Tag Archives: literature

Nightly Terrors & Treats

 

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Halloween treats came early last night at the Morbid Anatomy Museum in Brooklyn. Raised on all things spooky, when I learned the New York Chapter of Horror Writers Association would be dropping in to host an evening of Night Terrors, I rang my brother who responded with “we’re there!”

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A chilly day outside the museum

Founded in 2014, the Morbid Anatomy Museum is a non-profit with a dark dance card of events and lecture series that are often sold out.   The idea for this popular space grew out of the Morbid Anatomy Library, a cabinet of curiosities created by Joanna Ebenstein’s blog. Situated near the murky waters of the Gowanus Canal, this somewhat desolate location beyond the strollers of Park Slope is an inviting spot for anyone looking to convene with other like-minded souls.

Last night six authors shared their tales, including Tonya Hurley, a New York Times best-selling author and the museum’s founding board member. Her popular novel series Ghostgirl is being adapted for the big screen.   In between readings, prizes were distributed to the audience member who had the best scream, or belted out the best zombie rendition of Happy Birthday, or who could name the actor who played Frankenstein in the 1931 film, for instance.

But it was the presence of the last writer, Jack Ketchum, which cast the biggest treat.   Ketchum, who’s been crowned “the scariest guy in America” by Stephen King, held us spellbound as he read his short story Bully. A four-time winner of the Bram Stoker Award from the Horror Writers Association, last year he was honored with the Bram Stoker Lifetime Achievement Award…so you get we’re I’m coming from.

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Jack Ketchum

With the, dare I say, holiday season approaching the museum is a unique place to buy unusual gifts. It’s worth visiting to check out their offerings of t-shirts, classic and contemporary horror literature, Victorian jewelry, housewares, and one-of-a-kind animal taxidermy. While I find that last item kind of creepy, this type of collectible sells out quick.

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Kittens Wedding ceremony.

Some upcoming events to get your ghoul on include Psychedelics of Death, Minder Reader: An Evening With Vinny DePonto, and Bram Stoker: Something in the Blood (which I’ll be at for sure).   Their current taxidermy exhibit, Art, Science & Mortality Featuring Walter Potter’s Kittens’ Wedding, closes on November 6. If you find the idea of dead kittens from the 1800s all dressed up in frills and ready to party off-putting, you might rest easy knowing it’s owned by, and on loan, from Sabrina Hansen, the founder of Aslan Cats, a sanctuary in the Catskills.

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Catch & Release Your Summertime Reading.

SuitcaseofbooksAnyone who’s ever discovered a book along the way while traveling knows what a treat it can be.  In addition to other forgotten things, travelers often leave behind books when they head home or on to other places. Some do it to free up real estate in their luggage, others do it intentionally so another soul can enjoy the literature. Reaching for a book in the common space of a hotel, B&B, hostel, or cruise ship creates a subtle connection with the previous owner. Sometimes a bookmark is left inside, or maybe some notations alongside the margin, leaving behind hints of the previous reader like perfume that lingers long after someone has left a room.

This passing along of literature is kind of like a universal kinship. We may never meet the previous reader but some type of intimacy has been exchanged as the book passes from traveler to travel, along to parts unknown. It’s not about ownership. It’s all about sharing.

For anyone who appreciates finding a good book, or open to the mystery of discovering a book, check out Bookcrossing.com. Launched in 2001, it’s a celebration of literature based on creating a world library through a social networking structure. Their mission is to connect people through books and their model is “catch and release.” After signing onto their site, readers can start leaving books in their travel wake and, if interested, can track these books and connect with other readers. To date, it has 1,204,991 Bookcrossers (booklovers!) and 10,331,054 books traveling through 132 countries. Pretty cool.

The clever thing about Bookcrossing.com is that you can leave books anywhere, which means you can do it in your own backyard. This makes life a bit more fun for those down times when you’re not traveling. No matter where you live, you’re bound to have tourists or travelers passing through your village, town, city, or countryside. You can leave a book anywhere—restaurants, a park bench, a monument, a subway. Imagine the surprise, and delight, when someone comes across this treasure and discovers it was meant for them!

If you’re the sort of reader who’s been meaning to clear out any books you may have around the house but who has trouble parting with your old favorites, this offers a great alternative. The best part is you can follow the books you set free as they make their way around the world and discover who might appreciate them as much as you do.

Happy reading and happy travels!

Of Nigerian Schoolgirls & Landays.

(Photo credit: Drew Brown)

(Photo credit: Drew Brown)

Climb to the brow of the hill and sight
where my darling’s caravan will sleep tonight.
–A landay, author unknown

When it comes to travel we don’t mind investing our time, money, and spirit into a destination. The reasons we travel are endless. We go, we enjoy, and we return home, hopefully sated and, if we’re lucky, having made some new friends. The good times we have are provided in some measure by the people who live there.

In light of the 276 Nigerian schoolgirls who were kidnapped by Boko Haram, a militant group, 4 weeks ago, I’ve been thinking about what we bring and what we take away from a place. And what gets taken for granted.

“Those poor girls.” “Their poor parents.” These are two thoughts I’ve heard the most over the past few weeks. I’ve thought them myself. Most of us take our education and the access to it for granted. We don’t worry about extremist groups freaked out by the idea of educating women.

Any place on the planet that has a good standard of living for its citizens is a place where women have the right to an education, contribute to the work force and are empowered. It raises the bar for everyone, and it contributes to a country’s tourism dollars. If there’s a country you have a desire to visit but are skittish about traveling to because it might fall somewhere on the danger zone, chances are its female citizens are marginalized or uneducated.

(Photo credit: David Levene)

(Photo credit: David Levene)

Being here on the other side of the world from Nigeria, it may be easy to just pray for these girls and hope for the best because you can’t see any way to help them. But for anyone interested there is a way. The Campaign for Female Education (Camfed) is a non-profit organization dedicated to eradicating poverty in Africa by investing in the education of girls. It doesn’t cost a fortune and a few bucks go a long way. I could give you the lowdown on it all but Nicholas Kristof’s recent op-ed article What’s So Scary About Smart Girls opens the book on why educating girls in this part of the world matters so much. He does an excellent job explaining why books are more powerful than bombs and drones.

This is a travel blog, my intention is not to get wrapped up in politics but the situation involving the girls who were kidnapped doesn’t begin and end in Nigeria. I’m not traveling there any time soon but one day I might. I don’t mind investing a few dollars to enhance the future of someone who could contribute to making her country a more inviting and progressive environment for the women who live there and for anyone visiting. To quote Kristof, “To stick it to Boko Haram, help educate a girl.”

India makes a plea for the girls.

India makes a plea for the girls.

Journalist Eliza Griswold has been traveling to Afghanistan and Pakistan since 2001. In 2012 she returned to the Pashtun area, a border region and Taliban stronghold between these two countries, to collect landays, an oral tradition of folk poetry that’s been around since 3400 B.C. The landay is two lines of 22 syllables and named for a poisonous snake because it is sharp and to the point. While poetry is revered in Afghanistan, these poems are a clandestine activity and a secret way into the lives of these women. Another country where women are marginalized, in this region over 20 million Pashtun women live a hard life surrounded by violence and suffering. Many of them are illiterate but despite the societal traditions, laws, violence and suffering, these women aren’t passive. Their voices find expression through the landay. For the women who write them down, discovery of this poetry can cost them their lives.

The power of the pen.

The power of the pen.

Griswold’s recently published book of translated landays I Am The Beggar of the World gives anyone curious about the culture a way to connect with these women. It’s a way to take a fantastic journey and dispel any stereotypes or preconceived notions you might have about them. It’s a passageway towards a day when we can hopefully travel to this place and meet some of the women brave enough to share their enlightening and empowering words. If you’re interested in learning more about landays, check out the Poetry Foundation.

Travel opens doors and enriches us.

For the places we can’t visit, we may have to crawl through a window to contribute, connect and invest in a different kind of experience with the people who live there but chances are it’ll be well worth the effort.

Tis The Season…For Great Travel Books!

One of the very cool images from Safari: A Photicular Book.

One of the very cool images from Safari: A Photicular Book.

The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.
–St. Augustine

It’s the Christmas season. It’s also a time when gift giving gets a bit stressful. But hey, why makes things hard on yourself? If you’ve got people in your life who love to travel—whether they’re friends or customers—there are plenty of goodies out there that’ll bring a smile to their face and give them fresh ideas. The best part is, you don’t have to go far to find them. They’re most probably right in your neighborhood or just a click away. Inspiration is everywhere but it’s especially nice when it comes gift-wrapped, so here are a few hints to make your life easer:

Published last year, Safari: A Photicular Book is stunning. I’d like one myself! It was created with something called Motion Viewer design that brings the images on the page to life. It’s an eye-catching book and a great educational tool for children or just about anyone who loves animals. It might even inspire safari travel and how cool would that be?

Anyone with a love for photography will lose themselves in the black and white imagery in Genesis. Sebastião Salgado’s eight-year photo project that he calls his “love letter to the planet.” From South America to the Sudan, he traveled to over 32 destinations, mostly by foot, to capture the most incredible images.  Within this book anyone can explore Earth’s untouched regions. A great escape.

I’ve got a friend who’s determined to visit every national park in the U.S. If you have one too, then you might want to put this on your gift list. America’s National Parks is a treasure that springs to life in your hands. This pop-up picture book is fun, beautiful and educational. Even better, a portion of the book’s proceeds go directly to the National Parks Conservation Association, so you’re really giving two gifts. Just looking at it will have you jonesing for an Airstream trailer.

Keeping in line with gifts that keep on giving, how about magazine subscriptions? For just twenty bucks or less, they also make a great stocking stuffer. Depending on which one you choose, they’re mailed monthly or quarterly which is a nice treat for the lucky recipient. My picks are AFAR, National Geographic Traveler, Outside, or Travel + Leisure. If these magazines don’t inspire travel, I don’t know what will!

Tis the season, so spread the wealth and please contribute any literary travel gift ideas you’ve got up your sleeve.

Let’s get people in the air, on the waves, road, rails, and trails.

Cheers!

Thanksgiving–Let The Games Begin.

(Photo credit:  Daily Telegraph)

(Photo credit: Daily Telegraph)

The holidays are upon us and the general consensus seems to be that they’ve somehow come around faster this year. No one knows how this happened but I have a feeling age might have something to do with it.

If you’re holding out to score a last-minute airfare for Thanksgiving travel, you’ve probably waited too long. With the Wednesday before and the Sunday after this holiday being the busiest travel days of the year, all you can do now is bite the bullet. In which case, you might want to think about flying out on Thanksgiving morning to avoid the madness and the possibility of a slightly lower fare. While you’re at it, you may want to grab the book you’ve been meaning to read or load up your Kindle. The only thing worse than waiting in a long security line, being delayed at the airport, or being stuck in the middle of coach is not having a juicy piece of literature to help you escape. I don’t care what it is—from the New York Post to Proust—be sure you’re packing something to avoid getting sucked into a bad travel energy field.

If you’re driving, fill her up the night before and, depending on your destination, check traffic reports before you hit the road so you have an alternate route plan. If you use a GPS, it can be difficult to reprogram a new route into it if you’re driving solo. Whether you’re traveling with a gang or alone, take the time to plan in advance to avoid any hassles or chance of road rage. And don’t forget the entertainment. Audio books make driving a pleasure. Depending on who your co-passengers are, it’s a unique way to experience a story together and it makes the time fly.

I’d say anyone fortunate enough to travel by rail has it the easiest. It’s one of my favorite ways to go. Again, you can pack some snacks, reading materials, or just chill out to some good music and enjoy the view during the busiest time of the year without all the stress.

Most importantly, don’t forget to adopt a Zen attitude. It’s busy, it’s nutty—it is what it is. You’re one of the fortunate souls who got an invitation and can gather around a table with friends or family to bicker with a crazy relative and celebrate with loved ones.

Wherever you’re going and however you plan to get there, if you’re staying past the holiday, check out local happenings. Chances are that there’s something going on in or near the city or town you’re visiting that qualifies as an attraction.  Even if it’s a nature walk or hike.  Not that there’s anything wrong with it but family gathering typically entails a lot of eating and sitting in front of the TV. Use the opportunity of being away from home and treat it like a destination. Do a little research, you’ll be surprised with what you may find.

Last but not least, thanks to everyone who takes the time to visit Ports Are Calling and for all of the support and ideas towards keeping it going.   The web is full of shiny stuff that attracts your attention, so the fact that you read it means a lot.

Be well, travel safe and enjoy a Happy Thanksgiving.

Fall Into It.

Nankoweap Rapid is mile 52 along the Colorado River.

Nankoweap Rapid is mile 52 along the Colorado River.

If summer’s about escapism then autumn is all about back to business. But for many, fall is the time of the year when a lot of us hightail it out of here.   The crowds are gone, the roads are clearer and we can have places more to ourselves. But what’s travel without a good book? More specifically, without a good book about travel?

Depending on the direction you’re headed, some travelers prefer total immersion. And as most travelers know, any good travel tale is not without its fair share of ups and downs.  With that in mind, here are a few recommendations for all you travel advisors and travelers to inspire travel reading, travel writing, but mostly…travel.

theoldwaysI like a guy who likes to walk so I’m looking forward to The Old Ways: A Journey On Foot by Robert McFarlane. Shortlisted for the 2013 Warwick prize for literature makes it another good reason to pick it up. A literature professor, McFarlane leads us along the paths of the British Isles in England and Scotland, where he meets people and learns the history of these places. Step by step, he experiences the meditative bonus of walking, the thinking that goes with it and shares how exploring a country on foot is one of the best ways to enjoy travel. For anyone who’s hooked on their Kindle app and can’t get away, or for travel advisors who want to check things out, you can use Google Earth to track his path and see what he saw as you read along. Pretty cool.

Collection-of-Sand-Essays-Pe“…the most important things in the world are the empty spaces,” writes Italo Calvino. In one way or another, the 38 essays that make up A Collection of Sand focus on Calvino’s visual experiences and how they inform travel. Around his pleasures and fascination of maps and books and how certain places, in this case Japan, Mexico and Iran led to contemplation on space and time and civilization. Beautiful writing.

 

robberofmemoriesSeems only fitting that since there’s a chill in the air that you should have something chilling in your hands, or on your iPad. In which case, The Robber of Memories: A River Journey Through Columbia may be right for you, especially if you’re heading in that direction. Michael Jacobs takes us with him on his adventure up Magdelena, a river that runs through the heart of Columbia where he charts its course geographically and emotionally. Like most first-world travelers who go it alone, he sheds himself of life’s modern comforts. His journey is challenging and dangerous but his tale, where South America is the central theme, serves up a different perspective altogether.

alexandriaEgypt might not be the first place you think of going to these days but that doesn’t mean you can’t get a taste of what it once was. A long time ago, in a land far away, an old flame turned me on to The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell and this masterpiece has stuck with me ever since. Made up of four small novels, it’s a lush and seductive tale of friends and lovers in Alexandria before WWI. Its central theme is love conveyed across the different viewpoints and experiences of the characters that make up these stories and whose common ground is the city.

BehindBeautifulForeversBehind The Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Slum by Katherine Boo. I suppose the title pretty much sums up it up but don’t let that get you down. Boo won numerous book awards for this story and any traveler worth their salt knows that the closer to the bone you get to living in a country, the sweeter the meat. A journalist for the New Yorker, Boo takes us into the slum of Annawadi and its underworld of characters that make up the citizens who do what they can to make a life for themselves and their families who live on the other side of life in the shadows of shiny corporate hotels.

urbancircusAnother glimpse into the lives of others, The Urban Circus: Travels with Mexico’s Malabaristas by Catriona Rainsford takes you on a wild and wacky ride. Rainsford joined a group of young, itinerant street performers on a two-year journey across the country where she learned to live hand-to-mouth with them. If you’ve ever been to Mexico, this true story will give you a chance to see beyond the tourist zones and into the everyday lives, genuineness and character of Mexicans.

If you’re into adventure travel, or have customers who live for it, then this gripping and heart-stopping story is the perfect companion. The Emerald Mile: The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History through the Heart of the Grand Canyon by Kevin Fedarko is the harrowing tale of three guides who ride the Colorado River through the heart of the Canyon.  Check it out:

There’s loads of stuff out there. Are you reading any good travel stories these days, fiction or otherwise? Let me know, I’d love to hear about them.

Stuck In The Middle With You, Ernest Hemingway and His First Wife.

Hammock-Beach-ReadingIt’s official, as of today, summer’s here! Thank the Lord. Spring is about glorious awakenings, autumn treats us to some of the most brilliant colors, and winter may get a bum rap but I love it because there’s nothing like waking up to a fresh carpet of snow, unless you’ve got to dig your car out from six feet of it.  But there’s just something about summer.   It somehow gives us a free pass. It allows us to shed the stress and slog of the daily grind. It’s kind of unspoken but it seems to allow for a universal laziness of sorts. Even retired friends and relatives whoop it up more, which is kind of strange since they don’t work. The Europeans have it right with their extended weeks of summer vacation. It’s probably one of the few areas where the U.S. missed the boat. But hey, you get what you get, so make the most of it, and for those travel ambassadors out there—don’t forget to write about it.

Woman_reading_at_the_beachOne of the pleasures of planning a summer holiday is figuring out what books to take, especially if you’re flying. The only thing that makes a plane ride bearable if you’re stuck in the middle seat of a coach flight is a good book. You’re partly folded up as it is, so why not go all the way and dive into a classic, or mystery, or someone else’s life? There’s nothing like tucking into a real page-turner. If you’ve already hit the road, chances are you’re toting a few books or a Kindle or some other digital device to get your reading kicks. Whether they’re of the rip and read variety or epic tomes, when you’re in the thick of a good tale, nothing—not even sleep—can get you to put a good book down. Pay no mind to anyone who may think you’re just lying around. Reading is an activity and a good one to have. Plus, it makes you a better writer. Whatever your plans are—vacation or staycation—books fuel that sense of escapism. Here are a few recommendations, fiction and non-fiction, collected from reading junkies, to pack for any summer getaway. They are in no particular order.

The Good Nurse: A True Story of Medicine, Madness, and Murder by Charles Graeber. Terrifying, unsettling, suspenseful, thoughtful—this is true crime at its finest. Graeber’s investigative journalism into the nine-year killing spree by the nurse, Charles Cullen, is up close and personal but it’s the cover-up by the hospital administrators that’ll really freak you out. I had the good luck to catch Graeber’s appearance at a local bookstore and the hairs went up on the back of my neck just listening to the excerpts.

My friend Mary has a thing for the British spy genre so if you’re up for a bit of espionage, betrayal, suspense—and who isn’t when it’s not your life—then you may want to venture down this road. Restless by William Boyd is a historical novel set during WWII. Its heroine is a 28-year-old Russian émigré living in Paris who ends up in the British Secret Service and learns to become the perfect spy. If you’re in the mood for more passion and deceit, she also recommends Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan. It’s an intriguing tale about an Oxford-educated middle-class girl in 1970s England whose beauty and intelligence leads her into a double life as a drab civil servant and as a secret agent infiltrating the current literary intelligentsia. Ultimately, it’s about the process of writing a novel seen through the eyes of a duped writer who falls prey to what turns out to be a disastrous government scheme to manipulate Cold War sympathies through the literary world.

If you’re into weird and supernatural stories, lose yourself in Vampires In The Lemon Grove by Karen Russell. Eight short stories make up the collection within these magical tales where anything can happen, from captive girls transforming into silkworms (creepy), to a president reincarnated as a horse. Russell’s been noted one of the best writers under 40 and she also wrote the best seller Swamplandia.

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed. Strayed’s name couldn’t be more perfect. In the wake of loss after her mother’s death, and then her marriage, Strayed goes it alone with no experience, to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. She’s a train wreck and you’ll journey with her through the solitude, the terrain, and meeting and experiencing the other beings along the way that lead her to knowledge and healing. This book shows us why travel is good for the soul.

Visit the ex-pat life during jazz-age Paris with Ernest Hemingway in this novel told from the perspective of his first wife, Hadley Richardson. It may sound like paradise but the man was no picnic. The Paris Wife by Paula McLain takes you into their world and shows us heaven and hell all wrapped up in one.

Italian Folktales by Italo Calvino. This collection of magical, scary, and wacky tales is good for all ages and it made the New York Times Best Book of the Century List. One note, the Kindle version doesn’t live up to what’s in the paperback.

I wouldn’t want to relive my teenage years but revisiting the adolescent angst-ridden days of Mary Karr’s youth growing up in East Texas in her memoir Cherry is a wild ride. Karr’s writing is riveting, raw and addictive. There’s not a wasted word, and men and women will glimpse themselves in her writing. After her first kiss with a local boy she nails it when she wonders, “How can you know such a thing about a person and not lean into it?” Insecurity never felt so good.

The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis. The back-story to The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. Whether you’re 15 or 50, it’s C.S Lewis and it’s pure magic, and the perfect summer story to take you far, far away.

Transatlantic by Colum McCann. This book is on the reading list of pretty much every one I hit up for recommendations. It’s a multi-layered tribute story in which McCann explores the ties between the U.S. and his Irish homeland. This novel leapfrogs continents, centuries, and introduces a cast of real and fictional characters.

Joyland by Stephen King. All I know is that it’s a paranormal mystery tale and can only be purchased in hard copy or audio download, but it’s summer and it’s Stephen King so why not spend it with a master storyteller.

As much as I love summer, I wilt in the heat. A boiling hot New York day is not my idea of a good time, which makes Endurance: Shackelton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing, one of my all time, favorite summer reads. This story is the definitive account of Ernest Shackelton’s fateful trip to cross the Antarctic overland. It didn’t turn out too good when his ship, the Endurance, became trapped “like an almond in a chocolate bar” in the ice and eventually crushed. Shackelton and his crew survived on drifting ice packs in one of the most inhospitable areas on the planet.  I’ve read it a few times.

There are loads of best of summer reading lists out there. What’s in your hot little hands these days?