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There were other books in my early life, going back to Little Goldens, with their sparkly gilt bindings and quickly dog-eared cardboard covers.

And there were really old ones, like my father's childhood favorites — early editions of "Tarzan of the Apes" — with cheap paper that yellowed fast but whose red or green cloth bindings held up well.

I know, because I have them all, and they are still readable if you don't turn the pages too fast.

But there is one book that stands out on my shelves. One that I return to sometimes, a nostalgic symbol because it arrived in my life when I was on the verge of becoming who I wanted to be — and because of who it came from.

My mother gave it to me for Christmas when I was 15. It proves, to this day, how well she understood her daughter.

It was my mother's favorite book — not "Little Women" or any of the other girl-y ones that my adult self would have predicted and my teen-self would have ignored. It wasn't even "Treasure Island" or "Two Years Before the Mast."

It was "The Royal Road to Romance," Richard Halliburton's first travel memoir, published in 1925 and so wildly popular that it linked Halliburton's name permanently to international adventuring.

The image projected by the book played with the facts a bit: Halliburton was actually a rich kid who'd already been to Europe. But "Road" made him sound like a wide-eyed, "golly gee," penny-pinching first-timer.

My mother, growing up poor on the Canadian border, had loved it. It had fueled her dreams the way it would nourish mine.

I already knew I wanted to travel and had been accepted — with parental approval, because they paid the bills — for American Field Service, now AFS International. I was about to leave for a semester at a boarding school in the Odenwald, in West Germany. (Yeah, that's how long ago it was. We still had two Germanys.)

It has been more than 60 years since that Christmas. The places have changed; traveling has gotten offhand easy; the style of travel journalism has altered (for the better, mostly), and the pages of my Halliburton are brittle with age.

But I turn to it before trips even now, not because of the globe-circling journey it documented, nor because of its writing, nor its over-the-top "oh-wow-lookit!'' enthusiasm.

I turn to it for the inscription on the flyleaf: "To Cathy," my mother wrote, "a beginning.''

Catherine Watson was the Star Tribune's first travel editor. She retired in 2004.