Traveler staffers Marilyn Terrell and Janelle Nanos were lucky enough to get a visit from travel writer and Vagabonding blogger Rolf Potts the other day for lunch. Naturally, given our shared interest in writing and travel, the conversation turned to books. We asked Rolf to suggest a few favorite bookstore he's come across during his travels to round out our bookstore coverage this week.
In 15 years of near-constant global travel, I've found bookstores to be both a psychic sanctum and a destination in themselves in faraway places. I seek out bookstores not just to find more information on the host destination, but to take a "time out" from that destination, and enter into a more cerebral zone. Below is a very subjective list of some of my favorite bookstore locations and destinations around the globe:
1) Powell's Books – Portland, Oregon
I've never seen a bookstore anywhere in the world quite so extensive and fascinating as this "City of Books," which takes up an entire block in Portland. I went to college in Oregon, and spent many hours on weekends wandering the stacks here, or attending author readings. Powell's also has an excellent online bookstore if you're just interested in shopping, but visiting the physical store is an experience in itself. Wandering the extensive corridors of books can easily burn off the better part of a day.
2) Shakespeare & Company – Paris, France
This bookstore isn't in the same Left Bank location as its legendary Lost Generation-era namesake, but it does uphold its legacy as a first-rate bookstore that attracts the English-speaking literary community in Paris. I teach a creative writing workshop at the Paris American Academy each July, and our annual readings at Shakespeare and Company are a highlight for students. One interesting side note is that literary travelers are actually able to sleep in a makeshift dormitory inside the store in exchange for working in the shop a couple hours each day (see photo).
3) Book Passage – Corte Madera, California
I can hardly speak objectively about Book Passage, since I've been a panelist at their Travel Writers and Photographers Conference, and since the store hosted a terrific author event for me on my Vagabonding book tour in 2003. Still, even an objective literature lover would fall in love with this San Francisco-area bookstore, which has a huge selection of books, and A-list author events happening almost daily.
4) Kinokuniya – Bangkok, Thailand
Kinokuniya is a Japanese chain bookstore that maintains franchise locations around Asia. When I was writing my book in a small southern Thailand town in 2001-2002, half the treat of traveling the ten hours up to Bangkok was a visit to the Kinokuniya Books outlet in the Emporium Shopping Center on Sukhumvit Road, where I could gorge on the kind of English-language books that were in short supply in more far-flung corners of Southeast Asia.
I grew up in Wichita, and both of these independent bookstores make great destinations for obsessive Kansan readers. Watermark sells new books, and hosts author readings on a par with any of the great indie bookstores nationwide. Eighth Day, which takes up two floors of an old Victorian-era house, sells both new and used books, and is a great place to just sit in a corner with a stack of books and read. Owned by Lebanese-Americans (who have been part of the Kansas business community for nearly a century), Eighth Day has a particularly good selection of Orthodox Christian and other religious-themed books.
Five more bookstores of note:
6) American University bookstore – Cairo, Egypt
7) Faulkner House Books – New Orleans, Louisiana
8) Kyobo Book Center – Seoul, South Korea
10) Most any bookstore in India, where English-language books are cheap,
plentiful, and (usually) tied into Indian culture, history and travel.
Photos: Powell's books (above), Janelle Nanos; Shakespeare and Company (below), nsca via Flickr.