Join Off the Beaten Path in welcoming Terri Peterson Smith, author of Off the Beaten Page: The Best Trips for Lit Lovers, Book Clubs, and Girls on Getaways. Smith will take us on a tour of America’s most fascinating literary destinations and will provide inspiration and suggestions to plan your own literary getaway.
Chef Gavin Kaysen has a reputation, not only for his cuisine and his award-winning new restaurant Spoon and Stable in his hometown, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He’s also known for his collection of spoons—and how he obtains them. His collection was the inspiration for the the name of the new restaurant (along with the fact that it’s located in a former horse stable built in 1904), which was a 2015 James Beard Award finalist for Best New Restaurant.
He scours second-hand shops for spoons, others he has received as gifts from friends and from other restaurants because of his spoon-loving reputation. Others he has, well, pocketed. Sterling to to wrought iron, for Kaysen, it’s not just a collection of spoons, it’s “a collection of memories.”
The lure of spoons began for Kaysen when he was a 21-year-old pastry chef in Lausanne, Switzerland, learning to make the perfect quenelle of ice cream. On his days off, he used beef fat to practice making the elegant oval scoops. When he finally mastered the technique he kept the spoon he was using as a memento.
Kaysen continued that habit of spoon pilfering. For him, they offer a tangible memory of an experience whether is was a great meal, outstanding service or a beautiful dining space.
Woohoo! Off The Beaten Page: The Best Trips for Lit Lovers, Book Clubs, and Girls on Getaways has received a 2014 Independent Publisher Book Award. Off The Beaten Page received a silver medal in the travel category, one of 78 National Category medals known as “Ippys,” chosen from about 4,000 entries.
Inspired by “field trips” with the author’s own book club, Off The Beaten Page offers a literary look at fifteen U.S. destinations as seen through the works of famous writers. The book takes readers on a lively tour of some of the most fascinating places in the U.S., combining a love of literature and a quest for a good time with friends. Off The Beaten Page helps readers not only extend the experience of a great book but also to gain a greater understanding of the people and culture in the places they travel.
Featured destinations include Newport Rhode Island, New York City, Boston, Charleston, Miami Beach, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Chicago, Memphis, New Orleans, Boulder Colorado, Austin Texas, Santa Fe New Mexico, Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
The Eiffel Tower is one of the most famous monuments in the world, which means it has
been photographed at every possible angle and every time of day since construction began in 1887. But I’m not so interested in telling you about the Eiffel Tower as I am in letting you know about an an app that that I’ve had great fun playing with, Waterlogue, which turns photos into some pretty cool watercolor painting-like images. It works on any Apple iPhone, iPad or iPod touch that is running iOS version 7 or great. You download a photo, and apply one of Waterlogue’s filters. And, Voila!
As a result, my photo, which is just like those that millions of other tourists have taken, now looks a little different. Give it a try. There are some serious crafty possibilities.
The most famous travel books have been written by men: Travels with Charley, On the Road, and Blue Highways, to name a few. But women have been “on the road,” too, and not just Route 66.
I love reading books about women’s adventures. I especially like funny stories, with plenty of travel mistakes, misadventures, mix-ups. And, I appreciate most the stories that weren’t inspired by trauma, bad boyfriends, dead or abusive husbands, or the authors’ search for new love. Eat…pray…you know what I’m talking about. Instead, I go for the stories that were simply rooted in a woman’s daring and love of adventure. Here are a few favorites.
A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains, Isabella Bird
The amazing Isabella Bird was an Englishwoman who lived a life of continual travel and was, as a result, the first woman to be elected the the Royal Geographic Society. She came to Colorado in 1873, three years before it became a state. She traveled solo through the wilderness and covered more than eight hundred miles during her journey around Colorado, which she described in letters that she wrote to her younger sister in Scotland. The letters were published in 1879 as A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains, part travelogue, part memoir, part character study of the people who settled on the frontier, especially “Mountain Jim,” a handsome trapper and desperado with whom she was fascinated. Bird was also one of the first of a genre that we now call “environmental writers.”
By Motor to the Golden Gate, Emily Post Emily Post was a travel writer. Who knew? This book is a reprint of articles originally published on Colliers Magazine seven years before she became famous for her book on etiquette. In 1915, Post documented her New York-to-San Francisco road trip investigating whether it was possible to drive comfortably across the country an automobile. That was a valid question since few women of her Gilded Age background did such daring things and because she was driving on the Lincoln Highway, this country’s first transcontinental highway.
The Wilder Life, Wendy McClure
Do you travel to visit places where you can pursue hobbies or a particular interest? Wendy McClure sets the bar high for anyone who travels in pursuit of a particular passion. In her case it’s Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie books and her effort to re-create “Laura World” for herself. She investigates the settings and activities that have made several generations of young readers flock to the Little House books and to the sites across the Midwest where they took place. See my article my previous post on this book and my article, Novel Destinations, for my own encounter with Laura World.
The Good Girls Guide to Getting Lost, Rachel Freidman
We’ve read plenty about bad boys on the road; Jack Kerouac is the most famous. That’s why it’s nice to learn that good girls like Rachel Friedman can take risks and open themselves to great new experiences. She goes to Ireland on a whim where she forms a friendship with a free-spirited Australian girl, a born adventurer, who spurs her on to a yearlong odyssey that takes her to Australia and South America, too, and learns to cultivate her love for adventure.
No Touch Monkey, Ayun Halliday
If you’ve ever made grievous errors in judgement while traveling, you’ll relate to Halliday’s experiences, which she doesn’t hesitate to share— from hygiene to intestinal problems to a collagen implant demonstration during Paris fashion week with her mother.I enjoyed her sarcastic writing style, her impressive globe-trotting, and her openness to adventures that wouldn’t even occur to me. She’s a witty observer of the details that most travelers see but forget about. For example, the title comes from a sign she saw in Bali with rules to assure “your enjoymen and safety” including: “Never grab a monkey. If a monkey gets on you, drop all your food and walk a way until it jumps off.”
Dogs. If you love them, you’ll appreciate the stories that follow. If you don’t like dogs or
are an extremely fastidious person, you should stop reading now and wait for my next post, which will undoubtedly be more literary and appropriate. However, when such great stories come my way, I must share them. I thought this was going to be an April Fool’s story, but it’s true…
The weather is warming up here in Minnesota and a winter’s worth of dog poo is thawing out of the snow right now. Cleaning up that nasty stew of poo is an annual ritual for local dog-owners, and the other day my friend who has two Golden Retrievers raked up three huge bags of dog poop. Because you don’t want such foul things festering in your garage, she put the bags by the garage door waiting for garbage day. The following day (not garbage pick up day) the bags disappeared. She couldn’t figure out what would have happened to them…..
until she saw the receipt from a local charity thanking her for her donation.
Of course, I’ve been repeating this story all over, which has led to other people telling me their embarrassing and slightly gross dog stories. I heard one from a friend in NYC. Her German shepherd died and the only way she could only think of to get it to the vet was in a large roller bag. She was held up on the street and the robbers took the bag! Surely, that’s the definition of karma.
Please, please, send me any great embarrassing dog tales you have. Click below to send your comment. I love to hear (and share) them.
And now, because you may be grossed out, because you came to this blog expecting something literary, and because April is National Poetry Month I’m going to elevate our discourse by sharing a dog poem by one of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver, from her book Red Bird.
Percy and Books
Percy does not like it when I read a book.
He puts his face over the top of it, and moans.
He rolls his eyes, sometimes he sneezes.
The sun is up, he says, and the wind is down.
The tide is out, and the neighbor’s dogs are playing.
But Percy, I say, Ideas! The elegance of language!
The insights, the funniness, the beautiful stories
that rise and fall and turn into strength, or courage.
Books? says Percy. I ate one once, and it was enough. Let’s go.
When it comes to Valentine’s Day, sometimes women just have to drop a few hints to help their sweeties kindle a little romance. Though well-intentioned, those boxes of chocolate you received mid-diet and the ill-fitting lingerie didn’t really cut it. If he wants to rack up the romance points this Valentine’s Day, tell him to to take a page from your book club and give you the gift of a literary adventure together: wrap up a book that you both will read with a romantic little note promising a trip related to the book. Now that football season is over, isn’t it time to do something you want to do?
The great thing about this is it means he’s venturing into your territory. But, it might be a little scary for him. You’ve probably noticed that he makes a quick exit to the basement or runs off to the local sports bar whenever the book club meets at your house. He scurries away to avoid all that talking, sharing of feelings, and general estrogen overload. So how can he expose his sensitive literary side without having to turn in his “man card?”
Rest assured, these don’t have to be high-brow or girly outings. The secret is to find a book topic that interests both of you, then think of a place to go where you can experience the subject of the book in person. Books have the power to bring people together over common ideas. When you travel together, even to a destination in your own town, you also bond over new, shared experiences. Literary travel offers the best of both, with a chance for couples to talk, share ideas, and most importantly, laugh together.
Here are a few reading-and-travel pairings to inspire your Valentine getaway:
For Beach Lovers–Read:Skin Tight, Bad Monkey or or any of Carl Hiassen’s zany books about life in southern Florida. If you’re golf lovers, check out Hiaasen’s The Downhill Lie: A Hacker’s Return to a Ruinous Sport, his hilarious commentary on golf. Go: South Beach, Miami, Florida.
For Baseball Fans–Read:Bernard Malmud’s The Natural or Michael Lewis’s Moneyball Go: Take in a spring training game together.
For Those Interested in Native American Culture– Read:Laughing Boy: A Navaho Love Story by Oliver LaFarge Go: Santa Fe, New Mexico. It doesn’t get more interesting or romantic than Santa Fe.
For Music Lovers–Read: Cash: The Autobiography; Blues All Around Me by B.B. King; or Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon and the Journey of a Generation by Sheila Weller (or a biography of any favorite musician) Go: Mosey down to Austin, Texas. SXSW (South by Southwest) Music, Film and Interactive Festival is March 7-16 this year, but music abounds in Austin any time of year. Be sure to try a little two-steppin’.
For Wine Lovers–Read: M.F.K. Fisher, Musing on Wine and Other Libations Go: Explore the vineyards of California’s Napa and Sonoma counties. For fans of another type of grape, The Grapes of Wrath (which has absolutely nothing to do with wine), take a side trip to the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas.
But lit trips don’t need to be far from home. Here are a few ideas to whip up a little romance with a book-based adventure no matter where you live.
For Art Lovers–Read:Dance Me to the End of Love, a “picture book for adults” that combines the poetry of Leonard Cohen with the art of Henri Matisse. Tres romantic. Go: Visit an art museum. If you live in Minneapolis, the Minneapolis Institute of Art is featuring “Matisse: Masterworks from The Baltimore Museum of Art: February 23-May 18.
For history buffs–Read: Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell (or ask a librarian for tips on great books about your local history) Go: Visit a local historical society, battlefield or landmark
For Animal Lovers–Read: Temple Grandin’s Animals Make us Human or Julie Klan’s Love at First Bark: How Saving a Dog Can Sometimes Help You Save Yourself Go: Attend a dog or cat show, or volunteer together at an event for your local humane society or animal rescue group
For the Outdoors–Read: Cheryl Strayed’s memoir, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail Go: Take a hike
For people who love to cook–Read:My Life in France by Julia Child Go:Take a cooking class
It’s National Reading Day. I believe we should all celebrate by taking the rest of the day off to read more books. If that doesn’t work for you, I want to share a great article from Charles Blow at The New York Times called “Reading Books Is Fundamental,” a follow up to my previous post. It brings tears to my eyes when he talks about his first experience buying something for himself–a book. “That was the beginning of a lifelong journey in which books would shape and change me, making me who I was to become.” It also brings tears to my eyes when he talks about how few people read books today.
Was there a children’s book or series of books that made you a dedicated reader? A life-changing book? Was there a book that made you wish you could go explore the story in person? Share your favorite children’s book below in the comments section.
If you love to read, chances are you were lucky enough to have someone who read to you early in your life. I remember how special it felt to cuddle up next to an adult and open the pages of a book and listen to the stories. Like Marco, the young fisherman in my favorite book, Dr. Seuss’s McElligot’s Pool, who gazed into the pool and imagined all sorts of
fabulous creatures, I felt like there was just no telling what you might find in in the pages of each new book.
Reading leads to a richer life, beyond imagination and entertainment. Children who are read to become skillful readers themselves. Skillful readers do better in school. In fact, if you want your children to do well on their SATs, make sure they read a lot. Even more basic, reading plays a crucial role in brain development and language skills. As I mentioned in a previous post about the children’s literacy program at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, studies show that low reading skill and poor health throughout life are clearly related.
Finally, the stories that we read at an early age connect us to each other, set the stage for our curiosity about other people, other places, and open us to the larger world. For children’s reading advocates it’s intuitive, but scientific studies have recently shown a link between reading and empathy. That’s why I’m excited that that Minneapolis author Kate DiCamillo has been named a National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. The author of Because of Winn-Dixie and The Tale of Despereaux will work to raise awareness of issues related to reading and children’s literacy. She recently told the PBS NewsHour, “I want to remind people of the great and profound joy that can be found in stories, and that stories can connect us to each other, and that reading together changes everybody involved. …Story is what makes us human.”
But enough of the serious stuff. Children’s books are fun, even for adults. When I was in New York City in December, I got a chance to literally wander through the pages of several classic children’s books in a terrific exhibit at the New York Public Library. On display until March 23 their exhibit, “The ABC of It: Why Children’s Book Matter” draws on the library’s collections to present literature for children and teens against a sweeping backdrop of history, the arts, popular culture, and technological change. They’ve created an Good Night Moon room, which was clearly a favorite with the young adults I saw
wandering the exhibit. According to NYPL, “The books and related objects on view reveal hidden historical contexts and connections and invite second looks and fresh discoveries. They suggest that books for young people have stories to tell us about ourselves, and are rarely as simple as they seem.”
I always laugh when I hear how differently people speak in each part of The United States. Truly, we are like many countries in one, each with a wildly distinctive world view, food, music, and a unique vocabulary and way of speaking, especially here in Minnesota, where I live.
Colin Woodard explains how this came about in his book American Nations: A History of the Eleven Regional Cultures of North America. He says, “There isn’t and never has been one America, but rather several Americas.” Consequently, he says, “Any effort to ‘restore’ fundamental American values runs into an even greater obstacle: Each of our founding cultures had its own set of cherished principles, and they often contracted one another,” which explains so many of our political difficulties.
However, as a traveler, these differences make visiting the various regions of the U.S. a real cultural experience and a lot of fun. So pick up your soda, or pop, or Coke and enjoy this video from The Atlantic on the way we Americans talk.
Travel to the places you read about. Read about the places you travel.