Two of my favorite things to do are travel and spend time in bookstores. Every trip to a bookstore holds the possibility of discovering my new favorite book, author, or both. When I walk into a bookstore, I am happily transported into another world, even if just for an hour or so. Pair this with a new city or country, or one I’m visiting again because I loved it so much the last time, and it’s a perfect vacation excursion.
When I’m going on a trip abroad and planning my itinerary and tours, I slot in time to do a “self-guided tour” of a local bookstore (or two); so I can learn about the city’s writing fabric, including both its contemporary and historical writers. I do my best to find independent bookstores whenever I can. However, I also enjoy visiting the chain bookstores to see how their layouts and subject focuses differ from those back home in the U.S. On a recent visit to a chain bookstore in Dublin, I discovered an entire (very large) floor devoted to books ranging from Children’s through Young Adult/Teenager – it was like discovering the holy grail for YA devotees.
Regardless of what bookstore you find yourself in on your next trip abroad – or your next vacation or staycation, here are five tips for making the most of visiting a bookstore on vacation:
1) Spot the Trends
Start with the chart toppers section. What books are trending? Are the titles familiar? Are the same books on the charts list at home now or have they been in the past? Have you read any of the books already, or are they sitting on your bookshelf or desk at home waiting to be opened?
Although I already have more books on my “To Be Read” list than I can finish any time soon, I try to at least have a working knowledge of what’s trending at home, which is not always the same as what’s trending abroad. Books can have different life spans – and top the charts at different times – in different locations. It’s always interesting to me to see a book on the shelf under “New Releases” in another country when I know it’s been making the rounds at home for a very long while (especially ones that have become book club favorites). On the flip side, I always find new titles on the charts abroad that I’ve never heard of before.
When you finish in the chart toppers section, head over to your favorite genre/category sections and do the same thing. Notice which books and authors have the most shelf space. Which books are front facing, so you can see the full cover; and which authors have large groupings of books? Any surprises here?
2) Expand Your Author Bubble
Foreign bookstores offer a unique ability to discover (or re-discover) a local author whether they are a classics author you read (or were supposed to read) in high school, a global blockbuster hit, or a local gem. I generally focus first on book titles when I’m scanning the chart toppers and the genre/category sections. Then I switch my mindset to the authors, especially ones that keep coming up or who are highlighted as local authors, which I often find proudly displayed in their own sections. And if the bookstore doesn’t have its own local authors section, ask one of the staff members at the bookstore to recommend a few in your favorite genre/category.
3) Listen to the Experts
Don’t forget to also check out the Staff Recommendations section if the bookstore has one; and if it doesn’t (or even if it does), you can also ask one of the staff members to recommend their favorite authors and books. Although it might seem daunting to ask for a recommendation, especially in a foreign country (whether or not there is a language barrier), I have discovered in my travels that the world is smaller than it may seem at times; and common interests can lead to very interesting and memorable conversations.
4) Try a Sampler
Just like when you’re at home, visiting a bookstore can be (happily) overwhelming, especially when you’re on vacation and actually have more “free time” than usual to get lost in the book stacks. You may have found so many new titles or authors that you don’t know where to start. In this case, you can quickly gain a sense of popular writing styles for the city or country by flipping through a short story anthology featuring local authors. I find that the bookstores usually have a handful of different anthologies to choose from in their featured city/country sections, so you don’t have to look very hard for them. The harder task is deciding which anthology fits your style – a traditional one featuring historical authors or a contemporary one featuring some of the authors that you noticed in steps one and two above? Or maybe both?
5) Judge a Book by Its Cover
Pick three to five of your favorite books and go find them in the bookstore if you haven’t already. Notice whether the book cover art is different from the book you have on your shelf at home. For each book with a different cover, do you like the different cover more or less? If this wasn’t already one of your favorite books, would the different cover make you want to buy the book? Is the title the same, or are there slight differences in the word choice? Do you notice a trend in the type of art on the different covers – or on the covers in the chart toppers section in general?
This is one of my favorite parts of my bookstore visits abroad. It’s not surprising that tastes vary by countries and different covers are used; but what surprises me, and I often wonder about, is why we don’t get the cool covers back home that the other countries get? It’s rare that I don’t like a different cover better in Europe than in the U.S.
This same idea was shared by three teenage girls from the U.S., who I overheard recently in the YA section of another Ireland bookstore. They spent 20 minutes discussing possible purchases, and most of the time they focused on the book jacket comparisons. They also wondered why the covers were cooler in Ireland than back home. And, yes, I admit that I spent some extra time in the YA section that day because their conversation brought a huge smile to my face; plus, I chalked it up to real-life research.
By the time you finish going through these suggestions on your next vacation bookstore visit, I hope you will have spent some quality time among the book stacks, possibly had (or overheard) some memorable conversations, and come away with a new found knowledge and appreciation of the writing fabric of the city and country you’re visiting as well as the reading passions of its residents – and possibly its visitors. You will also hopefully have jotted down some notes – or at least taken some mental pictures – about everything you’ve learned. But there is one thing left to do before you leave the store…
Buy a book and start reading it before you head home! It will likely be one of the best (and one of the cheapest) souvenirs you will buy to remember your trip and the time you spent in that cute bookstore hidden down that narrow street in that wonderful city where you discovered one of your favorite YA authors…
Now it’s your turn to fill in the blanks. Do you have a favorite experience in a bookstore while you were traveling?
Richelle Lyn writes mysteries for young adults, which is also what she loves to read along with both YA and women’s contemporary fiction. She’s an avid traveler and tennis fan. So far, her favorite countries to keep visiting are Italy and Ireland; and she’s 3/4 of the way through traveling the globe to attend the four Tennis Grand Slams. She loves her tea hot and her coffee iced. She calls both South Florida and Chicago home. Connect with her on Twitter (@Richelle_Lyn_), Facebook (Richelle Lyn @RichelleLynAuthor), or email (RichelleLynAuthor@gmail.com).