Enter on 19th street in Manhattan. At the top of a small staircase a door is propped open with the name Idlewild Books. Inside this small but inviting space, you will find a very specially curated shop entirely devoted to international literature, travel guides, and language books. For bookworms or travelers with a passion for global exploration, Idlewild Books is a dream come true.
If you frequent the typical chain bookstores (aka Barnes and Nobles and…well…that’s the only big evil book franchise that comes to mind) you will find a modest and, quite frankly, shallow travel section mostly dominated with Lonely Planet and Frommer’s Guides. But at Idlewild, the staff has very lovingly put together a collection of books that would be of interest to international and armchair traveler’s alike.
Of course they do have the typical guide section for those who are planning a trip and need some practical advice, but the vast majority of their books give you a global perspective through a different lens: travel journals, literature that is set in a particular part of the world, poetry, history, political non-fiction, the list goes on. This is no haphazard assortment but one carefully laid out with a particular philosophy in mind: that experiencing and understanding the world is not always about the luxury of travel but can be from learning a new language, knowing more about the social and political conditions in that part of the world, reading fictional and non-fictional stories centered around a place or culture or community.
Somehow when I hear the phrase “travel books” I think of those guide books: the lists of fine restaurants, important historic sites, recommended hotels and hostels for travelers on a budget, how to convert your currency, how to ask for directions, etc. I don’t mean to disparage this kind of information – as someone who has traveled a great deal, I appreciate how useful it can be to have a well laid out and comprehensive guide to a place. However, those who have traveled will be the first to say that learning about the world is a far more exploratory process than simply knowing the right places to dine and where you can find a hotel and still be within walking distance to the center of town.
It’s the inspiration that comes from reading other’s accounts of experiencing the world that fills us with the real desire to see these places and to understand a little what life might be like somewhere else. As stated on their website, “a novel, travelogue or history can be just as valuable a key to a place as any guidebook”. So if you are in New York but yearn to be elsewhere, I suggest stopping into Idlewild Books to visit the world by bookshelf, take a language course, join one of their book clubs, or chat with their very knowledgeable and well-traveled staff.