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…

Rainbow waterfalls
Waterfalls you can walk behind


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?
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?)

Bookish tourists on the Black Hawk Trail

Black Hawk: An Autobiography by Black Hawk

3 words: personal, dramatic, frank

While on a recent road trip, the Dear Man and I noticed a fair number of references to the Black Hawk War. And then we realized that we were living right in the middle of a place filled with history, and we knew precious little about it.

Being industrious, curious types, we set out to fix that.

The Dear Man asked the Librarian if she’d considered reading Black Hawk’s autobiography.

Flash forward one week, and I had a copy in my hands.

Flash forward another week, and he also had a copy in his hands.

And then we started learning all kinds of cool stuff about a nearly forgotten period of history.

If you’d asked me what I had on the Black Hawk war, I would’ve said, “Um… young Abraham Lincoln?”

Cuz, YEAH: dude served in the Illinois militia (never saw battle, but buried some scalped soldiers).

The cool thing about this book is that it’s told in Black Hawk’s words. Or at least, sort of. My only real complaint with the book is the inclusion of way too many exclamation points and italicized words for emphasis. And in some places, I doubted that Black Hawk would have spoken in the way the words were written on the page.

But at least we get his viewpoint.

And that’s explanation enough for this book to still be in print more than 175 years after its initial publication.

This is a book that doesn’t go down easy.

I found myself seething at the way Black Hawk’s people’s land was taken from them.

I kinda got worked up.

Then I recalled the passages where they’re doing the scalp dance, and I shuddered.

Then I thought about them approaching the militia with a white flag of peace and being fired on. And I got worked up again.

It was fascinating to see the episodes through Black Hawk’s eyes, and to understand it from his perspective. He’s narrating the story as an older man, near the end of his life, and while he’s faced plenty of hardship, his spirit is still lively.

Besides describing the battles and difficulties faced by the Sauks, Black Hawk also paints a detailed picture of their daily life.

Visiting the Hauberg Indian Museum, located at the Black Hawk State Historic Site in Rock Island, Illinois, reinforced the descriptions of the Sauks’ annual cycle of farming, hunting, and trading. The museum has a fine display, some great artifacts, and some really good maps that helped us find our way to the area nearby where Black Hawk was born and lived.

We read the Donald Jackson edition, which is also the edition on display at the Hauberg Museum, so it’s got some decent cred.

The thing I liked about this edition was Jackson’s terrific introduction. He sets the scene, including some unexpected details, such as a riveting description of Black Hawk’s hair in comparison with the hairdo of Andrew Jackson.

And Donald Jackson analyzes the validity of the autobiography and its various versions over the years, and that’s good stuff, too.

So… what books have inspired you to take to the road?

Bookish tourist: Dragonfly Books

3 words: delighted, blissful, satiated
On our recent trip to my home state of Iowa, the Dear Man and I seriously touristed it up.
The aim of the trip: canoeing the Upper Iowa River. 
And that was pure delight. The Dear Man squired me around in a canoe while I ate snacks (and occasionally paddled). This was our 4th river, and it was the bluffiest of the bunch.
93 degrees and Iowa-humid? We got this.
And then there was All The Other Stuff.
This included a bookstore visit. (Of course it did.)
We stopped by Dragonfly Books in beautiful downtown Decorah. It’s a new-ish bookstore, and it’s super cute. 
I liked all the things: their displays, their selection, their layout. 
And I bought this book, by Stephen King, which has been on my TBR forever. 
So excited!
 And we stopped by a stone cottage built by a Revolutionary War veteran, and there was a darling Little Free Library installed by a Girl Scout!

Well done, sister Scout!
And we visited my college campus (Go, Norse!) and I showed the Dear Man all the important places, like the path where my friends and I impersonated the Dead Poets Society guys in our duffel coats.
And Mabe’s Pizza: we ate there. 

(I can’t imagine who ate that tiny corner piece of pizza 
on my side of the table, before the photo was even taken.)
And Dunnings Spring: we walked there. 

And there were trolls, because: Norwegians. 


And there was a cave tour and rhubarb pie and a hidden military cemetery and a drive-in and an old fort and a roadside stand and ice cream at the Whippy Dip.
We seriously get around.

So, my fellow book lovers… What are your bookish travel plans this summer?

That time the authors roamed the Earth

BEA was crawling with authors, and they were gracious toward us mortals.
It was fantastic.
At BEA, there are 3 types of author experiences:
Observation: Listening to author interviews & panel discussions
Interaction (organized): Book signings
Interaction (random): Encountering an author in the wild

The first two are super common. The third happens through pure serendipity.

Dude, I got the trifecta. 
Here’s how it went down…
Author panel: Women of Fiction (Robyn Carr, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Gayle Forman)
I’m completely convinced that the best way to experience BEA is to become some amazing person’s wingman. I got to hang out with Katie of Words for Worms (that lady knows the books) and Marisa of The Daily Dosage (that lady knows the publishers)*, and one of them had this event on her radar.

So Robyn Carr and Susan Elizabeth Phillips are my two favorite romance authors. Actually, they might be the only romance writers I really read. Anyway, they had the Big Names on this panel.

And of course, they were warm and witty and altogether lovely. And Robyn Carr gave one of the finest definitions I’ve heard of the difference between women’s fiction and romance: 
Romance is about finding perfect love. Women’s fiction is about a woman finding herself.

I really like that.

And then Robyn Carr signed books and talked with us, and I’m pretty sure I overshared.

Here’s me and Robyn Carr. (I’m the overexcited nutjob. Anyone else think she looks scared? I have that effect.)

Author interview: Amor Towles

Sometimes, when authors are interviewed, they tell secrets. 

Such as this: In his new book A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles completely invented the scene in which the electrical grid is powered up in segments throughout the city. (I totally can’t wait to read this book, and only partly because it takes place in a luxury hotel. But mostly because Rules of Civility rocked my world.)

Interaction (organized)
Book signings 

This can be scary, my friends. 

Authors. I know they’re people just like us, but seriously: scary. 

I tend to either be dumbstruck or I ramble. There’s never any normal.

So, thank you, authors of BEA 2016, for your kind forbearance.

My favorite book signing experience was when Jane Hamilton — such a gracious and lovely human! — signed a copy of The Excellent Lombards. I adore her books, and I like her every bit as much. Since she is a remarkably nice person, we had a normal human conversation (though it lasted too long for her assistant, who started hustling the line along. Sorry, Katie! I’m still feeling bad about that.) Years ago, Jane Hamilton had spoken at the library where I worked, and we were reminiscing, I was gushing, it was maybe a little weird on my part.

Interaction (random)
Encountering an author in the wild

So here we’ve got the wild card: the random author encounter in an unexpected place.

And it happened only because I am the world’s worst navigator. (On Day 1 of BEA, anyone else get on a bus heading in the wrong direction, resulting in a 70-minute detour? Yeah, I didn’t think so. Not to brag or anything, but I’m seriously talented at getting myself lost.)

So heading home, heavy laden with books, I was concerned that I was gonna repeat that snafu.
I was meandering around in search of the bus stop, when a man asked if I needed some help.

We ended up walking to the El station, which was nearer than I’d realized. I asked him what brought him to BEA, and he said he was a journalist.
We talked books.

Then he said something that made me realize he was also an author, and I asked his name.

Charles Finch.

I had been directionally rescued by a bestselling, award-winning mystery author. 

I did a mild freak-out, then calmed down and requested photographic evidence of this episode (because that’s normal behavior; see “authors freak me out,” above).
He was most kind.  
So here’s what we all can learn from this experience:
  1. At BEA, not only are there authors all over the exhibit floor, but they’re also unleashed on the wider world to wander at will. You May Encounter Them In The Wild.
  2. Charles Finch: not only an excellent writer, but also a thoroughly nice human being
  3. The random author encounter: pure serendipity
So I know when we think of BEA, we think: books. 

But I gotta say: it’s all about the people. 

The book bloggers who are now friends in real life, the librarians who swapped stories and tips, the authors who withstood the onslaught of our nervous admiration, and back again to the bloggers and librarians who understand exactly what we mean when we say, “I met [famous author person] and it was amazing, even though I made a complete fool of myself. I think I’m gonna go hide somewhere now.”

We’re right there with ya.

*and also Julie of JulzReads, but I think she was off on one of her marathon autographing sprees that made us all marvel