Breathless in Boulder, Colorado

Boulder rocks, as they say, especially if you’re outdoorsy, a foodie, or a ghost aficionado. Within easy reach of downtown Boulder there’s a great variety of outdoor activity, though at 5430 feet, a brisk walk taxes the lungs of flatlanders like me. Slow and steady, plus a lot of water, does the trick. You also have to pace yourself with eating to stretch out the enjoyment.

Hit the Trail
Try the hikes that start at Chautauqua Park, at the base of the Flatirons, the symbol of Boulder. This is also rock climbers’ heaven.

While you’re there, visit the Colorado Chautauqua House, a historic landmark that began with the turn-of-the-century movement educate and enlighten working-class citizens by creating gathering places dedicated to learning. Known as Chautauquas, the public spaces offered a place for traveling lecturers, politicians, writers and entertainers to deliver their message to large crowds. In continuous operation since July 4, 1898, the Colorado Chautauqua is one of only three remaining Chautauquas in the country. Today, it is home to concerts, cultural events, educational programs, recreation and historic preservation. The cabins here look like a cozy place to stay and the dining hall comes highly recommended.

You can hit the trail on wheels, too. Rent bikes and hit the Boulder Creek Trail, which for me was slow ride up and a very fast ride down. It’s also fun to cruise the beautiful campus of University of Colorado, and then stop for a beer outside at a huge array of downtown bars and eateries. For further relief from all this exertion—and to sooth knotty muscles–an afternoon at the spa at the luxurious St. Julien Hotel is just the tonic. The hotel offers Sunday morning yoga, too.

Foodie Fare
Bon Appetit named Boulder the “foodiest town in American” in its October, 2010 issue.
To sample some of the reasons why Boulder topped the list, stroll the Farmers Market then grab coffee, tea, breakfast or lunch at the fabulously detailed Boulder Dushanbe Tea House, a gift of Boulder’s sister city Dushanbe in the Republic of Tajikistan.
From 1987 -1990, more than 40 artisans created the decorative elements of the Teahouse, including its hand-carved and hand-painted ceiling, tables, stools, columns, and exterior ceramic panels. My other favorite dining experiences: Salt and The Kitchen, both located on Pearl Street.

Bookish in Boulder
Pearl Street is also home to a number of independent bookstores, with both new and used books. I like the Boulder Book Store with its café next door. While you’re there, check out Boulder: A Sense of Time & Place Revisited by Silvia Pettem.

Finally, if all this doesn’t make you breathless, perhaps a good fright will to the trick. Fans of Stephen King’s book, The Shining, will want to make a trip to Estes Park (a drive of about 45 minutes) for a look at the Stanley Hotel, King’s inspiration for the book. They offer The Stanley Hotel Historic Ghost Tour. For anyone planning to stay in this lovely hotel, they assure visitors that the spirits there aren’t as malevolent as those in the novel.

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"Little Bee" and the National Reading Group Month Book List

October is National Reading Group Month, which in my opinion should really be a year-round celebration. The National Women’s Book Association sponsors events and activities during the month. Part of the mission for NRGM is to increase public awareness of the joy and value of shared reading. Each year they prepare a list of featured books that are excellent suggestions for book groups. See
http://www.nationalreadinggroupmonth.org/ggr_selections.html

One of my book clubs is currently reading a book from that list, “Little Bee,” by Chris Cleve. Thinking in terms of relationship between literature and travel, this book inspires the armchair variety of travel.   The story revolves around a British couple and a Nigerian girl and their brutal experience on a lonely beach in Nigeria.  Not to give too much away but the novel was published in Britain with the title “The Other Hand.” While I love adventure travel, some destinations are best visited through the pages of a book.

Franzen and Fitzgerald in St. Paul

I just finished Jonathan Franzen’s book, “Freedom,” much of which is based in Minnesota, particularly, St. Paul. Anyone visiting St. Paul can walk through many of the areas that set the stage for the opening chapters of the book. That includes the restaurant W.A. Frost, which offers world-class outdoor dining, and it’s a place where my book club meets annually for dinner, conversation, and to soak up the ambiance in a neighborhood rich in literary tradition.

This is the neighborhood where Franzen’s characters, Walter and Patty, get their start, renovating a house on the fictional Barrier Street which is, in reality, St.Paul’s Ramsey Hill neighborhood. It’s also the place where F.Scott Fitzgerald grew up (Frost’s was a drug store then) and where he worked on his first novel, “This Side of Paradise,” along with classic short stories. Check out the St. Paul Public Library’s Fitzgerald “Homes and Haunts” itinerary http://www.stpaul..ib.mn.us/pdf/fitzgeraldbrochure.pdf

Fitzgerald is known as the chronicler of the Jazz Age. One wonders if Franzen, who, in “Freedom” chronicles the cultural flashpoints of the last three decades, will have the staying power of Fitzgerald.

Splitting the Tab Made Easier

One of the most annoying and embarrassing features of traveling with a group is paying up at a restaurant.  Separate checks?  Did everyone ante up the right amount?  She has two drinks and I had none…. (Okay, I admit, it’s often women who do this.)

It’s not just dining out.  The problem of booking and paying for things as a group—things like theater tickets, tours, or group lessons is usually a headache, no matter how organized the group.  One interesting alternative to this hassle is a new service called WePay.com The online service lets groups settle expenses without the hassle and without toting around large amounts of cash. It allows people to set up shared online banking accounts and simplify the process of collecting and spending, group money.

Here’s how it works:  You open an account, add everyone who will pay in, and set the amount due.  When all have paid in, We Pay allows one person, the group administrator, to spend the money via a prepaid debit card, electronic transfer or a request that WePay send out a paper check. Group members can see who paid or not and make comments on the account site and shame nonpayers into paying, which, depending on your sense of humor, could be a lot of fun.

Of course, WePay makes money from your transactions. It collects fees from money deposited into the accounts: 50 cents per deposit when the account only accepts collections from bank accounts and 3.5 percent of the deposits when the account accepts collections from both bank accounts and credit cards.  Still, paying the tab in such a hassle-free fashion might be worth it.   www.wepay.com

A Literary Taste of Chicago

 

Chicago History Museum

 

I was in Chicago last weekend for a writers conference and ventured out into the sweltering heat for a trip to the Chicago History Museum www.chicagohistory.org/

For anyone who has read just about any story that takes place there (Erik Larson’s Devil in the White City, Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie, Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, and on and on), this museum reinforces that reading experience with relics, tours, special exhibits and more—everything from the Great Fire to meatpacking, the World’s Fair to a great collection of historic wedding dresses. My favorite quote on the wall there is from Mayor Richard Daly in 1968:  “This is Chicago, this is America.”

Also, this is the city of the first skyscraper, and buildings so high that, in the words of Carl Sandburg, “They had to put hinges on the top two stories to let the moon go by.” The history museum and the Chicago Architecture Foundation offer boats tours on the Chicago River that blend architecture, history and a chance to be out on the water. http://caf.architecture.org/

Happiness and Meaningful Conversation

Anyone looking for scientific understanding of why book clubs are so popular, check out the July issue of Scientific American Mind. An article entitled “Skip the Small Talk: Meaningful Conversations Linked to Happier People” reports on a study of the relationship between conversation and happiness. It quotes one of the co-authors of the study, University of Arizona psychologist Matthias Mehl who says “the mere time a person spends in the presence of others is a good predictor of the person’s level of happiness.” According to the study, the happiest subjects also participated in a third as much small talk and had twice as many in-depth conversations as the most unhappy participants.

Of course, if you’re in a book club, you already knew that.

Read about the study online at http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=skip-the-small-talk

Book Festival Buzz

It’s hard to think about fall in the middle of July.  However, if you’re thinking of traveling to a book festival, now is the time to start planning.  Here’s a partial list of book fairs and festivals across the country that will whet your appetite, along with a bit of information from their Web sites.  Not all have their schedules completed.

Decatur Book Festival
 www.decaturbookfestival.com/2010/index.php

September 3-5 2010, Decatur, Georgia

An annual, free book festival that takes place over Labor Day weekend in Decatur, Georgia at several venues located in and around the downtown Decatur Square. Conceived in 2005 and launched in 2006, the festival brings more than 300 authors to Decatur for the holiday weekend. The authors give readings, talks, and panel discussions. The event is free and open to the public. Will feature Jonathan Franzen, National Book Award-winning author of “The Corrections;” Diana Gabaldon, New York Times bestselling author of the Outlander series; and Joyce Maynard, author of “To Die For.”

Brooklyn  Book Festival www.brooklynbookfestival.org

September 12, 2010

In celebration of the Festival’s fifth anniversary, the Brooklyn Book Festival “Bookends” Partnership—made up of cultural institutions and performance venues—will present literary-themed events throughout Brooklyn on Friday, September 10; Saturday, September 11; and the day of the Book Festival on Sunday the 12th. Notable authors scheduled to participate in the 2010 Brooklyn Book Festival include Russell Banks, Michael Connelly, Paul Krugman, Joyce Carol Oates, Lauren Oliver, Esmeralda Santiago, Jon Scieszka, Rebecca Stead, Colson Whitehead and Jacqueline Woodson.

National Book Festival www.loc.gov/bookfest

Saturday, Sept. 25, Washington, D.C.

The 10th annual National Book Festival, organized and sponsored by the Library of Congress, will be held on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., between 3rd and 7th streets from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Wisconsin Book Festivalwww.wisconsinbookfestival.org

September 29-Oct 3 Madison, Wisconsin

This unique event inspires book lovers from across the region to spend a weekend in downtown Madison and transforms State Street into a vast, public literary salon.  This year’s festival will explore the theme of BELIEFS

Southern Festival of Books www.decaturbookfestival.com/2010/index.php

October 8-10 in Nashville, Tennessee

The Festival annually welcomes more than 200 authors from throughout the nation and in every genre for readings, panel discussions and book signings. Book lovers have the opportunity to hear from and meet some of America’s foremost writers in fiction, history, mystery, food, biography, travel, poetry and children’s literature among others.

Twin Cities Book Festival www.raintaxi.com/bookfest/

Saturday, October 16,  Minneapolis, Minnesota

This day-long autumn gala gathers the Twin Cities book community to celebrate and promote our region’s literary culture. It creates a unique opportunity for the great variety of area publishers, editors, book artists, writers, scholars, and critics to present their work and words.

Texas Book Festivalwww.texasbookfestival.org

October 16-17, 2010  Austin, Texas

The Texas Book Festival celebrates authors and their contributions to the culture of literacy, ideas and imagination. It was established in 1995 by First Lady Laura Bush, a former librarian and an ardent advocate of literacy. Approximately 40,000 visitors participate annually in a weekend of author readings and presentations, panel discussions, book signings, and musical entertainment at the State Capitol in Austin.

Miami Book Festival Internationalwww.miamibookfair.com

November 19-21, Miami, Florida

An eight-day “literary party” featuring six nights of readings and discussions with noted authors from the United States and around the world. During Street Fair (Nov 19-21), more than 250 publishers and booksellers exhibit and sell books, with special features like the antiquarians, who showcase of signed first editions, original manuscripts and other collectibles.

Have you been to any of these?  Any other book festivals coming up you want to share?

Travel to the places you read about. Read about the places you travel.