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Happy Thanksgiving! — Which Book are you most Thankful for?

November 28, 2013 in American Authors, American literature, Classic Writers, Holidays, Holidays Literary Traveler, Staff Post

Thanksgiving is a great time to reflect on all of the things we are grateful for.  Our families and friends certainly top the list, but if this were a game of Family Feud, a survey of the Literary Traveler staff would be sure to reveal books in the top five answers on the board. So, this Thanksgiving, we are giving thanks to the books we are most grateful to have read. This book may not necessarily be our “favorite” book, but one that has stuck with us, shaped us, changed our world view, incited our passions, or provided us comfort.

Join us as we give thanks, and be sure to share with us the book you are most thankful for in the comments.  Happy Thanksgiving!


Antoinette Weil — The Giver by Lois Lowry — Choosing a book that I’m most thankful for was a difficult task as there have been so many that have touched me in some way; captured my imagination, caused sleepless nights or distraction-induced sunburns at the beach, made me privy to different ways of life, brought me to tears or to laughter. In thinking about a book that was not just a favorite, but one that I consider a gift, I had to look back to my childhood. The Giver is one of the first books I remember reading. It certainly was not the first book I read, but it may be the first that stuck with me. I read this Newbury Award-winning piece of children’s fiction in the fourth grade, then again last year after seeing it on a family member’s bookshelf and being unable to resist. Unlike many children’s books, the plot didn’t seem dumbed down to me, nor was the simple language off-putting. I appreciate this book just as much now as I did when I was a child, if not more, because I can better grasp, as an adult, what drew me into the story of Jonah, the chosen receiver.

The Giver is a story of a seemingly perfect society, where all pain, grief, malice, and negativity are nonexistent. By creating a culture of uniformity, with assigned families, homes, jobs, even birthdays, they have eradicated poverty, disease, war. But along with it, as Jonah discovers, they have depleted civilization of many of the beauties and joys that arguably make life worth living. Color, the warmth of the sun, love, all of these treasures withheld from everybody except for Jonah, who is assigned to receive and hold these memories. I’m thankful for this book because it sparked my love for dystopian themes. But more so, I’m thankful to this story for demonstrating to me at a young age the dangers of conformity and for driving home the importance and great value of independent thinking. It showed me that well-established notions and popular practices aren’t always the right ones, and that even the most carefully crafted way of life is far from perfect. And, perhaps most importantly, The Giver portrays individualism as the difficult choice that it truly is.


Amanda Festa — “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman — While it is technically not a book, I would say that if I was to choose a piece of literature that I am most thankful for, it would be Gilman’s haunting short story, which impacted me as much in 6,000 words as any novel I have read since. I remember reading Gilman’s words as an undergraduate and being fascinated by how much is packed into such a short story, with so few characters and a narrator who is not even given a name. Because wasn’t that one of the points? This short story served two important purposes for me. First, it sparked an analytic fire inside of me, that unquenchable hunger to think critically about the choices writers make, the culture and time they were a part of, and how each element connects to make the words mean something bigger. Second, Gilman’s short story awakened (Chopin pun intended) my interest in feminist literature and prompted me to make it a part of my studies. Making the connection between feminism and literature was huge for me, because it in turn deepened my individual appreciation for both. I am fascinated by the image of women in art, whether it be literature, film, television, or pop culture. I think it’s really interesting to look at how one shapes the other, and how it has changed throughout the years. And, I owe it all to Gilman — and subsequently Chopin, Wharton, Woolf, Barnes, etc. etc. A brief tale of a nameless turn-of-the-century woman driven mad by the color of her wallpaper? Or so much more.


Matthew Nilsson — Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut — During a brief phase of my life as a child I enjoyed waking up early. As part of my morning ritual I would walk out to the porch and grab the newspaper. The first thing I did was find the Arts and Entertainment section and flip to the back where the comics were housed. As I chewed and slurped my cereal I would pour over my favorite strips and often do my best to find the humor in each as I knew I’d eventually go over the day’s jokes with my dad when he got home from work. My mother, on the other hand, could rarely be found with a newspaper in her hands. She opted instead for literature. A new stack of plastic-sheathed hardcovers would appear near the front door weekly. Unsurprising given my mom was on a first name basis with the staff at the town library and trips there were always looked at with elation.  And so, more often than not, I found that opening a book was the easiest way to escape the world I sometimes seldom wished to find myself in.

It took until I was in my early teens for these two lessons to fully merge into a single concept—that reading was both a way to be taught as well as entertained—but when it did I found myself closing the final pages of Kurt Vonnegut’s seminal Cat’s Cradle. The final images of Bokonon lying on his back thumbing his nose at “You Know Who,” left me confirming—or at least buttressing—my existential feelings that we might really be totally, unequivocally without guidance in this life. That experience has led me to further questions and answers which have shaped my philosophy and heavily contributed to me being the person I am today. For this I am grateful.


Wesley Sharer — Paprika by Yasutaka Tsutsui — This is a bit of an odd one for me since the majority of my reading is either Shakespeare, Austen, or Dickens (I’m basically a walking, talking English major stereotype), but the book I’m most thankful for is Yasutaka Tsutsui’s Paprika. Three summers ago, I quit smoking cold turkey and spent my first three days of withdrawal in another world where the borderline between dreams and reality become unclear. I joined Dr. Atsuko Chiba as she tried to cure Tatsuo Noda of his chronic anxiety, while I attempted to overcome anxiety of my own. Psychotherapy machines used to enter another person’s dreams are captured by terrorists who plan on controlling the real world by taking over the dream world. As dreams become reality in the story, my own reality became the fantasy land which springs to life from the pages of this wonderful novel. The immersive writing and captivating world of Paprika helped me escape from the dull pain and discomfort of the more difficult days of quitting.


Loretta Donelan — The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster — A book that I have long been thankful for is The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. Whenever I am feeling like a Milo, and life seems a bit bland and meaningless, I return to this children’s classic. Reading about Dictionopolis and Digitopolis always makes me grateful to be a student, and the happy ending comforts me and gives me hope when I’m down. Also, every time I reread it I discover some clever joke or wordplay that I hadn’t noticed before. My favorite part? When Milo gets into a car and is instructed to be quiet because the car “goes without saying.” I’m grateful to be able to keep returning to The Phantom Tollbooth.


Alyssa Smith Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl — Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was the first novel I read entirely on my own and it helped me realize how much I loved to read. It was probably the most memorable part of 1st grade. I was amazed that being completely engrossed in a story that took hours and hours to get through could be so much fun. I became the kid who couldn’t help reading during meals and play dates. At my first job after college as an assistant Kindergarten teacher, I shared my fondness for the story by reading Dahl’s novel to my rowdy students during lunch. Thankfully, they were similarly spellbound throughout each reading and I was able to bond with the kids over Charlie’s zany adventure.


Book Bound! (Two Weeks Remaining!)

May 29, 2013 in American literature, announcements, Classic Literature, Classic Writers, Kickstarter, Literary News

Derby Square Bookstore, Salem, MA

By Antoinette Weil and Amanda Festa

Books are not obsolete and reading isn’t dead.  It seems that everything is tech this and i-something or other and YouTube and Vine and Twitter. We love our social media connections as much as the next person, but we can’t lose touch with the tangible. People still read, people still love their favorite books from childhood and from adulthood, and people, although they may not have all the time in the world, still want to get that reading fix. We think that THIS is what sets us and our project apart. We are going back to books, back to great authors, taking the time for you to get to know these stories and places. Promoting reading, promoting travel, promoting exploration, the sharing of ideas. There are many, many people in today’s society who are tired of the constant surge of technology taking over everyday life. Sick of their beloved bookstores closing. We are doing this for them, for people like us who enjoy the story behind our beloved literature. We’re bringing books to life, and that’s something.

We have two weeks left to reach our funding goal on Kickstarter.  Please support our project and, in turn, our passion.  Every dollar helps us get closer to our goal, and every dollar shows that there are people out there who would like to see this project be made.  If you are a reader, if you enjoy the feeling of a creased and worn book in your hands or the smell of a library or independent bookstore, then this project is for you.  If you have the travel bug, and you treat it with long doses of wandering, whether it is done on the road or from the comfort of an armchair, then this project is for you.  SO take a look at our Kickstarter page, explore the posts written by contributors whose excitement and enthusiasm for this project is incredible, and if you enjoy what you see, please get involved, donate what you can, and spread the word to all kindred literary travelers.

Fauxscar Nominee: Les Misérables

January 7, 2013 in Classic Literature, Classic Writers, European Writers, Fauxscars, Film, French Authors, History, Literary Movies, Literature, Movies, Political History

Strictly speaking, Les Misérables is not a Literary Adaption; it’s based on the musical, not the Victor Hugo novel. The story has traveled far since it was first published in France. It’s always been a big, hulking phenomenon, and it’s always had its critics. What demolishes the criticism, however, is its emotional forcefulness. And the funny thing about the criticism of each successive adaption, is that it tends to focus on the new version’s faithfulness to the original, despite the fact that the novel was criticized at the time for being sentimental – unfaithful to reality itself. Flaubert deemed it “infantile” and Baudelaire privately called it “tasteless and inept.” But in the preface, Hugo outlined a social purpose for his book that was greater than literary accomplishment:

So long as there shall exist, by reason of law and custom, a social condemnation, which, in the face of civilization, artificially creates hells on earth, and complicates a destiny that is divine, with human fatality; so long as the three problems of the age—the degradation of man by poverty, the ruin of women by starvation, and the dwarfing of childhood by physical and spiritual night—are not solved; so long as, in certain regions, social asphyxia shall be possible; in other words, and from a yet more extended point of view, so long as ignorance and misery remain on earth, books like this cannot be useless.

In 1862 when Les Misérables was published, the American civil war was being fought over the emancipation of slaves. The noble hero of the book, Jean Valjean, is an ex-convict whose unnatural strength reveals his identity as a former galley slave. He is on the run for most of the film, trying to build a better life as a factory owner, and then stepping up to the role of adopted papa of the orphaned child Cosette. The film of Les Misérables, though based on the musical (it uses all the songs from the 1985 musical bar two) goes where the stage production cannot in portraying the misery of the poor peasants – and in this it rejoins the book. I’ve rarely seen a ‘costume’ production, where the cast is made to look as filthy and downtrodden as this. Most of the characters’ teeth are blackened – though I did notice that Hathaway’s angelic Fantine flashes a cleaner set than some of the lesser cast members. Also Helena Bonham Carter is allowed to get away with her usual steampunk, hallucinatory version of historical costume. This role finds her once again as a flouncy, amoral proprietress of a low dive establishment, even making sausages out of suspect bits of meat, just as she did in Sweeny Todd.

Aside from the comic filthiness of Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen, there’s no getting around the sentimentality of the movie and its antecendents, the musical, the book, and numerous film adaptions. But because it’s a musical, a version of willing suspension of disbelief sets in. Call it, “willing suspension of cynical running commentary” (we’ll wait ‘til the movie’s out on Netflix to relax our standards on that). But it’s more than that. The movie packs real emotional weight, especially through the performances of the leads. No one could fail to be moved by Anne Hathaway’s performance of “I Dreamed a Dream.” While they’re delivering their soliloquys, the shots are trained on the characters’ faces – often from above, as if to capture the desperation and abandonment which makes them invoke a higher power. By the time Hathaway’s Fantine bows out of the film, she is a broken woman, shorn of her locks and her dignity; the camera does not flinch from describing the dirt and tears on her face.

Hugh Jackman is also a great, sympathetic lead as Jean Valjean, and Samantha Barks is a sad, forlorn Eponine.  Eddie Redmayne and Amanda Seyfried are fairly wooden, but as the fairy prince and princess characters, they don’t have much to do besides adorn the happy ending.

Overall ‘Les Miz’ works because of its great cast rather than originality – but really, who was looking for that? It manages to stay true to the form of the musical – and to the intentions of the book: to portray the victims of poverty. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if some of those soliloquys bag a few Oscars for the leads.

Fauxscar Nominee: Anna Karenina

December 18, 2012 in Book Review, Classic Literature, European Writers, Fauxscars, Leo Tolstoy, Literary Movies

Great film adaptations of classic novels are all alike; every junk Hollywood movie is terrible in its own way. Which way will the 2012 adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina go? We don’t know yet, but I can guess.

The 2012 adaptation of the tragic romance was released at the Toronto Film Festival, and so far, reviews have been mixed. Some critics have praised director Joe Wright’s “bold new structure,” which highlights the theatrical nature of the novel by setting most of the action on a stage, but others have called the thoroughly modern version of the Russian love story flat, even emotionally distant. The Hollywood Reporter goes so far to complain that “whereas the book is sprawling, searching and realistic, the film is constricted, deterministic and counterfeit.”

It’s particularly disappointing to read this review (and others like it) because I love Anna Karenina, and re-read it quite frequently, probably every other year. The 900-page novel is a massive undertaking, and I have to admit I often pick and choose which scenes I focus on. Some—like the lengthy descriptions of Levin farming—are tedious and forgettable. But others, particularly the scene when Anna enters the ballroom in her black, low-cut dress, sparkling and pale like a diamond, transform the way I view the world. They make me look in the mirror differently, searching for traces of aristocracy in my own winter-pale face. They make me consider the terrifying and all-consuming nature of love, and the many ramifications of betrayal.

Though I do want to see Anna Karenina, I can’t help but feel that no movie could truly do that book justice. I also wonder whether Keira Knightly, who has been cast as Anna, will be able to live up to the role. I always imagined Anna as voluptuous, lush and gorgeous. Keira is certainly beautiful, but she lacks a richness that infuses Tolstoy’s Anna. More than just pretty—a compliment more aptly applied to the girlish Kitty—Anna is rich, poised and erotic. Jude Law, cast in the role of her somber, dry husband, might seem like the more shocking choice, but Law has shown a great range in the past few years. I’m interested to see what he can do with a character I never liked and often skimmed past.

The trailer, too, gives me some hope. It’s beautiful to watch, and while some might worry about style over substance, I happen to love a perfectly choreographed film. It doesn’t hit theaters until November 16, but I can assure you, I’ll be watching.

World Book Night 2012

April 22, 2012 in Literary Festivals, Literary News

This Monday, April 23marks the first annual World Book Night in the United States.  Started in the UK last year, World Book Night is an extension of World Book Day, which is in its fifteenth year and is celebrated in over one hundred countries.  World Book Day was originally started by UNESCO and according to their website was conceived as “a worldwide tribute to books and their authors…encouraging everyone, and in particular young people, to discover the pleasure of reading and to gain a renewed respect for the extraordinary contributions of those who have furthered the social and cultural progress of humanity.”  The date, April 23, was chosen in particular for its literary importance, as it marks the birth and/or death of many famous writers including Miguel de Cervantes and William Shakespeare.  The date also has historical significance, coinciding with St. George’s Day.  Fittingly, in Catalonia, Spain, the day is marked by the giving of roses and books to loved ones, with the incantation, “a rose for love and a book forever.”

Similarly to this beautiful tradition, the giving of books is the backbone of World Book Night, which is modeled after a World Book Day event in the UK, which sends “tokens” to schools –redeemable only on World Book Day for a free book at participating bookstores.  Started last year in the UK, World Book Night is a spin off of sorts, geared to adults, and while the moniker would suggest an after hours celebration, World Book Night is an all day event.  Instead of sending out tokens to schools, World Book Night relies on volunteers to act as “givers.”  The givers choose their favorites from the thirty titles selected to take part in the event; this year’s choices range from Maya Angelou’s classic I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings to pop culture phenom The Hunger Games and 28 other titles with a variety appropriate for both older teens and adults.  The givers will receive twenty copies of one title and on April 23 will go out into their communities to give away the books free of charge.  The event is made possible through the generosity of volunteers, who give their time, but also the authors, who do not receive royalties, and the publishers and printers, who produce the books free of charge.

As the premise of World Book Night is to promote reading in adults who are not typically avid bibliophiles by nature, givers are expected to go to places off the beaten path for readers.  Instead of schools and libraries, they will set their sights on shopping malls and train stations.  One New Providence, NJ giver spread the word through The Alternative Press that they will be outside of a local Dunkin Donuts handing out copies of The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.

Almost 80,000 givers have been secured world wide and will distribute 2.5 million books on Monday.  The United States makes up 25,000 of those generous volunteers, spread over 6,000 cities and towns.  While it is too late to get involved this year, visit the website and add your name to the mailing list so that during next year’s event you can personally help spread the literary love.  For now, remember, if you are out and about on April 23rd and see someone in front of your local coffee shop handing out books, smile, wave, and wish them a Good (World Book) Night!



Top Five English Language Bookshops in Europe, Curated by Tyler Moran

February 20, 2012 in English Language Bookshops, Travel

Photo by Michael Cavén

When traveling Europe by train, one is subjected to many hours of butt-numbingly cramped quarters with only miles upon miles of countryside sameness to stimulate the mind. There’s not much to do besides watch the wooded hills and rolling farmlands melt by through dingy glass. Thusly, the literary traveler must be properly equipped. Armed with an absorbing novel or a rollicking history, the literary traveler can vanish an eight-hour leg into nothing.

For experienced readers, eight hours can translate into hundreds of pages. By the time you’ve arrived at your destination, you’ve finished the book, read the about the author and closely studied the copyright information. But never fear! Go find your lodgings, relieve yourself of your bags, refuel with the local fare, check a few items off your sightseeing list and then it’s time to reload. Europe’s major cities are home to some of the world’s finest bookshops. But unless you speak the native language, they’re not all going to work for you. However, the following list of shops definitely will. So, fellow book hunters and European travelers, I bequeath to you five of the choicest English language bookshops.

1. London Review Bookshop 14 Bury Place, Bloomsbury, London

In a neighborhood full of wonderful hole-in-wall bookshops, LRB is surely Bloomsbury’s finest for both popular and academic books. Just a block from the British Museum, this well stocked shop is one to get lost in. Take a seat in one of the plush armchairs and choose your next destination as you flip through their impressive travel section. If you’re lucky, you’ll stop by during one of the frequent literary discussions or lectures put on by the shop’s friendly, passionate and somewhat cheeky staff. When I remarked on the fine condition of the shop’s older volumes, the cashier winked conspiratorially and murmured that he had a first edition of Darwin’s “Origin of Species” in the back room.

Purchases: Just one: a woodblock sized volume of Edward Gibbon’s seminal work, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. After all, I didn’t want to get bogged down with paper so early in the trip.

2. Shakespeare & Company 37 Rue Bûcherie, Paris

o Okay, so this isn’t exactly an insider’s pick, but the location and ambience of this world famous bookseller cannot be topped. Located on Paris’ Left Bank, a short walk from Île de la Cité and Notre-Dame Cathedral, Shakespeare & Co. is the literary traveler’s ideal break from a leisurely stroll along the Seine. Founded in 1951 by American George Whitman, who lived upstairs until his death in December 2011, the shop became a bustling epicenter of local literary and artistic activity. Whitman was an eccentric, free-spirited fellow who described the name of his shop as a “novel in three words.” Shakespeare & Co.’s bohemian atmosphere attracted the likes of famous Beat poets Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs, who likely slept in one of the 13 beds kept onsite for travelling writers, artists and literary enthusiasts.

Purchases: With the long haul to Berlin looming large, I picked up two novels: Paul Auster’s novel, Man in the Dark and James Ellroy’s crime fiction, The Big Nowhere.

3. St. George’s Bookshop 27 Wörtherstrasse, Berlin

As I talked up fellow travelers at hostels and pubs looking for the inside track on the next city’s best English bookshops, St. George’s in Berlin was consistently and emphatically promised as one of the best I would ever set foot in. Located in the heart of the fashionable Prenzlauer Berg district, St. George’s is primarily a used bookstore but you will find its staff more than happy to make a special order if you are seeking something new or rare. Due to its trendy location, St. George’s staff and clientele is decidedly hipster, yet determinatively friendly. So even if you’re a self-professed square like I, and you amble in wearing a fanny pack with your sandals and socks, and possess nary a tattoo or piercing, rest assure you’ll still be welcomed as the second coming of Lou Reed.

Also notable, the easy-going staff allowed me free reign of the rolling ladder used to reach the floor-to-ceiling stacks: a virtue in today’s liability-worried world. Thanks to St. George’s lax safety policy, I ended up with a few gems from the top row.

Purchases: Kurt Vonnegut’s, Galapagos, David Mitchell’s, Cloud Atlas, and Steven E. Ozment’s, A Mighty Fortress.

4. The Globe Bookstore and Café Pštrossova 6, Prague

Though only founded in 1993, The Globe’s interior reeks of history. The building that houses this charming bookshop is over 120 years old and possesses vaulted ceilings that dwarf the jammed shelves below. The cashier’s counter is a giant slab of oak riddled with the swirls and knobs of old age. It is easy to imagine the counter flipped on its side, doubling as the door to a medieval monastery. The Globe is a great place to meet Prague’s American expatriate community who frequently drop by for the bookshop’s well-liked book readings and film screenings. Behind the shop’s dense, labyrinthine main floor is a lovely café, which is the perfect place to retire with your purchases. The menu is a delicious and fun mix of Eastern European-American fusion with a selection of Czech beers so rich and tasty it’s worth dusting off the old “nectar of the gods” cliché.

Purchases: In what was perhaps the most physically debilitating purchase of the trip, I picked up A Dance with Dragons, the gargantuan 5th novel in George R.R. Martin’s wildly popular fantasy series. I think I saw someone reading one of them in every country I visited that summer.

5. Paperback Exchange 4R Via delle Oche, Florence

I stumbled upon this quaint and quiet shop by accident. After climbing Il Duomo in temperatures exceeding 90 degrees, I was desperate for a place to cool down. The Paperback Exchange appeared before me like mirage, its signage promising both air conditioning and half-priced paperbacks. Done and done. With a vast collection of art theory and art history books, this shop is a must for Florence’s many visiting Brunelleschi, Caravaggio and Michelangelo aficionados. The Exchange in the shop’s name comes from the staff’s willingness to accept your old, well-loved books in exchange for store credit.

Purchases: Ross King’s, Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling.

Well, fellow book hunters, we have come to the end of this list. I hope you all get to peruse the shelves of one (or all!) of the aforementioned bookstores someday soon. As for me, I am still battling back pain from lugging my badly misshapen pack which, due to my inability to pass up a good find, had begun to spring rectangles in the oddest places. Until next time, happy travels!


The Best of the Best of 2011: A List

December 24, 2011 in American literature, children's literature, Contemporary Literature, Fantasy Literature, Literary Books 2011, New Writers

Artwork by Dan Park

Jeffrey Eugenides, Artwork by Dan Park

There are a heck of a lot of “Best of 2011” lists coming out this week. There’s the best music, the best films, and, of course, the best books. But with so many “best of” lists, put out by practically every blog, magazine, and newspaper around, it’s hard to tell which books really came out on top.

But fear not! After combing through some well respected sources’ “best of” lists, it was clear which books were the real winners. The lists consulted included those compiled by Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus Review, National Public Radio, Barnes & Noble, The Economist, Paste Magazine, Slate Magazine, Goodreads, the Washington Post, the Washington Examiner, the Village Voice, the Los Angeles Public Library, The New Republic, Amazon, The Horn Book, Esquire, and The New York Times.

There were, of course, books that made it onto just one or two lists, but to really be the best of the year, a book’s got to make a bigger splash than that. Therefore, the books that made it onto three or more of these lists are posted below on this compilation of what may as well be called “The Best of the Best Books of 2011”:

The Top 15 Fiction Books:
1. The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
2. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
3. State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
4. Open City by Teju Cole
5. The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht
6. A Dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martin
7. Train Dreams by Denis Johnson
8. 11/22/63 by Stephen King
9. The Submission by Amy Waldman
10. The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
11. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
12. The Tragedy of Arthur by Arthur Phillips
13. Swamplandia! by Karen Russell
14. The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
15. The Pale King by David Foster Wallace

The Top 13 Nonfiction Books:
1. Blood, Bones, and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton
2. Blue Nights by Joan Didion
3. The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt
4. Bossypants by Tina Fey
5. Townie: A Memoir by Andre Dubus III
6. In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson
7. Hemingway’s Boat by Paul Hendrickson
8. The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood by James Gleick
9. Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
10. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
11. Catherine the Great by Robert K. Massie
12. 1861: The Civil War Awakening by Adam Goodheart
13. Charles Dickens: A Life by Claire Tomalin

The Top 11 Young Adult Books:
1. Divergent by Veronica Roth
2. The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
3. Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
4. Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
5. Blink & Caution by Tim Wynne-Jones
6. Beauty Queens by Libba Bray
7. Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol
8. The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler
9. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente
10. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
11. Chime by Franny Billingsley

The clear favorite of critics is The Marriage Plot, which shows up on seven different lists. Additionally, 1Q84, Divergent, and Blood, Bones, and Butter all made it onto six. It goes to show how diverse readers’ (and editors’) tastes are across America. Clearly, though, there’s still common ground, and if you’re looking for a good book to devour this holiday season, chances are you’ll find plenty of worthwhile material on this list.

Coming To Terms With The E-Reader

August 24, 2010 in amazon kindle, ereader review, ereader technology

Screen shot 2010-08-24 at 4.52.11 PMI’ve heard critics of the e-reader mention everything from the death of book publishing to the strain on our eyes as their reasons for eschewing this new technology.  They scoff at the tidy little devices, the Kindles with their bland gray screens and the flashy gloss of the iPad.  They aren’t interested in seeing what should be–in their opinions–carefully tucked away behind a mussed-up cover all splayed out on a screen.  Like all Luddites, they cling fruitlessly to their books and magazines, holding out their paper products for all the world to see.  Look, they cry, I still read, as though the very act of reading were somehow compromised by the lack of pages.

You might wonder why I describe the book traditionalists in such specific yet derogatory terms.  This is probably because I still number myself among the masses.  But I am slowly changing.

The change began months ago, when I received a Kindle as a Christmas present.  I did not fall instantly in love.  There were aspects I liked, but the idea of a little square of plastic replacing all my boxes of books?  Well, that just didn’t seem possible.

However, I am beginning to see the beauty of the Kindle, to understand the allure of reading off a screen rather than a page.  With one click, I can buy the book recommended by an overzealous friend.  My Kindle offers instant gratification–not to mention the ability to read whatever I please (I admit I have more than a few literary guilty pleasures), free from the judgment of the subway-riding populace.

Oddly, my Kindle also has brought me closer to strangers.

We tend to believe in the isolating powers of technology, but recently I’ve come to see that new gadgets can be excellent conversation starters.  And I am not alone in this observation.  Yesterday, The New York Times ran an article suggesting that e-readers weren’t a sign of the impending downfall of human interaction, but rather another way to open lines of communication between strangers.  Furthermore, they argue, e-readers are just plain cool:

“I think, historically, there has been a stigma attached to the bookworm, and that actually came from the not-untrue notion that, if you were reading, you weren’t socializing with other people,” Dr. Levinson said. “But the e-reader changes that also because e-readers are intrinsically connected to bigger systems.” For many, e-readers are today’s must-have accessory, eroding old notions of what being bookish might have meant. “Buying literature has become cool again,” he said.

I don’t know whether my Kindle signals to the rest of the universe that I’m a hip, modern bookworm.  But it could scream nerd for all I care.  I’m slowly evolving from book-lover to simply word-lover, and the change feels great.  So, go ahead, ask me about my Kindle.  Just don’t ask me what I’m reading–it might be kind of embarrassing.

Reading Mark Twain On A Summer Day

July 2, 2010 in Uncategorized

Image via AmazonToday, in honor the holiday and the long weekend, I’ve decided to forgo Friday links and instead focus on one of my favorite American authors: Mark Twain.

For a lot of people, “summer reading” means one of two things. Either they’re referring to the mandatory “great books” assigned by High school English teachers or they’re talking about the light, “trashy,” less-than-literary novels commonly termed “beach reads.”  But when I hear the term “summer books,” I think about something else entirely.

For me, a summer book is one that I return to over and over, one that breathes heat out of its pages and soothes with its particular brand of fantasy.  These books feel carefree – reading a summer classic is about as satisfying as climbing a tree, or diving into a swimming hole.

My all-time favorite summer book is The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, though Huck Finn comes in at a close second.  These novels perfectly capture the mischievousness of childhood, the excitement and the continual yearning for freedom.  They speak to a part of me that still sometimes secretly longs to run away from home and join a circus, or a band of traveling musicians, or just float lazily down a river, ignoring all of my other responsibilities.  With his sharp wit and ability to capture the local color perfectly, Twain transports me back to a different time, one that only appears simpler at first glance.

Another reason I love Twain has less to do with his characters and more to do with the setting.  Twain is an American Author.  He is quite possibly the quintessential American Author.  Not only does he write in that hilarious, rambling, biting-yet-kind voice that feels so American, he also manages to inject each of his novels all the beauty of our country while remaining authentic.  He does not sugar-coat his books; childhood is not a perfect place, free of tension.  Tom and Huck may not be aware of the great injustices of the world at the beginning of their journeys, but as they grow and progress, they come to see our world for what it really is.

This July 4th, do America proud and pick up a book by one of our many great authors.  If Twain isn’t your cup of tea, how about some Faulkner?  Or Melville?  (May I suggest Benito Cereno?)  Or, if you don’t have that much time, check out one of our articles on Mark Twain, which include A Revealing Interview with Terrell Dempsy, Author of Searching for Jim: Slavery in Sam Clemens’s World, Mark Twain in Unionville, Nevada, and Finding Mark Twain’s Hannibal.   You can also search for other American authors at

Happy reading!

Connecting the Dots: Under the Tuscan Sun, New Moon, and a Visit to Montepulciano

May 1, 2010 in Uncategorized

Photograph by Deborah DownesI am, it must be said, a good patriot.  I love my country and adore all things American.  However, America, beautiful as it may be, lacks a certain something. We might have wilderness and amber waves of grain, but our melting pot mentality makes a unified national character somewhat harder to obtain.

Not that I am complaining; I am thoroughly convinced that the United States is one of the most wonderful places in the world.  However, I occasionally feel a certain twinge of jealousy when reading about the historic centers of the so-called Old World.  As much as I adore our purple mountain majesty, I sometimes suspect that Europe has cornered the market on majestic.  There is a grandeur conferred on buildings and squares by age and the slow weathering of time that no amount of modern mechanics can ever recreate.

Today Literary Traveler has added a new feature article to our website, titled Sun & Moon in Montepulciano, Under The Tuscan Sun & New Moon Film Locations. In this piece, writer Deborah Downes journeys to a hill town in southern Tuscany to see the sights immortalized in two famous films.  Both movies (and both books) center around an American woman visiting Italy, traveling through the crowded city streets and learning her way around the new landscape and culture.  Although very different, New Moon and Under the Tuscan Sun share more than just a setting – they also share a sense of adventure, the over-brimming of excitement that comes with the exploration of an ancient place, and the somewhat contradictory feeling that stems from the discovery of something new.

Join us in Italy this May Day by taking a look at our newest feature article.  Not only did Downes teach me a thing or two about Italian history, but she also takes her readers on an imaginative journey through the snaking alleyways and winding streets of Montepulciano.  For those of us unable to travel across the Atlantic, this is the perfect weekend getaway.  Just try not to get lost.

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