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Celebrate Dad with a Literary Adventure Together

Looking for a creative Father’s Day gift? Think books-and-adventure. 

Scott and Mike Smith prepare for a Father’s Day father/son skydiving adventure at West Side Skydivers.

Say “literary travel” and people usually conjure up images of following in the footsteps of the Bronte sisters in England, visiting Ernest Hemingway’s home in Key West, or perhaps tracing the route of the fictional Robert Langdon through Florence in Dan Brown’s latest, Inferno.  Those are great ideas, but for most of us, such excursions mean a major investment of time and money.  Instead, I maintain that you can concoct a lit trip just about anywhere if you find the right book and activity combo.  A short lit trip doesn’t have to take a huge chunk of your budget or your schedule.  And it doesn’t require plowing through high-brow literature. The idea here is to have fun.

Like moms, fathers love spending time with their kids. Unlike moms, “together time” for dads may involve watching golf or ESPN. A lit trip with dad provides just the right catalyst to propel everyone away from watching sports on TV to watching events in person or better yet, participating. Reading the same book  (fiction or non-fiction) just naturally brings people together over shared stories and ideas. A literary adventure, near or far, extends the pleasure of sharing a book by adding an experience to the mix, creating an opportunity to live the book. So, it a lit trip doesn’t have to be a scholars exercise, just a way to try out new ideas, activities, and even meet new people.

At almost all of the events and appearances I do for my book Off the Beaten Page: The Best Trips for Lit Lovers, Book Clubs and Girls on Getaways, men come up to me and say I should do a book for guys.  Often, the books and itineraries in my book can be enjoyed by both men and women, so I imagine an Off The Beaten Page, Men’s Edition would offer much of the same sort of content but with a bit of fine-tuning… more NASCAR, less shopping.  Here are a few ideas for literary adventures for guys, dads and otherwise.

A Flying Leap

Is there something on dad’s bucket list that he just needs a little encouragement to try? Sky diving was on my husband’s list for ages and he finally talked one of our sons into going with him as a Father’s Day treat for himself.

Read: Above All Else: A World Champion Skydiver’s Story of Survival and What It Taught Him About Fear, Adversity, and Success by Dan Brodsky-Chenfield.  (Okay, I’m thinking you may want to go skydiving first, then read the book.)

Go: skydiving

How to Be Manly

Not so hot on extreme adventures like skydiving?

Read: Man Made: In Which a Dad Learns to Be a Man for His Son by Joel Stein. In man-made-coverhardback, this book had a title I liked better, A Stupid Quest for Masculinity. Stein confesses that he’s not a “manly man” and so undertakes an investigation of how to become one in this very funny book. Chapter One: “Surviving Outdoors”

Go:  camping or simply take a hike.

America’s Game

Baseball travel” is a favorite form of travel for many guys, with groups traveling across the country to tick off visits to both major league and minor league stadiums.  (Read my post on Major League Vacations.)

Read: Mickey and Willie: Mantle and Mays, the Parallel Lives of Baseball’s Golden Age by Allen Barra.  This new book had been well received by critics.

Go: Take in a baseball game together.

The Scene of the Crime

It’s no wonder that crime is one of the most popular literary genres.Unknown-9

Read: Revisit the classics, books like Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon or Raymond Chandler’s Farewell My Lovely. You just can’t beat those hard-boiled gumshoes. Or, pick up more recent classics like Michael Connelly’s The Lincoln Lawyer or Walter Mosely’s newest Easy Rawlins mystery, Little Green.

Go: visit the people in blue at your local police department.  Even small-town police departments offer some amazing behind-the-scenes tours and some even give you a look at offer their crime labs, ala CSI.

Grill n’ Chill

Cooking is a great creative outlet for just about anybody and there’s plenty of great food writing to go with it.

Read: Calvin Trillin’s The Tummy Trilogy or MFK Fisher’s classic The Art of Eating.Unknown-11

Go: take a cooking or grilling class together.

The sky’s the limit.  Just think book and “field trip.” For any dad, the memories of a literary adventure with his kids will stay with him far longer than a Hallmark card. If the kids are too young to share adventures with dad, you’ll want to check out the funny “Literature For Dads” video from The Dad Lab. They suggest avoiding Cormac McCarthy’s The Road–not an uplifting father-son travel idea.

AND–if you have any other book-and-travel pairings that a dad would like, please send them to me.  You can comment below, send links to favorite travel blogs, or email me at with your ideas.  I’ll add them to this blog. But be quick.  Father’s Day is June 16.

Gifts for Mom: Ten Book Ideas to Inspire A Mother’s Day Adventure

Give your mom the Mother’s Day gift she really wants: time with her kids and a good book.  

My 80-plus-year-old mother and I went sailing last year in Narragansett Bay while doing a Edith Wharton-related trip to Newport, Rhode Island. You can create a lit-trip just about anywhere, a great Mother’s Day gift.

It’s often a challenge to find an interesting way to celebrate Mother’s Day beyond flowers and candy, or maybe breakfast in bed.  But the gift of a good book and a book-based adventure to go with it makes a present any Mom will treasure.

Women love to bond over books. The popularity of book clubs proves that. But Moms and their kids—of any age—can also share the experience of reading a great book together.  Better yet, take reading a step further with a “lit trip,” based on the book. Meaningful time with her kids is the gift every mother wants.

My book, Off The Beaten Page: The Best Trips for Lit Lovers, Book Clubs, and Girls on Getaways offers reading lists and itineraries for three-day “lit trips” to 15 U.S. destinations. But it’s easy to create your own lit trip close to home, no matter where you live. Think “field trip” like the kind you took in school, only without the yellow bus and the sack lunch. Find a book topic that interests both you and your mother (or your kids), then think of place to go where you can experience the subject of the book in person. These don’t have to be high-brow or “girly” outings. We’re not talking reading Keats or Shelley and dancing the gavotte.  Here are a few of my ideas for Mother’s Day lit trips for readers, from young adults to the young at heart:

  1. For those who love horses or horse-racing- Read Laura Hillenbrand’s Seabiscuit
    Read Seabiscuit and head for the racetrack
    Read Seabiscuit and head for the racetrack

    and spend an afternoon at the track or visit a horse farm.

  2. For fans of “whodunits” – Read a book about an art heist such as The Gardner Heist: The True Story of the World’s Largest Unsolved Art Theft by Ulrich Boser or The Rockwell Heist by Bruce Rubenstein and visit an art museum.
  3. For history buffs – Read Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell (or ask a librarian for tips on great books about your local history) and visit an historical society, battlefield or landmark.
  4. For baseball fans – Read Bernard Malmud’s The Natural or Michael Lewis’s Moneyball and take in a game together.
  5. 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 and visit or volunteer at an event at your local humane society or animal rescue group.
  6. For the outdoorsy – Read Cheryl Strayed’s memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest  Trail and go take a hike.
  7. For music fans– Read an autobiography by a favorite musician or other book about music and take in a concert. Try 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.
  8. For cooks – Read Animal Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver or My Life in France by Julia Child and visit a farmers’ market or take a cooking class.
  9. For movie goers – Read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby or Therese Anne
    How does the movie compare to the book? Read the Great Gatsby and then take in the movie.  A great outing for Mother's Day.
    How does the movie compare to the book? Read the Great Gatsby and then take in the movie. A great outing for Mother’s Day.

    Fowler’s Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald and see the new Gatsby movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

  10. And, for moms who really do love flowers, read The Language of Flowers: A Novel, by Vanessa Diffenbaugh and go on an arboretum or garden tour.

Off The Beaten Page: The Best Trips for Lit Lovers, Book Clubs, and Girls on Getaways, published by Chicago Review Press, is available now in bookstores and online everywhere.

Off The Beaten Page Interview on Minnesota Monthly Blog

Minnesota Monthly recently posted an interview that Joel Schettler did with me about

Off the Beaten Page: The Best Trips for Lit Lovers, Book Clubs and Girls on Getaways is now on sale everywhere.
Off the Beaten Page: The Best Trips for Lit Lovers, Book Clubs and Girls on Getaways is now on sale everywhere.

Off the Beaten Page and literary travel.

“Designed for lovers of literature and travel, Off the Beaten Page: the Best Trips for Lit Lovers, Book Clubs, and Girls on Getaways, written by Edina resident Terri Peterson Smith, turns the power of a great story into a travel experience, taking readers on a tour of America’s most literary destinations. From a Mark Twain-inspired steamboat cruise on the Mississippi, to a walking tour of New York in the shoes of Holly Golightly from Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, detailed travel ideas and itineraries are crafted for 15 destinations across the United States that are featured in the works of famous writers—including an entire chapter on Minneapolis and St. Paul.

“I had opportunity to ask the author about her inspiration for the book, which will be published next week. Hear her speak in person on May 28 at Barnes and Noble at the Galleria in Edina beginning at 7 p.m.”  Read the rest of the article.

Dennis Lehane’s Boston

And speaking of Boston (see my last post), I want to emphasize how well Dennis Lehane’sbook books convey the Boston “voice,” and life in the tough, working class parts of Boston where he grew up. You may not want to actually spend your vacation in the Dorchester neighborhood, for example, but you can visit those places through Mystic River, Gone, Baby, Gone and his latest, Live by Night, which all make great reads before a trip to Boston and a nice diversion from the Freedom Trail.

I saw Lehane last week when he spoke at Pen Pals, the author series that raises funds for the Hennepin County Library system which serves the Minneapolis area. He’s one of the best speakers I’ve ever heard, mixing insightful literary observations, stories of his relationship with Clint Eastwood who directed Mystic River, writing for HBO’s The Wire, and hilarious anecdotes about his gigantic Irish American family.  He learned his storytelling expertise at family gatherings (and sometimes in bars) where his dad and his uncle told “true” stories that changed with every retelling.

You can see how his skills as a raconteur translate to novel writing, which he says is a much more difficult task than screen-writing. His novels, like his storytelling, incorporate great pacing, tightly wound plots, and characters drawn from the Boston streets. That’s one reason that Lehane isn’t, in my opinion typical of the crime genre where anyone with a laptop seems able to get published.  His work could better be described as well-crafted literary fiction…with a purpose.  One of his comments about fiction sticks with me: fiction is “the lie that tells the truth.”

On your way to Boston?  You’ll also want to pick up some of the books that Lehane suggested in a In  New York Times interview, which included classics such as The Friends of Eddie Coyle, by George V. Higgins, The Last Hurrah and The Edge of Sadness, by Edwin O’Connor, and in nonfiction, Common Ground, by J. Anthony Lukas. I also have scads of other Boston books on the reading list in Off The Beaten Page: The Best Trips for Lit Lovers, Book Clubs, and Girls on Getaways.


Major League Vacation: Baseball Books to Inspire Your Summer Travel

It’s 33 degrees here in Minneapolis, a might nippy for the Minnesota Twins Unknown-9home opener. I suspect there will be more hot coffee ordered in the stands than cold beer, and fans will wear hats and mittens instead of their usual sun screen.  Nonetheless, things will warm up soon and for lovers of Major League Baseball everywhere ‘tis the season to both take in a game and to check out the latest additions to the library of baseball lore.

The best baseball stories make great literature even if you’re not the most devoted baseball fan.  They’re always stories of moral crises, human foibles, victory, defeat, and ultimately the character of America. Minneapolis author John Rosengren has his own contribution on deck, just in time for the season opener, Hank Greenberg: The Hero of Heros.  Greenberg, a Hall of Famer, played in the 1930s and 40s, primarily as a first baseman for the Detroit Tigers (who incidentally, the Twins will play this afternoon). One of the great power hitters of his generation, he racked up home runs and RBIs the way Hillary Clinton has logged frequent flyer miles. But what Rosengren zeros in on, and what makes the story most interesting, is Greenberg’s integrity in the face of the intense religious and racial bigotry of the times. He was the first Jewish superstar in professional sports and played against the backdrop of the Hitler era, the anti-Semitism of Detroit’s Henry Ford, and that of his own teammates. Greenberg became the center of national attention in 1934 when he refused to play on Yom Kippur, though the Tigers needed him to win the pennant race. He was also among the first players to welcome Jackie Robinson to Major League baseball.

Rosengren will speak about his book at the National Baseball Hall of Fame  in Cooperstown, New York, on May 18, which brings me to the idea of baseball-related travel. He advocates Cooperstown as not only a must for baseball fans but also as an attractive and historic destination for those less passionate about the sport. While Cooperstown is mecca for baseball pilgrims, he also suggests a jaunt to the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory, an iconic place in baseball history.  Of course tons of people make visiting baseball stadiums across the country a priority for their summer travel.  Check out one of the best blogs I’ve seen about baseball stadiums as travel destinations, Yards of Summer, from another Twin Citian, Tyler Sachse. He offers reviews of the parks he has visited, some great photography from his trips, and his own list of recommended baseball reads.

So, all you boys and girls of summer…. indulge your passion with a few baseball field trips. And to enhance your travel, here’s a list of baseball books, both recent and classic, to pack along.

Babe: The Legend Comes to Life, Robert W. Creamer. Our most famous baseball player ever, in the context of his times.

Bang the Drum Slowly, Mark Harris. Baseball fiction, yes, but Bang the Drum has also been called “a haunting meditation on life, death, friendship, and loyalty.”

The Catcher Was a Spy, The Mysterious Life of Moe Berg, Nicholas Dawidoff. Berg is characterized as a strange fellow who was a professional ball player, a spy during World War II, and who ended his life in poverty.

Eight Men Out: The Black Sox and the 1919 World Series, Eliot Asinof. Lance Armstrong and his USPS team were by no means the first to shock and disappoint their fans. This book covers one of all-time biggest sports scandals, set against the end of World War I and the beginning of the Roaring Twenties.

Hank Greenberg: Hero of Heros, John Rosengren. See above.

Jackie Robinson: A Biography, Arnold Rampersad. The gripping story of the first African American man to in baseball, subject of the current film 42 The Movie.

Moneyball, Michael Lewis. The book behind the movie, the story of Billy Beane, manager of the Oakland A’s, and his struggle against the conventional wisdom of baseball management.

The Natural, Bernard Malmud. The fictional story of Roy Hobbs (remember the Robert Redford movie?), considered the best baseball book of all time.

October 1964, David Halberstam.  The 1964 World Series between the Yankees and Cardinals as seen against the social and political tumult of the 1960s.

Shoeless Joe, The Iowa Baseball Confederacy, and other books by W.P. Kinsella.  This author’ books combine baseball with a rich imaginary world. (Shoeless Joe was the inspiration for the movie Field of Dreams.)

You Know Me Al: A Busher’s Letters, Ring Lardner. The hilarious fictional letters of a bush league pitcher who blames everyone but himself for his failures.

Book Smart: The Discussion All Book Lovers are Having

I have to share this little video from today’s New York Times in which David Carr and A. O. Scott discuss print versus electronic books.  This is exactly the discussion that all book lovers are having right now.  David Carr is very funny.  He used to live in Minneapolis.

Reading the Oscars


Be sure to check out the L.A. Times great little “Literary Oscar Quiz” to get you primed for this year’s Oscars.  It’s always fun to read the book, then see the movie and it makes a great book group outing.

If you like the book/movie combo, you’ll and to (re)read one of my favorite books, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, now because the movie with Leonardo Di Caprio is coming out in May.  Will it be as good as the book?  How will it compare to the Robert Redford version? This Boz Luhrmann version certainly seems to have a harsher edge than the earlier movie. Check out the trailer.

Book Club Traveler is now Off the Beaten Page Travel

It’s been quite a while since my last post because I’ve been hard at work on a forthcoming book entitled Off the Beaten Page: The Best Trips for Lit Lovers, Book Groups and Girls on Getaways, which will be out in May.  The book explores the idea of literary travel– what it is, how to plan lit trips large and small, and 15 of the best places in the U.S. for where you can both explore the settings of great books and have a great time with friends. I’m starting the new year with a new blog, Off The Beaten Page Travel, which will work in conjunction with the book, serve as a place to update lit lovers on my literary travel adventures as well as a forum where readers can share their ideas, too.

I have moved the content from Book Club Traveler to this new blog, so if you’re a subscriber to BCT, please subscribe to Off the Beaten Page Travel (  You’ll find both the information from the last couple of years along with new and frequently updated thoughts on reading and travel. The goal will remain the same as my tagline says, “Travel to the places you’ve read about. Read about the places you travel.”