The Best Travel Writing, 2009; Books on Mexico and Kentucky History

I spent the last few snowy days reading Laura Resau’s lovely Red Glass, a mix of excerpts from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince with the story of a summer road trip to Mexico.  The cast of eccentric characters, along with wonderful images and poetic language made it easy for me to escape my winter wonderland by hitching a ride on this journey of discovery south of the border.

Two other Mexico finds: Mexico in Mind: An Anthology.  Edited by Maria Finn this little book captures bits and pieces — stories, essays, plays, poems — by two centuries of writers drawn to Mexico (from John Steinbeck, Jack Kerouac, Tennessee Williams, and Langston Hughes to Salman Rushdie, Anita Desai, and Sandra Cisneros).  The pieces are set in various parts of the country and arranged by theme, from sights and sounds and tastes to encounters with revolutionaries; from questions of identity to rituals, myths, and love.

Mexico: A Traveller’s Literary Companion, edited by C.M. Mayo is another anthology (I love anthologies!) I’ve been reading.  This one, too, is divided by region of the country — from the US-Mexico border to the Gulf, the Yucatan, the Central Mountains.  But this is a collection of stories and essays by Mexican writers — from such well-known authors as Carlos Fuentes and Laura Esquivel (Like Water for Chocolate) to new discoveries, such as Angeles Mastretta, writing about Michoacan, and Araceli Ardon with Queretaro in the Bajio as her setting.

I’m almost “finished” with The Best American Travel Writing, 2008, edited by Anthony Bourdain.  Generally, I get through these essays quickly, but this collection is so good that I’ve been reading slowly and re-reading some of the essays.  Lots of variety in places, themes, images.   Thomas Swick’s piece selected from The Weekly Standard, titled “Have Book, Will Travel,” sums up this issue: “Often, the less glamorous the destination, the more rewarding the journey.”

A couple of weeks ago, before the first of the last big snowfalls I was in Georgetown (DC) with my niece shopping, eating, and rummaging in bookstores and I made a great find in an antique bookshop.   From a dusty shelf that looked ready to tumble over any minute and spill its contents, I discovered Kentucky: A History, by one Steven A. Channing.  Published in 1977 as part of a series on The States and the Nation (for the Bicentennial), the book is an easy and interesting read for one who is not a historian.  I remember taking Kentucky history in middle school and being entirely bored.  Now, many decades later, I’m finding it fascinating.  So far I’ve gotten from the 1700s when Kentucky was seen as a “promised land” of sorts to the years leading up to the Civil War.  Full of the good, the bad, and the ugly in politics, religion, and traditions, it offers lots of clues, a few answers, and a deeper understanding of the past — and maybe the present, too.


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