How to Get a Library of Congress Reader’s Card

After living in the DC area for almost five years, I finally got my act together and went to the Library of Congress to get a reader’s card. Many people don’t know it’s even possible to get a (free!) library card from the Library of Congress—but it is! The process is actually pretty easy and, once you have it, you can access reading rooms and materials at the Library of Congress beyond what’s available to the public online. The Library of Congress website gives a decent rundown of how to go about it, but sometimes instructions from the eyes of the customer can be helpful. So, how do you get a Library of Congress Reader’s Card?

How to Get a Library of Congress Reader's Card

Getting There

First things first—you need to get yourself to the Library of Congress. Located in Washington, D.C., the Jefferson Building is directly across from the Capitol Building, so you can feasibly make a day of it. The best way to get to the area is by Metro. The Capitol South Metro station is accessible via the Orange, Blue, and Silver lines. Once you exit the station, you’ll walk about a third of a mile. Take a right onto C Street SE, then a left onto 2nd Street SE, a left onto Independence Avenue SE, and finally a right onto 1st Street SE. You can enter through the visitor entrance on 1st Street SE. An accessible entrance is available at this location as well as other sides of the building.

If you prefer a less scenic option, the Madison Building also has an office to process new readers. I signed up for mine in the Jefferson Building, so the following describes that particular route. Folks working at the Library of Congress are very friendly and helpful, however, and you can always ask them for directions.

How to Get a Library of Congress Readers Card 3

Once you’re inside the building and through security on the ground floor, you’ll need to check any bags. There are free coat checks available and the staff may remind you to hold onto your ID if you’re going to register for a card.

From the Information Desk in the center of the entrance area (still on the ground floor), you’ll walk straight back and through the “yellow tunnel” (really a yellow hallway). When I spoke to a woman for directions, she warned me I might think I was lost, but to keep walking and I would find my destination. You’ll pass lots of closed-door offices along the path, which curves around the center of the building. At the end of the tunnel, you’ll find an elevator to the left and right. Take one to the first floor.

On the first floor, you’ll land right next to LJ139. There is a sign-in sheet near the security desk where you’ll write your name and the date. Then, to the left of LJ139, you can join the line to register.

Know before you go: LJ139 is open 8:30 to 4:30 Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday and 8:30 to 9:00 Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday. LM133 in the Madison Building (the Reader Registration Office) is open 8:30 to 4:30 Monday through Saturday. Both offices are closed all federal holidays.

How to Get a Library of Congress Readers Card 4

How to Get a Library of Congress Reader’s Card

In the Jefferson Building, the Microform and Electronic Resources Center (where card registration happens) is also a research room, so you’ll want to keep the volume down.

Inside LJ139, you’ll first go to a small desk to the right where a staff member will ask whether you’ve pre-registered for a card. You can choose to do this prior to visiting the building; I opted to wait until I was there to fill out the application. If you decide to do it on-site, the staff member will direct you to a computer, which will walk you through adding your name, address, phone number, email address, and purpose of use (i.e. academic or personal/business). Once you’ve finished, you’ll rejoin the line to see the staff member at the desk, who will verify your information. Then you’ll go to another line to get your photo taken.

A staff member will request your ID, pull up your record, and prepare your card in a few seconds. Then, you’ll be asked to move to a stool in front of a blue sheet where they’ll take your photo. You can choose to smile or not.

Your card will process and print in a few seconds while the staff member assists the next person. You’ll then be handed your card and can merrily enter the Main Reading Room or any other of the rooms available with a reader’s card!

How to Get a Library of Congress Readers Card 1

About the Reader’s Card

Reader’s cards are good for two years and must be renewed in-person with a valid ID. According to the site, acceptable ID may be a “valid driver’s license, state-issued identification card, or passport.”

Reader’s cards can be used to access reading rooms and request materials. You can find out more about how to use your card (aside from as a cool conversation piece/point of bragging) here.


More on the Library of Congress

Just want to visit the Library of Congress? Find our guide of how to visit the Library of Congress here. Get a little more oomph for your visit with these tips on making the most of your Library of Congress experience. And, check out our Library of Congress archives here.

5 Things I Learned Launching a Little Literary Magazine

Little literary magazines come and go. Shi’r was here one decade, gone another. So too Tin House, Souffles, The Partisan Review, and Black Clock. Indeed, author Nick Ripatrazone went so far as to write last year that “Literary Magazines are Born to Die.” He didn’t mean it as a bad thing, but rather that we should recognize they have a life cycle and pay tribute to our literary ancestors.

ArabLit Quarterly Winter/Spring 2019: The Strange.

As a species, little literary magazines have persisted, blossomed, and flourished. If most of the publishing landscape is big, profit-oriented, and difficult to maneuver, then the little-lit-mag landscape is small, bad with money, and welcoming. Finding a traditional publisher can be soul-killingly difficult. But finding a little mag to love your work? It’s doable.

The sheer number of living lit mags also demonstrate a clear hunger to belong to the literary discourse. A few magazines have predated on this need, charging exorbitant fees for submissions, writing courses, and editorial assistance. But a lot of little lit mags—let’s optimistically say most—have made room, in the best anti-capitalist spirit, for tens of thousands of literary voices.

Why open yet another little magazine? The answer to the question is, naturally: Why not? Although you might need a few more reasons during the long hours of formatting the pages, rooting out errors, fielding angry emails, and remembering you forgot to ask for so-and-so’s bio.

We recently launched the second issue of ArabLit QuarterlyAfter a lot of frustration trying to get the print version uploaded on Blurb, we eventually decided to go with Amazon. The biggest thing we learned was probably: It always takes more time than you think! But also:

Five (MORE) things We’ve Learned (so far)

1. Find a space where you’re comfortable. I moved to Cairo in the summer of 2001, and I spent my literary coming-of-age hanging around Arab book fairs and literary translators. Although I’ve attempted to tackle other niches, the one I always fall back into is Arabic literature in translation. I’m by no stretch an expert. But this is where I’m most comfortable.

2. Community is essential. ArabLit Quarterly is prrrrobably not going to make me rich or famous, give me better teeth or healthier skin, or put my children through college. Alas! So what makes it worthwhile? Creating fresh aesthetic experiences and stretching literature, certainly. And yes, it’s also the friends we made along the way.

3. A budget is necessary. Ugh. I am anti-capitalist both by belief and by circumstance, but it’s important to know how much you can pay your contributors without emptying your personal checking account.

4. Apply for grants. We’re not a U.S. nonprofit, since none of ALQ’s core members live in the U.S. That cuts off a lot of possibilities. But there are other opportunities out there. Our second issue, for instance, we floated in large part by the Gumroad Creators Fund, which recently opened up.

5. Define your own success. There might be a page out there, if I google hard enough, that tells me whether ArabLit Quarterly is successful or not. But that seems about as promising as an internet search for “my left breast hurts am I going to die?” or “does life have meaning?” It’s bound to take me to a dark place. What could “success” be for ArabLit Quarterly? I’m not sure yet. But maybe just being able to talk about it is enough.

7 Things I Learned From Sorting, Packing, and Storing my Books

Until this month, I’d lived in a 450 square foot studio apartment for six years. It was a great space, it fit my life, and it had more books in it than were probably necessary. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the first reaction I got most often when showing someone my home was, “Wow—you have a lot of books.” I generally didn’t mention that I also had a small storage space in the basement of the building filled with—you guessed it—more books. (Also Christmas decorations, but that’s not really relevant here.)

So when I decided in early 2018 that I’d spend most of 2019 traveling, I knew I’d have to decide what to do with each of those books: give it away, pay to store it, or make space to take it with me. Over the course of a year, I went through every last one of the hundreds of books I owned. Here’s what I learned.

packing books moving feature

Start Early

In fact, start now. Even if you have no plans to move anytime soon, start sorting your books today. Or at least this week. It takes longer than you think to sort through every book and decide what you want to do with it, and future you will thank you for doing it at your own leisurely pace instead of having to do it when you’re also trying to book movers/arrange a Goodwill pick-up/hang out outside liquor stores so you can take the empty boxes they’re discarding. And speaking of boxes…

Box Size Matters

The thing about a box of books is: it’s heavy. It’s filled with all of the blood, sweat, tears, hopes, and dreams of the authors who wrote those books, and all of those things make a box very heavy. Presumably also the paper and stuff also plays a role, but I’m not an expert on physics. Regardless, smaller boxes are far better suited to books than larger boxes if your goal is to move them from one place to another, and you may end up moving them around a lot as you’re packing even just to get them out of the way so you can do other packing. If you run out of small boxes, fill a medium or large size box 1/3 or 1/2 full of books and then add something light—extra pillows, towels, feather boas—on top to fill it up.

Clear Boxes Make Things Easier If You Don’t Have X-ray Vision

If it’s an option for you, also consider clear plastic bins for your books, especially if you’re packing them for the long term. If you have a clear box and pack your books with the spines facing out, you’ll be able to find a specific book without unpacking every box in your closet or storage space. Plus, they’re waterproof. I can tell you from personal experience, that makes a real difference if your storage space is not waterproof. One more bonus: if you’re like me, having your book spines or covers visible will also help expose your movers to a variety of inclusive romance titles.

Sort Your Books a Second Time

Now that you have the boxes, it’s time to sort your books again. I know, I know: you already went through all of them, got rid of a dozen or so, and you desperately need each and every one of the titles you kept for that day in the future when you finally have a home with a dedicated library. Listen, I’m in no place to tell anyone how many books they should or shouldn’t have. I’ve got more than a dozen boxes of books in storage, and that doesn’t count the 3 boxes taking up space in my car as I’m traveling.

But I can tell you that asking myself some key questions helped me get rid of hundreds of books over the last year. Here are a few of them:

  • Did I forget I owned this book? If so, will not owning it really feel like a loss?
  • How will I feel when I unpack this book in ten months? Excited? Ambivalent? Confused as to why I paid to store it with money that could have gone to more books or Dollywood tickets?
  • If I’ve had this book for more than ten years (or 15…) and haven’t read it, do I really want to read it? And if I can genuinely imagine myself wanting to read this book most of all someday, would I be doing so in an era in which libraries are likely to exist?
  • Am I only keeping this book because I don’t like this author and I don’t want to expose more people to their writing? If so, is there an alternative disposal option?

Your questions might be different, but the point is that it’s worth being intentional and knowing why you own your books.

Pack Your Books Like You Shelve Your Books

Whether you shelve by genre, color, size, alphabet, number of supernatural creatures, intensity of sex scenes, or whatever metric makes sense to you, boxing your books the same way will make unpacking easier. It’ll also mean you can make a quick notation on a box—“political nonfiction,” “yellow books,” “books with vampires but no werewolves”—instead of listing every book inside. Because none of us will ever do that (unless it’s procrastination to avoid more packing).

Sort Through Those Books One Last Time

Even if you think there’s no more culling to be done, take one more look as you’re putting books in boxes in the final days and hours—desperation has an amazing ability to sap sentimentality. I was giving away books 12 hours before my movers showed up. I couldn’t even tell you now what those books were, which is a pretty good sign that I won’t miss them even though I’d kept them through two rounds of sorting.

Don’t Let Anyone Make You Feel Bad About Your Decisions

There’s no wrong number of books to have, and what you do with them is your decision. Think about it, decide what’s right for you, change your mind two months later if you want, and don’t let anyone—not me or your friends or the internet or your movers—tell you you’re doing it wrong.


Want more thoughts on getting rid of books—or not? Check out these rad Book Riot posts:

5 Mantras for Getting Rid of Books

Why I Disagree With the KonMari Tidying-Up Method For Books

8 Things To Do With Unwanted Books

How To Find A Book By Description

One of my favorite reference librarian questions came from a patron who said she wanted to read the latest Danielle Steele book, which she’d seen at the local grocery store. It had a blue cover. As she gave me the things she could remember about the book cover and title, I realized she wasn’t talking about a Danielle Steele book, but a Daniel Silver book. She’d hoped I could find a book by description and indeed, I did—it just wasn’t the book she’d hoped it was.

We’ve all been in the position of hoping to find a book by description at some point if we’re readers. Even for someone like me who writes down every book I read and have since high school, there are times I remember a scene or pieces of a book’s story that make me realize I’ve forgotten the title or author and I desperately want to reconnect with the book. Fortunately, there are a lot of ways to help you find a book by description. I’ve compiled some of my best tips and tricks as a reader and former librarian to help you track down those former favorite gems. Note: these tips are also useful if you’re itching to find a new-to-you book based on some keywords or descriptions of things you really like or want to know more about.

How to find a book by description. Whether it's a book you've forgotten the title of and want to find again or a topic or idea you want to learn more about, here's how to find it. how to | how to find books | how to find a book you've forgotten | book databases | find a book by description | books by description


How To Find A Book By Description

Google Like A Librarian

This is going to be the most obvious tip, but I will offer up some steps to get you above and beyond that here. Google is, indeed, your friend, but you have to know how to use it well.

When you only remember parts of a book, use those fragments of memory as your search terms. But use them as quotes to ensure that Google is searching exact phrases.

A few years back, I wanted to recall the name of a book I loved from many years ago. I knew it was a middle grade or young adult book, that the cover had a mermaid on it, and that one of the key parts of the story was that it was set in a trailer somewhere in Texas. Here are some of the ways I’d pull together that search in Google, using the quotation marks.

Google search of terms "mermaid cover" and "young adult" in quotes

“Mermaid cover” and “young adult” brought up a sea (heh) of blue tinted covers for the book. But I know that the book did not have a blue cover. The first page of results doesn’t look especially promising here, as the results are primarily about mermaid book covers on young adult books (which makes sense since that’s literally the search).

From here, I’ll add another detail I remember to the search. You do not need quotes around single word descriptions, but you will want to include a + between them, so that Google picks up all of those search terms as critical in the search.

Google search of terms "mermaid cover" + "young adult" + Texas

I thought adding Texas would drill down a bit more, but in this case, it didn’t. It did remove the blue covers popping up at the top, but it highlighted The Little Mermaid more than anything. I don’t think that book was set in Texas, though, and I know for a fact that the book was not actually about mermaids. It just had one on the cover.

Often at this point in a book search, I like to tab over to images. I’m a visual learner and my memory is sparked by how something looks. This might not be ideal for everyone, but it’s especially useful for those who remember book covers.

With the “mermaid cover” “young adult” + Texas search, these are the image results:

Google image search of "mermaid cover" "young adult" + texas

None of these covers looked right to me. It’s time to refine that search, this time using the piece of information I remember that I think will really refine the results: “trailer park.” I suspect there aren’t a lot of books featuring mermaids in trailer parks.

Since I can’t remember if it was set in a trailer park or rather in a trailer, my first search will be the simpler one, using the single word trailer. Again, this will require a plus sign after Texas.

The results for this search aren’t getting me anywhere new, and the results after the last one are to adult-themed sites. This is always a possibility when you’re searching key terms and ideas, for what it’s worth. Because this search didn’t change anything, I’m going to refine the final term from trailer to trailer park, which will be in quotes.

Google will be searching for anything with the terms “mermaid cover” and “young adult” and Texas and “trailer park.” My results will absolutely narrow down. Maybe even to the book I’m looking for.

Except in this case, it did not. I won’t share the image of the results, since it’s all links to adult websites. When you use quotes around ideas and use them in conjunction with other quotes, Google searches for only results that have all of those words exactly. In many cases, this would be useful. In the case of this search, it’s not.

But if I took this search and removed all of the quotation marks, maybe that would help. Instead of searching for all of the words exactly, Google will search for each of these words individually and bring back results that fit the most of those words in ranked order. You do not need to use a + sign in this instance. The + is only useful for quoted term searches, where you want the exact phrasings all to be included.

This search brought up a book cover with a mermaid on it right at the top that looked familiar. When I clicked on the first image on top, featuring the mermaid on a cover, I was taken to the second result below to a page on Penguin Random House’s website for Martha Moore’s Under The Mermaid Angel. Unfortunately, the website was a dead link. Fortunately, the link below the one I clicked led to the Goodreads page for the same title. Here’s the book’s description:

Thirteen-year-old Jesse leads a pretty boring life in just about the most boring place in the universe — otherwise known as Ida, Texas. She cannot forget the death of her baby brother seven years ago, and how she just couldn’t pray for him when he was sick. She never talks about it though, not even to her best friend, which is something she doesn’t have, anyway. But all that changes when Roxanne moves into the trailer next door. Thirty years old, with her fake fur coat, wild red hair, and romantic notions, Roxanne is a revelation to Jesse. Why has she moved to Ida, of all places? Their growing friendship will change Jesse’s life, giving her back a vision of hope beyond the mundane world around her.

Although it did not hit all of the search criteria in the description, it did pick up on a number of them, namely Texas and trailer. Reading reviews of the book showed that Google picked up some of the additional terms from those reviews and indeed, this was the book I wanted to remember. Success in four quick searches!

Using a variety of search terms, in a variety of quoted and unquoted means, helps narrow down your Google searches to find a book by description. 

An additional trick is to use the – symbol while searching. This will remove any search results that include a specific word (or phrase, if used in quotation marks). In the above search, for instance, knowing that the book was not about mermaids in water, I may have selected to do this as a search, too:


This actually brought up even better results, since Moore’s book is pointed to in all of the top results. It would make me more confident that this was indeed the book I hoped to find.

Any phrases or details you can remember about a book will help your Google skills in this capacity. Again, don’t forget to check the images tab, too, especially if your memory is most vivid around book covers. This was exactly how I deduced the Danielle Steele/Daniel Silva mystery for a patron.

There are other ways to modify Google searches, as well, and you can play with some of those Google tips and tricks offered in their guide.


Your Local Library

Whether you head to your library in person or visit it digitally, it’s always a great resource to help you find a book by description. Your local librarians are likely not only well versed in strong Googling, but they have an arsenal of databases and other resources at the ready to help you find that book you remember by having just a blue cover. If you don’t already, ensure you have an up-to-date, active library card, especially if you want to access any of your library’s databases from home or the workplace.

One database you’ll want to get to know—and one your librarians may be using—is NoveList. Though not available at every library, this resource is a tremendous collection of information about books of all stripes and searching it with some of the keywords you recall about a book can help you find that book. If you aren’t familiar with NoveList and want to give it a whirl, here’s a handy guide to using NoveList.

Another library resource you may have access to is Books in Print, which is precisely what it sounds like: a database of books available in print. One of the cool things about Books in Print is you can do a character search, meaning that if you remember that a book you are looking for is part of a series with a character named Sherlock Holmes, you can winnow down results to that character, his various iterations, and his storylines until you find that book you’re seeking.

WorldCat, which is the world catalog of books, is accessible whether or not you have a library card and can also be useful for hunting down a lost book. Though the search mechanisms aren’t as robust as those on Google, WorldCat can work similarly through keyword searching. Taking the example above, I struggled to find any matches when I plugged in the words mermaid cover Texas and mermaid cover young adult. Young adult is something I can select as an in a later search screen if necessary, so I don’t need to include it here.

Tinkering with the search a bit, though, and putting in the words mermaid Texas trailer park into WorldCat landed me precisely on the correct book (a cover image search in WorldCat isn’t as useful as it is on a more visually-driven search engine like Google).

WorldCat search results for mermaid texas trailer park

If you look on the lefthand side of the image above, you’ll see that the option exists to limit results to juvenile (aka children’s books, middle grade books, and young adult books), so putting it into the search bar isn’t necessary.

WorldCat can be especially useful if you’re searching for a book by description and aren’t seeking a specific title. For example, if you’re seeking children’s books set in Latin America, you can do a search for Latin America, then limit your search to juvenile and go from there. It’s like your library catalog, but with access to every record for every library that’s part of the world catalog, which is a whole lot of them. You can get a few more tips on how to use WorldCat to find a forgotten book here, as well as some insight into a couple of other databases that might help you find a book by description.

Library-focused listservs can also be useful, whether you yourself subscribe and ask a question or you ask your local library to seek the book out for you via one. The Fiction-L listserv, hosted by the Cuyahoga Library System, is an excellent resource. Even if you don’t subscribe to it, there is a search feature from the subscribe page. A savvy searcher might plug their own key terms for a book into the search box and see someone else has asked about the same book.


Goodreads, LibraryThing, Reddit, and Other Social Sites

Back in the day, LiveJournal had a robust community for those searching for a book they could not remember. Even though it’s not active like it used to be, there are a number of great places to help you find a book by description.

Goodreads has a forum called “What’s The Name Of That Book?” brimming with readers who are eager to help you track down a forgotten title. What’s great about using this is that not only can you get help, but you can put your skills and knowledge to the test in helping others find a missing title, too. Like with the Listserv noted above, you can do a search on this particular forum and maybe discover the title of the book you’re seeking without ever posting.

LibraryThing has a similar community-focused book finding effort with the group “Name That Book.”

You can also search through Reddit’s answer to these two services with their subreddit “What’s That Book?”

Finally, an outstanding resource not only to use but to read is the “Stump The Bookseller” service offered by Loganberry Books in Shaker Heights, Ohio. Write in with the book you’re trying to find, and the booksellers will do their best to help find the title. Librarians are great at finding books, but never forget that booksellers are as well. I’m especially into the fact this particular project encourages stumping the bookseller. No question is too hard (though, as has been the case in my librarian experience, sometimes the question is a misremembering or a blending of two different books into one in one’s memory).

How to Talk To Your Favorite Authors at Signings and Book Talks

Meeting your favorite author is often a mix of excitement and a touch of fear. Will they be as awesome in person as you imagined? Will they have interesting things to say? Or will the moderator/interview ask awful questions? Or, if you are anything like me, will I say something profoundly stupid or awkward to this person you admire?

This last question has been a concern that has plagued me for over 15 years. When I meet authors whose work I adore at book signings or talks, I often feel my conversation skills go swiftly out the door. I admire them so much that I don’t know what to say. So after 15 years of struggling with this, here are some helpful hints. I won’t claim to be an expert at talking to authors and artists but I think my stories will be helpful to those of you who suffer from this problem. Also, these rules won’t apply to every author/artist you meet, because frankly some are more responsive and understanding than others. But don’t let that stop you from meeting your favorite creative people.

Tell them you like the book and how much it means to you.

how_to_do_things_with_tearsThis seems so simple but it’s not something I did when I met someone who I admired. I would mostly mutter thank you and scamper away after they wrote in my book. After one reading, I realized how powerful this was when I got to meet my favorite poet, Allen Grossman of How to Do Things With Tears, in college. I finally mustered up the nerve to talk to him and said, “I know you probably hear this all the time, but you’re my favorite poet.” To which he responded, “No, I don’t hear that all the time.” It was a like an electricity bolt hit me. Tell authors that you love their work. Don’t assume they know why you love it or that you even do.

Remember it’s a conversation.

Again, this seems like an obvious thing but once I realized that authors (or some) like to talk to their readers, it opened up the opportunity to have real conversations. I usually ask if they’ve been to Chicago before and that can open up a conversation about things to do and see. Granted, this did lead me down the pathway of talking about taxidermy for waaay too long with Erica Henderson, former artist of Squirrel Girl, at the recent comic book convention (C2E2) so there’s that. Maybe stay away from taxidermy and especially severed heads (yeah, I have those topics as defaults that I have to work out of my system).

Sonata_mulatticaWhen I got to meet Rita Dove, the incredible poet, I told her that her poem “The Fish in the Stone” brought me out to her reading of Sonata Mulattica. She was surprised because it’d been a while since anyone had brought that poem up to her. It made me extremely happy to see her reaction.

Authors get it.

squirrel_girlAuthors get the awkwardness (or many do). We imagine authors to be these awesome fully confident people who tell us about the world we live in (or we could imagine we live in). But they were probably once like us, stammering when meeting their favorites. I got to meet Ryan North back in February and managed to tell him “Squirrel Girl got me to start reading superhero comics.” He asked me “What superhero comics do you read?” And of course, my mind went as blank. I responded, “I can’t remember a single one.” He laughed and said, “When people ask me what my favorite books are, I end up saying: ‘Books. I haven’t read any books.’” So he gets that anxiety. It endeared me to him even more than I already did.

Don’t monopolize their time.

So while I had the problem of not saying much to my favorite authors, don’t take it to the other extreme. They likely will have a lot of people waiting for their  minute with them so you don’t want to dominate the situation. And don’t interrupt when someone else is talking to them. I was talking to a scientist (okay, not an author) about something she said and a person interrupted our conversation completely to ask their own question. We both kinda stared awkwardly at each other and I ended up handing her my card to follow up later.

Keep going to your favorite author’s signings and talks.

Learning how to talk with authors is going to take time. Getting over the anxiety won’t happen overnight. So don’t let that stop you from going. It’s also okay just to hear them talk or just thank them and get your book signed. Each time you go, you get more familiar with the environment of book signings and talks. You’ll learn something from the experience (and hopefully the talk as well)

If you want to learn some other Rioter’s tips, check out this post on how to talk to authors at parties (which is a whole other thing), or other tips on attending a book signing.

How to Pick the Best Travel Guide Books

Travel. I love it. I live it. I breathe it. In my view, it all starts with the rush of exhilaration when I choose the magical destination for my next trip…only to come crashing down when I have to choose a damn travel guide to start my research. Because you don’t want to be lugging around every travel guide. You need to narrow it down to the best travel guide books. And I mean, really narrow it down. 

I hate that part.

We’re not talking the travel-inspiring books. We’re talking the more practical side of travel planning. And seriously, there are so many travel guides on the market, it is a nightmare of global proportions to choose only one. Add to that how quickly the information can date, and you are left wondering if this really is such a good idea.

The thing is, each travel guide has its pros and cons. Some are perfect for the USA, some have a better understanding of the winding roads of New Zealand. There are guides perfect for your architectural adventures through Rome while others take you on a culinary tour of Paris. But unless you have nine months to read up on every travel guide, it’s really hard to know which is the best travel guide books. 

How to pick out the best travel guide books, along with 11 of our personal favorites. book lists | travel guides | how to pick a travel guide | best travel guide books

So I did the hard work for you. I narrowed it down to 11 of the best travel guide books and the reasons why (just so you know I didn’t simply accept whichever book was left on the library shelf). And how did I choose the best? Well, I read each of their editions for a city or country I am already VERY familiar with. Now, usually, we would only be reading travel guides of places we want to learn more about, right? What better way to ‘test’ a travel guide than to see if they know it as well as a local!

Before you start buying up on guidebooks, here are a few tips to help you choose your own:

  • Always check the publication date. It is a depressing state of affairs, but plenty of establishments can close within a very short time, and public transport is an ever-changing beast.
  • Consider buying both hard copy and e-format. Hard copy to take notes and e-format to use while on the road. 
  • Think about the character of the destination AND the character of your travel. Each publication has its target audience and style to go with it. Some will try to spread that net to catch a few more readers, but they can’t escape their own character. Then head to the library and read a few pages of each. You’ll soon pick up on what I mean.
  • Check the author bio on the book (e.g. Lonely Planet lists the contributors on the back page). Make sure at least half of them are local-based. It is too easy to ‘phone it in’, without any first-hand experience from the streets they are talking about. By supporting publications with local writers, you are supporting responsible local tourism AND encouraging more #ownvoices in the publishing industry.

The Best Travel Guide Books

Lonely Planet Guide

best travel guide booksUpfront honesty: Lonely Planet Guides are my go-to for travel. Maybe I’m biased for an Australian publishing company, but they are definitely one of the few travel guides that remember how absolutely RIDICULOUS it is to travel to ANYWHERE from Australia (or New Zealand, for that matter). I find the LP guides are best when you are travelling to a country or region, rather than a city or town. LP has a great understanding of distance, travel, and all the little mysteries you can find in between. For example, the LP guide for Italy is brilliant for travelling around the country-side on trains and buses but the specific details for Rome are limited with less detail and enticement. Bonus note: LP has a whole extra range of books like The Not-For-Parents Travel Book and The Solo Travel Handbook. But that’s a whole other series.

Great for: Big picture travel across a whole country for most regions but especially Oceania, Asia, and the “Shoestring” range. New Zealand is the best ever.

Not so great: They need to update their South America collection. The most recent edition for Ecuador was lacking in detail and encouragement to try new things, especially for the Galapagos Islands. Really felt like at least two of the white male writers phoned it in from their NY base.


best travel guide booksFodor’s guides are hugely popular. Fodor’s ‘Go List’ is one of the most eagerly anticipated travel lists each and every year. If you are looking for the top 25 things to do in any given location, Fodor’s are brilliant for that. On the other hand, I found the Fodor’s to be lacking in those little touches away from the main thoroughfare. It’s the difference between seeing the Sydney Opera House and taking a walk around the corner to see Lady Macquarie’s Chair. The view is everything. This style works best with the European holidays and really seems to appeal to the Baby Boomers and older retiree generation.

Great for: The best highlights of any city, especially in Europe (e.g. Paris). 

Not so great: Personal local touch, or if you plan to stay in one place for longer than a week at a time.


best travel guide booksFrommer’s guides are highly recommended by many travellers who are looking for a little more comfort. They are brilliant for recommending and prioritising the highlights of any destination. However, they lack the insight of someone who has recently stood in line for many tourist attractions. For example, Frommer’s includes excellent tips on the best days to visit the Vatican Museum but it doesn’t warn you about the line that continues three blocks down from the entry doors.

Recently, they have been changed their focus to a more budget-friendly approach, but I don’t think it is coming through with their local writers.

Great for: Mainstream Travel with an upmarket touch, especially Western Europe (see Frommer’s Europe).

Not so great: “One block over” travel, stepping away from the regular, e.g. the Melbourne guide did little to entice me into exploring the city’s famous laneways of culture, coffee, and bookshops.

DK Eyewitness

best travel guide booksIf you’re travelling for culture and museums and art galleries and architecture, then the DK Eyewitness brand is the first guide you should pick up. This guide proudly stakes its brand on everything you want to SEE on a holiday—but not necessarily everything you want to DO. When I was researching for our holiday in Italy, the DK Eyewitness Italy guide had the BEST maps and layouts for all the biggest establishments. They are very detailed in the visuals, but I personally find them lacking in the roadside information (e.g. suggestions for food, parks to stop at, etc). I use them for building my ideas before I travel.

Great for: visually inspiring your holidays. Beautiful for places like Rome or London. Great guide for Italy

Not so great: Day-to-day travel details. Once I stepped out of the Vatican Museum, it was pretty much useless.

Rick Steves

best travel guide booksTo be honest, I never knew what the Rick Steves series was about, and then I learned I am not part of their target audience. The Rick Steves series is highly recommended for travel virgins, particularly those from the United States. The style of the guide is very good at taking the ‘scary’ out of travel and encouraging people to take that first leap into a completely unknown country. They provide a fairly good and well-travelled itinerary to help you find your feet when you first arrive. Anything outside their recommended zone and you’re on your own.

Great for: First-timers travellers visiting one of the major cities of the world, like London or Paris

Not so great: Anyone looking for a little more depth, e.g. do not use for Venice—that’s a city you need to be lost in at least once.

Rough Guides

best travel guide booksThese are the perfect guides for taking a step off the beaten track. I absolutely loved our Rough Guide for Southeast Asia. I find Rough Guides tend to be in the same style as Lonely Planet, offering you a jump to the left with more adventure. Rough Guide is even better for bushwalks, tramping, hiking or general “rough adventures”. They have an excellent understanding of responsible travel and are great for highlighting the towns between the cities. If you are travelling for the history of a place, this is the guide for you.

Great for: Historic or off-the-beaten-track adventures, like SE Asia, NZ, South America

Not so great: Big cities or glossy photos for visual cues. It was of no help in Kuala Lumpur.

Bradt Guides

best travel guide booksThe Bradt Guides were originally for British travellers venturing into Europe. Many years later, they have expanded to cover the rest of the world but stayed true to their character: preparing you for the culture shock of travel. Bradt Guides have all of these amazing cultural insights mixed in with the essentials. By the time you finish reading them, some of the biggest cultural differences won’t feel so different for you. For example, you won’t think twice if Nonna comes out to the restaurant and lures your children into the cucina for some special sweets. You’ll probably just laugh and follow them.

Good for: Cultural highlights of countries and regions, especially Macedonia.

Not so great: Asia. The Borneo guide was lacking in details about the various cultures and land issues for the locals.

Blue Guides

best travel guide booksI really feel like this is the series for Book Riot readers. There is a certain character that comes from these books, filled with history and art and architecture and culture. It is like you are travelling with a book personified, whispering secrets in your ears. There are all of these little tips and history notes filling the book, with a scholarly approach that reminds me of Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Blue Guides aren’t for everybody, but for those who love them, they really love their books.


Great for: Book Riot, history and literary buffs, that big cultural holiday you were taking through the Romantic History of Europe. The Blue Guide: Greece (The Mainland) is especially lovely to read!

Not so great: The rave scene in Berlin. Not really the Blue Guide style.

Footprint Travel Guides

The greatest strength of the Footprint Guides is in their understanding of transport. It is one of the few series that understands the travel around a city AND the travel between cities. Too many times, I have seen other books recommend going from this site to this site, without any explanation on the travel between the two. Footprint Guides provide all transport details as part of their planning, and it really helps. The highlights and cultural backgrounds are also very detailed and helpful. The only thing I would add would be some more information on cost details and budget ranges.

Great for: transport. Really useful in busy, stretched out places like Bangkok and Thailand

Not so great: Budget details.

Insight Guides

best travel guide booksThis is another beautiful, glossy, and impressive guide book that will encourage you to grab that passport and head straight to the airport!! Just don’t take these books with you—they are pretty useless with the actual travel information. The Insight Guides are produced by the Discovery Channel, so it is really no surprise they are aimed at beauty and practicality. There is plenty of background information and recommended highlights, making them best for the planning segment of your holiday.

Great for: Giving you an idea in your mind of where you want to go. The Insight Guides Turkey is especially memorable

Not so great: Actual travel. Don’t rely on these books to get you around a city like Naples and the Amalfi Coast.

This is… by Miroslava Saska

best travel guide booksOkay, these are not really travel guides. They are of absolutely no use to any of your travel plans or itineraries…but they are just so beautiful! I don’t care what you say—they are the Best Travel Guide Books. They are the books I turn to when I am trying to inspire my kids for holiday ideas. It all started with This is Venice, where our then 2-year-old kept reaching out to touch the pictures of the gondola. Ten years later and he still vividly remembers the city of boats. Our goal is now to collect each book for the cities and countries we have travelled to. So far it would include:


As always, I’m open to suggestion and we LOVE suggestions here at Book Riot. So, if I have missed your favourite, please tell us all about it in the comments. Or if you are looking for a suggestion for your dream destination, ask us!

Bon Voyage!

How to Throw a Fabulous Book Party

So you want to share your love of books at your upcoming soirée? You are in luck! Here are some wonderful ways to make your book party a smashing success. While you can definitely tailor these ideas to an all-kids or all-adults party, most of these bookworm birthday party ideas will please all ages.

Book Invitations

Let people know they are coming to a book party from the very start. Format your invitation to look like a book cover and print it on nice card stock. Or, if you want to be very secretive, give each of the guests a used book with the invitation tucked inside. If you do this, make sure you follow up and ensure they get the invite! Lastly, a bookmark-shaped invitation that is beautifully decorated can serve as an ongoing party reminder while also saving the spot in your invitee’s latest read.

Library Card Invitations from PartyPrintExpress on Etsy

Reading Theme Banner from EmptyNestHomeGoods on Etsy

Book Decorations

There are so many directions to take your book themed party when it comes to decor. First, use what you have: bring your book collection into the party space and try to accessorize spots that look bare. A few tomes make any area look lovely. Posters of book covers are a great option as well. If you have some sturdy books that you are okay with getting a little damaged (hit the thrift shop, possibly!), they make great pedestals for holding finger food trays.

Book Bundle from TheGildedLionBooks on Etsy

Book Party Activities

Here are some wonderful options for entertaining your guests at the book party:

  • Battle-of-the-books style trivia: Create a long list of questions that begin “in which book…” and cite some relevant detail from a book. Have your guests raise their hands or all write down their answers. A prize at the end—a great book, maybe—should be in order.
  • Book bracket on the wall: Get guests to nominate their favorite books for a March Madness–style bracket and, periodically throughout the party, have guests vote between pairs of books. Crown the winning book at the end of the party.
  • Book balancing: Want to practice good posture while celebrating books? Balance a book on your head and try walking across the room without letting it fall. For a book party for kids, have races to see who can do this fastest, or for adults, consider how you might make it into a drinking game challenge.
  • Reading party: While these haven’t been popular since the advent of TV/radio/internet, consider a seriously old school book party. Get a small group together and pick a book where you all get to be expressive readers. Take turns reading aloud to each other and pausing to discuss the contents of the book. While not a wild carousing evening, these kinds of parties can be a delight for more low-key celebrators.

Literary Themed Food

You can go at least two directions with the theme here. You can make book-shaped foods, from a book cake to foods with many layers that can be approximately book shaped…maybe baklava, for instance? Or, the more intriguing route could be to borrow food options from a book. Create a woodsy, fruit-filled menu based on the food descriptions in the Redwall series, or make futuristic, brightly colored foods to celebrate your favorite science fiction books with their space-age food tech.

Want to combine an activity with the food choices? Pick each food you make based on a book, and have people guess which book each food is referencing. As always, have a fun book handy for the person who guesses the most book-foods correctly!

Book Cupcake Toppers from WeeSoiree on Etsy

Book Themed Party Favors

You are probably tired of hearing it, but yes, books are a great party favor for a book party. I especially enjoy when people pick out used books (saving money), but inscribe them with why they chose that particular book. I’ve still got some of these book party favors, and I treasure them.

However, you can go less on-the-nose, for sure. Consider creating a bookmark that is a list of your favorite books and give recommendations as a party favor. A fun favor is a stretchy cloth book cover, which usually protect textbooks but are a great option for any hardcover book you want to keep pristine. You also can’t go wrong with candy (gummy bookworms, anyone?) or popcorn (a treat for a reading night) as your guests head off after the party.

Twelve Adult and Young Adult Book book candy party favors from sweetclicks on Etsy

Want more ideas for a gorgeous book themed party? Check out this literary vintage party post.

On Being a Book Lover with Dry Eyes

I was recently diagnosed with blepharitis, or inflammation around the eyelids. I’ve had terribly dry eyes for a while, and am now on a regimen of eyelid cleaning, eye mask wearing, and eye drop gushing in order to bring back some much-needed moisture. I’ve also had to change the way I read.

My issues are incredibly minor compared to people with vision impairment. But these issues are also pesky and common. Here are a few (entirely non-medical and possibly obvious) suggestions for other dry eye sufferers who spend a good chunk of time reading:

eyes feature

1) Embrace audiobooks.

This should be obvious, but I’ve never been a big audiobook listener, partly because I like being able to make note of significant quotes as I read. But I’ve replaced part of my podcast listening with audiobook listening. (I used one of those Audible discount codes that’s a ubiquitous fixture of podcast advertising, although is a more ethical option.) It’s had some unexpected benefits. I read too quickly, for one thing, and being forced to slow down to the speed of the narration keeps me from missing things, which I do all too often when reading text. And of course it gives my poor eyes a break from focusing on a page.

2) Be judicious about reading on a phone.

I stubbornly resisted getting a new phone even though my old one had such a warped display that I couldn’t make out the text at the edges. This was even with a convoluted combination of background color, text color, font size, line spacing, and display brightness. It helped to finally replace my phone, but a bigger change was cutting down on my digital reads. Sure, I love the convenience and reduced paper usage of being able to access hundreds of books on my phone or computer. But spending so much time staring at a screen was doing a number on my eyes. I’m back to print books as much as possible.

3) Cut down on mindless screen time.

I really notice the difference when I spend a few days away from computers and phones. It’s hard to avoid these devices as my work is so reliant on them, but screen time is the biggest culprit in my persistent eye strain. (#2 is probably some combination of aging and genetics.) I’m forcing myself to blink more and take more breaks, but I’m also trying to institute broader lifestyle changes. Scrolling endlessly down my blog reader, for instance, or clicking on articles I’m only half-interested in, is an almost compulsive behavior and one that tires my eyes after a while. If I want to save my eye-focus time for the kind of reading that I’ll actually remember, I need to prioritize book reading over pass-the-time-online reading.

4) Fall back in love with comics.

I devour comics far too quickly, as I’m so textually focused. But these vision issues have given me another reason to linger over visuals. This makes me appreciate the art more than I would if I were racing through dialogue, of course, but it also relieves some of the squinting that contributes to my eye strain.

If anyone has other tips for dealing with chronically dry eyes as a book obsessive, I’m all, er, ears!