Posted by: ktzefr | February 20, 2014

Around the World in 5 Reads

Today the sun is bright and the temps are up and I can hear the snow melting on the roof and running briskly through the gutters.  What joy!  Still, there’s a week and a half of February to go and no guarantees that March will look like spring.  Easter is late this year (April 20), a long wait until the first Sunday after the full moon following the March equinox.

I chose to travel in December and January and was fortunate to get back and forth by air, land, and sea without any cancellations or delays.  So, the timing was good in some respects.  However, an end of February trip may have meant coming back to the first blooms of spring instead of ice and snow.

So, if you’re looking out the window at the white stuff and feeling a bit of cabin fever and would rather be somewhere else, do what I do.  Brew a pot of tea, open a box of chocolates, and grab a good travel book.

Here are 5 books of essays that will take you round the world and back…

A few favorite travel books; Photo:KFawcett

A few favorite travel books; Photo:KFawcett

1)  The Best American Travel Writing, 2013, edited by Elizabeth Gilbert.  I love this series and I’m excited each year to see who the next editor is going to be.  Readers who like Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love) will especially enjoy the essays she has selected to include in this year’s anthology.  You can follow David Farley 10,000 miles to Vietnam to taste cao lau — “the snap of crisp aromatic sprouts, basil, and coriander; the sublime unctuous quality of thinly sliced salty pork…the silky, smoky broth…” or go mountain climbing with Judy Copeland in the “high-canopied forests and swirling mists” of Papua New Guinea or search for El Dorado in Peru with Marie Arana.  A treasure of 19 short essays, 19 exotic places to explore.

2)  By the Seat of My Pants: Humorous Tales of Travel and Misadventure, edited by Don George.  This anthology, published by Lonely Planet, is a great compilation of stories about what travel is really like and why a sense of humor is sometimes the most important thing to pack.  Carpet salesmen in Turkey can be very persuasive, according to Brooke Neill, who tells how she ended up rolling down a hill in Selcuk wrapped in a rug.  I don’t think I had ever heard Afghanistan mentioned in the same sentence as the word “funny” until I read this account of Alexander Ludwick’s visit to the Afghan Tourist Office in Kabul.  And Michelle Richmond writes about a night of romance gone wrong when the lights go out in Ushuaia.  I have dog ears and slips of paper and underlines all through this little book of more than 30 short tales as there are words of wisdom sprinkled here and there and scenes that remind me of my own misadventures.

3)  The Tao of Travel: Enlightenments from Lives on the Road by Paul Theroux.  Philosophy, reminiscences, and wonderful passages from some of the world’s greatest writers interspersed with Theroux’s own words.  Twenty-seven topics with titles, such as “Five Travel Epiphanies” and “Writers and the Places They Never Visited” and “Everything is Edible Somewhere.”  There are musings on the pleasures of railways and the pleasures of walking, people who never take trips alone and those who always go alone,  disappointing places and dangerous places and the interesting things travelers have carried with them over the years on their journeys.  One of my favorite writers featured here is Pico Iyer who says, “The most important thing always to have with me…is a book.”

4)  Leave the lipstick take the Iguana: Funny travel stories and strange packing tips, edited by Marcy Gordon.  From Easter Island to Ghana, from Brazil to Vanuatu this is another great collection of misadventures.  There are no practical packing tips here but rather observations about things left behind and things packed but not needed and the occasional act of letting go of emotional baggage in order to lighten the journey.  Every story has laugh-out-loud moments but there are serious turns, too, and a few nuggets of wisdom.

5)  A Trance After Breakfast: And Other Passages by Alan Cheuse.  These stories skip around the world from Bali to New Zealand to Mexico and end up back in the author’s native New Jersey.  “It’s Saturday night at the San Ysidro Port of Entry, one of the busiest border crossings in the world” — the setting for one long essay.  Cheuse’s detailed observations allow the reader to be a “fly on the wall” in this rather unusual travel destination.  My favorite essay, “Thirty-five Passages Over Water,” is a wonderful mix of memoir and observations and musings about real adventures — sailing to Catalina Island or taking a ferry in New Zealand or riding an ocean racer in Maine — as well as the author’s own inward journeys and discoveries.  One observation from southern Mexico reminded me of my own most recent trip to Yucatan: “In the face of these pyramids and ball fields,  towers and steps, and moats and sun-stones, I find myself in absolute confusion.  No more looking to Europe for genius and greatness!  Here was a civilization complete unto itself, with architecture as beautiful and impressive as any Parthenon!”

If you like to travel and you like to read and the snow is still piled high outside your door, brew a pot of tea, open a box of chocolates, and grab a good book! 

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