Books from places

I’ve been doing a lot of travel lately, for work stuff, so without my kids. I always think I should bring something back for them from these trips, especially the longer ones, but I can never think of what. It has to be something that isn’t junk, isn’t too expensive, isn’t breakable. Something that is unique or particular to a place, not something they could just get anywhere. Something small and packable.

Plus, of course, they don’t need more stuff.

When I was in New York last month, one night I was supposed to meet a friend after seeing Indecent. She was also seeing a play (“Some kind of immersive, pie-eating Titus thing”), and hers got out later than mine, so I wandered around on Bleeker Street for a while waiting for her. It was a nice night, just the right number of people out on the street. I passed a book store and they had some remainders on a sidewalk table. I spotted A Cricket in Times Square and The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. This was the perfect thing! These are classic New York City books. They each capture some specific essence of the city, and they also speak very much to my own experience of visiting it as an outsider.

I have a vivid memory of the time, when I was probably 12, and I was reading James Michner’s Chesapeake (I went through a long Michner phase as a seventh grader; surely I’m not alone in this. The best one, btw, was Space). My family decided to take a trip to the Chesapeake Bay. I don’t know if this was inspired by the book or just a coincidence, but I do remember the excitement of being in the environment I had just been reading about. Since then, I have often tried to pair my reading with my travels. His Dark Materials is a good read anywhere, but in Oxford, it’s exquisite. Hemingway’s short stories are hopelessly brilliant regardless of one’s location, but reading his Upper Peninsula ones during my summer on the UP had a particular sparkle. My friend Bill, with whom I spent that summer, told me about a camping trip where he and some friends read On the Banks of Plum Creek while camping in that exact location, and I understood why he’d go to the trouble.

If you haven’t tried this kind of pairing, might I recommend it as an essential part of one’s summer vacation? If you’ve done it, what were some of your favorite travel/book adventures?

We just finished A Cricket in Times Square and it’s even more charming than I remembered it. Time to crack open The Mixed-Up Files!

My next big solo trip is to Chicago. What books should I bring home? My kids read about at grade level (roughly preschool and 2nd grade), but they are precocious listeners and will listen to upper elementary and middle school level books.


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