What were you doing before you opened a travel bookstore?
I was a media officer for the U.N., traveling to places like Sudan, Colombia, and Nepal.
Sounds like a burnout situation.
It was definitely intense, since I worked a lot in refugee camps. Opening the bookstore was a way to bring the things I care about together, since we do a lot of events and book launches focused on humanitarian issues.
What are your favorite travel books now?
An African in Greenland [by Tété-Michel Kpomassie] is one, about a young man in Togo who read about Eskimos and became obsessed. Also, The Asiatics [by Frederick Prokosch], about the adventures of a guy who travels across the Middle East and Asia. It captures the thrill of traveling alone.
What’s the most underrated type of travel book?
Mystery novels, because they show you the gritty underside of a place. A typical book set in Amsterdam will describe the beautiful homes and picturesque streets, whereas a book like The Japanese Corpse [by Janwillem van de Wetering] will have you visiting the morgue and fishing bodies out of the Binnenkant Canal.
I’ve got a fifteen-hour flight to Singapore. What should I get to sustain me?
I like to use long flights to catch up on my high-school reading, like David Copperfield or Anna Karenina—books that I could never concentrate on while riding the subway.