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Traveler Food and Books | © rickpilot_2000/Flickr
Traveler Food and Books | © rickpilot_2000/Flickr

This Connecticut Restaurant Gives Every Diner a Free Book

Picture of JW McCormack
Updated: 15 September 2017


Would you like a side order of literature with your meal today? The owners of this restaurant in Connecticut came up with this winning formula – read on to find out more.

A venerated New England diner guarantees free books to all customers. And the food’s good too! Traveler Food and Books is a crucial roadside restaurant that doubles as a bookstore just off I-84 on the Massachusetts/Connecticut border, making it a perfect stop for long car trip between New York and Maine.

With each meal, diners get to handpick three titles from the vast library – which takes up an entire basement floor dubbed The Book Cellar in addition to the table-adjacent bookshelves – maintained by current owners Karen and Art Murdock. The restaurant’s policy was begun in the mid-1980s by previous owner Marty Doyle; since then, Traveler has become a landmark and an oasis for book-lovers.

Thousands of books come and go from the Murdocks’ collection every week, making for a uniquely fluid backlog which includes hardcovers and paperbacks, classics and contemporary work, much of it sourced from dozens of used bookstores and estate sales from all over the countryside – Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.

With New York’s used bookstores rapidly shrinking, more and more city slickers bound to Portland or Scranton are funneling through the small village of Mashapaug in Union, Connecticut, to take advantage of the books on offer (which can also be bought cheap if you exceed your allotted three books!). Here, titles by Joyce Carol Oates and John Updike (whose signed photograph is displayed, among other treasures), rub spines with westerns and cookbooks, giving industrious travelers plenty to read up on in-between trips.

The food at Traveler includes a ‘Booklover’s Burger’ (grilled onions and red peppers on a focaccia roll) and a ‘Charles Dickens Wrap’ (chicken, spinach, bacon, and blue cheese), but it’s the fresh-battered seafood menu, including haddock, scallops, and jumbo clam shrimp that really stands out: this is New England, after all.

Whether you use Traveler Food and Books as a rest-stop on your journey, or you make it the destination, it’s a rare combination of the two best pleasures in life: reading and grub. You’ll know it from the sign, which is visible from the highway; come in, stay awhile, and read up with a beer and a burger.

Traveler Food and Books, 1257 Buckley Hwy, Union, CT 06076, USA