Beautiful And Bizarre Bookstores Of The World

bookstores
Wherever I travel, I always find myself drawn to bookstores. They’re a pleasant comfort zone when far from home. I love hunting for local authors and books of local interest while chatting with the people who frequent these places. I’ve found that bibliophiles are pretty much the same whether they’re American, Ethiopian, Arab, Tibetan or whatever.

One bookstore I haven’t shopped in (but would love to) is the Shah Mohammed Book Company, the subject of the famous “Bookseller of Kabul.” Yes, books and adventure travel go together, as Peretz Partensky showed when he took this photo. I’ve been to plenty of other bookstores in out of the way places, though, and enjoyed them all, like the dusty bookshop in Harar that saved me with some timely Tolstoy when I’d run out of things to read, or the Tibetan bookshop in McLeod Ganj where the owner holds forth on Asian politics. Whenever I’m in a bookstore, I feel at home.

Of course, I also frequent bookstores when I really am home. One favorite here in Santander in northern Spain is Librería Gil. Like all good indie bookshops, it has a knowledgeable staff and a friendly, relaxed atmosphere. The kids’ section is well stocked and as soon as we enter my son grabs a book and plops down in the little red plastic chair in the corner, only to emerge when we tell him we’re leaving. The bookstore hosts lots of readings and even had a guest appearance by Geronimo Stilton, a time-traveling mouse detective who is hugely popular with Spanish kids.

Upstairs is a large exhibition space filled with customers’ photos of bookstores around the world. Some are old, some are ultra-modern, and then there’s that one in Indonesia that’s floating on a barge. The best of the ever-growing collection are being turned into posters and make for a fun viewing. You can see the world of readers all in one room. It inspired me to scour the web to bring you a gallery of beautiful and odd bookstores from all around the world.

%Gallery-165218%bookstores
Do you have a favorite bookstore I missed? Tell us about it in the comments section. To navigate the world of books, there’s a handy online Bookstore Guide that has plenty of good, detailed reviews of stores in more than a hundred cities, mostly in Europe. They’re always looking for new additions, so tell them too!
bookstores
[Photos by Sean McLachlan featuring some of the posters in the exhibition]

Travel Read: The Coffee Story

coffeeAs a writer, I read many books by authors I know. As a traveler, I read lots of books set in places I’ve been. The Coffee Story by Peter Salmon gave me the rare chance to read a book about a place I love written by someone I met there.

For the record, I don’t review books by friends because that’s both unprofessional and unwise. Peter isn’t a friend except in the Facebook sense of “I got drunk with this guy once and have his email address”.

I met Peter while I was living in Harar, Ethiopia. Peter’s novel is set in Harar in the 1930s and just weeks before it was published he visited for the first time. That’s right, he visited Harar after he wrote the book.

To 99.9% of his readership that doesn’t matter since they’ve never been to Harar. I have and it did. The book is laden with mistakes. For example, Peter has Harar surrounded by jungle when in fact it’s surrounded by rocky hills and cultivated fields, and where the hell did the Jain community come from? He also uses the G-word for the Oromo. While I suppose this epithet would have been in common usage among whites living in Ethiopia in the 1930s, it will do nothing to endear him to Ethiopian readers.

But this isn’t really a story about Harar, or indeed about coffee. These are simply backdrops with which to tell the story of Theodore Everett, heir to a huge coffee business, now dying of cancer. Most of the action takes place 70 years before, when he’s a kid on his father’s plantation in Harar, where the best coffee in the world comes from. Ignored by his greedy and abusive father, Theodore falls under the sway of an Ethiopian Marxist and other locals, as well as a mysterious white girl who emerges from the jungle one day.

Theodore tells us right off that he’s “not given to suspense” and a terrible showdown is inevitable between the Marxist and his father. To steal the title of a wonderful film, there will be blood. It’s a tribute to Salmon’s excellent storytelling that the final showdown, when it comes, is nevertheless laden with suspense. We have an inkling of what’s going to happen all along, but like two cars veering towards a head-on collision, it’s terrible to see them hit.

While there’s no sense of place beyond a stereotypical “deepest, darkest Africa” worthy of some old Tarzan flick, most characters are brilliantly drawn and often hilarious, and the prose loops and curls in on itself. Like many old men, Theodore repeats himself constantly. This gets a bit irritating but the characters and narrative tension kept me turning pages. The prose is rich (bonus points for using “flibbertigibbet”) and the characters spring to life the first sentence they’re introduced.

I give this book three out of five stars. Sorry Peter, I know it’s my round, but while you’re an excellent stylist and a sharp wit, the whole thing veers a wee bit too close to neocolonialism. You put Harar in a jungle because Africa’s all jungle, right? The Ethiopians all sound like Europeans with a bit of earthy spiritualism thrown in for color, and the only female Ethiopian character is oversexed and two-dimensional. Although she’s sleeping with the underaged protagonist, Theodore’s One True Love is the only white girl he meets in Africa. And the blackface scene made me embarrassed even though I wasn’t the one who wrote it.

There’s an old adage among writers: stick with what you know. Set your next novel in England or Australia and you’ll write a masterpiece.

Travel Read: The East Highland Way hiking guide

hiking, Scotland, East Highland Way
Last year for my annual “Oh crap another birthday I need to prove my youth” long-distance hiking adventure, I chose Scotland’s East Highland Way. It runs 78 miles from Ft. William through some beautiful countryside to Aviemore. The route had just been created by hiker Kevin Langan, and was so new there wasn’t a guidebook. Kevin was kind enough to send me maps and a summary preprint of his book and I set off. Check out the link above to follow my adventures.

Now Kevin’s book has been published by independent Scottish publisher Luath Press, Ltd. The East Highland Way is a detailed guide to the route with lots of information on wildlife and history. It’s also richly illustrated with clear maps and photos of Scotland’s beautiful countryside. Full disclosure: I contributed several photos. I didn’t ask for payment, and I don’t receive any royalties. I gave Kevin free photos because I believe in promoting this trail.

I’ve never read a guidebook after going somewhere, yet this strange experience didn’t diminish my enjoyment. Kevin gives lots of detail about side trips I missed and information about Scotland’s nature I wished I’d known before I headed out. I highly recommend the book. Of course, if you’re planning on hiking this route there’s no other book about it, so my recommendation is unnecessary, but it’s nice to know the only game in town has been well played.

The East Highland Way starts at the junction of the West Highland Way and Great Glen Way, both very popular (some would say too popular) routes. It ends at the start of Speyside Way, another popular route. If you want an enjoyable hike that isn’t overrun by walkers, consider the East Highland Way. When I went last year I hardly bumped into anyone. The only other person I heard was doing the hike was a German guy walking a day ahead of me. I never caught up with him and that’s just fine. I loved having the Highlands to myself.

Books! Travelers share what to read on the road

book, books
There’s nothing like a trip for catching up on your reading. Even if you’ve filled your schedule with dawn-to-dusk sightseeing, there are still quiet moments at the hotel or by the pool, not to mention those long flights. So what’s best to read while traveling? On Saturday I’m heading to Harar, Ethiopia, for two months, so this has been on my mind. I asked a bunch of seasoned travelers what’s in their pack. Their suggestions fall into several overlapping categories.

Disposable
Most agree it’s best to bring books you don’t feel the need to bring back. Not only does this give you a chance to pick up something unexpected at a book exchange, it also frees up space for souvenirs. You can also give reading material away, as Catherine Bodry explains, “I always treat myself to magazines at the airport (People, Runners World, Oxygen, Nat Geo Traveler, etc.) and I usually stockpile a few issues of the New Yorker from the weeks prior to a trip. They also make great gifts if I’m headed to a censored country like China!”

Entertaining
Some people go for light, unchallenging reads. Annie Scott Riley says, “I’ll finish anything I’m already reading; usually fiction, but anything I start on vacation has to be just for fun. For example, the Chelsea Handler books, anything Dave Barry, Chuck Klosterman. I guess I like some pop culture commentary to assess what I’m getting away from.”

Educational
Many well-heeled travelers bring books that teach them about the places they’ll see. Mike Barish says, “While in Hawaii earlier this month, I read Blue Latitudes about Cook’s voyages in the Pacific Islands.” Laurel Kallenbach says, “It can be nice to read Yeats in Ireland, Shakespeare in England. I lived for a few weeks in the French village of Ferney-Voltaire, so I read Voltaire’s Candide there–and then toured the author’s castle.”

Variety
Many people like to have a variety of books. Mary Jo Manzanares finds her ereader handy. “Before leaving I load it up with a bunch of books from a variety of genres, then I can pick and choose what to ready while on the road. I like a variety of reading–something light for the airplane or on the beach (a mystery or chick lit), something historical when I’m on site, and I can also read blogs, magazines, and newspapers on it as well. Last year while staying in the middle of a vineyard in Tuscany I saw that one of my favorite authors had just released his new book–just a minute later I was able to download and read it. Best of all, I can take all this reading with me and take up no space at all.”Small
With ever-increasing baggage fees, it’s best to bring something small. I prefer mass-market paperbacks, leaving the hefty hardbacks at home. Like Manzanares, Gadling cruise correspondent Chris Owen saves space with ebooks. “On cruises, we read a book a day so long sailings required separate luggage just for the books. iPads changed all that, especially now that our local public library offers books online too.”

So what’s in my pack?
English language books are in limited supply where I’m going, and many tend to be foreign imports at Western prices, so I’m bringing a two-month supply. They are:

Nostromo by Joseph Conrad: A thick, fast-paced classic in a mass market edition that I can leave behind. I can always find another copy.

Eating the Flowers of Paradise: A Journey through the Drug Fields of Ethiopia and Yemen by Kevin Rushby: A fascinating study of qat, the drug of choice in the Horn of Africa. It’s impossible to understand the culture without understanding qat.

The Bible: I’m an agnostic, but as a professional historian I can’t ignore one of the most influential books ever written. I haven’t read it for more than a decade so it’s due for a reread, especially since I’ll be spending most of my time in a Muslim town. Muslims read the Bible too, and I just reread the Koran last year.

Thus Spake Prophet Muhammad: These selections from the Hadith are in a tiny little edition I picked up in India. It can’t hurt to brush up on my knowledge of Islam if I’m going to live in a Muslim town.

Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre: Hararis are a philosophical bunch, and I rarely pick up this sort of heavy reading when I’m at home working. I’m sure someone over there will want it when I’m done.

The Best Stories and Tales of Leo Tolstoy: This is actually an Ethiopian edition I picked up when I was last in Harar. I’m nearly done with it but I want to give it to a friend.

Articles about Harari history and culture: I printed some of these out and have dozens of them on a thumb drive if I want to print out any at an Internet cafe. I also made copies onto two CDs for some Harari friends.

Amharic dictionary and phrasebook

Brandt Guide to Ethiopia

What do you bring to read on the road? Share your bookish habits in the comments section!

Travel Read: Surviving Paradise

If you have any friends who’ve taught English in a foreign country, you’ve heard some sob stories–the trouble of simultaneously dealing with culture shock and a new job, the students who just don’t get it, the adverse conditions at school. . .the list is as long as there are ESL teachers.

Peter Rudiak-Gould
has them all beat.

Right after turning 21, Peter went to spend a year on Ujae, one of the more remote atolls in the remote Pacific nation of the Marshall Islands. This tiny island has a population of 450 people and he could walk around it in less than an hour. He arrived speaking virtually no Marshallese and quickly discovered his students were equally lacking in English.

So how does one teach a class of students when there is no shared language and the culture has no tradition of classroom learning?

Badly, at first. But Peter rallies quickly, and as he adapts to the culture he’s immersed in, we’re right along with him. His ability to learn the island’s subtle and alien language shows a deep intelligence and no small amount of desperation, and he shares some fun linguistic tidbits. For example, the eleven words for coconut, ranging from kwalinni (just beginning to grow on the tree) to uronni (ready to husk and drink) all the way to jokiae (turned into a sapling). There are also 159 coconut-related terms, like emmotmot, the sucking noise you make when you drink green coconuts.

There are the usual traveler-out-of-his-depth stories, some of them hilarious, and all of them teaching something about the culture rather than simply whining about discomfort and lack of modern amenities. Peter’s greatest shock was to find out he wasn’t going to be living on a tropical island paradise. No grass huts, no luxurious food, just concrete shacks, noisy children, and nightly Nintendo marathons courtesy of the local generator.

Braving shark-infested waters and falling coconuts, our hero forges ahead with his teaching. He comes to understand and respect these very different people while not being blind to their flaws, and fear for what would happen to them if sea levels rose just a few inches and ate away their island. Surviving Paradise is more than your typical traveler’s tale–it’s a look at a culture that might literally vanish beneath the waves, and also a look at Peter growing up. Perfect for the traveler or English teacher in your life.