Australia—a land of kangaroos, koala bears, 12-foot earthworms, killer seashells, and Prime Ministers who disappear in the surf—provides a rich adventure for those who are not afraid to possibly encounter some of the world’s deadliest creatures and forbidding terrain. Bill Bryson, author of the bestseller A Walk in the Woods, invites us on his treks throughout the Land Down Under from the comfort of our own homes (away from the deadly box jellyfish and toxic caterpillars) in his book, In a Sunburned Country.
I’m pretty certain I must have been an explorer—famous or otherwise—in a past life. Reading the globe-trotting adventures of others can entertain me for hours as I practically salivate over the descriptions of the sights, the culture, the food…you name it; hence my interest in Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven. Author Susan Jane Gilman details her story of what started as the trip of a lifetime for two recent college graduates, until something went terribly wrong.
Under the Tuscan Sun: At Home in Italy by Frances Mayes: Frances Mayes--widely published poet, gourmet cook, and travel writer--opens the door to a wondrous new world when she buys and restores an abandoned villa in the spectacular Tuscan countryside. In evocative language, she brings the reader along as she discovers the beauty and simplicity of life in Italy. Mayes also creates dozens of delicious seasonal recipes from her traditional kitchen and simple garden, all of which she includes in the book. Doing for Tuscany what M.F.K. Fisher and Peter Mayle did for Provence, Mayes writes about the tastes and pleasures of a foreign country with gusto and passion.
If you enjoyed this book about travel and coming of age and would like something similar, here are some other titles you may enjoy:
Ciao, America by Beppe Severgnini. Beppe Severgnini chronicles the experiences he and his wife had while renting a house in Georgetown and attempting to adapt to modern American culture. (worldcat.org)
You’d heard something about the Camino de Santiago, of course. Then you saw the wonderful feature film about it, the one that was released last year, The Way, starring Martin Sheen. After that you began to think, “Maybe I could do that…”, or perhaps even, “Maybe I should do that!”
Part graphic memoir, part travelogue, A Year in Japan offers a unique perspective on everyday life in Japan. In this charming, whimsical book, Kate T. Williamson adopts a counterintuitive approach to travel writing. Rather than striving to represent the grand, monumental aspects of Japanese culture and history, Williamson focuses on capturing the minutiae--fragmented memories, experiences, and revelations that emerged during the year she spent living in Kyoto. As a Westerner, Williamson has an outsider’s perspective on Japan. But because she had the opportunity to live there and become enmeshed in another way of life, Williamson was able to glean insights and perspectives that would be invisible to your run-of-the-mill tourist. Williamson’s artistic talent also helps concretize her observations, creating an enchanting combination of vivid, unexpected descriptions and beautifully rendered watercolor illustrations.
If you are like me, you probably enjoy exploring different cultures through food. I am a huge fan of Anthony Bourdain's show, No Reservations
I would love to be able to go to all these countries and taste their cuisines one day. But for now, I do it through reading. It is truly amazing to learn that many famous cooks and food writers were ordinary people and had to endure many struggles on their quests to find a niche for themselves. In these books, we will travel and experience cuisines both in the USA and around the world.
In Candyfreak, Steve Almond makes the typical chocoholic look like a quitter. Almond doesn’t just enjoy the occasional sweet indulgence. He is enamored with candy, especially chocolate candy bars. This infatuation drives his curiosity about the candy industry. It also compels Almond to wax poetic when describing candy’s taste and texture or lovingly tracing the popularity and disappearance of archaic, often regional, candies, such as Caravelle, Twin Bing, Idaho Spud, and Valomilk.
Throughout Candyfreak, Almond refers to his obsession with candy as a “freak,” arguing that the energy he expends thinking about, describing, hoarding, and consuming candy is not inherently different from the more widely accepted obsessive hobbies, such as sports fandom or extreme collecting: “[W]e don’t choose our freaks, they choose us. I don’t mean this as some kind of hippy dippy aphorism about the power of fate. We may not understand why we freak on a particular food or band or sports team. We may have no conscious control over our allegiances. But they arise from our most sacred fears and desires and, as such, they represent the truest expression of ourselves.”
But not ON the beach: pages oily from suntan lotion; wind and sand. Nah, bad for paper. Watching pelicans cruise over the waves is preferred. Knowing we would hit the Beach Book Mart, a bookshop in Atlantic Shores with an interesting historical selection, I packed two books. One of those plus two of the three store-bought titles had a thread: Italy.
First down the chute is Norman Douglas’ Siren Land, a memoir of Capri and the Sorrentine Peninsula. Two previously read authors, Paul Fussell and Elizabeth Davis, quoted and discussed Douglas, and the library owns the title. I found his prose dense, witty fairly often, even had a couple funny bits. It is more than a travelogue: it is learned and chatty. Emperor Tiberius was the first famous Roman to retire to Capri; his stay is touched on. Douglas includes stories of saints, a single thread of the story of these siren lands. History and biology of the sirens is knocked off in the first couple of chapters, followed by a wandering over the land, a boat ride or two, and an island full of fleas...with gossip, lore, architecture, history, and memorable characters.
Most people know David Byrne as a musician, with the Talking Heads and as a solo artist. In his three-decade career, Byrne always managed to incorporate a diverse collection of international influences in his sound. In Bicycle Diaries, he has found an equally engaging role as a worldwide cultural critic. The book is much more than a travelogue though. It is a grand celebration of how people live, observed from the seat of a two-wheeler as it whisks through city streets worldwide. It is made up of meditations on art, politics, architecture, and so much more.
When biking through a city, one is more agile than a car, faster than a pedestrian, and taller than anything that isn't a Hum-Vee or on horseback. You see details that others can not, providing a wholly unique perspective of how this particular city works.
As my cotton-gloved hands examined the woven fabric, I felt the thrill of encountering a link to the age of discovery. Over a hundred years old and probably unseen and untouched for decades, this artifact of the Cook Islands was being carefully prepared by us technicians to be moved to the Smithsonian Institution’s storage facility. Some twenty years later, Professor Nicholas Thomas’ Cook: The Extraordinary Voyages of Captain James A. Cook has given me much better perspective on these pieces of the past.