Last week my globetrotting friend L. asked me what books I might recommend for a trip to New Orleans (L.’s previous requests have included those for books about Argentina, Hong Kong, Madrid, and San Francisco). I immediately thought of the recently released NINE LIVES: Death and Life in New Orleans by Dan Baum from Spiegel & Grau, which covers the great Louisiana city from its last horrendous flood in 1965, through Katrina and its aftermath.


But, I said to her, while I know that people love to read up on destinations before they travel and during their journeys, I highly recommend that everyone shop for books once they arrive in a city, country, or region. I’ve been doing this for a long time, since my first trip to England at age 13 when I realized that British editions of my favorite novels had different covers (maybe your parents had lots of British novels hanging about; mine, alas, did not). Every time I travel, I bring back souvenirs in the form of books: Guidebooks, phrasebooks, illustrated books, photography collections, essays, travelogues, poetry, novels…


Really, why buy the tchotchkes when you can buy books?


I was thinking more about this practice during my week in New York, because some of the bookstores I visit there are quite specific to their neighborhoods. For example, the wonderful Biography Bookshop in the West Village – so tiny, yet so beautifully stocked, and with so many titles that make you want to learn more about Greenwich Village and Manhattan.


Another bookstore takes local reading to a whole new level, however, and that’s Word Brooklyn, a small but mighty store in Greenpoint that has what one customer calls “micro-local” shelves: Not just books about Brooklyn, but books about Greenpoint in particular. Isn’t this fantastic? In a time when we’re trying to be locavores about our food, why not do the same with our books? Let’s really dive in and learn about the places where we live, work, eat, play, and relax. I have a collection of books about Arlington, Virginia, my own hometown.


What about you? Do you seek about books about your hometown? Your city? Your state?

by Moderator Melissa_W on ‎09-25-2009 05:42 PM

Hmmm, some. 


I do like to seek out bookstores when I travel (if ever I travel).  I was very interested in acquiring books in German when I was in Vienna two years ago and it took three days to find a "buchhandlung" that didn't sell contemporary US/UK bestsellers in translation.  It turned out to be a hole-in-the-wall used bookstore near St. Stephen's Cathedral with a very nice selection of German/Austrian books and a whole wall of work by authors who had lived in Vienna (got a box set of Kafka).


And then I got some Jasper Ffordes in the UK printing when I was in Cardiff.

by KFZuzulo on ‎09-26-2009 04:23 PM

"Really, why buy the tchotchkes when you can buy books?"

I love that!  Definitely words to live by, and something I hadn't really thought about before.  You've given me some great ideas for our trip to Ireland the first week in October.  From what I hear, there's still a great little bookstore in Westport, Co. Mayo.  Your post prompted me to do a search on Westport books and I came up with "Westport: The Tear and the Smile" by Joe McNally.  My tchotchke shopping for all family members back in the States is now finished.  Thanks! (though I'll also have to visit the local luggage shop to get a carrier for them ; >)

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