Monday, May 21, 2012

Traveling By the Book

So, working in bookstores for the past few months, one of the most interesting parts of the stores I've worked in is also one of the most specialized- the travel section.

Who uses travel books anymore? I hear you ask. Don't we all use our iPads and smart phones? Many of us do; this article quotes a 28% drop in print travel sales in the past few years. But those old fashioned paper books still sell like hotcakes.

And why not? They're easy to carry, annotate, refer to, and read- no batteries or chargers required. If you're going for a 3 day business trip you can get something basic; for a family vacation, something more in-depth. The web can't be beat for up-to-the-minute weather, conditions and attraction schedules, but I wouldn't know how to begin to plan a vacation without a book.

One of the things I've learned about is the sheer diversity in travel books. Sure, my parents have their good old fashioned Frommer's, and hipsters have their Lonely Planet. In preparing for a trip to Italy this fall, I've encountered all kinds of interesting guides. I found a Blue Guide to Literary Rome, and an Oxford archaeological guide to the city's ruins, even a book devoted to Florence's cafes, and never mind the scores of guides to traveling with children, pets and more. And that old standby Baedecker seems to be making a comeback as well.

Moleskine is getting into the game with their City Notebooks, mini Moleskines that include maps, transit information and of course plenty of space for you to jot down memories and notes. Included in the series are notebooks for Paris, Berlin, London and New York. Moleskine also offers a really cool product they call Postal Notebooks and Note Cards, which are fully mailable slim notebooks in which to write short and longer letters and notes. Remember letter writing?

(I'm linking to the Moleskine site so you can see the products and descriptions but these are widely available from booksellers, including the one where I work.)

One of the funner and more unusual things I've come across is a series of travel books that literally turn sightseeing into a game. Whaiwhai is a game that you play with your smartphone and a book; you get a code via text message, and read the story it gives you. It will tell you to go to a particular place, then lead you on a kind of a scavenger hunt through the city with the book as your companion. The game can be played in Rome, Florence, Venice, Milan and New York; each city has its own theme though some of the Italian games are related, for travelers spending time in more than one city. I wish we had enough time in Rome and Florence to play it!

And that's not even to mention some of the gems you can find besides plain old planning guides. Let's not forget travel writing, those memoirs of building a house or spending a year somewhere pretty or exotic. I've been amazed and fascinated by some of the things I've come across. Along with the essays and memoirs you've heard of, you can find treasures like Richard Paul Roe's The Shakespeare Guide to Italy, which combines literary criticism and Italian travelogue. Coffee table books abound, and there are books of inexpensive, suitable-for-framing illustrations of Paris, London and Rome to bring a little European history into your home.

  My favorite is a travel book I'll probably never use- The Atlas of Remote Islands, a beautifully produced hardbound volume describing places like St. Helena, Cocos Island, Rapa Nui and more. Each island has two pages of illustration and anecdote; it's a beautiful book and a treat for the mind as well as the eye.

So don't give up on books when it comes to travel. And remember that there's more to the travel section of your local bookstore than you might think!

Books I mentioned:

Barber, Annabel. The Blue Guide to Literary Rome. ISBN 9781905131396.
Claridge, Amanda. Rome (Oxford Archaeological Guides). ISBN 9780199546831.
Levitch, Timothy Speed. New York: The PegLeg. ISBN 978-8895836164.
Roe, Richard Paul. The Shakespeare Guide to Italy: Retracing the Bard's Unknown Travels. ISBN 978-0062074263.
Schalansky, Judith. The Atlas of Remote Islands. ISBN 978-0143118206.