The Best Souvenirs Are Free, but books come in a very close second. This is especially true if they are used and include inscriptions from previous owners. While I wander through my travels, I always keep my eyes peeled for a bookstore where I can peruse local authors or maybe find a new treasure to put on my bookshelf.
Books are a favorite souvenir for they not only tell stories, but they keep them as well. New books pique my curiosity because the authors are unknown to me and I want to know how they reflect the place I’m visiting. Used books connect me to people I’ll never meet and have a history that reaches beyond bent covers and cracked bindings. I get goosebumps just thinking about it.
This is the first in a series of posts about books that hold special memories for me. Much like stones and shells, books give me more than a tacky magnet or keychain ever could.
Books From Ireland:
UTZ by Bruce Chatwin
Winter Garden by Beryl Bainbridge
All My Friends Are Superheroes by Andrew Kaufman
On a walk through Killarney, I found a charming store called The Dungeon Bookshop. On the upper floor is a mess of used books stacked on shelves, the floor and wherever else there’s room. And none of them are organized beyond genre. It’s a good thing I had an entire afternoon free and had on a good pair of walking shoes. I’ve never been to a bookstore where climbing over piles of books was required in order to get from one shelf to another! In the midst of the chaos, I found three thin novels by quirky authors, the likes of whom I’ve never encountered. Chatwin has a unique voice he uses to create amazing metaphors, while Bainbridge proves she’s a legend with her elegant prose. Then there’s Kaufman, a Canadian writer who deserves a far wider readership as he makes the allegory into an art form all his own.
All three reads continue to be at the top of my list for original writing. It’s quite fitting they came from such a strange shop that defies all the rules. Although, I realized some time later I may have broke a little rule, too. The man at the counter seemed surprised to see a tourist in the shop, no less one who was actually buying something. He was more surprised still that I was American . . . and then he smiled. All I could think was how this bookshop appeared to be a safe house for misfits. Whenever my fingers run over the bindings I feel the marvelous chaos that surrounded my feet that day and I hope quirky books and people continue to find their way to the friendly haven on The Dungeon’s second floor.
Ticket to Ride by Dennis Potter
I’ll be honest and admit this book was not an accidental find. After reading Potter’s Hide and Seek, I was on a mission to get my hands on more of his work. In particular, I was after Ticket to Ride. The only problem is the book is out of print and virtually unavailable in the States. Seeing as I was on my way to Ireland, I decided my best hope of finding it resided in my trip, despite such slim odds. Throughout my journey on the Emerald Isle I stopped at every bookstore I could find and came up empty until the last day. In Dublin, I visited The Winding Stair, an incredibly cute and cozy used bookshop that literally has a winding staircase. I scanned the fiction shelves and found nothing, so I headed towards the back corner where the bargain books were shelved. I had to get on my knees in order to go through every book on the bottom shelf, but it was worth it the moment I spotted the magic words: Ticket to Ride. I found it!! I’m pretty sure I gasped and did a little dance. At the bargain price of €4, victory became even sweeter. Although, Potter’s book was as good as gold to me no matter the price.
When I opened the cover I found the added bonus of an inscription from a previous owner:
It doesn’t get any better than this! My curiosity continues to wonder who wrote it and why. What does the phrase mean? What colorful story inspired this person to pull out a pen? I will never know, but with these few words I am connected to a total stranger. I’ve always found that small connection to be a powerful thing as my memories are forever intertwined with memories of another. For that simple reason, Ticket To Ride will always be priceless and meaningful on a deeply personal level.
The book still evokes a strong sense of exhilaration whenever I pull it off my shelf. One touch instantly brings back the memories of every bookstore I visited as well as the rolling green hills that separated one shop from the next. This is a book that triggered my book vibe before I even saw it and has proven to be a reader’s delight. Potter’s writing may be dark, but it’s beautiful and bold in ways I can only hope to achieve as a writer. I will always be thankful that somehow Ticket to Ride ended up on a dusty shelf in Dublin and I was lucky enough to find it. It’s battered and worn from a life I can only imagine, but it now keeps the adventure of my treasure hunt safely between its pages.