One for the Road: Colour – Travels Through the Paintbox

This book beckoned me from a front table at Artisan Books on Gertrude St. in Melbourne’s Fitzroy neighborhood. The 2006 paperback version I bought has the bold cover shown here, although I’ve seen several other versions of this book that was originally released in 2002. Regardless of what it looks like, Victoria Finlay’s Colour: Travels Through The Paintbox is a masterpiece. Just as I enjoy looking at Van Gogh’s Sunflowers again and again, so too will I delight in returning to passages from this multicolored exploration of our world.

From ochre to violet, Findlay unearths every possible facet of the rainbow. Her research takes her to Spain, for Consuegra’s Saffron Festival (yellow), to lapis lazuli mines in Sar-e-sang, Afghanistan (blue), and to Mexico, in search of the purple of the Mixtecs (violet). Finlay takes the reader along on this magical journey as she creates a spectacular canvas loaded with pigments, dyes, gems and stones. Her quest to uncover the history and origins of color reveals a rich palette that stretches to every corner of our planet. It would be wonderful to see a map painted to match the discoveries from her color expeditions.

Globe Corner Adventure Travel Lecture Series

The Globe Corner Bookstore has announced its latest lecture series lineup. The Adventure Travel Lecture Series includes three events, all beginning at 6 pm at The First Parish Church, at the corner of Church Street and Massachusetts Avenue in Harvard Square. The first one is coming up soon after Thanksgiving, so here’s the scoop on the full set, in case you’ll be in the area at all over the next three months:

On Wednesday, November 28th, Peter Thomson, author of The Sacred Sea: A Journey to Lake Baikal will speak about his and his brother’s extraordinary travels to Siberia. Then, on December 13th, Ferenc Mate will talk about A Vineyard in Tuscany: A Wine Lover’s Dream, his captivating story about pursuing a dream of living in Tuscany. Finally, on January 31, 2008, Helen Thayer will read from Walking the Gobi: A 1600-Mile Trek Across a Desert of Hope and Despair. She’ll talk about her and her husband Bill’s adventures as the first man and woman to walk the entire length of almost 1,500 miles, east to west, of the Mongolian Gobi Desert.

A nice trifecta of engaging journeys have been chosen to be celebrated by the folks at Globe Corner — three very unique and different travel stories. And an interesting collection of books to check out, even if you can’t make any of the Boston-area events.

Suzhou Bookworm now open for business

Back in July I took a daytrip to Suzhou, China (about 40 minutes by train outside of Shanghai) and visited the future site of The Bookworm’s latest English-language library cafe location. Owner Peter Goff took me on a tour of the construction site, which you can see here (scroll down to the photos at the bottom of the post.)

I was happy to learn this week that the transformation is complete and the new Suzhou Bookworm is now open for business. The photos really wowed me. After walking through demolition rubble and dust, it was cool to see the finished project looking so fab — the two-story bookstore cafe appears almost to be floating along one of the canals that Suzhou is famous for.

A few days ago, Peter checked in with an update on how things are going: “We had our first booktalk last night..historical fiction writer Adam Williams doing his stuff. It was great. About 30 people turned up to listen and buy books so not a bad start.” They had another event today, award-winning Canadian children’s writer Marie-Louise Gay.

This opening is another great score for booklovers in China. Be sure to visit a Bookworm location (the others are in Beijing and Chengdu) when your itinerary brings you through any of these cities.

European Bookstore Guide

Bibliophiles headed to Europe may want to bookmark this new website: the Bookstore Guide has only been around for about two months, but they already have over 40 independent shops listed on their site. This growing collection includes bookstores in cities like Tbilisi, Istanbul, Oslo, Liverpool and Graz. I discovered the blog because they referred to some reviews I wrote last year about my own European bookstore browsing days.

The allure of the out-of-town bookstore has been written about before, and I’m sure many travelers would agree with this sentiment. I’ve spent many hours on several continents idling in a variety of bookshops, especially English-language ones, which can offer precious familiarity and comfort during long stretches of time in places far from home. My favorite so far? Still has to be Massolit in Krakow, which is actually run by an American from New Jersey.

But now, thanks to Sonja and Ivan (creators of the new guide) we’ve all got a new and expanding list of shops to refer to on future European book-buying (or browsing) excursions.

Book inscriptions inspire travel, and make great souvenirs

I walked into the wrong bookstore in Granada, Spain last February, but I’m so glad I did. I was looking for an English-language bookstore on Calle Gracia called Metro, but instead I wound up at a different shop just a few doors down. Libreria Praga shelves mostly Spanish titles, but has a small section of used English-language books. A spine with Simon Winchester’s name caught my eye, and I was soon the owner of a used copy of The Professor and the Madman. This story about the making of the Oxford English Dictionary seemed like something I’d enjoy (which I did when I read it a few months later) but I bought the book simply because of the fascinating inscription I found written in blue ink on the title page:

August 18, 2003: For darling Maggie on her one hundred and fifty-sixth birthday from him who unabashedly adores her – U. David.

Actually, there is another short word scribbled before “U. David”, probably a first name or initial, but I can’t quite make it out. But what an interesting discovery, huh? Was it an inside joke between old friends? Or did someone really live for as many years as Hong Kong was under British rule? Highly unlikely. There is surely a backstory, and one that most likely will remain untold. But for a book-lovin’ traveler, this is one of the best souvenirs around.

If you’ve come across interesting inscriptions, consider submitting them to The Book Inscription Project, a neat online effort to collect special book messages found by readers worldwide. Two recently posted travel-inspired inscriptions on the site reminded me that I have to submit my Granada discovery. Take a look at these: First, a short note to a voyager about finding his special island, inside a copy of Vonnegut’s Galapagos. Second, a Christmas gift for a nomad — a copy of On the Road, the only book that moves as incessantly as he does.

Books move and messages get carried with them, from one reader to the next. What travel treasures have you found (or left for others) inside the front cover of a book?