When I travel, I don't always go buy the book. I save newspaper clippings. I file magazine stories. I browse in libraries. I badger friends.
Yet I do my part for the publishing industry. There are, perhaps, 600 slim to medium-thick travel books on the shelves beside my desk. These are just the more practical volumes. The bold and beautiful coffee-table books are in taller bookcases. I would no more put a coffee-table book on the coffee table than I would put a glove in a glove compartment.
From a gray-stone bookshop in Lerwick I carried home the "Shetland Dictionary" by John J. Graham, a teacher and native of the Shetland Islands. Without this book I would not know the English equivalent for steekit or stang , for stammerin or sprickle , for spirt or spo or stuggit. I would not know that yucky in the Shetland dialect means itchy.
Dictionaries, menu translators, collections of photographs, folk music and cookery books are all part of my travel library.
Favorite novels belong there too, books that transport me to a place more swiftly than I can get to an airport. To conjure up the mellow mysteries of village Mexico I need only reach for that winning book by Harriet Doerr, "Stones for Ibarra." I would almost part with my passport before I would give up that book.
When I want a quick fix on Morocco I pick up "A Street in Marrakech," a nonfiction narrative by Elizabeth Warnock Fernea who paints word pictures with arabesque delicacy.
Before or after a trip I may dip for refreshment into the three-volume, illustrated "Architecture of the United States" by G. E. Kidder Smith in association with the Museum of Modern Art. This is where I can vouch that the headquarters building of Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado was designed by successors of Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin, and be reminded why that odd belvedere crowns the 19th-Century Burbank-Livingston-Griggs House on Summit Avenue in St. Paul.
Fodor, Fisher, Frommer, Fielding--the F-guides, as I call them--are fun to read, depending on whether it's a budget trip, a first trip, a hit-the-highlights trip or a time to dig in and stay. A good, full-service bookstore can help you make the right match.
For past-to-present details, drawings and maps, the Michelin green guides are tops at answering questions. Often my shoulder bag has held only a Kleenex, a comb, a Swiss army knife, lipstick, a note pad, a pen and a Michelin green, whether the territory is New England or Olde.
I like a book that makes me smile. A helpful and thorough new paperback about vacation planning--"Travel Wise, Smart and Light"--by Californian Mary Nell York, gives no-nonsense information about easing trips for beginning travelers, as well as those who'd like to stop flailing and point up their style. Then, in describing the characters you meet on tours, she throws out this line:
"I met a woman from the Australian outback who slaughters the cows right along with her five sons."
I may not buy the idea, but I bought the book as a gift for a graduate who is heading for Perth.