Bookish Tourist: The Novel Neighbor

The Novel Neighbor bookstore, Webster Groves, Missouri

3 words: blissful, lucky, jubilant

During a recent long weekend in St. Louis, the Dear Man and I spent one of the best days ever.

It included a kitschy antique store visit, Route 66, a fast food restaurant we checked off our list, the Daniel Boone home, another fast food restaurant we didn’t expect to see (where we ate amazing donuts), an iconic bookstore, life-changing pizza (at our 78th pizza place), and the Gateway Arch.

Making a purchase at an antique store on Route 66

 

Hello, Tim Hortons!

Of course we’re gonna focus on the bookstore, partly because this is a book blog but mostly because It Blew Us All Away.

I learned about the Novel Neighbor from the What Should I Read Next podcast, where Anne interviewed Holland Saltsman, bookstore owner and reader extraordinaire (and they even taped a live show there).

On one of the episodes, Holland raved about The One-in-a-Million Boy. I’ll be forever grateful for that.

And when we visited her fantastic bookstore, I fell head over heels in love with it.

I was seriously in a blissed-out daze.

This bookstore is intensely comfy and cozy, yet it’s also wide-ranging and it just keeps going. And there are delights around every corner!

Here’s what I bought (minus one gift I bought for a friend)…

I selected the book Tell the Wolves I’m Home from the “Holland’s Favorites” shelf because I trust her like that. I bought a book I’d never heard of, simply because I trust her taste. (I adore shelves of staff picks!)

Oh, my goodness, dear readers. If you’re ever in St. Louis, I sure hope you stop by the Novel Neighbor. It’ll bliss you out, too.

My fellow bookish tourists… what’s your best bookstore experience?

Bookish Tourist: Parnassus Books

3 words: blissful, family, all-encompassing

This is the story of the day we visited Parnassus Books, aka The Day I Just Kept Flapping.

On our recent trip to Nashville, the Dear Man, his Dear Dad, and his Dear Sister met up with his Dear Nephew and Dear Nephew’s Dear Girlfriend (we have a serious entourage) to visit Ann Patchett’s bookstore.

I’ve been ogling the place on Instagram for months now, and visiting the place is (of course) so much better!

I was instantly taken in by the shelf of “Penned & Picked By Patchett.” There were shelf talkers containing blurbs she wrote, recommending books!

(italics, in this post, denote “blogger flapping with joy”)

Completely thrilling.

We all book chatted our way through the bookstore, and the Dear Nephew bought a book I recommended, based on his reading tastes (Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel).

And the Dear Man and his Dear Dad got to hang out with one of the shop dogs.

The bookstore is utterly seductive: wood floors, comfy chairs, friendly dogs, a piano, and tons of carefully selected books on the shelves. Seriously: their backlist picks are inspired.

 

There were so many books I could’ve bought (for a moment, I thought it would be this one…)

This is what a librarian looks like

 

…but I chose This Is Where You Belong by Melody Warnick, because it’s a book I really want to re-read.

While this bookstore is delightful on its own, knowing that Ann Patchett co-owns it and is involved with its design and operation — that adds some serious sparkle. I felt a little bit starstruck when we were there.

And then… I didn’t want to leave.

Purchase in hand… still seduced by the window display

 

But then: smart man (who knows me well) reminded me that a visit to Fox’s Donut Den was up next. Here we are, after the eating of the quite remarkable apple fritter…

 

If you’re ever anywhere even close to Nashville, my fellow readers, all I can say is: Get thee to this bookstore.

It’s pure magic.

Bookish Tourist: Joseph-Beth Booksellers

During a recent canoe trip in Kentucky, the Dear Man and I did that thing that we do when we travel: we packed in all the goodness we could find.

And one of our travel days, this meant we dashed across Lexington to hit a bookstore in the half hour before it closed.

Not enough time!

But still: so worth it. And now we’ve added Joseph-Beth Booksellers to our Return to Lexington list.

Here’s why:

First: Spaciousness! This place has a high, tent-like ceiling that makes it feel very open. And there’s tons of natural light.

 

Second: Browseability! Many of the shelves are arranged in a pinwheel around the central core, and there are enough face-out displays to keep a person entranced for way longer than a half hour.

 

Third: Selection! I found several books I wanted to read, but in the end, I bought only one… and it was a good one.

 

Fourth: Size! This place is huge. Yet it’s comfortable and welcoming.

The bad news: We had only half an hour there, and it wasn’t enough time.

The good news: We are going back to Lexington.

 

So, my fellow readers… What’s the most surprising bookstore discovery you’ve made on vacation?

Bookish Tourist: The Book Cellar

On a recent Saturday, the Dear Man and I made a foray into the city (for us, that’s Chicago), so’s I could buy a copy of The Cubs Way for the Dear Man’s dear dad. (He’s the person directly responsible for my Cubs conversion, and he probably already knows most, if not everything, in this book, but still. I’m pretty sure he’s gonna like it.)

So we decided to visit The Book Cellar (one of those Chicago bookstores everyone says a person really should see), and when we looked at Google Maps, we saw this…


And Roots Handmade Pizza: on our list!

So we decided: lunch there first, then bookstore. Cuz we’re tactical geniuses like that.

And then the Dear Man parked the car right next to a Little Free Library, so: further bliss.

Then I had this face, cuz: Nancy Pearl book in the Little Free Library!

 

(Yes, that Nancy Pearl*, who I got to meet last month!)

Then… Roots Pizza. And guys. This pizza is amazing. It’s seriously in my personal Top 3 Favorite Pizzas of All Time. And that ain’t an easy mark to hit. (The others on the podium: deep dish at Pequod’s in Morton Grove, and thin crust at La Rosa in Skokie)

 

Here’s why: Quad City pizza has malt in its crust, which makes the crust a little bit sweet. So the crust is actually fantastic all on its own. Then you add just the right amount of zingy sauce and cheese and onions and green peppers, and you have yourself one winner of a pizza.

After I ate way too much pizza, we walked over to the bookstore, which is in the charming Lincoln Square neighborhood of Chicago. We hit another shop on the way. And then… bookstore wonderment.
The Book Cellar is not small, but it’s not very big, either. It’s simply packed with books. I felt a little bit like I was swimming through the aisles, with books surrounding me on all sides. That was kind of dreamy.

The Book Cellar is a book store/cafe/wine bar combo, so there were people wandering the stacks with coffee cups and wine glasses, which seemed really homey.

I snapped up the 2nd-to-last copy of The Cubs Way, and then we hit the cafe area of the bookstore for iced coffee, because all that leisure: exhausting.


So, readers...  What’s your favorite bookish tourist destination?

 

*iconic librarian extraordinaire, and inspiration for the librarian action figure

 

In honor of Martin Luther King Jr Day

Today we’re visiting Martin Luther King Jr’s birth home and Ebenezer Baptist Church… and we’re going there in the summertime.

Last July, the Dear Man and I visited Atlanta, and one of the best things we did was visit Martin Luther King Jr’s childhood home and the church down the street.

And I gotta say: Wow. It was a remarkable experience.

As we approached Ebenezer Baptist Church (the Ebenezer Baptist Church!) I felt like I needed to pinch myself. It felt like we were walking on sacred ground.

It looks just how it looked in all the photos I saw when I was growing up.

 

And the church is now part of the Martin Luther King Jr National Historic Site, so it’s preserved basically as an historic site and no longer functions as a working church.

So it feels kind of frozen in time.

(Speaking of time… this is the clock that’s viewable from the pulpit, and I found it completely captivating. This is the clock he would have seen while preaching!)

 

So we got to sit in the pews…

 

…and sit in the fellowship hall on the lower level. (For whatever reason, this also was completely overstimulating. I kept tapping the Dear Man on the arm and saying, “We get to see the fellowship hall!)

 

And then, down the street about two blocks: the house where MLK Jr was born.

 

It’s a lovely house, and it made me happy to think of the young preacher’s son spending his first years there.

And then we visited the gift shop next door and I bought a copy of The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr., which I haven’t read yet because I own it. (Anyone else suffer from this malady? The library books get first attention, because: due dates. So the books I own: utterly ignored).

But it’s on my 2017 TBR, and that reading experience is gonna happen. I’m looking forward to it.

And this year, as we think of Dr. King on this day, I feel especially fortunate to have stood where he walked and where he talked.

If you ever have the opportunity to visit, my friends… I highly recommend it.

 

That time we went to Iceland

So even though Iceland’s all literary (the libraries! the bookstores!)…

…the reason we visited was the natural beauty. 

The place has got it all goin’ on. It’s got…
Waterfalls

Rainbow waterfalls
  
Waterfalls you can walk behind

  

 
Geysers
Steam puffing out of the earth

Lava fields

Recently active volcanoes(!)
Troll houses
 Charming fishing villages and all those islands

Lovely city scenes

Geothermal pools

Historic sites that are stunningly beautiful 


And tourists who attempt to figure out the selfie stick

And there it is: best vacation ever.

So, traveling readers… What’s the most beautiful place you’ve ever visited? (We might want to go to there!)

Bookish Tourist: The books about Iceland

Since the Iceland trip was in the works for more than a year before our departure, I had some time to read up. 
Beyond the many guidebooks I perused, I also hit the fiction and memoir categories. Granted, I didn’t hit them hard — it was more like I swatted them. 
Here’s what I read before we visited… 
Jar City by Arnaldur Indridason
3 words: somber, classic police procedural, character development
This one made me nervous, because: psychotic killer. Then I reread the real-life Icelandic crime statistics and calmed myself. This is the first in a series, and it’s a fine example of the contemporary Scandinavian police procedural. By which I mean: this sucker’s pretty grim. 

Frost on My Moustache: The Arctic Exploits of a Lord and a Loafer by Tim Moore
3 words: light-hearted, irreverent, stunt nonfiction
Super grateful our travel plans didn’t involve bikes or backpacking or a ship’s passage from England. This guy did that stuff, so the rest of us wouldn’t have to. Moore retraced the steps of an old-timey rich dude who was an adventurer, with hilarious results.

Names for the Sea: Strangers in Iceland by Sarah Moss
3 words: frank, lyrical, expatriate
The book that gave us the alert about the Yule Lads. (Party game: Pick which one is most like you!) Moss lived and taught in Iceland for a year, and her expat perspective was fascinating. She also interviewed Icelanders who are experts in various topics (elves, trolls, volcanic eruptions, social issues), which added some nice depth. From this book, I also was inspired to bring a hat and gloves on our trip, which turned out to be a very good idea.

Gloves and some serious layering

Frommer’s Iceland
3 words: informative, helpful, organized
I looked at all of the Iceland guidebooks I could find (Lonely Planet, Marco Polo, Moon… you name it) but the Frommer’s is the one I took with us on the trip. While it’s a little out of date (2011 publication date), it held up quite well. The only stumbling block (and it’s a tiny one) is that the restaurant that supposedly had on its menu the lamb dish served to Reagan and Gorbachev… that item ain’t on the menu anymore. Such is the extent of our troubles. (Did I mention? Best vacation ever.)

Caught reading! It’s the Frommer’s…
The Dear Man presents… the Hofdi House!

The one I was supposed to read, and couldn’t: Independent People by Halldor Laxness
I know. The Pulitzer Prize for Literature and all. But it’s a novel about a sheep farmer living a hardscrabble existence, and I just couldn’t do it. (I checked it out twice. Or maybe three times. It just wasn’t going anywhere for me.) The whole time we were there, I was terrified an Icelander would learn that I was a librarian, ask if I had read Laxness, and then judge me. Fortunately, I dodged any such conversation. International literary incident: avoided.

In honor of Halldor Laxness: sheep. (I promise: they’re there.)

What’s up next: The Windows of Brimnes: An American in Iceland by Bill Holm
I started reading this one the day before we left, and I wish I’d read it sooner. But also glad I didn’t, because it’ll help me extend the experience of the trip. 

Dear readers, tell me… Do you prefer to read about places before you visit them, or afterward?

Bookish Tourist: Iceland and all the books

Today we continue our tour of Icelandish bookishness!

We’ve already talked about the libraries, so today: bookstores

And also: words everywhere. Words we could not decipher. 

We begin with The Bookstores. 

The biggest bookstore chain in Iceland is Penninn Eymundsson, and their stores are pretty great. Their displays are tantalizing, and they have a tempting selection. 

If you’re ever in Reykjavik and have time for only one bookstore visit, here’s the place to go: the Penninn Eymundsson at Austurstraeti 18. It’s right downtown, on a wonderfully walkable street (near the public library!) and they have level upon level upon level of books, plus a coffeeshop at the top floor. 

Here’s a crummy photo I took that fails the capture the charm:

While we were there, the Dear Man took the opportunity to study up on local customs.

We also visited Mal og Menning on Laugavegur, one of the main shopping streets in downtown, which had some enticing displays.

 And we stopped by Bokin, a used and rare bookstore just off Laugavegur. 

And the bookishness raged on, people! 

At the Culture House in Reykjavik, they did wonderfully clever things like reinvent the guestbook as a card catalog. 

I’m not even kidding. 

They provided index cards, and you got to sign the card, date it, and then alphabetically file it in the appropriate drawer! 

I was so excited, I almost fell over.

Filed under my first name, because: Iceland

And everywhere (everywhere!) there were words — poems and literary quotes on the walls and the doors and the floors… at the airport and the library and hotels…

  

…which all makes sense, given that Reykjavik has been designated a UNESCO City of Literature. 

Iceland: the place is full of our bookish brothers and sisters!


The other thing that the Dear Man and I both noticed repeatedly, is that the Icelandic language is not the easiest thing in the world for the uninitiated. 

We were presented with words like these:

And as we were driving (he was driving [I was “navigating,” heaven help us]), I was calling out place names that I mispronounced so horribly I kept cringing. And I kept decrying the fact that I couldn’t figure out the meaning of the words, and having no data plan, couldn’t Google a translation on the fly.

When I finally realized that the Frommers guidebook contained a glossary of phrases that make up various place names, it was like Christmas morning. I started translating like a fiend. “Hvalfyordur — whale fjord! Hveragerdi — hot spring valley! Laugarvatn — water pools!”

(It’s super fun to travel with me.)

So one of the things that was completely lovely about visiting Iceland was that not only is the scenery lovely, but the culture is Hella literary. 

My fellow bookish travelers… What’s the most literary place you’ve ever visited?

 

Bookish Tourist: Libraries of Iceland

3 words: excited, exploratory, delighted

As I write this, I’m suffering severe skyr withdrawal. You can get the stuff here in the States, but it just ain’t the same. The skyr in Iceland is light and sweet, and it makes you feel like you’re eating whipped cream for breakfast!
So… Iceland: best travel destination ever?
YES
Prepare yourselves for some Icelandic bookish posts — libraries (that’s today’s topic), bookstores, and books about Iceland. And if the spirit moves me, maybe some photos of the scenery, since that’s the actual reason we went there. And man! it did not disappoint.
OK. Here’s a gratuitous waterfall photo…
 
Now… Books.
During our visit, the Dear Man and I hit three libraries. (I know. Dorky.)
The first was the most delightful, because it was a public library and it was slightly quirky, and the librarian and library assistant were super friendly. Here’s the story…
While we were in Stykkisholmur, we swung by the public library…

…and were greeted by a sign that instructed us to either remove our shoes or don booties.
Apparently the former librarian made this a rule, and they’ve stuck with it. And admittedly, they have some gorgeous hardwood floors in their library, so you really can’t blame them for keeping the place nice.
So we put on the booties and walked in. 
Since the place is small and friendly, we were welcomed right away, and I confessed I was a librarian visiting from the U.S. (I often feel shy about doing this.) 
And then it was like old home week, and the librarian and the library assistant told us all about the library and answered our questions, and it was really lovely.
They have a great English language section…

…and a beautiful layout.
For a town of 1100 people, it was very well done.
We also visited the Reykjavik City Library. 

It’s in a great downtown location, in a multi-floor building that’s very pleasant. Again: large English language section! And I was intrigued by their use of Dewey Decimal Classification, even for fiction. 

The chief difference that struck me was that their libraries aren’t big into providing computer access. Maybe because Iceland has an impressively high percentage of households with Internet connectivity?
Anyway… we fit in one more library visit shortly before hopping on the shuttle to the airport. We swung by the National and University Library of Iceland and walked through. 

There were lots of students studying, and lots of signs we could not read, so often we didn’t know precisely what we were looking at. (Though: a sighting of the National Union Catalog cued me that we were looking at the Reference collection at one point.)
Iceland’s known as a bookish society (more on that in the next post), so it seemed fitting that we’d choose to library it up during our visit. At least this was our excuse. 
So, my fellow book nerds… Ever visit libraries while on vacation?

Bookish tourist: Jimmy Carter Presidential Library

3 words: quiet, Seventies, earnestness
During this delightful whirlwind of a summer, the Dear Man and I headed to Georgia because Atlanta is the home of the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library. 
Both of us went into the situation with these two thoughts:
  1. Jimmy Carter… not our favorite President, even though he seriously seems like a really good person.
  2. Dang! We might actually see him when we’re there! 
Of course, I’m sure the fates decided that because of Thought 1, we were bound to be disappointed when it came to Thought 2.
So yeah: no Presidential sightings, my friends. He was nowhere to be found (even though I kind of had a feeling we might see him and then become regrettably tongue-tied if there were a chance to speak. But: Wrong! Humiliatingly awkward moment: averted.)
We made the best of the disappointment, though, because the Carter library/museum was really well done. 

There were family items…

And there was excellent Seventies campaign stuff…

… to accompany the truly wretched campaign song the Dear Man likes to play for me.

(Yeah, you’re not gonna wanna click that Play button, cuz that song is an earworm that will keep crawling for hours…  Political campaign songs? They ain’t good.)

And Darth Vader and Luke and Princess Leia were there…

And the obligatory replica Oval Office. (I’m a total sucker for the Oval Office replica.)

And they did a really lovely thing here… which made me gasp:

 A full wall of archival boxes on dramatic display! Rapture in the librarian heart!

And then, this moment of triumph…

The thing I really wanted to see (other than President Carter himself) was The Cardigan. I was pretty sure they’d have it, and Yes They Did

I buttoned up in its honor.

And to top it all off, there was a farmer’s market in the parking lot, so: Georgia peaches!!

The Carter Center, the public policy organization run by Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, shares the same grounds, and the whole place is lovely and peaceful and filled with good feeling. It’s right there in the city of Atlanta, but it feels like a world apart. 

The museum brought back lots of very early memories… like being in the voting booth with my mom when she cast her vote in the 1976 election. In that moment, a political junkie was born. 

So, my fellow Americans… What are your memories of the Carter years?  
(Were you even born yet?)