The Great Bookstore Tour

I’ve been thinking lately of vacations, as one tends to do when theirs has recently passed (and they have nothing left but the remote promise that next summer will bring another week of freedom and peace, of detachment from current events and an endless supply of curly fries.)

Friends have criticized me in the past for being, let’s just say, unimaginative when it comes to travel. It’s not that I don’t think the world has plenty to offerโ€”I want to ride a camel past the pyramids as much as the next girlโ€”it’s just that I’m a naturally anxious person; extensive travel makes me want to break out in hives. (I wouldn’t actually break out, but I’d want to, so the world might see a physical manifestation of my inner turmoil when it comes to adventure.) My plan has always been to remain a relatively vanilla vacationer until the day I stumble across an incredibly wealthy and far more adventurous soul mate, who will whisk me away to destinations unknown, which I won’t mind because while we’ll split the paying, he’ll handle the planning.

Until that day comes (at my current rate of male courtship, we’re looking at 2030 or later), I’ve decided that I should at least try to break out of my comfort zone, which isn’t hard since said zone’s exact geography is within a five-mile radius of Ocean City, New Jersey, where I go every year to reap all the benefits of vacation (sun, sand, complete lack obligation) with none of the downsides (i.e. I know where everything is, I can walk everywhere, and there’s fudge.) Further, in a fit of inspiration last week, I think I’ve settled upon my next non-adventure: a cross-country tour of the best bookstores in the U.S.

Now I realize there are a lot of downsides to road trips, namely the fact that you spend a lot of them driving. And I have yet to iron out any (like, any) of the details of said tourโ€”which stores, where, how to get there, what to do once I am there, whether such an adventure would even prove fun in the long runโ€”but I have to say that the more I ruminate on this idea, the more I like it. A vacation with purposeโ€”but without pressureโ€”that would enable me to see the country while simultaneously surrounding myself with books and securing all kinds of blog fodder.

More importantly, it’s an opportunity that won’t last forever. With Borders’ liquidation, there’s been a lot of speculation about the future of brick-and-mortar bookstores. Even if small booksellers become the indie record stores of the literary world, I find it hard to believe there won’t be a major (and majorly depressing) shakeout in the next few years; it’s hard to say who will survive. Is The Strand really immune to the onslaught of e-readers, or are we five years away from walking past an abnormally spacious Starbucks on 12th and Broadway?

So that’s as far as I’ve gotten: U.S. tour, best bookstores. The rest I have yet to figure out. Which is where you guys come in. Thoughts? Recommendations? Am I crazy, or inspired? Ambitious, or lazy? (After all, Europe may not make it through the next decade either.) Should I start with America’s best stores and aspire to the world’s? And most importantly, which stores are worth the trip? I’ll keep you posted in coming weeks on my progress (read: Internet research) and we’ll see where this idea goes. Worst case scenario, there’s always fudge.

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