Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Will Travel 4 Books: Origin Story

I love books and I love to read. Anyone that knows me knows this, but perhaps not to what degree this fact resonates. In November of 2015, I began manifesting what would ultimately become my #2016yearoftravel endeavor. Truth be told, a lot of reading was involved as well: Travel+Leisure magazine; my whole swag bag from the January New York Times Travel Show; and several blogs and newspaper articles highlighting all the places one may want to go, and the smartest ways to take advantage. It has been a process that included learning the best times to book a flight; the fine art of stalking a myriad of travel and airline websites; and an overall loosening up of my understanding of where I can travel, and when.

 I've been surrounding myself with super-savvy, quirky and well-travelled men and women who are doing what I want to do and have gone where I intend to go. I have to play it smart, because, until further notice, I have TEN vacation days to spend. Ten.

To briefly reminisce on my lightbulb moment, last year I finally said to myself, "Hey, I can do this!" leveraging the swiftness of my typing skills against an ambitious 2-day JetBlue Halloween flight sale. Sure enough, I found my inspiration earlier when someone in the Nomadness Travel Tribe posted about the Stony Island Arts Bank, a reclaimed building bought for $1 by an enterprising Black artist, Theaster Gates. Yes, bought for a song to preserve the architecture and history of the facility, now serving to house and promote the words and study of several thousand authors and topics of The African Diaspora. I had to go, and JetBlue was making it a $31 one-way special!

It had been a long time since I travelled for books. Fourteen years ago, my academic and adventurous spirit took me to Australia for a semester. Being an opportunistic lass, I tacked on an extra three days outbound and on the return, to get a little taste of the West Coast. I visited the UCLA campus during their annual book fair and had the pleasure of meeting science fiction author Ray Bradbury on the very campus where he wrote Fahrenheit 451 in Powell Library. Many truths converged at that time: 1- I knew that I would travel for books again; 2- there were authors that I wanted to meet before they left this earth, and, most importantly, 3- I would see the creation of a mobile library among my personal and professional achievements. I brought back books from Australia. On the plane. as extra weight. This is serious for me!

My collection of books is beyond logic. They have survived several moves across three New York City boroughs (no small feat!), and even four years out in the salty sandy Southampton town. Some are older than me, and hail from the United Kingdom, France and parts of the Caribbean. 

The travel guidebook collection began when I was a teenager and visited Tower Records in Union Square. I was happiest there, reveling in the access to listening stations for every genre of music I cared to indulge in, steps away from their eclectic mix of reading material. Almost inexplicably, there were the travel guidebooks, allowing me a very tangible first experience to other cultures, steps away from the World music section! I could cross-reference my Putumayo with my Rough Guide, almost like an audio passport, a currency easily stackable in my growing library, as well. 
One other mesmerizing trait of travel books is their ability to capture a part of the world at a specific point in time. One can ready any work of literature from around the world to catch a glimpse of the times the author lived in, but a travel guide speaks just as directly in its cataloging of what to see and do in a particular place. They may even expound upon the whys of travel, if they are really caring of their audience (those of us that read beyond the words to what is not being said have even more context for consideration). The famous Negro Motorist Green Book published from 1936-1966 gained its readership in publicizing not only safe routes for the intrepid African American traveler, but also establishments that were likely to cater to him or her in business on the road, lodging, dining,  and entertainment.

I got out there because of books, reading, and ultimately putting my own pen to paper and finger to keyboard. It started when I was three years old, and I still have a lovingly preserved yellowed dot-matrix printout of my first tale to prove it. 

À la LeVar Burton via Reading Rainbow, I offer another seminal work credited with the development of my adventurous reading and traveling spirit: Black Girl in Paris by Shay YoungbloodI stumbled into this novel as a young college student either on my way to or returning back from Australia, and the timing was ideal. She was a fish out of water in mid-1980s Paris. American Black female, artsy and alone. I was able to dream and see myself taking on the scary and oftentimes dubious mission of doing my version of discovery through travel several times over, each new location and circumstance rendering an authentic epiphany in the process. 

Books and writing are intrinsically linked for me, and the sharing of literature that motivates a girl to see beyond her perceived borders would well justify the quirkiness I've fostered for over 30 years. Stay tuned for the next chapter! #willtravel4books

Note: This post is dedicated to the wondrous memory of our soon-departed P.S. Bookshop in Dumbo, Brooklyn. Thank you, I love you, we all love you!

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