I am in the process of doing something quite a bit scary, and wanted to share it with you.
I have been working on this for what feels like years now, but have only recently taken the concrete steps to make it happen – and that is to develop a Packabook iPad App.
My dream is, that when you are out and about with your iPad, you can find the locations near to you that are featured in great novels. Or if you are heading to Paris, and you are staying in a particular area, you can choose some novels right near where you are staying. Eventually, the app will be a travel app as much as a book app, in that it will be recommending plenty of things for you to do in that area as well.
But it’s early days.
First I wanted to share with you a couple of screen shots of the design. I have spent FOREVER working on this, as I tried to come up with something that reflects the glamor of travel’s glory days – which in my head is somewhere around the 1940s. This was when people (with money!) had beautiful luggage, and engaged in long train or ship journeys. They spent time writing in their travel journals or conversing with their fellow passengers over gins and tonic, and could afford to travel for months on end. Travel these days is often about cramming as much as you can into carry-on bags, hours and hours at airport security, and paying for over-priced food on budget airlines. But – there’s no reason why we shouldn’t imagine what life was like in years gone by. And that’s what I’m hoping the design of this app will conjure up for you.
It’s very un-Apple like – especially as Apple has now moved to flat, clean lines for apps – but so be it. The Packabook App is for those who appreciate a different kind of life.
See what you think!
Right now the very basic, free version of the app is with the developer. This is the bit that scares me, because I really don’t know what those guys do. I pay them some money and they say they can make my app. I can only cross my fingers and hope I’ve managed to explain to them what I want to achieve. I’m not sure how long it will take or even whether Apple will accept me into the App Store – it is a leap of faith. And then of course, maybe it will just disappear into the app black hole where something like one million apps already live. How will people find my brave little adventurer?
I will keep you updated…and I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments,
I find one of the biggest challenges when I am traveling, is to organize all the different things I want to do around the places I happen to be in. Thankfully, it’s easier than it used to be. Once upon a time, you had to have everything marked on a paper map, or use sticky notes in guide books. But now, with the help of modern gadgetry – Google Maps and iPhones and such – things are a little easier.
I’m hoping to do my bit to help you out in this endeavour as well, using what I fondly call the ‘Packabook Map-Based Literary Travel Pinterest Boards’. Snappy title don’t you think?
When I blog about books with a strong association to a particular location, I will create a Pinterest pin which is pinned to that location on a map. I’ll also be adding excellent book shops, great cafés especially suited for sitting down with your favourite novel and anything else I can find that might appeal to the educated literary traveler.
This is a screen shot of the first one…I introduce you to Literary Berlin!
All you need to do is look at the pins on the map, and if you click on one, it will highlight the corresponding image and text on the left hand side. If you click on that image it links through to the original blog post, or original article relating to that image or place. So you should then have all the information you need to decide if that is a place you’d like to visit or not.
So – let’s say you were planning to go to Berlin’s famous shopping street Kurfürstendamm. You could zoom into that part of the map (image below) and you would see three pins. One of those is for an article about the street, with some suggestions for books that talk about it, the second pin is about the novel Berlin Blues which has some great passages in which Ku’damm features, and the third is for a nearby café garden in the grounds of a Literary House – all the info you need for a pleasant afternoon in West Berlin.
It’s still a work in progress and I will be adding to it all the time, but if you follow the board now, you will be able to check back anytime you are preparing for a trip to the German capital and you’ll know exactly what you can do when you are in any given area of the city. Of course, I highly suggest you read the novels on your trip as well, to make it all the more fun.
If you follow all of the Packabook boards on Pinterest, you will see that while I have boards for lots of other places, most are not yet map-based. But I’m working my way through them and soon you should have a whole lot of cities (and countries) to choose from.
Packabook Map-Based Literary Travel Pinterest Boards – your ultimate travel accessory – don’t leave home without them!
Meanwhile – I’ll try and think of something a little sexier to call them….
Take yourself to the catacombs beneath the French capital with Andrew Miller’s Pure
If your idea of Paris is of beauty and fashion, delightful meals and romantic walks along the Seine, then I’m afraid you are in for something different with Andrew Miller’s novel Pure.
It is the 18th century, and the oldest cemetery in Paris is overflowing.
The Holy Innocents’ cemetery may have started out as your average church burial ground, but now it is a nightmare, with hundreds of thousands of bodies having been piled on top of each other for generations. And despite the bones being removed to be put in ‘charniers’, there is still insufficient room for the endless supply of new corpses. The nearby residents have had enough and are complaining that their water is being poisoned by the rotting flesh and the stench has become unbearable, so the authorities decide something has to be done. The bodies must be removed. And this is where our novel begins.
Charniers at the Holy Innocents’ Cemetery in Paris – Image via Wikimedia Commons
A young engineer named Jean-Baptiste is hired by the authorities to remove the corpses, an immensely difficult feat requiring all his skills. But there’s an added challenge beyond the engineering concerns; our young hero has been told he must do the job in secret.
What follows as poor old Jean-Baptiste tries to deal with this grizzly nightmare is fabulous. I relished this book – and if you are someone who enjoyed the novel Perfume, or The Shadow of the Wind, then I think you’ll love this one as well. There are some terrific characters, especially from within the nearby family that Jean-Baptiste lodges with, as well as amongst those who befriend him and try to help him with the project. And fortunately there’s also a little romance for our earnest young engineer.
Of course you have to be up for being a bit grossed out from time to time – there’s no protecting of your sensibilities here. This is a cemetery after all….
From cemetery to city square
But what if you were visiting Paris today and you wanted to see the cemetery for yourself? Well, I have to tell you, there’s not much sign of it these days. It seems Jean-Baptiste did his job very well.
The cemetery is now a small square surrounded by restaurants and fast food outlets, BUT in the middle of the square you can see this fountain.
It is called the Fountain of the Innocents, and it is the oldest monumental fountain in Paris, built around 1550. It was once placed against our cemetery wall – which you can see in this engraving.
Engraving of the Fountain of the Innocents – Image courtesy of Siefkin DR via Wikimedia Commons
When the cemetery closed down, the site was turned into a market square and the fountain was earmarked for destruction. Fortunately, after some community pressure, it was decided to move the fountain into the square, raise it up on a stone pedestal and have a fourth facade constructed so it could be free-standing.
Painting of Fountain of the Innocents 1822. Image courtesy of Musée Carnavalet via Wikimedia Commons
In 1858 it was moved once again to its present location in the middle of the square, where you can visit it today. You will find it, right in the heart of Paris, near to the shopping precinct of Les Hall and the Pompidou cultural complex.
But what happened to all of those bones?
After sitting by the fountain for a while, perhaps with a coffee, reading your copy of Pure you can take a 45 minute walk or a 20 minute ride on public transport to the place where all those bones got moved to; the spectacular, and slightly scary, Paris Catacombs.
Paris Catacombs. Image courtesy of albany_tim via Wikimedia Commons
A labyrinth of tunnels underneath the heart of Paris, the catacombs house the bones of six million Parisians. And the first bones to go in there were the very bones Jean-Baptiste spent hundreds of pages trying to dig up in this novel.
Engraving of the Paris Catacombs from 1855 – Image courtesy of Brown University via Wikimedia Commons
The Catacombes are not for the faint-hearted – and nor is this novel really – but they are truly one of the most memorable tourist attractions you will visit in Paris.
And to really appreciate them, I’d certainly give Pure a read before you go!
Whether you are a soccer fan or not, it’s going to be hard to avoid hearing about Brazil in the coming weeks. And if we can’t beat them, then we may just have to join them. Even if you are not immersing yourself in World Cup watching, why not take yourself off to the land of the Amazon in your own way, by picking up a novel which will bring this exciting country to life?
I’ve given the Brazil shelf a bit of a spruce up over at the Packabook store and picked out a few highlights to tempt you.
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
Voted Amazon’s (the online bookstore, not the jungle!) best book of the month in June 2011, this novel takes us deep into the rainforest where pharmaceutical researcher Marina Singh is searching for details of a recently-deceased colleague as well as checking on the progress of another scientist, who is conducting drug development research in the jungle.
As one Amazon reviewer says “One can almost feel hear the buzzing and ravenous mosquitoes, feel the oppressive heat, recoil from the floating snake heads, and feel the power of the storms” as we are taken into the murky world of drug research and exploitation of the natural world.
Spilt Milk by Chico Buarque
Oh, I love a good multi-generational family story which reveals a country’s history, and here’s one for Brazil. An old man lies dying, and through his memories we sweep through 20th century history and the downfall of his aristocratic family. Slavery, assassination, romance – this book has it all.
“A beautifully written, gripping tale. The characters are fascinating. The English language never was served better. Literature at its best, ” says one Amazon reviewer, though another says “Overall left me emotionally unaffected and was not riveted to see what was going to occur next”. So I guess you will need to make your own mind up!
The Seamstress by Frances de Pontes Peebles
Two sisters, both talented seamstresses, are separated in 1930s Brazil; one living a life of unhappy wealth, the other becoming a renowned bandit. Taking us to the violence of the badlands in north-eastern Brazil, this novel reveals much about the economic hardship of life at the time.
And the word from an Amazon reader? “Very intelligently written, and gripping! Graphic, but I feel necessary. It will remain in your memory for a long time, after reading!”
These are all fairly recent novels, but there are of course some classics of Brazilian fiction on the shelf like the Jorge Amado novels Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands and The Violent Land, as well as City of God by Paulo Lins.
And if you are looking for a detective series to get you through the entire World Cup, then let me introduce you to Inspector Espinosa, a Rio-based investigator who’d rather be reading books than out on the streets. As detective novels go, readers say the Espinosa series (of which there are eight books so far) are a bit of a cut above the rest, with lots of social commentary and strong, intelligent female characters. What’s not to love?
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The Cuba Bookshelf has been updated…
I’ve just whipped through and given a quick update to the Cuba Shelf over at the Packabook Store and can reveal my top choice of the new novels that have been added. It’s now downloaded to my kindle and I will give you a proper review once I’ve had a read – if you’d like to join me, here it is…
Pig’s Foot by Carlos Acosta
You may already have heard of Carlos Acosta from his work in an entirely non-literary field. He is one of the world’s pre-eminent ballet dancers, making his way up from a breakdancer on the streets of Havana to the principal dancer in many of the world’s leading ballet companies.
So you could be forgiven for thinking this makes someone an unlikely candidate for writing fiction, but Mr Acosta is obviously multi-talented as his debut novel has attracted rave reviews.
“Dancing off the page, Acosta’s prose dazzles and certainly commands its audience.” – The Observer
“Despite my fears, this multi-talented individual turns out to be infuriatingly good at writing fiction, too.” – The Independent
“Cuban star Carlos Acosta does, indeed, barely put a step wrong in his debut novel, Pig’s Foot, an exuberantly enjoyable tale tracing a dysfunctional dynasty from slavery in the 1850s to Cuba’s “special period” in the 1990s.” – The Financial Times
“It may not seem quite fair that Acosta, who danced Spartacus and so many other roles with such grace, power and majestic artistry, should now also write a lively, delightfully engaging novel, yet he has. Pig’s Foot is as catchy as a piece of Cuban music, defers to Latin America’s literary tradition and shimmers with a likable swagger all its own.” – The Irish Times
Told in the magic realist style, Pig’s Foot brings us the story of Oscar Kortico, who wakes up one day to find himself utterly alone in the world. He decides to set off to his ancestral village of Pata de Puerco (Pig’s Foot) in Cuba’s south-east. Once there he, as an unreliable narrator, gives us the story of his ancestors and that of Cuba itself – bringing to life the country’s turbulent history.
While I’m not the world’s greatest fan of magic realism, I think there’s enough in this novel for me to give it a go. And if I had any doubts, this Amazon review has sold it to me.
“The book gathers and slows pace in all the right places, has rhythm and timbre, wonderful characterisation and laugh-out-loud moments. Dare I say it, he’s possibly wasted as a ballet dancer!!” – Amazon
I actually love ballet, so I’d prefer he did not give up his dancing career just yet! If you’d like to know more about Acosta and the world he came from, this documentary/interview with David Frost is fabulous and shares lots about Cuba as well.
Or you could just read Acosta’s autobiography, which he’s also somehow managed to find time to write, despite his incredibly busy lifestyle – I tell you, the man must have lots of downtime at rehearsals to get all this done!
PS – I’d love to share a lot more reviews with you and ideas for enhancing your travel with novels. If you’d like to be kept in the loop, then why not join the Packabook adventure here…