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.
Traveling with kids is always a challenge. Maybe times have changed. I remember I used to get excited when we'd get a chance to pile in the car and go somewhere. It didn't matter if we were squeezed in, the seats weren't comfortable, or if it was too hot or too cold in the car.
Usually, like many people across the United States, I have spent Thanksgiving with family. Either I have been at home or at my parent's house. This year due to a slight change in family plans, I decided to try something totally different. On a whim, I planned a road trip to Niagara Falls. I had never visited Canada or the Niagara Falls region. Many people thought it was not a good idea to travel to a cold climate with kids for a short trip. On the contrary, we ended up having a fantastic time. No crowds, no traffic on the route we took and great accommodations at an affordable rate.
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Eat, Pray, Love "presents the memoir of a magazine writer's yearlong travels across the world in search of pleasure, guidance, experience and wholeness."
There have been some wonderful books with the theme of self-discovery through travel, as in Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. Their journeys have been life changing for them and perhaps also for the reader.
Arctic Dreams: Imagination and Desire in a Northern Landscape by Barry Lopez.
This classic won the 1986 National Book Award. This book is based on a number of extended trips the author made into the Arctic region. His descriptions of the flora and fauna not only evoke the northern landscape, but give a true sense of the Arctic's importance to the health of our planet. More than twenty years after its publication this book has an even more important message for us.
Blue Latitudes by Tony Horwitz
A wild and fun travel narrative focusing on Horwitz's adventures sailing on a recreation of Captain's Cook's ship. Like Eat, Pray, Love it is well written and a lot of fun to read.