Traveling Books

9 07 2009

Literally. I just discovered bookcrossing.com and am fascinated. The site allows for the sharing and discussion of books in an organic, wholly amusing way. Here’s the quick version: sign up for an account here (for free), then register a book and write the BookCrossing ID inside. “Release” the book (translation, leave your book on the train, a park bench, on someone else’s doorstep…), then wait. When someone finds your book, they can come back to BookCrossing and enter the ID, then hopefully, make some sort of journal entry about said book before re-releasing it.

While I’m not ordinarily one to “release” my books (call me a pack rat, overprotective “mother” or whatever else you will—if I like a book, I want it to stay with me), I’m into this idea. I love the idea of setting something free into the universe for someone else to find, and the idea of them being able to track it. Who knows? Perhaps your book could make it around the world. Stranger things have happened…





If on a winter’s night a traveler

25 10 2008

I finally did it. For many, many years (read: since high school), I have wanted to read this book. It sort of jumped off a bookstore shelf at me one day, shortly after I’d read Franny and Zooey for the first time (if that is imaginable) and I was fascinated. I loved the name, I loved the tone of the first few pages, I loved the mysterious Italian author. For some reason, however, I wound up reading two other Italo Calvino books before even purchasing If on a winter’s night a traveler. And once purchased, it sat on my bookshelf for another year or so, until, finally, I read it a couple weeks back.

I’ll just say it was worth the wait. In true Calvino form it was beautiful, slightly crazy and totally modernist. It was an experiment of interweaving 10 different novels, which were experienced through a unifying story (the alternate chapters) of an unknown “reader” and his love interest “the other reader.” It was experimental, and I will say it is not my favorite Calvino work, but it was thought-provoking and enjoyable. And after all, you gotta love a good story about a traveler.





Distractions

3 04 2008

I’m guilty this week of blog neglect. What have I been doing that’s so important it’s kept me from blogging? Many things, actually. (Cue list…)

  • Freelancing. Yes, freelancing! I’m editing Barcelona hot spot reviews for a soon-to-be-launched website (which for now must remain nameless).
  • Spending time offManhattan. That slick transition really just means more freelancing. offManhattan is a great (green) site that promotes travel and exploration with an eco-friendly bent. My first piece is a review of the Brooklyn restaurant Relish and I’m looking forward to visiting and writing about more places and events in the Tri-State area.
  • Reading several books at once. I’m currently into Their Eyes Were Watching God, Eimi (a recently re-published and formerly out of print E.E. Cummings prose work — woohoo!), and I’m soon to be starting up (again) my 2-women book group on the discussion of Anna Karenina. Is it weird that with all these going on I have a strong urge to dive into Franny and Zooey for the thousandth time?
  • Drinking tea. My new “office” is just five minutes from home. It’s called Gramstand and it’s fabulous. The upstairs is warm and airy with a handful of small tables, but downstairs the basement is converted into a little lounge/office, complete with a few couches, one family table, and several small tables for working or socializing. I’ve been going there several times a week and camping out for the entire day. It’s a good way to work and get out of the house. And their many varietals of tea are all delicious and good for the soul (though my personal fave is the rich, delicious Vanilla Teaccino, or as I like to call it, Heaven in a Cup).
  • Eating. Lent is over and I can have sweets again, but I have yet to order alfajores. My consolation prize was a slice of peanut butter pie at Old Devil Moon. There aren’t words to describe the amazingness of this pie: creamy, peanuty, chocolaty, with a gram cracker crust. I wanted to lick the plate.
  • More reading. On top of all the books I’ve been reading, I’ve been catching up on my magazines too. Currently I’m spending a lot of time sifting through the New York Times Spring Travel Magazine that’s recently come out. I looked at one article and can’t stop looking. I suppose I can write it off as research though…




Unexpected Happy Ending(s)

27 03 2008

Today’s post was supposed to be the first of my book(s about travel) review series. It will be, but not in the way I’d intended. It seems I got sidetracked.

Yesterday’s New York Times UrbanEye email alerted me to the Happy Ending reading series, which held a reading last night at (surprise) Happy Ending Lounge in the Lower East Side. Yes, the bar’s name refers to its seedy past, when it was an “erotic massage parlor.” I’ve never been downstairs but imagine that the self-described “1960’s Las Vegas” vibe must pay more homage to its former incarnation than the sophisticated red velvet booths on street level. Either way its sign-less facade on a deserted street feels a bit speakeasy-esque.

But last night was about the reading series, which was not only phenomenal but particularly apropos given my upcoming (as in—yikes!—next week) writing group meeting, for which I’ve done nothing, except decide (another yikes! for good measure) that it’s finally time to let go of those novel chapters I’ve been hanging onto since college. But the evening was brimming with talent, and, as luck would have it, inspiration. Happy ending number two. But enough about me…

Amanda Stern hosts the music and reading series at Happy Ending on the second and fourth Wednesdays of every month (summers off), where readers gather to sip complicated (but delicious) cocktails from Happy’s long list while singers sing and writers read. Each reader must take some sort of public risk while the singer of the evening has to get the audience to sing along to one cover song. (Supple-voiced folk singer Kelley McRae, whose own songs render chills, sang En Vogue’s Giving Him Something He Can Feel but the audience was a little shy—or just too entranced by her voice.)

Artist Matthew Bokkam read from his 2006 project “The New York City Museum of Complaint,” a tabloid/newspaper he created of letters of complaint compiled from the New York City municipal archives. The gist of his findings: New Yorkers complain. About everything. Just last night we heard from a man requesting that Mayor LaGuardia champion the right of burlesque dancers to be more, well, burlesque, and from a woman who had a list of complaints longer than my ever-growing to do list (odd thing was many of her would-be outlandish hardships—like not having heat—were things I’ve experienced). Bokkam’s risk, as an act of sympathy for said women, was to read her letter with a quarter stuck up his nose. Well done. (Un)happy ending number 4.

And now for the book review portion of this post, even if it’s not the book review I initially intended, nor even one I’ve yet read. Tod Wodika read from his newly published novel with the elaborate title, All Shall Be Well; and All Shall Be Well; and All Manner of Things Shall Be Well about a mixed up historical re-enactor who takes his re-enacting a little too seriously. Not only well-written but utterly hilarious. I was so excited by the 10 minutes he read that I can promise a more thorough review to come. In the mean time, suffice to say it’s travel enough in its jumps from modern to Middle Age worlds. And if it has a happy ending, all the better.

And one last thought that proved to be an unexpected delight of an evening. I got to speak with Amanda afterward about my latest project, and not only was she excited but willing to partake. The project being that of bringing a part of my beloved Litquake, otherwise known as San Francisco’s amazing, stupendous literary festival, here to New York. More on that one later. For now, it makes yet another happy ending (so many that I’ve lost count).





Short List: Forgotten Fourth Passion

26 03 2008

How on earth could I—with the completion of MA in literature and the madness of December’s paper writing (which, frazzled though I was, I must admit I oddly enjoyed) in my so recent past—forget a fourth, and oh-so-important passion in my About page?

I can’t really figure it out actually, but I neglected to note a lifetime obsession with books, which ranks (gasp!) even above my love of shoes. The bookshelves in my tiny apartment as well past the point of being overstuffed with books and that’s to say nothing of all those that were left behind at my parents’ house. And yet I still enjoy trips to the bookstore whenever possible. Bookstores are actually, in my opinion, a key aspect of travel. Many cities have famous or historic bookstores that are just as important as churches and more conventional landmarks.

So because I haven’t done a list in a while, a short one featuring my top three bookstores in great destinations. (And no, Barnes and Noble has not made the cut.)

  1. City Lights Booksellers in San Francisco is a North Beach mainstay and the icon of an era. Founded by Beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti in 1953, the bookstore and publishing house earned notoriety in 1956 when Ferlinghetti was caught up in (and won!) an obscenity trial for printing Allen Ginsberg‘s Howl & Other Poems. Since then City Lights has been a San Francisco institution. It stands proudly on the corner of Columbus and Broadway as a memory of the tumultuous and controversial Beat writers and all the great literature that has followed.
  2. New York’s Strand is a booklover’s heaven. It takes up most of a the block of Broadway and 12th St. in the East Village (with another location downtown) and boasts 18 miles of books. As if this weren’t enough, the books are cheap. The Strand has a huge selection of used books, but even most of the new ones are discounted. I know I’m a nerd, but I could spend hours there.
  3. El Ateneo (the Santa Fe location) in Buenos Aires has retained the architecture it had in its former incarnation as the Grand Splendid Theater. Its four stories of books, music, and movies are as exciting and lovely as the ornate theater in which they reside. There is something remarkable about having a coffee where the stage once was (and Carlos Gardel once performed), but I may just prefer cozying up with Neruda in a box seat.

And last, since I’ve already established that my talents (and passion) don’t lie in counting, I’m throwing in a bonus, since I just happened upon it again the other day: McNally Robinson Booksellers in Nolita, a cheery independent bookstore that is as much about edifying as entertaining. It’s a friendly community space that alternates its front displays based on community and progressive statements, not bestsellers. I had the pleasure of wandering through again and didn’t want to leave, especially when I found a small table with a set of beautiful books I have never seen before. It seems Penguin has a series called Great Ideas, with reprints of books that have “changed the world,” from Thomas Paine’s Common Sense to Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, all in pocket-size with simple but lovely covers.

All this book thought gave me a great idea of my own. I hereby start a new Around the World in Gold Stilettos category: book reviews. For EuroCheapo’s blog I regularly posted reviews on books relating to Europe, books that gave a sense of culture or history, so I’m reinstating that on my own blog (starting tomorrow). 





Lists

14 03 2008

It seems like the whole unemployment thing should render me plenty of time to get everything done, yet somehow as each successive day comes to a close I seem to have more unchecked boxes on my to-do list than I had when the day began. Where does the time go? Well, to job-hunting, mostly, but since the job hunt is mostly done on the internet, that means so many other distractions and influences. There are emails to be sent, companies to be researched, news stories to be read, and the list goes on.

Each new email (or blog comment) I get, each new site or article I find, adds about five things to my to-do list. And that’s to say nothing of the windows that stay open across my browser of sites I’ll look at, articles I’ll read, things I’ll do (when I have the time). Example: yesterday my dear friend Rachel—who has always been ridiculously creative and talented—left a comment on my blog with a solution to my llama sweater problem (I pause here to acknowledge the hilarity of the notion that I in fact have a llama sweater problem): I should felt it and make it into a bag so that it still remains useful and a memory of my trip, and I never have to wear it (thank you, by the way, Rachel, for adding that bit about my never having to wear it). I love the idea, so immediately I google felting, and now have woolcrafting site open on my browser.

And so, though every day feels wholly productive, I’ve now been home a whole month and still haven’t organized my photos to share. And that’s to say nothing of my book list. I came home with grand notions of diving into Borges and other South American writers, not to mention finishing the stray novels I never go the chance to finish during my hectic Masters program (not school books, of course). But it’s difficult to come out of a year and a half of intensive, non-stop reading and tackle the task of finally finishing One HundredYears of Solitude. This is to say nothing of all the books I’m now reading or hearing about, making my book list grow as exponentially as my to-do list.

Not that I’m complaining. Because each new check box I add to the list is a new eye-opener, and thousands of new thoughts to think, so every day I find myself a little further enlightened, like for example, learning that “felting” is actually a word. And one of these days I’ll even go so far as to discover what it is and how to do it. For now, I’m going to content myself with another list. I love lists.

Top things on my to-do list (besides the obvious finding a job):

  1. Organize my 700-something photos (this without pictures from the first two weeks—still waiting for my firend Liz to send me hers since my camera was stolen) into a manageable size and create a slideshow to share with those who care to see it.
  2. Learn what felting is and then attempt it. Then figure out how to do something equally creative with all the other useless souvenirs and memorabilia I have from this and other trips. Oh, and take a picture of my gold stilettos (also a Rachel comment).
  3. Finish reading The Ghosts of Spain (since it’ll take less than 100 years) and then pick up some Borges.
  4. Start working on my novel so that one day I might actually complete it, and because I have to have something to show at my next writing group meeting.
  5. Read more about my latest obsession, green travel.
  6. Start a blog category of lists. Oh wait… a check mark!