The Show Must Go On!

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We enjoyed a special night of theater at Inly last week. Oliver, an Inly student in the third grade, wrote and directed a musical version of The Show Must Go On! by Kate Klise. The night had an especially Broadway feel because the author was there for the one-night-only performance. It is quite possibly the only time Klise will see one of her delightful stories in musical form!

The Show Must Go On! is the first installment of Klise’s Three-Ring Rascals series about the over-the-top adventures of Sir Sidney’s Circus. The books are perfect (and addicting!) for new readers. Each novel is fast paced, funny, and includes lots of spot illustrations by Kate’s sister, Sarah Klise.

When Oliver, our theater-loving student met Sir Sidney’s band of circus performers, it was a perfect match of book and reader. Oliver connected with a talented Inly staff member who is involved with community theater and a group of enthusiastic kids who were excited to make Oliver’s dream come to life. After intense rehearsals this summer, the show did go on and it was wonderful!

In my last post, I wrote about the bookstores we visited during a recent visit to New York. I left one out, mostly because it just didn’t seem to “fit” with the Strand and McNally Jackson. Walking down the street on Saturday afternoon, we passed an Amazon bookstore and decided to go in. Amazon’s brick and mortar store is a “data driven showroom” rather than a bookstore for readers. It’s interesting, I guess, if you want to know which books received positive reviews on Amazon or to look at one of the several Echo product tables. It made me feel a bit squeamish actually, like I was a data point being followed to see which covers attracted my interest.

The store might work in a desperate situation – like you forgot your book before getting on a train – but don’t expect to discover anything beyond the bestseller list.

It’s Labor Day Weekend – the official end of summer. I’m still reading 99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret, but will finish in time for a “new” year to begin on Tuesday!

 

 

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‘Twas the Night Before School…

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It’s the night before school starts – not for the kids, but for the teachers. Tomorow we will be catching up with colleagues, attending meetings, shelving books that found their way back over the summer, and making plans for the months ahead. I’m looking forward to being back and especially to seeing the kids.

But the last days of summer are always bittersweet, trying to get things in order before returning to a more structured schedule and squeezing in a few more summer adventures. Over the past ten days, we spent time in both Boston and in New York. Of course, that included bookstore visits.

While walking around the North End with my husband and son, we stumbled on a bookshop which was new to all of us. I AM Books is a little gem. As you would expect, it sells books about Italy, books by Italian authors, books written in Italian, and even wooden Pinocchios, the kind you find in Italian souvenir shops. According to the store’s website, it is the country’s first Italian American bookshop.

In New York, we visited Emma Straub’s Brooklyn bookstore, Books are Magic. It had a festive feel on a sunny Saturday and, as I stood in the long line to purchase a couple of things, I looked at what people were bringing to the check out desk. These are the books I saw in line before they made their way into Brooklyn: Matilda by Roald Dahl, Less by Andrew Sean Greer, Mr. Wolf’s Class by Aron Nels Steinke, Maeve in America by Maeve Higgins, The Vacationers by Emma Straub, and The Reservoir Tapes by Jon McGregor.  The last book on the list is what I bought after reading glowing reviews!

We also went to our two NYC favorites: the Strand and McNally Jackson. This was my favorite sign in the Strand:

And this window display from McNally Jackson is kind of awesome.

Next to Subway Books, it reads: “A selection of books chosen for their brevity, propulsion, and portability. These books will probably fit in your pocket, will almost certainly hold your attention, and they have a regular enough paragraph breaks that you won’t panic about losing your place when your stop is coming up.”

At our son’s suggestion, we also went to Ben’s Cookies near the Strand. He knew we would need energy for book shopping. As we ate our delicious cookies, I took a closer look at the logo and realized it was drawn by Quentin Blake. Ben’s has its roots in the UK which explains their Blake connection.

I’ve been squeezing in a few more “summer reads” before I begin reading with my middle school students. Last week I read Upstate by James Wood, a novel about a father navigating his relationship with his two adult daughters.

The novel takes place in Saratoga Springs, New York (the Upstate of the title) where Vanessa, one of the daughters lives. Like her sister, Vanessa continues to deal with the impact of her parent’s divorce, followed by their mother’s early death. What I appreciated about the novel is its understanding of how complicated it is to be a parent to your adult child.

Between now and Labor Day, I’m hoping to finish reading Craig Brown’s un-put-downable biography of Princess Margaret, Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret. This is not your typical biography, but something completely different -a new form of the genre. I bought it after reading several compelling reviews and hearing Pamela Paul (on the New York Times Book Review podcast) say it’s the book everyone on the Book Review staff wants to read.

But no more reading for me tonight. It’s a school night.

A final note: the picture at the top of the post is one of our students reading during his vacation in Maine.  It captures the joy of summer perfectly!

August Notes….

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It’s almost time to return to school – the sun is setting earlier in the evening, and CVS has fall products on display in an aisle I try to avoid when going into the store. But August, the “Sunday” of the summer, has its own joys, a slowing down as we approach Labor Day when we seem to take a collective breath.

I was in the perfect place to take a breath before returning to the hectic pace of a new school year. For many years, my oldest friend (we met in middle school) has spent much of her summer at the Chautauqua Institution in the southwest part of New York State. And after many generous invitations to join her and her family for a week, we finally went. We waited too long. Chautauqua, as she told me for many years, is a truly special place. Because it’s somewhat hard to describe the mix of beauty, education, the arts, and religion that seem to be pillars of Chautauqua’s nine-week season, I’m quoting from their website:

“The Chautauqua Institution is a not-for-profit, 750-acre educational center beside Chautauqua Lake in southwestern New York State, where approximately 7,500 persons are in residence on any day during a nine-week season, and a total of over 100,000 attend scheduled public events. Over 8,000 students enroll annually in the Chautauqua Summer Schools which offer courses in art, music, dance, theater, writing skills and a wide variety of special interests.

The Institution, originally the Chautauqua Lake Sunday School Assembly, was founded in 1874 as an educational experiment in out-of-school, vacation learning. It was successful and broadened almost immediately beyond courses for Sunday school teachers to include academic subjects, music, art and physical education.”

That’s the official description, but most striking to me after a few days on the lovely grounds, was the complete lack of commercialism. Chautauqua feels like a neighborhood of people committed to learning, exploring, and enjoying time with family and friends without the disruptions of billboards, chain stores, television (which must be there, but I never saw one turned on), or other signs of the “real” world.

The participants are up early, going to programs, warmly talking with people sitting near them, and enjoying musical evenings in the 4,000 seat amphitheater. Chautauqua’s commitment to exploration and curiosity is evident from the library’s central location on the plaza.

Among the programs we heard over the course of the week, the highlights were a concert by Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble, a lecture by Mr. Ma about the importance of culture in understanding other people, and a presentation by Barbara Stephenson, an American diplomat and head of the American Foreign Service Association. Stephenson spoke diplomatically (of course) about the challenges of international work and the role of music as a form of “soft power.” “When we make music together, we sometimes create a space of goodwill that allows us to take a risk, to set doubts, suspicions and even old enemies aside, to join hands as a world and walk together toward peace,” she said.

One day, I saw Ambassador Stephenson walking towards her hotel carrying a book so, naturally, I positioned myself to see what she was reading. This is it:

Not coincidentally I’m sure, Dennis Ross was also a speaker at Chautauqua last week. As a funny side note to this, I took the picture above (the one of her speaking) from the Chautauqua Daily. That’s our group sitting in the front row, right in front of the Ambassador.

My own Chautauqua reading was Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday. It had been on my list since reading the novel’s glowing reviews earlier this year. It is an intense and smart novel. Two seemingly unrelated stories, one about a young editor who has an affair with a older and very successful author and a darker story about an Iraqi-American man who is detained in Heathrow on his way to Kurdistan, overlap in ways that aren’t obvious at first, but ultimately reward a careful reading.

The only downside of the trip was the drive – it’s about nine hours from our house to Chautauqua which inspired us to plan book store visits on both ends of the trip. Our first overnight stop was in Ithaca, New York, home of Cornell University and Ithaca College. We enjoyed a wonderful meal at the Moosewood Restaurant and enjoyed browsing around Autumn Leaves, a good used bookstore with a lovely name in the central shopping area. I particularly like the cover of this book I saw in the store:

After our week in Chautauqua (which has its own small bookstore), we drove to Saratoga, New York, to place big bets at the racetrack ($2.00 per race except the one we risked – and lost – $5.00)!  We were choosing horses based on their names, rather than their past performances. Our losses were to be expected.

Our other priority was to visit Northshire Bookstore, the new location of a store we love in Manchester, Vermont. The Saratoga store is as perfect as the one in Vermont. They created the same perfect environment where every book seems like one you might want to read.

 

 

The next day we drove a bit out of our way to visit the Bookloft in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. The Bookloft is in a small shopping center and, at first glance, doesn’t appear to be the well-loved gem that it is. But it’s equal to Northshire in its well curated inventory, staff recommendations, and perfect setting for browsing.

I leave you with a monkey that we saw during our travels. I actually forget where now, but when I saw him reading, I thought – this monkey should be in my blog!  Happy reading and enjoy the end of your summer….

 

Deep Diving….

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I made my first deep dive the summer I turned 16.  Never a swimmer, my deep dive was not into a pool, but a topic. That summer I decided to learn about art. I knew absolutely nothing. But I had visited Washington D.C. for the first time in June of that summer, and part of the week-long Washington Workshops program was a visit to the National Gallery of Art.

At first, I felt overwhelmed. I saw paintings on the wall, but without context or any idea how to look. I finally stopped wandering aimlessly in front of this painting, Saint Jerome and the Angel by Simon Vouet, a French artist:

I remember looking at this painting and thinking: I want to know more. I think this is something I like. Now what?

Like many teenagers, I started with the Impressionists, particularly Claude Monet. Monet was clearly a presence in the museum gift shop, and there were lots of “ways in” for a young person. There was no internet, but I bought a notebook and a book about Monet and got started. All that summer, I sat on our porch, taking notes and looking at library books about Monet and the Impressionists. I can still picture the first page of my notebook. It read Claude Monet: 1840-1926.  As it turns out, those dates have guided all of my reading and art study since then. Even now, when I’m in a gallery or reading about a historic event, I use Monet’s dates to place it on my mental timeline: Monet died eight years after WWI began. Monet was born 365 years after Michelangelo was born. It’s automatic. I hear every date through the lens of Monet’s life.

I spent the next few summers reading about the other Impressionists and began college with all of the typical posters on my dorm room walls, but after graduation, I kept going. Every trip to an art museum gave me a new idea and I bought more books and filling more notebooks. I read about Rembrandt and Van Gogh and Matisse. With Monet’s dates as my grounding, I began making connections. I began to see how one artistic movement influenced the next one – and to learn what I actually liked and why.

The internet changed everything. I had access to museums all over the world, online guidebooks and sharper reproductions, but it felt overwhelming and sometimes still does. It was good to stick my toe in with library books.

It’s been many years since those days on the porch in Dayton, but in some ways not much has changed. A few summers ago, I sat in a cafe waiting for my son to finish his drum lessons and took a deep dive into the Renaissance that lasted a few years. I now watch and mostly understand lectures and exhibits and during a recent trip to Florence, I was able to see the Ghirlandaio paintings I love. Ghirlandaio, by the way, was born nearly 500 years before Monet!

As much as I enjoy learning about every art movement and want to see as much as I can, the Dutch Golden Age painters are my favorite and the ones to whom I’ve dedicated the most time over the past few years. Of course, my entry point was Vermeer, and I immersed myself in his domestic scenes. The “popular” artists are important. They can be gateways to learning about the artists whose paintings don’t appear on mugs and magnets. Without looking at Vermeer’s paintings, I would not know about Pieter de Hooch, Gabriel Metsu, and the winter scenes of Hendrick Avercamp.

Surrounded by all of these paintings in the Rijksmuseum last year was one of the highlights of my deep dives.

This summer I’ve gone in a completely different direction. I’m learning about Vanessa Bell, an artist and the sister of Virginia Woolf. Bell was born in 1879; Monet was nearly 40 when she was a baby. In some ways, not much has changed. I have a stack of books, a notebook, and I’m on my deck.

Two years ago, I was in the National Gallery in Washington and walking through a gallery when I came upon St. Jerome and the Angel. It was like a time machine. I saw myself at 16-years-old standing in front of Vouet’s painting and wondering where to start. I was – and am – grateful to whatever impulse made me stop that day. My appreciation of literature, my understanding of history and religion, a deeper respect for other cultures, and most of all, a wider lens, started in front of this painting.

To bring this post back to books, here are my ten favorite art books this summer. I love many others, but these are the ones getting the most use right now:

Sargent: The Masterworks by Stephanie Herdrich

Jane Freilicher by Klaus Kertess

Vanessa Bell by Sarah Milroy

Fra Filippo Lippi by Jeffrey Ruda

Cezanne Portraits by John Elderfield

Holland Frozen in Time: The Dutch Winter Landscape in the Golden Age by Ariane van Suchtelen

In a New Light: Giovanni Bellini’s St. Francis in the Desert by Susannah Rutherglen and Charlotte Hale

The Great Spectacle: 250 Years of the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition by Mark Hallett

The Renaissance Portrait: From Donatello to Bellini by Keith Christiansen (editor)

And I saved this book for last because the painting most on my mind these days is by William Merritt Chase.

After seeing the Chase exhibit at the MFA two years ago, I couldn’t get this portrait of Chase’s wife off my mind – it’s one I look at nearly every day. The title is Meditation and it’s my favorite painting – for now.

I’ll get back to writing about books for kids in a few weeks, but for now, my deck is crowded with art books.  Happy Reading and Looking….

 

Summer Days….

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I’m not in a regular blogging routine during these mid-summer days, but here are some things that have caught my eye over the past few weeks…

Barack Obama’s summer reading list. I read the list and felt overwhelmed by how much I miss having a president who reads. Obama’s list has been making the rounds, but in case you missed it:

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
“A true classic of world literature, this novel paints a picture of traditional society wrestling with the arrival of foreign influence, from Christian missionaries to British colonialism. A masterpiece that has inspired generations of writers in Nigeria, across Africa, and around the world.”

A Grain of Wheat by Ngugi wa Thiong’o
“A chronicle of the events leading up to Kenya’s independence and a compelling story of how the transformative events of history weigh on individual lives and relationships.”

Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela
“Mandela’s life was one of the epic stories of the 20th century. This definitive memoir traces the arc of his life from a small village to his years as a revolutionary to his long imprisonment and ultimately his ascension to unifying president, leader, and global icon. Essential reading for anyone who wants to understand history—and then go out and change it.”

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
“From one of the world’s great contemporary writers comes the story of two Nigerians making their way in the U.S. and the U.K., raising universal questions of race and belonging, the overseas experience for the African diaspora, and the search for identity and a home.”

The Return by Hisham Matar
“A beautifully written memoir that skillfully balances a graceful guide through Libya’s recent history with the author’s dogged quest to find his father who disappeared in Gaddafi’s prisons.”

The World as It Is by Ben Rhodes
“It’s true, Ben does not have African blood running through his veins. But few others so closely see the world through my eyes like he can. Ben’s one of the few who’ve been with me since that first presidential campaign. His memoir is one of the smartest reflections I’ve seen as to how we approached foreign policy and one of the most compelling stories I’ve seen about what it’s actually like to serve the American people for eight years in the White House.”

I’ve been finding book-related scenes during my walks…

Walking in Scituate, I came to the spot Where the Sidewalk Ends….

And I saw a tree that made me think of Boo Radley leaving gifts for Jem and Scout:

I follow lots of illustrators and museums on Instagram. It’s fun knowing that when I have a few minutes waiting in a line or for a friend at Starbucks, there is a world of art and illustration one click away. One of my favorites is a London-based artist, Steve Scott. With his permission, here’s my favorite of his illustrations:

I’ve also been reading, but my “official reading schedule” was scrapped by late June. Something grabs my attention, and off I go…

The last two books I’ve read are a good example of my scattered summer mind.

Barracoon by Zora Neale Hurston is the recently published book based on Hurston’s conversations with Cudjo Lewis, who was brought to America on the last slave ship. Hurston conducted her interviews in Alabama in 1931. “Of all the millions transported from Africa to the Americas, only one man is left,” Hurston writes. The only man on earth who has in his heart the memory of his African home; the horrors of a slave raid; the barracoon; the Lenten tones of slavery; and who has 67 years of freedom in a foreign land behind him.” Lewis was enslaved for five years before being freed.

It’s a hard book to read for obvious reasons. The book is primarily written as Lewis’s monologue, with a few clarifications by Hurston. He spends much of his time talking about his life in Africa before he was captured in 1859 – and then there are the details of the passage, his years as an enslaved man, and finally learning of his freedom from a Union soldier. Honestly, I found it painful to read, but “listening” to a first hand account of the horrors of slavery made the experience more real than any novel I’ve read. There were small things I had not considered. For example, in most novels, the Civil War ends and there is some kind of resolution of how the enslaved people find out and what they do next. For Cudjo Lewis, however, the War was something he had heard rumors about, but he knew very little of the specifics. When a Union soldier tells him he’s free, Lewis says: “We glad we free, but den, you understand me, we cain stay wid de folks who own us no mo. Derefo’ where we goin’ live, we doan know.”  That’s real. What do I do right now?

On a far lighter note and perhaps a deliberate “about face,” I read Beck Dorey-Stein’s memoir, From the Corner of the Oval. Dorey-Stein spent five years working as a stenographer in the Obama White House. The stenographers, I learned, are responsible for recording every public word the president says. That means they travel on Air Force One, transcribe press conferences, and stand in the “corner of the Oval.” Dorey-Stein’s book is not about policy or even politics. It’s the anecdotal account of a young woman working in the White House and the impact her demanding job has on her personal life. Among Dorey-Stein’s many entertaining stories, there are also fun glimpses of life in the West Wing.

I’ve got a few books in mind for my next one, but then again…..

Happy Reading!

 

 

 

 

 

Scenes From London…Part Two

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After ten days in London, I had so many book-related items to share that I divided them into two posts. Last week, I wrote about the bookstores we visited. This week – everything else, including the little guy in the picture above. We saw him in a lovely garden on a sunny and warm day, but given how tightly he’s holding his jacket, he may have been cold!

One of my favorite things to do in any foreign bookshop is to look at the covers of familiar books. Sometimes, I like a different cover so much that I’m tempted to buy a book I already own. That’s what happened with Jane Eyre!  Here are a few especially wonderful ones from this trip:

We also bumped into one of England’s most beloved children’s book characters – the Gruffalo!  The famous monster is literally hiding in the deep woods of Westonbirt, the National Arboretum.  On our way to the Arborteum, which is 90 miles outside of London, I heard someone say that there is a wooden sculpture of the Gruffalo so, naturally, finding him became my top priority. Surprisingly, there are no signs leading you to the Gruffalo. We wandered around, expecting the Gruffalo to pop out along the way, but we finally took the necessary step of asking someone in the Arboretum’s gift shop. The Gruffalo, along with a few other characters from the classic picture book, are indeed in the dark woods. All of the sudden, you are face to face with this:

As a side note, the Arboretum is not too far away from the most picturesque Starbucks I’ve ever seen!

Another of Britain’s beloved characters is easier to find.  Each time we walked into Paddington Railway Station, we saw this:

My favorite Paddington, however, is this one:

This Paddington lives in the window of the British Railway’s Lost Property Office. It made me so happy to see the obvious commitment of the Lost Property Office staff to caring for their plush friend. They have even provided him with marmalade!

These last few pictures aren’t book-related, but they are too interesting not to share.

The first one is a wig shop that we passed while taking a fascinating tour of the British Inns of Court. Our tour guide explained that Ede & Ravenscroft is one of the oldest tailors in London, and that they make and sell legal wigs and gowns. It was hard to get a good picture because of the glare, but I definitely felt like I was watching a BBC drama!

I loved these two pieces in Southwark Cathedral. The two images face one another so you walk “through them.”

And this was fun to see:

At night, after a long day of sightseeing and Paddington-spotting, I read. Maybe it was the time change or the days that made my head spin with so many new things to think about, but I read alot during the trip. It was not my standard reading diet which was part of the joy of reading – new things to think about and learn.

Montaigne by Stefan Zweig (I was drawn to this short biography by the combination of author and subject. It is impossible to read this book without thinking about today’s political climate. Zweig writes about Montaigne’s commitment to tolerance and the dangers of factions. Zweig integrates his own story, especially his fears caused by the heightened rhetoric around WWII, and of course, I heard echoes of today’s fear-based rhetoric).

Where We Lived by Henry Allen (a series of short essays about the meaning of home by Henry Allen, the former culture critic – and Pulitzer Prize winner – for The Washington Post)

Murder in Amsterdam: Liberal Europe, Islam, and the Limits of Tolerance by Ian Buruma (Walking around London, you can’t help but notice the incredible diversity of the city, and with so much news about immigration policy in both the U.S. and Europe, I sought out something to read that would help me understand one of the most complicated issues of this era. Using the 2004 murder of Dutch filmmaker, Theo van Gogh, Buruma interviews many people involved with the issue and analyzes what happens when cultural values come into conflict.)

Up at the Villa by Somerset Maugham (This is the first book I’ve read by Maugham, and it won’t be my last. This 1941 novella includes a scene that makes me think Julian Fellowes must have read this before writing Downton Abbey!)

House of Dreams: The Life of L.M. Montgomery by Liz Rosenberg  (I started this biography before our trip and finished it when we returned. I began reading this book because I knew so little about the author of Anne of Green Gables. The extent of my knowledge was L.M. Montgomery lived on Prince Edward Island. Her life was actually quite troubled. Rosenberg is honest about Montgomery’s complex personal life, but captures her joys equally well.)

Finally, a doorway that we saw during a tour. It is beautiful.

Happy Travels and Happy Reading….

 

Book Shopping in London….

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London is a paradise for readers and lovers of bookstores. Walking through central London, we seemed to walk by (and into) a bookstore every few blocks. I know London is a much larger city than Boston, but books seem to have a more central place in London’s culture. For example, there are ads promoting books in Tube stations, this summer’s Great Western Railway’s advertising campaign is based on The Famous Five, a classic children’s book series by Enid Blyton, and the bookstores are focused on books. By comparison, my local Barnes and Noble feels more like a pop culture toy store than a bookstore.

We spent most of our time in four bookstores: Daunt Books, Foyles, Hatchards, and Waterstones.

My favorite sign was in Foyles:

Foyles has the widest range of titles of any of the stores we visited. This is the store directory which made me feel a little rattled:

Not knowing if I’d ever again be in a store with a dentistry section, I decided to start there. After looking at a few books about dental diseases, I quickly moved on!

Hatchards has a wonderful window featuring children’s favorites, including The Famous Five (look at the bottom shelf):

In Hatchards, this section title struck me as more necessary than ever.

Daunt is a beautiful store, the kind of store you want to spend the night in to have all to yourself. The picture below is a wonderful invitation to explore the world:

 

Of course, there were other stores.

We sought this one out, a store I had read about in the New York Times, and then a friend who lives in London recommended it as well. Word on the Water sells used books and, while we didn’t buy anything, it is a very unique setting.

Sitting outside on a bench outside the boat, I caught this sweet scene:

Octavia’s Bookshop is in a village in the Cotswolds. It was closed, but a sign near the door reads: 2013 Best Children’s Independent Bookshop in The Bookseller Industry Awards. I was tempted to “test” their alarm system, but my husband convinced me that we did not want to start an international incident.

After all of our bookstore visits, we came home with a heavier suitcase. Between the two of us, we gave 20 books a new home in Scituate. Here’s my stack, an eclectic mix of new and old. And yes, there is a short biography of King George VI. Being in London does that to a person – I was getting curious about the Queen’s father!

I already have a copy of Jane Eyre, but could not resist this beautiful cover:

Of course, I also read a lot during our trip – long plane rides and evenings while my husband watched the World Cup. I’ll write about those – and other book related adventures from our trip – in my next post!