. At Booksmith we carry a variety of guidebooks and travel literature  so you can find just the right traveling companion for you–or for someone you love.

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Jun 17 2013

Happy Anniversary, Rand McNally Atlas!

Book Reviews,General,News,Travel | Jun 17, 2013

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It may seem strange to celebrate the anniversary of an atlas, but ever since we got the 2014 Anniversary edition of the Rand McNally Road Atlas to North America in, I haven’t been able to stop selling it. Everyone seems to be hitting the road this summer, from our very own Shuchi, who will be driving through the open spaces of Wyoming and Montana this week with Gretel Ehrlich, Annie Proulx, and Rand McNally in the back seat, to the customer who told me his student visa was running out, but before he returns to Asia, he’s driving his car across the states to visit his brother in LA. He doesn’t know the way, exactly, or how long it will take, but now he’s got his Rand McNally.

Hearing about these planned adventures got me thinking about past road trips, with the trusty Rand McNally I received for a high school graduation present (Got someone graduating? Take note). I used the atlas to get myself out of Iowa. At first, I made the mistake of driving across Nebraska–where it was just me, sky, and a Buffalo Bill Cody museum that contained a lot of plaques with horrific stories of the American hero’s conquests of buffalo, and a stuffed two-headed calf. But after that Rand McNally set me right, sending me across Colorado, where I visited friends in Denver, then drove straight into the Rockies. Somewhere in Utah I needed a place to camp, opened my atlas, found the remote Flaming Gorge on the Utah page, and pitched a tent. Then it was up through Jackson Hole and across Montana, through Boise, along the Columbia River Gorge and into the Northwest, which would be home for the following three years, until I tossed Rand McNally in the back seat for a return trip.

Now on the East Coast, when urban living wears and the city presses in, I recall those open spaces and stretching skies, and random place names picked from an atlas transformed into memories. Then I’m tempted to throw away my T pass and buy a car, just to have a place to store my Rand McNally for when the road calls again.

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Jun 07 2013

Going Home

General,Travel | Jun 07, 2013

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Twenty minutes after I arrived in Edinburgh for the first time, I was in love. I just felt an immediate sense of belonging, something I hadn’t experienced before in that way. Five months later and I was sad to be leaving. I desperately wanted to see my friends and family, but I was heartbroken to be leaving a city as beautiful and crazy as Edinburgh. I’ve talked about nothing but moving back ever since.

Dunans Castle – where I own a square foot of Scotland


So this year, my parents and I visited Scotland. The stated goal was to show them the city I loved, while also getting in some side trips for scotch, beer, and castles. I was a wreck for a few weeks before the trip – elated to be going back, but nervous that they wouldn’t love my city. It had been a while since I last visited. What if the city had become unrecognizable? This was my dad’s first trip to Europe – would this make him hate travelling? It’s a bit intimidating to feel responsible for other people’s enjoyment.


There were mishaps, of course. My father is a huge soccer fan, so I bought tickets for a game. While trying to find our way to the stadium, we showed our tickets to a few people (including police officers) to get directions. Without fail, all of them asked “Why?” when we told them where we were sitting. I had apparently managed to get seats in the “hooligan” section of the stadium and they all thought we were crazy for sitting there. Should you get the opportunity, do it – that’s where all the fun happens (just make sure you don’t accidentally wear the opposing team’s colours like I did). One night, in a small, seaside town, we stayed in a hotel that was quaintly British – tiny rooms and strange showers – which didn’t suit my 6’4” father all too well. The brewery we toured was three-quarters of a mile from the train station and we walked back in a hailstorm.


Edinburgh Castle

But all in all, the trip was amazing. We opted to stay in a rental property and it was a great decision. It was nice to have a home base that felt like home. From that home base, it was easy to take my parents on treks through my city. I showed them my campus and where I lived when I was there. I took them to the Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace (and for the third time, was unable to get into the palace because royalty were there). I took them to my library and passed the mosque that previously housed my favourite restaurant – The Mosque Kitchen. We wandered the Meadows and I pointed out where I fell off a bike in front of a group of preteens. The drive to Oban took us through the Highlands, where I took an obscene number of pictures of sheep and played with a dog at a castle where I own a square foot of land.


Arthur’s Seat

We saved my favourite outing for last and climbed Arthur’s Seat on a beautiful, warm day. If you’re ever in Edinburgh, even if it’s only for a day, do not miss this. Arthur’s Seat is an extinct volcano in the middle of the city and it’s a fantastic way to experience Edinburgh. The trek isn’t easy, but the view is spectacular and there’s a sense of camaraderie among the climbers. I chatted with a lovely couple that had challenged themselves to climb the eight hills of Edinburgh and then trek across the Firth of Forth Bridge. There were dogs playing all over the park.


Of course, it was back to rain our last day, but Edinburgh’s beautiful in the rain. Edinburgh is a city I find hard to leave. As the plane left, my dad asked me, “So…if you’re serious about living here, then you need to figure out what it’ll take to move here. Because I want to come back soon.” And that was the most rewarding part.

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Jun 03 2013

Return to Book Expo America

General,News,Travel | Jun 03, 2013

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New York City’s Bryant Park is lovely on a summer evening. Back-lit by the warm glow of the New York Public Library, the park’s green lawn spreads across the square, empty save for a sprinkler system and a sign or two asking people to keep off the grass. And people do. But they gather at its edges, like spectators at a game that will never be played, talking quietly or simply staring. At what? I can tell you that they are looking at something, but that something is the absence of everything. The lush green grass and the fathomless empty space above it–through which a few bats swoop noiselessly–is a novelty in New York.

I joined them on the sidelines after attending this year’s Book Expo America, where people like you, reader, who like to read silently to themselves in cozy spaces, gather together in an uncharacteristically extroverted celebration of that very act. Readers, Booksellers, Writers, Agents, Teachers, Librarians, Publishers–representatives of the literary community of America–all come together for a few days of chaos and connection at the Javits Convention Center in New York City.

While I am someone who needs a Bryant Park after a day on the trade floor, I still find the expo incredibly stimulating and motivating. I was heartened by the warm reception my co-workers and I received at each glance down at our name tags that let people know we sold books at Brookline Booksmith: from local presses, to BPL librarians, to loyal customers, my name tag never failed to garner a welcome. The most notable reception had to be from the folks at Lonely Planet and the least notable from the notorious Grumpy Cat who was snoozing when my coworkers and I snuck up behind for a picture, after waiting in line for over an hour.

And following those greetings were inspiring conversations with those who have joined the book world out of a common love of literature–even if that very passion has us heaving a huge, but happy, sigh of relief when we return to our Bryant Parks and cozy corners and curl up for a nice, quiet read.

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