What I’m Reading: The Imperfectionists

Last week I read Tom Rachman’s debut novel, The Imperfectionists, which came to me highly recommended via several of the book blogs I follow and numerous articles on the “best summer reads.” The Imperfectionists is about the life of a Rome-based English-language newspaper, and the lives of the panoply of ex-pats and wanderers who founded, work(ed) for, or read the paper.

Structured something like the films Love, Actually or Crash, each chapter of Rachman’s novel follows a different person’s life, skipping from corrections editor Herman Cohen, to the current Editor-in-Chief, Kathleen Solson, to CFO Abbey Pinnola, to Oliver Ott, the magazine’s publisher and its founder’s grandson, etc. Each of these chapters is followed by a short italicized section which proceeds chronologically through the history of the paper, following a slightly different set of characters (mostly those directly related to the paper’s founder, Cyrus Ott) from its beginnings in 1953 to its (Spoiler Alert) closure in 2007.

I didn’t like this book as much as I expected to, perhaps because I began it with such high expectations and because these past few weeks for me have been packed with really high quality fiction.

"The Imperfectionists" by Tom Rachman

I think Rachman set himself a difficult task in The Imperfectionists, structurally speaking, by chosing to rotate continually from character to character, trusting the newspaper, as the lone evolving figure at the center of the novel, to tie the entire narrative together. My problem with the frequent character shifting is that it’s very difficult to maintain the same quality of writing (and precision of characterization) as the writer moves from one personality to the next. And unlike the movies I mentioned above, Rachman never returns to a character for a second visit. Each person receives only one chapter, and whatever sidelong glances the other characters throw his or her way when it’s their turn to guide the third person narration.

When a novel has so many characters, it’s almost unavoidable for me as a reader to develop favorites, and then to regret that the book doesn’t spend more time with them, and less time dabbling with characters who are not as persuasively real, well-written, or interesting. Of course, Rachman’s justification for structuring his book in this way is that the intentional center of the novel is the newspaper, more than any single human being, but I felt like much of Rachman’s point was to make clear how much the paper was its people, the product of the passion, obsession, curiosity and joy of those who created it. And because it wasn’t easy for to develop and sustain an affection for any of his characters (not that liking characters is necessary to liking fiction…it isn’t. Try Lolita) it wasn’t easy to care as much about the paper as I would have liked to, either.

I did love the first chapter of The Imperfectionists, which follows the paper’s Paris correspondent, the aging, outmoded and completely broke, Lloyd Burko, on a desperate quest to find or fabricate some kind of story, and I loved the chapters describing the obit writer’s trip to Switzerland to interview a dying woman whose long forgotten feminist tracts were a pet fancy of the editor, and the chapter on Ornella de Monterecchi, the paper’s most loyal and consistent reader.

And Rachman is definitely a good writer. The book is full of lovely sentences and striking images; one in particular, from Ornella’s chapter, sticks in my mind. Ornella is an Italian woman, mother of an Italian man who once interned at the paper and fell in love with Kathleen, who was then his fellow intern and later became the paper’s Editor-in-Chief. Ornella lives in an odd, self-induced time warp. After a family tragedy, she somehow fell behind in her newspaper reading, and never caught up. As the first decade of the new millennium rumbles to an end outside, she sits in her house pouring over issues of the paper from the early 90s, moving to a new day’s issue only after reading every word of the last one. Her Polish cleaning lady brings in the new paper each day and stacks it in the attic; information about the modern world is forbidden in her house, as are cell phones and video games and any marker of temporal progress.

In my favorite scene from the novel, Ornella, finally decides that enough is enough, and climbs the ladder into the attic. She tosses all the issues—more than a decade’s worth of a daily paper—onto the floor, until she is standing above an ocean of black and white newsprint. Then she sits in the center of scattered pages, and allows years worth of time to happen to her all at once: Clinton’s reelection as president, Taliban fighters capturing Kabul, the Dow topping 11,000, Milosevic’s resignation, September 11th, the iphone, the war in Iraq. I found myself wishing the book could have stayed with her longer; she might have made a good novel all by herself.

But the upside of all the switching is that the newspaper itself does come alive perhaps more than it would otherwise: Rachman wonderfully conveys the haphazard way a paper like this comes together, fueled by the whims of its editors, the peccadilloes of its writers, the capitalistic plans of its founders, and the passion of people for whom chasing, capturing and reporting the news is not simply a profession but a way of life. A glorious way of life.

Appearing as it does into today’s print “climate,” Rachman’s novel feels a little bit like an ode to print journalism; to me the book seems largely reflective and nostalgic, looking backward at a thing whose time has come and gone, whose heyday was decades ago and whose resurrection seems unlikely. I wonder if Rachman intends a parallel between Obituary writer Arthur Gopal’s preemptive obituary of the dying Swiss philosopher-feminist, and The Imperfectionists’ beautiful and somewhat elegiac depiction of one corner of the print journalism industry. I certainly don’t think the book is intended as some kind of literary  death knell, but perhaps we’ll just have to wait and see.

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Daunt Books, John Updike, and Sainte-Chapelle.

This week, my last in Europe, I spent a few days in London where, per the recommendation of a lovely and knowledgeable friend, I visited Daunt Books for Travellers, a fantastic bookshop on Marylebone High Street. If you’d like to visit without shelling out for airfare, you can take a virtual tour of the shop at their website, http://www.dauntbooks.co.uk/.

I spent a happy hour and fifteen minutes there before leaving with several gifts for friends, a new Daunt Books linen bag (free, with a 20£ purchase, so essentially impossible for me to have left without one) and a slim volume of poetry called Endpoint and Other Poems, the last collection of poems by American writer John Updike, who passed away in January of 2009. While on the Eurostar back to Paris, I read the whole collection, which included this sonnet, called “Evening Concert, Sainte-Chapelle”:

Evening Concert, Sainte-Chapelle

The celebrated windows flamed with light
directly pouring north across the Seine;
we rustled into place. Then violins
vaunting Vivaldi’s strident strength, then Brahms,
seemed to suck with their passionate sweetness,
bit by bit, the vigor from the red,
the blazing blue, so that the listening eye
saw suddenly the thick black lines, in shapes
of shield and cross and strut and brace, that held
the holy glowing fantasy together.
The music surged; the glow became a milk,
a whisper to the eye, a glimmer ebbed
until our beating hearts, our violins
were cased in thin but solid sheets of lead.

~ John Updike

The poem struck me the first time I read it with the power of its imagery, the fantastic mixture of senses, the rhythm and forceful, corporeal precision of its observations. Today, after waiting in a tremendously long queue, I visited Sainte-Chapelle, on l‘île de la Cité, and just by chance happened to have Updike’s book with me in my bag. Remembering the sonnet, I pulled it out and read it again, beneath the fantastic vitreaux he is writing about, surrounded at some moments by shush-induced silence, at others by rising voices and laughter.

The stunning vitreaux of Sainte-Chapelle, in Paris. [Photo: thorinside]

I think this is a great sonnet. Sainte-Chapelle is truly gorgeous and Updike masterfully integrates the visual experience of the stained-glass windows with the aural experience of music. He captures the power and weight of the vitreaux’s structure and the many black bars of lead which hold the thousands of panes of glass in place, and melds this with the simultaneous flow and structure of music, and the sheets of the black bars and notes which  underlie the glorious sounds of Vivaldi and Brahms. Within the sonnet,  all this melts together into a singular, magnificent and nearly frightening sensual experience, evoking both the grandeur and the limitations of the soul. But I wax unduly poetic where the poem–and the vitreaux–speak better for themselves.  Enough from me! Bonne Nuit.

Learning to Read in French

I don’t really remember learning to read.

I do remember, vaguely, a time before I knew how to read, but I don’t remember being baffled by letters, or staring, puzzled, at pages of text, I simply remember that instead of reading for myself, people (i.e. my parents) read to me. As far as my memory serves, the switch to reading to myself occurred seamlessly. I imagine it happened something like this: one day I sat staring out a window, and the next I sat by the same window, reading a book, and looking up from it occasionally to make sure the universe I was familiar hadn’t disappeared while I’d been immersed in some new world that opened to my imagination as I turned the pages those slim, simple books that were the first ones I’d ever read.

It’s glorious, really, that as a child I didn’t have to struggle to learn to read, and in this gloriousness, I mean to include the absence from my life of all the challenges that come between children and reading: lack of books, lack of teachers, lack of time, dyslexia, disinterest, disease, all the chance happenings of health, money and location that decide so much and yet over which we ourselves have so little control.

Reading has always been easy for me. At least in English…reading in French, however, is a whole different cup of noodles. Reading in French is really, really hard. I’ve been working at it for a few weeks to the detriment of my other (Anglophone) reading and hence to my frequency of posting here, and I’ve seen some progress. This whole foray into books in French began by the chance discovery of a French children’s bookshop with a really friendly owner, who understood my mangled request for something read and sent me home with the first of what’s become a (very small, slow moving) stream of French books that I’ve been working through kind of the a salmon works to get up stream: large periods of extreme effort without much measurable forward progress. Though I have to say, on behalf of the salmon, I think if I had the motivation and determination of biological imperative, I’d be doing rather better…swimming against the current with a thousand of your specie-al (is that a word? Is there a better word? Bio-people, help me out?) best friends and under constant threat of being munched on by bear is definitely harder than reading a children’s book in French. Sans aucune doute.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still doing my best to single-handedly support each and every Anglophone bookshop in Paris, and I’ve still got three or four English-language books going at the moment (one should barely count as English, though, as it’s a history of Paris). But as books are really the only thing I spend money on (well…books…and pastries…and

One of my favorite pages from Francoise Place's "Le Vieux Fou de Dessin." I bet you can guess why I liked this page so much!

museum fees) French bookstores clearly deserve my custom too. With that in mind, I’ve gone to some lengths to diversify my book-spending, and I’ve managed to acquire a small–but growing–stack of books in French, most with miraculously simple grammar, limited vocabularies which still greatly exceed my own and lots and lots of pictures.

Pictures, vocab, simple grammar and all, I am still finding it really hard to read in French…I’m not sure, but I think this may partially be because my mind isn’t as open to “not-knowing” as it was when I was first learning to read. I’m not as willing to let blanks fill themselves in slowly over time: I want to know what this word means, and I want to know it now! I want to understand the full sense of this phrase, and the next phrase, and the next phrase. I don’t want to feel like I’m missing constantly something,  and learning to read in a new language is full of “missing somethings”; it’s full of unknown words,

Sherlock Holmes

A page from a translation of a Sherlock Holmes' story. Words I don't know are circled.

confusing sentence structures and baffling idioms.

I remember reading someone’s answer to the question “Do you read with a dictionary?” She responded “No, never, I learn words through the context.” At the time, I remember thinking that was admirable but certainly wouldn’t work for me. I love looking up English words in the dictionary. Even though I often find that definitions lack the richness that I attribute to particular words within my own mind, the layers of definitions weave together into what appears to me to be a tapestry of language in which definitions are essential but the beauty of the whole is composed of something far more subtle than the rigorous restriction of words to meanings.

In France, I’ve been using a pocket English/French dictionary and a much larger French/English dictionary to aid me in my reading, but recently I’ve switched to just using a French dictionary, and I think this may be a step in the right direction (if the destination I’m hoping for is one with a good view of the tapestry of French language as a whole). Sure, now I’m baffled by my dictionary just as much as by the books I need the dictionary for, and that can be frustrating…but I’m beginning to sense the way words connect to each other, and I’m beginning to see the subtle differences between so-called synonyms. The language is getting richer, and it’s a little bit frightening. But then English frightens me too sometimes – – Plath’s English, for example, the author who said “The blood jet is poetry and there is no stopping it.”

But the power of language to frighten isn’t something I’m willing to give up for the sake of an easy translation. Easy translations usually end up dull and lifeless. Take this short poem by French poet Guillaume Apollinaire, “L’adieu” (“The Farewell”):

J’ai cueilli ce brin de bruyère
L’automne est morte souviens-t’en
Nous ne nous verrons plus sur terre
Odeur du temps brin de bruyère
Et souviens-toi que je t’attends

Here is a rough translation courtesy of me and my Webster’s New World Pocket French Dictionary:

I picked this blade of heather*
Autumn is dead, that you must remember
We will not see each other again on earth
The smell of time blade of heather
And, you must remember, I await you.


And here’s a much lovelier translation, courtesy of Donald Revell:

I picked this sprig of heather
Autumn has died you must remember
We shall not see each other ever
I’m waiting and you must remember
Time’s perfume is a sprig of heather.

Big difference, right? And it’s with that difference in mind that I’m putting aside my French/English dictionaries, designating them for emergency use only, and diving into L’histoire de ma vie, by George Sand and the fantastic Belgian Bandes Dessinées, Tintin with only my new, all French dictionary to keep me afloat. And though the water does

Tintin

Some of the choice expressions of Captain Haddock (or 'le capitaine Haddock') from Herge's "Les Adventures of Tintin: L'Affaire Tournesol."

look choppy, cold and terrifying, I think I’ll have more luck learning to swim in the ocean than I would in a bathtub, to beat a not-so-successful metaphor to death.

Obviously, I don’t think the difference has only to do with dictionaries—a semester of the Philosophy of Language was more than enough to make me abandon any conception I might have had of dictionaries being the real home of the spoken or written word—but it’s a good jumping off point, I think (or a jumping in point, to keep with the now-definitely-dead swimming metaphor). And like I said, English scares me sometimes too; but I love that it’s able to do that, and I hope that someday French will scare me the way English does:  with the threat of understanding all too well, instead of the dread of being incapable of understanding anything at all.
*(bruyère didn’t make the cut for my little Webster’s, so I googled it for the translation of ‘heather’).

In other news…

Since I’m very happy anyone at all reads this blog, and I feel bad for not posting more regularly, I wanted to let you know that I’ve started writing a bi-weekly/potentially-soon-weekly column for an online travel magazine called Go.Girl. You can check out my posts and those of a whole bunch of other people going interesting places and doing interesting things via the link under the heading “Other Blogs I Like” to the left, or by clicking here.  Bon Dimanche!

Margaret, the Traveling Reader, Part Four: A Compendium of Sorts.

Well, I can no longer use travel as an excuse for tardiness because I’ve been home for two weeks now, and this is the first post I’ve managed to finish. It’s strange to be home, and especially strange to be surrounded by (American) English every where I go. I think I learned a lot on my trip: a lot about traveling, about myself, about the world. But a lot of the information I acquired was terribly specific—train schedules, the how-to-s  of foreign produce sections, the words for “sorry” or “excuse me” in nearly every western European or Scandinavian language, jaywalking laws in different European capitals, how to climb into and make the top bunk of a three-tier bed in total darkness—and hardly of any use at all in the States. But while abroad I also learned a great deal about searching out English language books and bookstores in countries where English is (usually) not the first language, and how to do so as inexpensively as possible, and I wanted.

So, while most of my acquired information is relatively unhelpful now—the train schedules, whether to wait for the walk signal in Munich (Yes! Wait!), and how to know you’re buying milk, not strange, milky yogurt etc.—but I like to think some of it could be useful, and so I’m offering here a haphazard compendium of some the best bookstores and literary places I visited on my trip, alongside a few tips for any travelers interested in reading while they journey, or interested in knowing a bit about the literary history of the places they visit—who wrote there, what they wrote, what charming little two room museum has been erected on a street “not far” from where said author actually lived etc.

First things first, before even boarding your transoceanic flight or your Greyhound to the border or what have you, it’s a great idea to read about the places  you’re going before you go. Read about a history of the country, even if its just the history of a momentous week or decade, peruse a biography of its most famous resident, or pick up a translation of some of its classic or contemporary fiction or poetry. Whatever floats your boat. Try Turkey’s Orhan Pamuk, or 2009 Nobel Prize for Literature winner, German writer Herta Müller , or (another Nobel prize winner) Polish poet Wisława Szymborska, or any of the scores of other fantastic writers from around the world.

When I happened upon one of my college professors in London, we went to Waterstone’s (sort of a British Barnes & Nobles) so she could search for a particular book written about the Greek Isles, her next destination, and to be truthful, she put me to shame, because I’ve always struggled with the pre-travel research reading. Four years or so ago I struggled through Robert Fisk’s Pity the Nation before a trip to Lebanon (it was worth it), and on this trip I’m afraid most of my prior-to-departure reading consisted of the history and culture blurbs in travel guides.

I’m much better at the post-departure reading, and so I less hypocritically recommend that, once you’ve begun your travels, go out of your way to read books that are particularly evocative of a certain city, country or place while you’re there. I read Woolf’s Orlando in London, James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room while in Paris, and Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin Stories while, obviously, in Berlin, and I found the books enriched by the cities and the cities by the books. Away from cities, for landscape and atmosphere you could try Frankenstein while traveling by train through Switzerland, or Dracula in Romania…the possibilities are almost endless and I’m sure that if you look hard enough, there’s a book worth reading from any and every place you’re headed.

Now to hurry myself along a bit, I’m going to offer three, specific points of advice:

First, on trading books with other travelers: this can be a great way to both meet people and to get something new to read. However, just be aware that your fellow travelers may be just as disappointed to receive your George Eliot as you are to trade it for their Stephanie Meyer, or vice versa. Not all matches are made in heaven, nor all readers created identical.

Second (and, as you’ll see, also fourth), on reading cheaply when you’re traveling with a low budget and want to sleep and eat as well as read: Most hostels (and some coffee shops) will have a take-one, leave-one book exchange. If you don’t spot one in one of the common areas of your hostel, ask. It might be hidden, or empty or it might not exist, and if the latter is the case, and you have a book to leave, see if you can start one. A future reading traveler will appreciate it! For instance, I found a lone copy of “The Six Wives of Henry VIII” on an unmarked shelf in Berlin, with a post-it reading “Take one, leave one” on the cover. (Turns out Henry’s wives lived long enough to last me through a fever-ridden weekend in Munich, so my thanks to whoever left it!)

Third, visit libraries! They’re a good way to keep up with local, home, and world news without having to pay exorbitant amounts for foreign newspapers or magazines. Also, libraries often have free wi-fi or internet and bulletin boards with flyers for cool local events of both literary and non-literary varities. Also, on a not so related note, if you’re in a big city, it probably has a university, the university probably has bookstores, and at least one of those bookstores probably has books in English (and maybe a quirkly little musuem dedicated to its most famous graduates–go visit philosopher Jeremy Benthem in his auto-icon at University College London).

And fourthly, you’ll notice in my “compendium” below that I haven’t listed any specific bookstores in England or in Germany, not for lack of good candidates but because I bought all of my books in both those countries from charity shops (e.g. Oxfam or Red Cross Association). Surprisingly (to me), most German Oxfams have a good, if eclectic selection of English books (I spotted John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row in four Oxfams in four different German cities) and English charity shops often have stellar and quite extensive book selections as well. Books are usually really inexpensively priced (a euro–or a pound—or two as opposed to 12 to 20 euros in a bookshop) and, as a bonus, the money you spend goes to a good cause. Also, if you end your trip in possession of a bunch of books you don’t want to bring home, try to drop them off at one of these shops before you leave (or, if that’s inconvenient or just not your game,  leave them on a shelf in your final hostel).

Okay, enough advice. Here’s a list of addresses (and email addresses, where available) of a few of the best bookstores I came across while traveling , and a list of some of the best literary “places” I visited. Bookstores are listed, in no particular order, by city, and experiences are in a snazzy, if slightly overcrowded, Top Five.

Best Bookstores:

Istanbul, TurkeyRobinson Crusoe 389, Istiklal Caddesi 389, Beyoglu, 34433 Istanbul.

Brussels, BelgiumSterling Books, Wolvengracht 38, 1000 Brussels, Belgium. They call themselves the “English Language Bookstore in the Heart of Brussels,” and true to the name the store is only a few minutes walk from the Grand Place.

Wall of Brilliance at Librería Mujeres.

Two stories worth of English language books, with good travel and language sections and the inevitable “Penguin Classic” souvenirs (the tea towels, posters, coasters, etc. that you’ll find in nearly every English language bookstore in the UK or on the continent).

Madrid, Spain: Libreria Mujeres, Calle de San Cristóbal 17 28012 Madrid. I can’t manage anything more than the most rudimentary Spanish, but I still loved this bookstore. A few steps from Plaza Mayor, this all-Spanish shop has translations of every great woman writer and feminist you can think of, as well as books by more than a few authors I’d never heard of before.

Paris, FranceShakespeare and Company Bookstore, 37 Rue de la Bûcherie 75005 Paris, France. This bookstore is legendary, located la rive gauche not far from Notre Dame, and well worth a visit. The top floor is full of books that aren’t for sale but that are meant to be read in house, so go cozy up with a biography of George Sand or old copy of the Paris Review, or if you’re in Paris for a while and feeling ambitious, I spotted a copy of Ulysses (first published by

Anika, Me and My "Good Reader" Halo at Shakespeare and Company.

the store’s original proprietor, Sylvia Beach) just waiting to be read. Also, during the week, the store buys used books in English, so if you’re carrying a few too many volumes, trade them for a couple euros or store credit.

Stockholm, SwedenThe English Bookshop, Lilla Nygatan 11 111 28 Stockholm, Sweden. Located in Gamla Stan, the tiny island whose winding, beautiful streets make up Stockholm’s Old Town (the English translation of Gamla Stan) this small all-English bookstore has an eclectic and well-chosen (special exhibitions on the Beats and Canadian author Lucy Maud Montgomery while I was there) if somewhat limited selection of titles  and a friendly, book-savvy staff.

Hedengrens Bokhandel, Stureplan 4, 11485 Stockholm, Sweden. Part of Östermalm’s swanky Sturegallerian shopping district, this bookstore has a huge selection of English books on a variety of subjects and from a variety of scholarly disciplines. The top floor houses entirely Swedish texts, but head down to the basement level for what is, essentially, a big English-language bookshop that’s also home to many books in Italian, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Danish and Norwegian.

The Science Fiction Bookstore, Västerlånggatan 48, Gamla Stan, Stockholm. If you’re a sci-fi nut or just a casual fan, definitely stop by this store, not far from The English Bookshop in Gamla Stan.

Top Five Literary Places and Experiences:
1. Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, 21 New Globe Walk, Bankside, London, England. Not that there’s any chance this is still a secret, but it will be hard to hide the fact that I’m a complete literary nerd after I admit that far and away the most fun I had on my trip was going to see Shakespeare’s plays performed at the Globe Theatre in London. Only 5 quid for standing room (the best “seats” in the house), it’s probably the cheapest ticket in the city. I saw four shows there in a week and was giddy with happiness before, during and after every one. Reserve tickets ahead of time online, or stop by the box office and try your chances on the day of the show (usually works as long as it isn’t a weekend or the show you’re seeing is in the middle of its run).

My groundling's view of Shakespeare's Globe's stage for a production of "Love's Labour's Lost." The stage was shaped like a X, and I got to stand in the middle of it.

If you’re going to stand, get there early–as much as an hour and a half before show time–to queue (you are in England, after all!) for first entrance into the theatre so you can get a spot right at the front of the stage. And if showers are in the forecast, bring a poncho (no umbrellas!) and maybe indulge in some liquid warmth to counter the cold of the rain.

2. Haunting Cafés and Coffeehouses in Paris and Vienna: Viennese Kaffeehäuser and Parisian Cafés are rich with literary history. In Vienna, try Café Central, whose regulars have included Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Sigmund Freud, and Leo Trotsky, or Les Deux Magots, in Paris’s Saint-Germain-des-Prés, which was frequented by Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and Ernest Hemingway (if you hock a dozen paperback novels at Shakespeare and Company, nearby on la rive gauche, you might be able to afford a glass of wine). Or, on a rainy day, settle into any of the lesser-known but completely lovely cafés or coffeehouses that strike your fancy and enjoy an afternoon of reading and caffeine.

Vending Machine Full of Books in Lisbon, Portgual.

3. Lisbon Poets Hostel, Lisbon, Portugal. Hammocks, bean bags, a suitcase full of books, and rooms named after poets (I stayed in Whitman), the Lisbon Poets Hostel was definitely the best hostel I stayed in for reading and was probably the nicest hostel I stayed in on my trip. This great hostel for reading is located right by a metro stop in what, surprisingly, turned out to be the best city for reading: Lisbon is packed with bookstores, book stalls, and book vendors (and book-filled vending machines, like this one at the train station). Great city, great place to stay.

4. The Nobel Museum, Stockholm, Sweden. Granted, the Nobel Prize in Literature is only one of the five original Nobel Prizes, and only one of the six prizes awarded today (which includes “The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel,” established in 1968), so at this museum, literary greats are far outnumbered by the luminaries of science, medicine, economics, and the winners of the Nobel Peace Prize. But it’s actually wonderful to see the accomplishments of the world’s greatest writers in the broader context of creative thinking across the disciplines. Stick around long enough to watch a few of the short films on individual laureates and on the world’s most creative places (it might give you some new ideas about where to travel next).

5. Touring the Bodleian Library, Duke Humfrey’s Library, and Radcliffe Camera, and other literary spots in Oxford, England. This library, probably most easily recognized by most of the world as the Hogwart’s library (parts of the film were shot in the incredibly atmospheric Duke Humfrey’s Library) is one of the oldest libraries in Europe, dating back (in one form or another) more than four centuries. They’ve got a sweet copyright deal that guarantees them a copy of every book printed in the UK or Ireland; but, like everything (well, most things) in Oxford, their resources are only available to students the university, visiting scholars, and other very important people. Someday! Someday.

Little Will Shakespeares inhabiting the giftshop at the tourist glory that is Shakespeare's birthplace.

5.1…The Freud Museum, Vienna, Austria. The rooms where Freud lived with his family and conducted many of his most famous sessions (anyone read Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria?) are on a quiet street not too far from the center of Vienna. The couch isn’t here, as it went with Freud to London in 1938 when he fled the rising force of antisemitism in Austria. But even without the most famous Freudian artifact, the museum is definitely worth a visit if you’re interested in the the father of psychoanalysis.

Other places I liked a lot or recommend as worth visiting: Irish Writer’s Museum, Dublin, Ireland; Jane Austen Center, Bath, England; The Anne Frank House, Amsterdam, The Netherlands; Shakespeare’s Birthplace/ Tourist Extravaganza, Stratford-upon-Avon, England; Jungsgarten (dedicated to Astrid Lindgren, author of the Pippi Longstocking series) Stockholm, Sweden; nearly all of London, England; Cimetière du Montparnasse, Paris, France.

Lists completed, I guess my final piece of advice, for both reading and travel, is simply to be open-minded. Books can take you into lands every bit as foreign as those airplanes can, and just as new places can change your life irrevocably, new books can do so as well. So follow your instincts, be both careful and courageous, take chances when they feel right, listen, with dedicated attention, both to those around you and to yourself, travel often, and read a lot.