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Archive for the ‘travel’ Category

Libros de España

libros viajes casa del libro sevilla

As regular readers know, earlier this summer, I returned to Spain for the first time in nearly a decade. Naturally, my favorite way to prepare for travel is to dive into a stack of relevant books.

Besides the excellent Lonely Planet Andalucía, which I found indispensable, I discovered several books that made my trip both más fácil (easier) and más divertido (more fun).

Patricia Harris writes with verve and a keen eye for detail about 100 Places in Spain Every Woman Should Go (which I picked up at the Book Catapult in San Diego this spring). Divided by region, Harris’ guide includes all the classics: Granada’s stunning Alhambra, live flamenco performances, tiny tapas bars and sprawling markets. But it’s also full of quirky gems: an olive oil tasting workshop; the house of a former duchess, now a museum; a meditation on the title character of Bizet’s opera Carmen. Harris’s book sparked my enthusiasm and inspired me to take in a few unusual sights.

While I did rent a bike one afternoon in Sevilla, I still stand in awe of British cyclist Polly Evans’s intrepid journey through Spain on two wheels, chronicled with dry wit in her memoir It’s Not About the Tapas (which I read years ago, on another trip to Spain). From San Sebastián to the Costa del Sol, Evans battled fatigue, recalcitrant bike gears and the local wildlife (including goats), as she sampled the food, culture and cycling trails in every region of Spain. It’s a highly entertaining journey through a vivid, fascinating country.

My vacation reading stack included Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s The Shadow of the Wind, which I’d been meaning to read for years. Though I didn’t visit Barcelona on this trip, Zafón’s utterly bewitching novel of postwar love and revenge–set in a bookshop!–had me spellbound on our bus rides between various cities.

Needless to say, I’m already planning my next viaje a España–and the requisite reading material. ¡Olé!

Note: I originally wrote most of this post as a column for Shelf Awareness, where I’m a regular contributor.

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wingaersheek beach path reeds blue sky

In the continued spirit of summer Fridays, we loaded up the car last Friday and headed north.

We’d planned to meet some friends at Wingaersheek Beach, near Gloucester, and in spite of scattered thunderstorms, it was a wonderful afternoon.

jer katie wingaersheek beach

We began with lunch at J.T. Farnhams in Essex: fresh (mostly fried) seafood and delicious, creamy clam chowdah. Then we squeezed into one car (the beaches around here charge for parking per vehicle) and drove over to Wingaersheek, where we set up our gear on the sand, with this view.

view wingaersheek beach lighthouse

Twenty minutes later, nearby lightning strikes meant we had to pack up and leave, at least temporarily. But we decided to salvage the afternoon with ice cream at Holy Cow in Gloucester. I had the homemade Mayan Chocolate, which was zingy and delicious.

holy cow ice cream sign

By the time we finished eating, the skies had cleared, so we headed back to the beach and spent the rest of the afternoon wandering between the sand and the waves.

katie emily beach sky

We stood knee-deep in the water and talked, and chased the seagulls away from our bags, and soaked up the sun and sand, the salt water and blue sky, and the being together. Pretty perfect.

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sevilla buildings yellow

When people ask us what we did in Sevilla this summer, I usually arrive at some version of: we walked. And walked. And walked.

bougainvillea flowers sevilla

Walking is my favorite way to explore a city – whether treading familiar paths in Boston or Oxford or NYC, or discovering entirely new settings in cities I’m visiting for the first time.

sevilla street tower buildings spain

Fortunately, Sevilla is highly walkable, with rambling cobblestoned streets lined with beautiful, brightly painted buildings, and dozens of plazas that appear around unexpected corners.

metropol sevilla blue sky

We walked several miles a day while we were there – through narrow twisting neighborhoods, along broad avenidas, down to the river and back again.

sevilla river bridge spain

My feet were plenty sore by the time we left, but I enjoyed every ramble. Andiamos, indeed.

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heart neponset trail

Snapped this morning on the river trail: one of my favorite patches of ground, which helps ground me.

In case you missed it: I’m participating in Susannah Conway’s August Break project this month.

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devereux beach marblehead

On Fridays in the summer, we like to take day trips.

Since my husband is usually done early on Fridays (he’s a therapist and his schedule ebbs and flows with the school year and vacations), and I’m freelancing/job hunting, we are continuing our summer tradition of exploring the Boston area. A few weeks ago, we decided to revisit Marblehead, a little town on the North Shore that we’d visited a long while back.

It was a hot, humid afternoon, but it was – in a word – glorious.

striped petunias window box flowers

We drove up after a busy morning: sessions for him, yoga and errands and some writing work at the library for me. After a freak thunderstorm, the skies had (mostly) cleared, and we nosed our way into the pretty downtown area, and spent a couple of hours wandering.

I found a sweet blue dress at a boutique called She, and we poked in and out of several other shops. I was disappointed to find that Authors and Artists, a great old used bookstore, had closed (or at least moved?). But the Spirit of ’76 Bookstore, several streets over, is thriving. Of course we had to go for a browse.

spirit of 76 bookstore interior

We also found a garden shop overflowing with flowers, and Bella, one of the resident spaniels, sprawled out in the doorway.

garden shop flowers dog spaniel bella

We headed, with our books, over to Devereux Beach, where J settled down on my yoga mat (necessity being the mother of invention) and I waded into the waves, then walked up and down the beach for a while. I love the feel of sand under my feet, of wind and waves and sky. Eventually I stretched out next to J and read a bit of Robert Macfarlane’s The Wild Places, which felt fitting even though we were only a mile from town.

katie devereux beach selfie marblehead

When we got hungry, we headed back in and decided to try the local taqueria, Howling Wolf, which – glory be – was delicious. We took the leftover salsa home and snacked on it for days.

All in all, a delightful return to Marblehead. I’m sure we’ll be back (again).

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bookstore lenox sign natalie goldberg event

A couple of Sundays ago, I skipped out on church early and drove out to the Berkshires for the afternoon.

I’m a longtime fan of The Bookstore in Lenox, despite the fact that I only get out there every couple of years. Matt, the owner, writes a rambling, erudite e-newsletter which I love reading every week, and in early July I opened it to find that Natalie Goldberg was coming for a Sunday afternoon reading and book signing.

This came the day after I’d been talking to a friend about Natalie’s work – explaining how I stumbled on Writing Down the Bones the summer after I graduated from college, when an acquaintance was selling off a few of her books. I bought it and a few others (including Madeleine L’Engle’s Walking on Water), never dreaming what an effect Natalie’s words would have on the way I thought about my writing and my life.

The whole afternoon, from start to finish, was a delight. It felt – as these things sometimes do – like grace unbidden.

bookstore lenox interior shelves

It started with the drive there, listening to good music on the radio and Elizabeth Gilbert’s delightful On Being episode, about following your curiosity. It continued when I walked into the store and heard the events manager testing the mic by reciting “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” in an Irish accent. He stopped after a couple of lines and mused, “Should I do the whole poem?” Everyone who’d already gathered responded, “Yes!”

I browsed a little while, then perched on a stool near the front counter for the event itself. Natalie arrived with her cousins in tow, and she was warm and down-to-earth, as I always hope authors will be. She read a few sections from her new book, standing in the middle of the store in a long black dress, telling us about love and illness and noticing, about grief and doctors and paying attention.

“You’re such deep listeners,” she kept saying to the group gathered in folding chairs or leaning against the back shelves. I think we were all simply fascinated. But it was clear that everyone in the room was so happy to be there.

I loved every moment: the breeze wafting through the open door, other browsers wandering in and out, my fellow audience members listening so intently and asking good questions. Most of all I loved hearing Natalie’s voice – which I have heard so often in my head over the years – in real life. Afterward, I went up and asked her to sign both her new book and my copy of Writing Down the Bones, bristling with Post-Its. “I’ll sign as many books as you want,” she had said to the crowd, and many of us took her up on that offer.

The great pleasure of any bookstore is browsing, of course, and I wandered among the shelves for a little while before and after the event. I ended up with a copy of Natalie’s new book (of course), a memoir by a 747 pilot, some Alastair Reid poetry, and Matt’s slim, self-published memoir of his years working at the now-defunct Gotham Book Mart in NYC. He exclaimed when I brought it to the register, and we had a delightful exchange. I told him I’d been there before, and how much I love the store. Matt offered to sign his book, and when I peeked inside I saw that he’d inscribed it – to my delight – “For Katie, who came back!”

I left feeling nourished in a soul-deep way: from having spent an afternoon among people who love words and good stories and this world. “I wanted to grab a hunk of living again and hold on tight,” Natalie writes in the introduction to her new memoir. That afternoon in Lenox was a vivid, flavorful hunk of living, and I savored its sweetness all the way home.

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the long run book snow menzies-pike

I know we’re more than halfway through the year, but I still thought it would be worthwhile (and fun!) to share the best books I’ve read so far this year. Technically I’d read 102 books by the end of June, so here are the real standouts from the first half of 2018:

Most Eloquent, Relatable Memoir of Running and Grit: The Long Run by Catriona Menzies-Pike. I think of lines from this witty, beautiful book regularly while I’m running.

Candid, Witty Essays on Marriage: Wedding Toasts I’ll Never Give by Ada Calhoun. Honest and funny and so real – perfect for reading after a decade of marriage.

Most Compelling Mysteries with a Side of Faith: Julia Spencer-Fleming’s brilliant series featuring Clare Fergusson and Russ Van Alstyne. I cannot shut up about these books: the mystery plots are solid, but the characters and their complex relationships are on another level.

Best Twisty Tale of Badass Female Spies: The Alice Network by Kate Quinn. Just so good.

Most Blazing, Gorgeous Novel of Love and Heartbreak: Love and Ruin by Paula McLain. I did not think I could read another Hemingway novel, but Martha Gellhorn’s narrative voice grabbed me and wouldn’t let go.

Most Vivid and Heartrending Refugee Story: The Map of Salt and Stars by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar. (I liked Exit West too, but this dual narrative with its two scrappy female protagonists stole my heart.)

Best Reread: A Wrinkle in Time, which I picked up after seeing the new film. I liked the movie, but L’Engle’s classic has more depth and heart and grit – and oh, I love Meg Murry.

Best Travel Memoir That’s About So Much More: Lands of Lost Borders, Kate Harris’ luminous, gritty memoir of spending nearly a year cycling along the Silk Road.

Most Perfect Gothic Novel to Read in Spain: The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. Twisty, atmospheric, witty, packed with great characters and surprise moments.

Your turn: what are the best books you’ve read so far this year?

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