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Allegra Goodman on her new book, travel fantasy, and worst vacation experience

We’re asking our VIPs a whole new set of questions, starting with this Cambridge author

Allegra Goodman, wearing a felted wool hat from Kazakhstan that she purchased at an international craft fair in Jerusalem.Handout

Cambridge resident Allegra Goodman would love to travel the world, visiting — with no time restrictions — some of her favorite museums including the Louvre in Paris, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, and the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. But for now, the acclaimed novelist is preparing for a book tour to share her newest publication, “Sam.” It’s about a young girl growing up on the North Shore and is, the author said, “like a time-lapse photo, only with words. It’s close-up and very intimate. She’s 7 when the book starts, and as she matures, the language matures, too.” Local stops for Goodman, 55, include Porter Square Books in Cambridge on Jan. 3, and Brookline Booksmith on Jan 4. “I really enjoy connecting with readers in person — especially after COVID,” she said. “Writers work in solitude for so long and wait for the moment to present the work to readers directly.” A native of Honolulu, Goodman lives in Cambridge with her husband, David Karger, a computer science professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. We caught up with the mother of four — and grandmother of a 16-month-old grandson — to talk about all things travel.

If you could travel anywhere and money was no object, where would you go? I would take several months to visit Paris, Amsterdam, and Florence. I’d spend weeks and weeks at the Louvre, the Rijksmuseum, and the Uffizi Gallery. I’d just sit for hours contemplating art and never feel rushed.


Where was the first place you traveled after COVID restrictions lifted? Nashville to spend Passover with family.

Do you prefer booking trips through a travel agent or on your own? If it’s a simple trip I’ll book myself, but for a complicated trip, I prefer a travel agent.

Thoughts on an “unplugged” vacation? Because I am a Sabbath observer, I unplug once a week for Shabbat. It’s a great way to take a vacation without leaving home.


Do you use all your vacation time or leave some on the table? I’ve worked for most of my adult life as a writer and mother. Writing is in many ways easier than taking care of children, so when my kids were little, I often felt that work time was vacation.

What has been your worst vacation experience? I was sick in bed during a family reunion at lovely Asilomar [resort and conference center] in Northern California. I didn’t get to see or do anything.

Do you vacation to relax, to learn, or for the adventure of it all? I prefer learning and adventure — and I think learning is an adventure.

What book do you plan on bringing on your next vacation? Georgio Bassani’s “The Novel of Ferrara” for that trip to Italy I hope to take.

If you could travel with one famous person/celebrity, who would it be? I would travel off-road with Jane Goodall. I’d like to see the planet through her eyes … to hear her perspective and just wander through the jungle with her.

What is the best gift to give a traveler? A mini luggage scale. You hook it onto your suitcase handle for an instant readout so you can avoid charges for extra weight. This is also a terrific gift for kids going away to college.

What is your go-to snack for a flight or a road trip? Chocolate-covered almonds.


What is the coolest souvenir you’ve picked up on vacation? At an international craft fair in Jerusalem, I bought a felted wool hat from Kazakhstan. It’s so warm and interesting.

What is your favorite app/website for travel? Google Maps, real-time navigation, and suggestions for gas, lodging, and food.

What has travel taught you? How little I know.

What is your best travel tip? Keep your sense of humor. Delays, detours, cancellations, missed connections, bad directions, bad weather, lost luggage. … It’s all going to happen, so just roll with it. When travel doesn’t go according to plan, that’s when your trip gets real. You discover new places, meet new people, and make the best memories.