We’re beginning to come down from our two week Midwestern U.S. book scouting trip. After returning home, we hosted out-of- state book customer/friends who traveled to stay with us for four days, and we’ve been up to our ears in book cataloging, gardening and household projects! I’ll try to return now to more regular postings.
Today I came across an interesting article in the New York Times from July 11th, being a conversation between travel authors Philip Caputo and William Least Heat-Moon. The topic was how to get the most out of seeing America on a road trip. These two authors are world travelers, but both have special affection for road trips in the United States of America. It caused me to reflect on our own book scouting travels around the United States, and what makes these trips so special to us.
Heat-Moon is widely known for his American road trip books Blue Highways and “PrairyErth (A Deep Map).”
PrairyErth, by William Least Heat-Moon, First Edition (signed), Houghton Mifflin, 1991. Book is available here at Old Scrolls Book Shop for $45.00
In his conversation with Caputo, he states the importance of keeping a record of your travels, because it makes you more aware of your surroundings and the people you meet, and of the events in your day. It deepens your experience, because it makes you reflect on what you saw and who you met.
This is so true – a travel diary, field notes, a blog – any of these adds depth to your experiences and turns a trip into an adventure. From my experience, I’ve found that maintaining this blog and reporting to you, my readers, on our book scouting journeys makes me begin each day with a magnified awareness while we travel. I am always on the lookout for interesting people, unusual sights, bits of knowledge and humorous situations. Writing them down at the end of each day causes reflection on the day’s experiences.
Caputo says, “A tourist is out to see sights, usually which have been enumerated for him in a guidebook. I think there’s a deeper degree of curiosity in a traveler.” A tourist heads for the Grand Canyon; a traveler veers off the beaten path.
I believe a traveler allows serendipity to play a large role in his journey, and sets forth without an agenda set in stone. A traveler gets off the interstate so that one can take time to stop along the way, see towns and villages, farm stands and lakes, see people in their native surroundings and talk with locals. A traveler avoids chain restaurants and big box businesses. A traveler is open-minded, has a sense of humor, and is willing to engage in conversation.
Here’s the great thing about book scouting — it takes one to such a variety of places you would never otherwise visit, simply because used & rare book shops appear everywhere. From an old barn on a country dirt road to a street in the backwaters of a large metropolis, book stores dot the map in odd places. Striking up conversation is a natural, because you have something in common with the proprietors and the customers of each shop you visit (a love of books!), and yet each person and place is so unique. Booksellers, book collectors and avid readers tend to be an interesting lot. It’s almost like having distant odd relatives all over the country!
Serendipity takes over naturally, because if you are good at striking up conversation, and listening, advice will come on where you should go next … to find books, to eat, to experience some local treasure. You’ll learn about local lore and landmarks.
Talking with Paul Skenandore of Shenandoah Books, in Appleton, Wisconsin…
Ron talking with Paul Skenandore of Shenandoah Books, Etc.
led us to breakfast and…
Bill Glass, Proprietor of The Pasty Koop, Appleton, WI
Bill Glass at “The Pasty Koop,” where we learned the long and storied history of the “Cornish Pasty,” both in Cornwall, England and in the local iron mining regions of the United States.
Heat-Moon says, “On an interstate I’ve never found (people who are ready to talk) — first of all the places where those conversations happen generally aren’t there. You need the laundromat, a quiet 5:30 tavern, a street corner where you might meet somebody.”
Book scouting in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin eventually led us to a local tavern at just about that golden time of 5:30, after the book shops had closed for the day…
where we met some fun locals who were charitable-minded enough to wear pink rabbit suits while golfing in the hot sun to raise money for breast cancer awareness.
These are the moments you remember.
Here’s a link to an article I wrote back in 2005 for Bookthink called “Take The Old Car – Part II.” Just another example of serendipity playing a huge role in a fun and successful journey.
My humble piece of advice: For meeting interesting people just about anywhere and adding serendipity to your travels, there is no better “plan” than to loosely map out your trail in search of used & rare bookstores! You’re bound to meet interesting people and find interesting books.
Here are some of my favorite books on American road trips:
Blue Highways: A Journey into America, William Least Heat-Moon, Little Brown, 1982
PrairyErth: (A Deep Map), William Least Heat-Moon, Houghton Mifflin, 1991
Travels with Charley: In Search of America, John Steinbeck, Viking Press, 1962
The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America, Bill Bryson, Harper & Row, 1989
It’s A Big Country –America Off the Highways, Ben Lucien Burman, Reynal & Co., 1956
American Vertigo: Traveling America in the Footsteps of Tocqueville, Levy, Bernard-Henry, Random House, 2006
The Lincoln Highway: Coast to Coast from Times Square to the Golden Gate, Wallis, Michael, W.W. Norton, 2007
A few of these books are available at our website.
Hope these books and our blog inspire you to be curious travelers, and to write about your adventures!