One of the things I’ve missed the most during the pandemic is travel. Being a book nerd, in every new city, I make it a point to visit famous libraries and other bookish locales. I also make sure to pack plenty of books to keep me entertained through everything from downtime to flight delays. Looking back, it’s impossible to reminisce on old trips without also recalling the vacation reads that went with them.
Vacation Reads in Charleston, South Carolina
Back in 2016, one of my cousins got married in Charleston. I was thrilled to have an excuse to sun myself on Folly Beach, indulge in she-crab soup, and enjoy all that King Street had to offer. What I wasn’t excited about was paying for an expensive hotel on a weekend where everything seemed to be booked for a local festival. Being the budget traveler that I am, I started looking more affordable options. That’s when I found the Annex Location of the NotSo Hostel. I was able to book a clean, cozy space for a steal.
Most of their rooms are named after artists and authors. I could have opted for the Bukowski or the Hemingway, but the Kingsolver room just felt right. When we got there, a stack of Barbara Kingsolver’s novels was waiting for us on the bedside table. I read Prodigal Summer during downtime on the trip. My aunt had recommended it years before. I sent her my reactions as I read to entertain her because she was in the hospital at the time and I thought it would be a way of keeping her company.
After we left, I wondered how staying in the Bukowski room would have changed the tone of my visit. Would staying up all night reading What Matters Most is How Well You Walk through the Fire make me view the glittering lights of downtown differently? Would I have still connected with my aunt? Charleston wasn’t meant to be a bookish vacation, but in a way, it was. I’ll always remember Kingsolver as a guest that shared our room.
Getting Bookish in Boston
Every year, my husband ends up traveling to a conference or two for work. I tag along when I can and explore the host city while he’s in sessions. When we went to Boston, I quickly discovered I’d hit literary gold. Our hotel was a short walking distance from the Boston Public Library. I spent hours photographing the statues from Bela Pratt at the entrance, the marble lions along the grand stairway, and murals by Puvis de Chavannes. Since I give tours of a famous library for work, sightseeing at other notable libraries feels like equal parts professional development and fun. That day, I was in absolute awe.
Even better? They happened to be having a library book sale at the time. Knowing I couldn’t fit all of the discounted books I wanted into my suitcase, I limited myself to one. I chose We Love You, Charlie Freeman since the characters were all from Boston. I figured I could explore the area a bit longer via their memories after heading back home.
Vacation Reads in Dublin, Ireland
Between pints of dark beer at the Guinness Storehouse and a guided tour of Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin, we visited the National Library of Ireland. Inside, I was delighted to find an exhibit on the life of poet William Butler Yeats. From high school English onward, I’ve held up a poem he wrote for Maud Gonne as the ultimate expression of unrequited love:
When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;
And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.
I was shocked by the exhibit. Long after his attempts to win Maud over failed, he eventually proposed to her daughter. I stopped thinking of Yeats as the ultimate dreamboat that day, but still spent the airplane ride home revisiting his work.
On the same trip, we paid a visit to The James Joyce Centre. I’d never read his work before, but learning about how heavily he was censored made me curious about what the fuss was about. Will you judge me if I tell you I read some of his scandalous love letters instead of picking up Ulysses or Dubliners? If you’ve also read them, just imagine the wild facial expressions I made while blushing bright red on the bus. If you’re in the dark, I’ll spare you the details.
Planning For a Brighter Future
For the time being, I’m staying put and following pandemic guidelines. That said, I’ve been loading my TBR with books about the many places I want to go. If I don’t get to all of them while I’m stuck at home, they’ll make for great vacation reads when I can stamp my passport once again.