Travelogue | February 2009 | Nicholas Basbanes

Booking the Cape

With wind chills well below freezing, it is still off-season on Cape Cod, but you'd never have known it by the splendid turnout at the Sandwich Public Library Sunday afternoon for the latest in a series of author appearances and events centered around a comprehensive celebration of the book.

Inspired by the Big Read program introduced a couple years ago by Dana Gioia, the director of the National Endowment for the Arts (and a subject of a recent column I wrote for Fine Books & Collections), the initiative in Sandwich has improvised by focusing on more than one book for community reading, and organized a continuing program centered around one basic theme, in this instance books that have touched people's lives.
Speakers thus far have included the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist for the Washington Post, Geraldine Brooks, talking about her best-seller from last year, "People of the Book," and the noted authority and editor of children's books, Anita Silvey, whose "100 Best Books for Children" is a standard reference in the field. Coming up on Feb. 28 is Allen Say, winner of a Caldecott Medal for "Grandfather's Journey." Sunday was my turn--my topic was "Continuing Adventures Among the Gently Mad"--and I had a blast.

card.jpgI was asked in advance if I needed anything other than a podium and microphone for my talk--say a power point projector--and my reply was that I had a single visual aid, and that I would display it during my remarks. I have scanned the item, and present it herewith--my library card for the Sandwich Public Library. This is a home court advantage for me, you see--I've been spending a good part of every summer in Sandwich for the past 31 years--and I can say, with absolute authority, that this is one of the finest small town libraries to be found anywhere, not just in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, but the entire U.S. of A.  Special thanks go out, by the way, to librarian Lauren Robinson and Gail Ravetz of the Friends of the Library, for their hospitality.

Let me say, too, that just down the road from the SPL, on Route 6A in East Sandwich--also known as Old King's Highway, and arguably the first highway in British North America--is one of my favorite second-hand bookstores, Titcomb's Book Shop, founded in 1969 by Ralph and Nancy Titcomb--both of whom were at my talk on Sunday--and operated today by their very capable daughter Vicky Uminowicz.  I can't begin to tell you how many great finds I have come up with there over the years. Especially gratifying was to see how busy the store was this weekend--the parking lot was jammed, just like an afternoon in July or August.

I would be remiss if I did not mention two other outstanding book stores on the Cape:

Parnassus Book Service, further down Route 6A in West Yarmouth, owned and operated there since 1960 by Ben Muse, and just a few minutes away from the Edward Gorey House in Yarmouth Port (a must-see visit for bibliophilies).

Isaiah Thomas Books & Prints  ("more nooks and crannies than an English muffin"), owned and operated for the last thirty years or so on Falmouth Road (Route 28) in Cotuit by my good friend Jim Visbeck (we go back to the days a good while ago when he ran this store in Worcester.)

Stop into all of these places--you could do the whole thing in one spirited morning or afternoon--and you'll have had yourself one fine day of booking the Cape. I recommend ending the odyssey with a cup of the local chowdah, a hefty order of fried clams, and a frosted mug or two of Sam Adams lager. Happy hunting.