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A New Kind of Guidebook: A Geek in China {Review}

A New Kind of Guidebook: A Geek in China {Review} | CosmosMariners.com

Part travelogue, part guidebook, and part pictorial, A Geek in China: Discovering the Land of Alibaba, Bullet Trains, and Dimsum is Matthew B. Christensen's love letter to this vast Asian nation.

While I love travel guides of all kinds (what's not to love about the winning combo of books + travel?!), there are some that really capture my imagination: ones with stunning pictures, personal anecdotes, and actionable advice for delving into the culture. As soon as I pulled A Geek in China out of the box, I was stunned--the full color cover is eye-catching and covered in pictures. It's completely different than the covers of Fodor's, Rick Steves, and Lonely Planet, and it pops out of my collection of travel guides with its vibrant colors.

5 Italian Vacation Spots with Literary Flair

5 Italian Vacation Spots with Literary Flair | CosmosMariners.com
{title card modified from flickr | creative commons}
Italy is best known for its incredible food, rich history, and distinctive architecture. However, this sun-soaked European country has also been beloved by writers--both from Italy and elsewhere--for centuries. If you're looking to add some literary history into your upcoming Italian vacation, you'll want to make sure that you visit these incredible spots!

The Literary South: A Book Lover's Road Trip Itinerary

The Literary South: A Book Lover's Road Trip Itinerary | CosmosMariners.com

Confession: I am a bibliophile.

As a kid, I would hide for hours in closets, in bathrooms, and in trees to read my latest treasures from the library. As an adult, I don't get that luxury as much as I'd like to, but I still try to sneak in as much face-to-book time as my writing, blogging, and toddler will allow.

In college, I started out as in philosophy (since I was told that was a good major for future law students, as I was at the time), but lasted a semester before I switched to English. Thank you to the genius who created the English major, so that I could read and learn and nerd out on novels and short stories and essays for a living!

Beowulf, Books, and Ghosts: Haslam's Bookstore, St. Petersburg, Florida

Beowulf, Books, and Ghosts: Haslam's Bookstore, St. Petersburg, Florida | CosmosMariners.com

It doesn’t look like anything special as you drive past, just a painted brick storefront on an otherwise nondescript street. 

But if you turn into the parking lot and venture into the building, you’ll realize that you’ve found something that’s anything but ordinary. 

Beowulf, Books, and Ghosts: Haslam's Bookstore, St. Petersburg, Florida | CosmosMariners.com


Haslam’s Bookstore, located on Central Avenue in St. Petersburg, Florida, is the Southeast’s largest independent bookstore. I’d found a brochure for it while we were out and about elsewhere in the area and immediately put Landon on high alert that we would be making a visit during our time on the Gulf Coast. 

He’s not quite the bookworm that I am, so it helps my cause if I give him some time to adjust to the possibility of wandering around a bookstore for more than five minutes. 

After a good breakfast the next morning (so we’d all be in tip-top shape for our book looking), we piled in the car and headed into St. Petersburg. Landon, who really is a great husband, commandeered our toddler so I could have free reign of the bookstore exploration. 

At exactly 10:02 AM (yes, we were totally those people who came in right as they opened), we barged through the doors, ready to riffle through some pages and find a new treasure. 

Beowulf, Books, and Ghosts: Haslam's Bookstore, St. Petersburg, Florida | CosmosMariners.com
So many books, so little time.


Well, one of the three of us was. I’ll let you guess which. (Hint: It was the former college lit professor amongst us.)

The lovely smells of old books, paper, excitement, and the promise of new things met me at the door—as did two of the sales associates. When one of them saw Britton, he said, “Come meet Beowulf!” 

Despite what you might think, he wasn’t trying to make a new fan of Old English literature, but rather introducing my daughter to the store’s resident cat. Britton, who loves all animals to a ridiculous degree, glommed onto the front desk in an attempt to make best friends with Beowulf. 

The store assistant made Britton’s day (and perhaps her entire year) when he let her feed Beowulf not one, but three cat treats. I’m not sure who was happier—my kid or the cat. 

Because of that warm welcome, we spent most of the rest of our trip like this:
Landon: Hey, Britton, do you want to read this book?
Britton: No. Pet Kitty!
Me: Hey, Britton, let’s read this book. 
Britton: No! PET KITTY! PET KITTY! (dissolves into overwrought, obviously fake crying)
Me: Britton, do you want to go to the car?
(Fake crying continues in earnest.)
Me: Okay, no more kitty if we go to the car.
(She immediately quits crying.)
Britton: Pet kitty. PLEASE.

In between our visits to Beowulf, we managed to do nearly a complete circuit of the rambling store. If you’re looking for something in print, there’s a high likelihood that it is among Haslam’s 300,000 volumes that are kept in-store. I heard customers ask the sales associates for everything from a romance novel to a local history book to Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, all of which were promptly delivered to the customer. 

Since I knew I was on borrowed time with both Britton and Landon accompanying me, I focused my time in the Florida section (since I’m a sucker for local history and ghost stories). If you’re looking for information on anything related to the culture, history, or architecture of the Gulf (or the rest of the state), that aisle is where you need to be. 

Beowulf, Books, and Ghosts: Haslam's Bookstore, St. Petersburg, Florida | CosmosMariners.com



And, if Haslam's couldn't get any more awesome in my book, I found out that it's rumored to be haunted. 

By none other than that wild and crazy '60s literary icon, Jack Kerouac. 

Kerouac, who headed to St. Petersburg after he wrote The Dharma Bums and On the Road, used to come into the bookstore and rearrange the displays so that his were front and center. Naturally, the Haslams didn't enjoy their bookshelves being handled in such a manner and would kick Kerouac out of the bookstore. He'd come back in a day or two and the whole thing would start over again. 

It was your classic love-hate relationship, only with more books than these things usually have. 

When Kerouac's liver finally failed him at 47, rumors began to crop up around the bookstore than Kerouac was having the last laugh. Customers and sales associates would feel a hand on their shoulders--but no one would be there. Books fall off of shelves when there aren't people nearby. 

Whether you believe in ghosts (or not) or whether you love books (or not), Haslam's is a St. Petersburg institution and is well worth a visit. If the huge book selection doesn't win you over, Beowulf will!

What's your favorite independent bookstore?
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5 Unusual, Fun & Quirky Travel Books

5 Unusual, Fun, and Quirky Travel Books | CosmosMariners.com


Since my goal in life is to either be on a trip or planning one, I love travel guides, travel books, and travel magazines. They're all over our house, which tends to drive my husband a little batty (he never complains about the actual travel, though, which balances everything out).

While I love a good Rick Steves, Lonely Planet, or Fodor's guide just as much as the next traveler, I also like to get different perspectives on the places I'm visiting (or just hoping to visit). I read other travel blogs, pour over magazines, and spend a few hours delving into novels that are set in the areas I'm visiting.

But every once in a while, I get lucky and I come across a tome that's part travel guide, part entertainment, and part awesomeness. For many people, Eat Pray Love was their first taste of this hybrid travel book, and Italy, India, and Bali were flooded with people trying to recreate their own journeys a la Elizabeth Gilbert. I'm sharing five of these non-traditional travel books with you today in the hopes that you'll add them to your collection of travel-related bedside reading as well.

5 Unusual, Fun, and Quirky Travel Books | CosmosMariners.com

Mrs. Favell Lee Mortimer, The Clumsiest People in Europe

To everyone in the world, I apologize for this book. On its face, Mrs. Mortimer, a wildly popular British author in the Victorian period, is blunt, cruel, and completely snobbish. Still, if you can look past that (and you should!), you'll find a fascinating look at just how gigantic the British Empire's ego was in the late 1800s: it's an inadvertent commentary on elitism, colonialism, and racism packed into one outdated book.

Reading it now, the book seems so absurd as to be dry humor, but Mrs. Mortimer was basically the Rick Steves of her era (only with a much poofier hairstyle and stricter standards of dress). Take everything she says about each country's inhabitants with a grain of salt, but focus on the fact that people were just as interested in where to travel 150 years ago as they are today. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

A few gems:

The United States: Washington is one of the most desolate cities in the world.

Sweden: There is no country in Europe where so many people are put in prison.

France: They like being smart, but they're not very clean.

Australia: The people are the children of convicts and have been brought up very ill by their parents.
You can't make this stuff up, folks.

5 Unusual, Fun, and Quirky Travel Books | CosmosMariners.com

Robert Louis Stevenson, Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes
While RLS is most often associated with that glorious pirate dramas, Kidnapped and Treasure Island, and the spine-tingling science-thriller, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, he was also an accomplished traveler. Because of his poor health, he often sought warmer climates than could be found in his native Scotland. Over his relatively short lifetime, he spent time in the French Riviera, California, New York, Tahiti, New Zealand, Hawaii, Australia, and Samoa (where he's now buried).

Stevenson wove his travels through many of his novels, journals, and poems, but my personal favorite recounts the walking trip that he took through the Cevennes mountains in France. Not only was his donkey his fellow travel companion (something that merits a peek on its own), but the entire travel guide is written in this bouncy and often hilarious tone.

Throughout the book, you wonder if Stevenson will actually finish his walking tour, as his donkey seems intent on thwarting his every move:
A little out of the village, Modestine, filled with the demon, set her heart upon a by-road, and positively refused to leave it... I came very near crying; but I did a wiser thing than that, and sat squarely down by the roadside to consider my situation under the cheerful influence of tobacco and a nip of brandy.  Modestine, in the meanwhile, munched some black bread with a contrite hypocritical air.  It was plain that I must make a sacrifice to the gods of shipwreck.  I threw away the empty bottle destined to carry milk; I threw away my own white bread, and, disdaining to act by general average, kept the black bread for Modestine; lastly, I threw away the cold leg of mutton and the egg-whisk, although this last was dear to my heart.  Thus I found room for everything in the basket, and even stowed the boating-coat on the top.  By means of an end of cord I slung it under one arm; and although the cord cut my shoulder, and the jacket hung almost to the ground, it was with a heart greatly lightened that I set forth again.
You'll want to find your own donkey (one that's perhaps a bit better behaved than Modestine in the journals!), walking stick, and passport and try to recreate the trip yourself after reading it--and you can, more or less, as the Cevennes are a protected national park in France.

5 Unusual, Fun, and Quirky Travel Books | CosmosMariners.com

Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad, or The New Pilgrims' Progress

Much like Stevenson, Mark Twain is known for his non-travel writing (such as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn). Twain traveled a lot during his lifetime, and I think it's sad that so few people outside of English majors even know about his travelogues.

The Innocents Abroad follows Twain and a group of fellow travelers as they make their way through 1860s Europe and the Holy Land. And in true Twain fashion, he liberally peppers his observations with wry humor and satirical wit. Surprisingly to many these days, this book sold better than any of his other works, including his novels. While people didn't travel as much as they do now, there was certainly an interest in what other cultures were like.
This book is a record of a pleasure trip. If it were the record of a solemn scientific expedition, it would have about it that gravity, that profundity, and that impressive incomprehensibility which are so proper to works of that kind, and withal, so attractive.

Yet, notwithstanding, it is only a record of a picnic; it has a purpose, which is to suggest to the reader how he would likely see Europe and the East if he looked at them with his own eyes instead of the eyes of those who traveled in those countries before him. I offer no apologies for any departures from the usual style of travel-writing that may be charged against me--for I think that I have seen with impartial eyes, and I am sure I have written at least honestly, whether wisely or not. 
While Twain doesn't shy away from sharing his opinion, his views of the people he encounters seem almost soft compared to Mrs. Mortimer. Read Mrs. Mortimer for something to laugh at, and read Twain for something to study.

5 Unusual, Fun, and Quirky Travel Books | CosmosMariners.com


Tony Horwitz, Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War

When I was assigned this book in a graduate course on modern American identity, I was a little confused on what I had been given. Was it a memoir, a travel guide, a history book, or some sort of political statement? As it turns out, it's a little bit of all of those.

Since that original assignment, I've re-read this book more times than I can count, and each time, I come away with something different from it. It follows Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Tony Horwitz as he explores those states below the Mason-Dixon line in an effort to see how and why the Civil War still affects people today (well, "today" meaning in 1999, when he wrote the book).

Having grown up in the South, I am well aware of the complicated feelings that people of all ages and races still have with the Civil War--yes, it's been over for over 140 years, but there's still so much to process.

Horwitz attempts to do just that and, in my opinion, he does a mighty good job at trying to do so. Through the course of the book, he visits 9 states, joins a Civil War re-enactment group (a hardcore one, not a farb one--a very particular distinction between the re-enactors in the book), attempts to understand the logistics of the minie ball pregnancy that supposedly occurred in Mississippi and looks for the location of Gone with the Wind's Tara and Twelve Oaks.

One of the highlights of the book is when Horwitz decides to accompany serious Civil War re-enactor Robert Lee Hodge on a condensed road trip of important Civil War sights, a trip that includes outdoor camping, period-appropriate rations, and marching. Lots and lots of marching.
At one point, crunching through chest-high thorns and listening for Rob's tramp in the dark ahead, I began to appreciate the utter misery of marching...I also felt the reckless urge that soldiers so often succumbed to, shedding their gear and staggering on unburdened. And we'd only been walking an hour; in the summer of 1862, many of Lee's men marched over 1,000 miles.

"At least we're losing some weight," Rob said, dripping with sweat. "I need to drop five pounds if I'm going to look good at Gettysburg next weekend." 
If you're interested in Civil War history, Southern travel, or contemporary American politics, you've got to find a copy of this book.

5 Unusual, Fun, and Quirky Travel Books | CosmosMariners.com

John Berendt, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story

You've probably heard of the movie--and most likely seen the film starring a very young Jude Law, John Cusack and Kevin Spacey that follows the murder trial of renowned restorationist Jim Williams, But did you know that Jim Williams was a real person from Savannah, Georgia, and that everything in the movie actually took place?

The movie's based on a non-fiction expose of the same name written by John Berendt, a journalist who's played by John Cusack in the film adaptation. I love this book because so much of the Savannah described in it is still there for anyone to find: Lady Chablis is alive and well (she played herself in the movie) and you can catch her burlesque show. Jim Williams is, of course, dead (spoiler alert!), but his home is open to visitors daily.
Mercer House was the envy of house-proud Savannah. Jim Williams lived in it alone.

Williams was smoking a King Edward cigarillo. "What I enjoy most," he said, "is living like an aristocrat without the burden of having to be one...I don't envy them. It's only the trappings of aristocracy that I find worthwhile--the fine furniture, paintings, silver--the very things they have to sell when the money runs out. And it always does. Then, all they're left with is their lovely manners."
You could use the book as a guide to explore historical Savannah and perhaps delve into more of the city than the usual history tour will show you.

Have you read any of these? What books can you always count on to kick start your travel bug?

This post contains affiliate links. If you choose to purchase one of the aforementioned books through the provided link, I will receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.


Literary New Orleans: A City of Inspiration

Literary New Orleans: A City of Inspiration | CosmosMariners.com

If the Big Easy's on your travel bucket list, you probably put it there after hearing about the nightlife in the French Quarter, the gorgeous homes in the Garden District, those Cafe Du Monde beignets (and the rest of the amazing cuisine there), and those spooktacular mausoleums in the graveyards.

All of these are excellent reasons to visit New Orleans.

However, most people spend quite some time in the city without ever realizing that they're in a literary gold mine. Book lovers, rejoice and start packing your suitcases--New Orleans has more than enough literary ties to keep you busy for days.

Ernest Hemingway, Key West, and 6 Toed Cats: Literature Comes to the Florida Keys

 Ernest Hemingway, Key West, and Six Toed Cats: Literature Comes to the Florida Keys | CosmosMariners.com

What do you think when someone mentions Key West? Probably crystal clear waters, partying until the wee hours of the morning, and beaches.

You probably don't think about American literature. Key West is a place to relax and let loose, not ponder often the front-runners for the Great American Novel.

Or so you might think!

None other than that heavy-hitter of American literature himself--Ernest Hemingway--had a house in Key West (it was one of many he owned at the peak of his career) and wrote many of his best-known works here, including For Whom the Bell Tolls, "The Snows of Kilimanjaro," and Death in the Afternoon.

He arrived at the house completely by chance; he was passing through the Keys after coming from Cuba and fell in love with the place. So, he and his wife Pauline (the second of four spouses) lived there with his three children (two by Pauline and one from an earlier marriage); Hemingway often returned to the house throughout the rest of his life.

Ernest Hemingway, Key West, and Six Toed Cats: Literature Comes to the Florida Keys | CosmosMariners.com

On first glance, Hemingway lived this life that so many people envied--he went on safari in Kenya, he lived in Paris, Cuba, Spain, and Africa for varying period, he was an excellent sportsfisherman, he was wildly famous for his writing while he was living (not an easy task for most literary contributors).

Yet, he was terribly unhappy. He had four marriages and rocky relationships with his three sons. Towards the end of his life, he was receiving treatment for alcoholism and depression, the latter of which ultimately led him to commit suicide when he was 62.

With everything that he dealt with, it's easy to see why a beautiful house on (then scarcely populated) Key West would appeal to him--he could fish each day, write each night, and relax in the hopes of escaping all that haunted him.

Even if you're not interested in Hemingway as a writer, I'd still suggest visiting the property from an architectural and historical perspective. It's the largest single-family owned property on Key West to this day--though it's not the Hemingway family who owns it, as Ernest's son sold it after his death. The woman who bought it from the Hemingway sons put it in a trust so that future generations could continue to enjoy this property.

Take the tour of the house and gardens: you'll be able to see many of the Hemingway family's belongings including prints, furniture, and decor. I was intrigued by the pool out back, as it was highly unusual to have a water feature like that in the 1930s. It was, in fact, the only pool within a hundred miles when the Hemingways lived there!

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Hemingway by the pool
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Oh, and about those six-toed cats--they're real, and they actually have six toes. Count them! The original six-toed cat came to Ernest Hemingway by a local ship's captain, and he gave it, and all of its descendants, a place to live. There are about 40 cats still on the property today, all of whom are related to that original kitty.

Ernest Hemingway, Key West, and Six Toed Cats: Literature Comes to the Florida Keys | CosmosMariners.com
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One final note: while Hemingway died in 1962 and left Key West as his primary residence in 1940 or so, his spirit is still very much alive and loved on the island. A local bar, Sloppy Joe's, holds a Hemingway lookalike contest every year, and the winner is always a dead ringer for the writer.

Ernest Hemingway, Key West, and Six Toed Cats: Literature Comes to the Florida Keys | CosmosMariners.com
Hemingway in his later years
Don't be surprised to see a man or two sporting a full, white beard and short sleeved button down shirt year round: it's not the ghost of Hemingway, just one of the lookalikes hanging around a favorite watering hole. Key West may be a place to party and relax, but it takes its residents very, very seriously--even when said resident hasn't been around for more than 50 years!

Visiting the Hemingway House has been the highlight of two of my Key West trips (yes, I went back for a second go-round. Once an English nerd, always an English nerd.), and I highly recommend that you take time away from your sunbathing, parasailing, and bar hopping to check it out!

I was in no way compensated for my review of the Hemingway House. I really did love it!

5 Must See Literary Sites from Around the World

5 Must See Literary Sites from Around the World | CosmosMariners.com


Books and travel. 

For this literature-loving traveler, the sweet spot is finding where those two things intersect. 

I asked some travel blogger friends to weigh in on their favorite travel destinations that had a literary component, and I got responses that spanned the globe. Check out these amazing sites that will inspire and teach you!

5 Must See Literary Sites from Around the World | CosmosMariners.com
Photo credit: Anekdotique.com

Location: Tomb of Hafez, Musalla Gardens, Iran
Literature Tie-in: Khwāja Shams-ud-Dīn Muhammad Hāfez-e Shīrāzī, Iranian poet
Ever heard of Khwāja Shams-ud-Dīn Muhammad Hāfez-e Shīrāzī? You should! Because Hafez is one the finest lyric poets of Persia and one of the most romantic poets of all time. The writer himself hardly ever travelled outside Shiraz, the city of poets and gardens. That is why most of his poems and love stories are set in the capital of Fars Province in the southwest of Iran and in its surroundings. And that is probably also the reason why you might have the feeling that his words of love come to life when walking though the picturesque city, that is full of ancient citadels, oldest mosques and gorgeous gardens. 

Furthermore, one of the towns most important sights is the Tomb of Hafez, a memorial hall situated in the beautiful Musalla Gardens. In can absolutely recommend taking a stroll in these beautiful green area. Why not even take one of Hafez’ books with you, sit down at a bench and enjoy some of his poetry. I guess this is exactly what the author wanted his readers to do: find love in his words and then live it inside the most beautiful nature. It is just a perfect fit. No wonder that his works can be found in the homes of most Iranian people.  
Clemens, Anekdotique.com
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5 Must See Literary Sites from Around the World | CosmosMariners.com
Photo Credit: SantaFeTravelers.com

Location: Santa Fe, New Mexico
Literature Tie-in: Willa Cather's Death Comes to the Archbishop

In 1925, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Willa Cather came to New Mexico to visit with socialite Mabel Dodge Luhan (renowned for hosting a who’s who of artistic, literary and intellectual names of that time) and D.H. Lawrence and his wife Frieda who were living on a ranch outside Taos Luhan that once belonged to Luhan. When Cather left Taos, she checked into La Fonda Hotel in Santa Fe. While there she discovered the legendary Jean-Baptiste Lamy, Santa Fe’s first bishop and later archbishop in the mid-19th century. Intrigued by the life of this humble man, she was inspired to fictionalize it. 
Death Comes to the Archbishop, published in 1927, is still an American classic. The fictional Archbishop Father Jean Marie Latour’s life closely parallels that of the real-life clergyman. It also vividly conveys the history and culture of the New Mexico Territory including pueblo life. Many of these places that Cather takes her readers to remain and visitors to The City Different can take a literary tour based on the book. Start in Santa Fe at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi which Bishop Lamy had built; visit his country estate which is now Bishop’s Lodge Ranch Resort and Spa (his original chapel is open to visitors) and even go further afield to some of the pueblos he visited included Acoma, Laguna and Pecos. Coming to Santa Fe? Read Death Comes for the Archbishop before you leave home. You’ll get a great perspective about life in New Mexico during the Territorial Period before it became the 47th state.
Billie, Santa Fe Travelers
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5 Must See Literary Sites from Around the World | CosmosMariners.com
Photo credit: Adventures of a Carry-on

Location: Tarrytown, New York
Literature Tie-in: Washington Irving
Literature fans in America will want to make the pilgrimage to Sunnyside, in Tarrytown, New York. Sunnyside was the home of America's first internationally acclaimed author, Washington Irving. Irving is best know for his short stories Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleep Hollow, though he wrote many other noted books.  Both of these stories were inspired by Irving's travels in the Hudson River Valley. Sleepy Hollow, a hamlet just ten minutes from Tarrytown is the setting for the Legend of Sleepy Hollow and home of his creepy character, The Headless Horseman. 
Irving was a well - traveled man and didn't purchase his own home until he was close to fifty years old. He purchased Sunnyside with the intention of staying there. The original house was extensively remodeled in the Mediterranean Romantic style. Located on the Hudson River the location is very romantic indeed with beautiful gardens and small waterfall that feeds into a stream on the property. Sunnyside hosted many important writers and politicians during Irving's time there. There are an amazing number of the original furnishings and artworks in the house and it is one of best surviving examples of life in the 19th century.    
Pilgrims will want to make the trek to Sleepy Hollow Cemetery to pay their respects at Irving's graveside. Be aware that the cemetery is huge. Get your map first and be sure to allow time if you arrive close to sunset. The cemetery closes at 4:30 except during the summertime.
Penny, Adventures of a Carry-on
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5 Must See Literary Sites from Around the World | CosmosMariners.com
Photo credit: The Tourist of Life
Location: Dublin
Literature Tie-in: The Book of Kells, James Joyce
A lot of famous writers are originally from Dublin, wrote and published their first books or screenplays in Dublin and went to the famous Trinity College, which some say is the Harvard of Europe. For those who like literature, Dublin is the place to be. For example you could start your visit in Dublin at the Dublin Writer’s Museum, or you could visit one of the most famous libraries of Dublin: the Trinity College Library. 
Now, I guarantee you that visiting Trinity College Library won’t be a disappointment, as it is the biggest library of Ireland and home to the Book of Kells!  You can visit the Trinity College Library by simply paying the entrance fee of €10,00 or you can get the entrance ticket for free after following the Trinity College tour, given by students, who will also show you the buildings of Trinity College and the spots where famous writers wrote their masterworks. 
Another tour you could take in Dublin is the Dublin Literary Walking Tour, which will take you to the Dublin Writer’s Museum, the James Joyce Cultural Centre, the Abbey Theatre, the General Post Office and of course: Trinity College.
Yvonne, The Tourist of Life
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5 Must See Literary Sites from Around the World | CosmosMariners.com
Photo credit: CosmosMariners.com

Location: Stratford-upon-Avon
Literature Tie-in: Shakespeare's hometown
If you run under the assumption that the playwright William Shakespeare was just one person and was the same guy who was born and died in this English town, then Stratford-upon-Avon is a dream for the Bard's followers. (For the uninitiated, there are dozens of theories surrounding Shakespeare's identity with Francis Bacon and Edward de Vere coming out as the front runners.) You can start your day by visiting his birthplace, a rambling, drafty place where actors will showcase different elements of life from the late 1500s. 
Next, head over to the New Place and Nash's House, which shows just how far good ol' Willie Shakes came during the course of his career--just down the road is the Church of the Holy Trinity, where Shakespeare was baptized and later buried. End the day with a show performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company at the local theatre or with a visit to the house where Anne Hathaway (William's wife, not the actress) was raised.
Natalie (aka yours truly), Cosmos Mariners: Destination Unknown
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What literary sites have you visited?  

Anne of Green Gables Road Trip, Prince Edward Island, Canada

Anne of Green Gables Road Trip, Prince Edward Island, Canada | CosmosMariners.com

Anne with an "e." 

Gilbert calling Anne "carrots." 

Poor Diana and the cooking sherry. 

Matthew's gift of a dress with puffed sleeves. 

Anne being accepted to Queens College. 

Even though it's been at least 18 years since I last read the Anne of Green Gables series, it seems as if all of the details are still pressed into my brain. My remembrance of the series has less to do with a stellar recognizance abilities and more to do with the fact that red-headed Anne and her adventures were in high rotation in my elementary school reading--right up there with the Babysitters Club, Sweet Valley Twins, and Dinotopia series. 

10 Great Books to Read If You Love London

10 Great Books to Read if You Love London | CosmosMariners.com

Anglophile. Bibliophile.

I've come by those titles honestly, as I received two degrees in Literature, taught English at the college level, studied abroad in London, and completed my M.A. thesis on post-World War II British novels. I know you're dying to hear more about my thesis (ha!), but we'll have to table that discussion for another post.

Sometimes I really, really miss London. But, most of the time, I can't just get on a plane and make my way to merry ol' England for a few days. Instead, I do what I do best and bury my nose in a book. These ten reads make me long for the winding alleyways, layered history, and warm pubs of my favorite city.

What I Think Book Review: Debby Irving's Waking Up White



Summary (from the back of the book): 
For twenty-five years, Debby Irving sensed inexplicable racial tensions in her personal and professional relationships. As a colleague and neighbor, she worried about offending people she dearly wanted to befriend. As an arts administrator, she didn't understand why her diversity efforts lacked traction. As a teacher, she found her best efforts to reach out to students and families of color left her wondering what she was missing. Then, in 2009, one 'aha!' moment launched an adventure of discovery and insight that drastically shifted her worldview and upended her life plan.

When I picked up this book, I have to admit that I came at it with prejudice (which is kind of funny considering that the whole book is about not being prejudiced!). Why was this? 

London Library

Does anyone else love the smell of old books?

When we were little, my sister and I used to go to the library. It was a super small one since our town only had a couple of thousand people. Those poor books didn't get out much. 

My sister used to rummage through the children's section and smell her way to the good books (at least, according to her). She didn't care when it was made or who wrote it as long as it had the right smell. 

So much for judging a book by its cover. Clearly, whoever came up with that adage never smelled an old book.

Classics for the Littlest Literature Lover

classics for babies
"I think I'll take a look at Oliver Twist when I'm done with Pride and Prejudice."
Also, note Britton's shirt, which features the four main characters from Jane Austen's classic. (Thanks, Auntie Amb!)

(Before I go any further, the English teacher in me has to point out that I know that "littlest" isn't a word. But somehow, the "smallest literature lover" didn't have the same ring, so forgive me this time!)

Reading keeps me sane. Seriously.

When I go more than a day or two without reading something--even if it's just the Reader's Digest at my parents' house from 1998--I feel as if my brain is atrophying.

Reading is a huge part of my life, and I want to pass that love along to my daughter.

6 Children's Books Worth Revisiting

Our little townhouse has very little storage, so when we're preparing for a project, the stuff that gets displaced usually ends up in our upstairs hallway.

Currently, we're trying to get a built-in bookcase going, but with the passing of my grandfather, Thanksgiving, and Christmas happening in such rapid succession, we realistically won't get the project underway until early 2014.

In the meantime, all of the books that should be on the new shelves are in bins that are lining our upstairs hallway. This arrangement is super annoying since the hallway is now half the size it should be.

However, there is a silver lining: I get to revisit books that have either been packed away for years or stuffed on a shelf. Landon keeps finding me reading these children's books from years ago. He laughs at me, an almost-thirty-year-old pouring over a thin little children's book.

What can I say? There's some great stuff in children and YA fiction! You only have to look at the popularity of Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, and Twilight to see that I'm not the only one dipping my hand in the little kid literature cookie jar.

Here are eight of my favorite kids' books that are worth a revisit. And for what it's worth, they are all at least fifteen years ago, so you might find something other than the dystopian future/ vampire/ werewolf novels that are so popular these days.



- Alien Secrets, Annette Curtis Klause. Puck, who's every inch as mischeveous as her A Midsummer Night's Dream namesake, has been thrown out of her Earth boarding school and must return to her parents who are working on the planet Aurora. On the spaceflight to join them, Puck befriends Hush, an alien who is also going to Aurora in shame. He has lost his race's beloved treasure. As Puck helps Hush figure out what happened to the treasure, they are both drawn into the mysteries occuring aboard the starcraft.

I first read this book when I was in late elementary school; I was not a fan of science fiction (though I did love a Michael Crichton novel at the time). I think the fact that I loved this book in spite of the alien stuff going on speaks to the univeral appeal of Alien Secrets. Klause writes in a compelling manner that will draw elementary and middle school readers in (though, I must confess, I just re-read this, and was still captivated). Plus, all of the futuristic stuff never got dated, and, as a reader, I can still very much believe in the world she created.

Recommended for: late elementary or early middle school readers.

-The Herculeah Jones series, Betsy Byers. While The Black Tower is my personal favorite, there are several mysteries starring the unflappable Herculeah Jones and her friend Meat (what awesome character names, right?!). These books are aimed at the late elementary crowd, and are a bit scarier than most of the Encyclopedia Brown-type whodunit books that are usually penned for that age group. Byers does a wonderful job painting the spooky situations that Herculeah and her frizzy hair find themselves in. You might be familiar with Byers' "The Summer of the Swans," which won the Newberry Award in 1971; the Herculeah Jones series is completely different in tone and theme. Basically, if Sue Grafton wrote for the playground set, this series would be the result.

Shameless plug: I had the opportunity to have dinner with Betsy Byers when I was in college (she's a friend of my uncle's), and she was just as awesome as you would expect--friendly, hilarious, and witty. She and her husband live in the upstate of South Carolina and fly little planes from the airstrip behind their house. Definitely an author worth investigating, if you haven't already.

Recommended for: mid- to late-elementary school readers.

-Woman in the Wall, Patrice Kindl. When I found this book, I was in the sixth grade, which is an awkward time at best and a painful time at worst. This book spoke to me in so many ways and made me feel as if I weren't the only one in the world who felt weird, out of place, and odd.

In this book, Anna decides to withdraw from her family and society completely when she's seven; she builds a little fortress within the walls of her own house. As the years pass by, her family forgets that she even exists and she lives this protected but lonely life watching her family through the walls. However, someone has remembered that she's there, and her struggle to decide to leave is heartwrenching. Because of this book, I wanted to go to a costume party wearing a butterfly outfit with gorgeous green wings, and show everyone that I was different than the shy, quiet girl that sat in class with them all day.

Recommended for: middle- and high-school readers.

-Girl in the Box, Ouida Sebestyen. The best word to describe this book is "haunting." Even years later after reading it, I still find myself mulling this book over.

Jackie McGee is kidnapped and thrown into a concrete cell. It's dark, save for a tiny sliver of light coming from under the only door. She had her typewriter and a ream of paper in her backpack, so she decides to record her thoughts by touch typing. Sebestyan creates a scenario that is so real that you find yourself praying for a happy ending to Jackie's story.

While there are elements to Girl in the Box that are dated (the typewriter, no cell phone), this book transcends the technology within it. Few books--for children or adults--have captured the seemingly random terror and hopelessness that Jackie is forced to face in this book. In a world where Twilight copies are a dime a dozen, a book that focuses on a strong, capable young girl who deals bravely within a terrible situation remains refreshing.

Recommended for: high school readers.

-Melusine, Lynne Reid Banks. This book has all the hallmarks of a standard YA book: a moody young narrator, annoying family members, a love interest, and a bit of mystery thrown in for some excitement. However, there are deeper, darker themes within this book that separate it from the crowd and make it worth reading and discussing along with your child.

Roger is on holiday in France with his family; they choose to stay in the guest cottage of a crumbling old chateau run by a brusque man and his daughter, Melusine. As Roger gets to know Melusine, he realizes that her life at the chateau is cloying and isolated. He wants to help her, but she's evasive. He uncovers her deepest secrets, which shock him to his core, and in his quest to help her exercise her demons, he quickly realizes that he is far over his head.

Unlike Banks' other books (she's best known for the Indian in the Cupboard series), this book doesn't end tidily. I could see it being a great summer reading book, or as a way to talk about the importance of honesty, communication, and awareness with your child. Plus, your child will learn about the French myth behind the title character.

Recommended for: high school readers.

-The Dinotopia series, James Gurney. In the first and second grade, I was obsessed with dinosaurs. My mom had bought me Isaac Asminov's Did Comets Kill the Dinosaurs? when I was in the first grade, and before you could say "T. Rex," I was plowing through everything I could find about them (I even convinced my parents to let me read Jurassic Park, which was awesome and terrifying all at the same time!). When I was in the fourth grade, I found the Dinotopia series and fell in love all over again.

The series focuses on the journals of Arthur Denison and his son who are shipwrecked onto Dinotopia, a forgotten island where dinosaurs still exist--and where they co-exist with the human inhabitants (all of whom are descended from shipwreck survivors). The pair travels throughout the land, learning about this world and seeing how they could fit into it since there is no escape from the island.

If the story line doesn't reel you in, the pictures will. Gurney includes spectacular watercolors throughout the series as a way to bring the world to life.

Recommended for: elementary and middle school readers.


Have you read any of these books? What were some of your favorite books from back in the day?