Our family spent this past weekend at a baseball tournament in Johnstown, Pa., and Julia spent both of Mitchell’s Saturday games reading a book. Not only was she reading during the games, but she was also reading in the car on the way to the games, on the way to lunch between the games and during Mitchell’s warm-up for the second game.
All I could think was that she is a girl after my own heart.
A lot of my childhood was spent reading. Even today, when I walk into a library or a bookstore, a sense of calm comes over me
Some people like to take vacations to sit on the beach and relax; others enjoy hiking and experiencing the outdoors; and others like visiting historical attractions. To some extent, I enjoy all of these activities. But, to me a vacation would not be complete without some type of literary tourism.
Wikipedia actually has a literary tourism page, with the following definition, “Literary tourism is a type of cultural tourism that deals with places and events from fictional texts as well as the lives of their authors.”
I would add that my definition of literary tourism also includes visiting independent bookstores, although Wikipedia calls this “bookstore tourism.”
So, yes, I am officially a nerd. But I prefer the term bibliophile.
I became aware of my bibliophilic tendencies during the sweltering summer days of 1987. My friend and I would ride our bikes down a huge hill where we lived in Minnesota to the tiny library below to pick out books and then back up the hill.
While moving across the Midwest as a 12-year-old wasn’t my idea of fun, one of the positives of moving to Minnesota and specifically, Mankato, was that it was the home of Maud Hart Lovelace and the Betsy-Tacy series. And we weren’t too far from Walnut Grove either, one of the childhood homes of Laura Ingalls Wilder.
My interest in literary tourism only grew as I got older and met my husband. When it came time to discuss honeymoon destinations, one of my first choices was Prince Edward Island, home of the fictional character Anne Shirley of “Anne of Green Gables.” Luckily, Greg was kind enough to put up with my request, and we honeymooned on PEI.
In recent years, my interest has grown into visiting independent bookstores, which have now become an anomaly with the prevalence of electronic readers.
In 2011, I read a news article that Ann Patchett, one of my favorite authors, had opened an independent bookstore in Nashville, Tenn., a city I fell in love with while visiting in the 1990s. I wanted to visit the store, and by 2014 I convinced two friends to make it a girls’ weekend. Parnassus Books turned out to be charming, and Nashville was as fun and interesting as it was in the ‘90s, if not more so.
And then there is the perk of living in proximity to several major cities on the East Coast.
A few months ago our kids had a few days off school for spring conferences, so we took the opportunity to spend the weekend in Baltimore. After visiting museums and sightseeing, I informed my family that I wanted to visit a few bookstores before leaving town.
Back in 1997 a friend took me to dinner at an independent bookstore in Baltimore. Since living in Pennsylvania, I’ve been trying to locate this store/restaurant ever since. My best conclusion is that it went out of business, but that didn’t stop me from searching for other bookstores in the Baltimore area. I’d heard about The Ivy Bookshop and also read that one must-visit bookstore is Atomic Books in the Hampden neighborhood. This bookstore is known for its comic book collection as well as for its connection to the filmmaker John Waters, who frequents the bookstore and receives his fan mail there.
After spending a few minutes in Atomic Books, however, I determined that it was not the best choice to visit with kids. While they do have a small children’s section, the background music was not exactly kid-appropriate unless one is okay with children hearing multiple expletives in every song. As in most stores, Julia found a knickknack she wanted to purchase, an inflatable unicorn horn for our cat. Greg told her no and hightailed it out of there.
Thankfully, The Ivy Bookshop was our next stop and turned out to be as lovely as it sounds, with a large children’s section and classical music playing in the background.
Both my kids found books they wanted, although I cringed when Julia picked out a book from the “Captain Underpants” series. But the optimist in me always feels that it’s better to read what one chooses, even if it’s not quality literature, than to not read at all.
Eventually she will come around, I think.
In the meantime, I’ll continue to push my love of books and all things literary on her and Mitchell. And occasionally, I’m rewarded with the joy they find in reading when I see Julia absorbed in a book or when I find a note like the one below.